Maggie Smith

Active - 1956 - Present  |   Born - Dec 28, 1934 in Ilford, Essex, England  |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Children's/Family, Mystery

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Breathes there a theatergoer or film fan on Earth who has not, at one time or another, fallen in love with the sublimely brilliant British comedic actress Dame Maggie Smith? The daughter of an Oxford University pathologist, Smith received her earliest acting training at the Oxford Playhouse School. In 1952, she made her professional stage bow as Viola in Twelfth Night. Four years later she was on Broadway, performing comedy routines in Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1956; that same year, she made her first, extremely brief screen appearance in Child in the House (she usually refers to 1959's Nowhere to Go as her screen debut).

In 1959, Smith joined the Old Vic, and in 1962 won the first of several performing honors, the London Evening Standard Award, for her work in the West End production The Private Ear/The Public Eye. Her subsequent theatrical prizes include the 1963 and 1972 Variety Club awards for Mary Mary and Private Lives, respectively, and the 1990 Tony Award for her performance in the Broadway play Lettice and Lovage. In addition, Smith has won Oscars for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) and California Suite (1978), and British Film Academy awards for A Private Function (1985), A Room With a View (1986), and The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1987).

These accolades notwithstanding, Smith has had no qualms about accepting such "lightweight" roles as lady sleuth Dora Charleston (a delicious Myrna Loy takeoff) in Murder By Death (1976), the aging Wendy in Steven Spielberg's Peter Pan derivation Hook (1991), and the Mother Superior in Whoopi Goldberg's Sister Act films of the early '90s. During the same decade, she also took more serious roles in Richard III (1995), Washington Square (1997), and Tea With Mussolini (1999). On a lighter note, her role in director Robert Altman's Gosford Park earned Smith her sixth Oscar nomination.

She earned a whole new generation of fans during the first decade of the next century when she was cast as Professor McGonagall in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, a part she would return to for each of the film's phenomenally successful sequels. She worked in other films as well including Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Becoming Jane, and Nanny McPhee Returns. In 2010 she earned rave reviews for her work in the television series Downton Abbey.

Made a Dame Commander in 1989, Smith was elected to the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1994. Previously married to the late actor Sir Robert Stephens, she is the wife of screenwriter Beverly Cross and the mother of actors Toby Stephens and Chris Larkin.

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  • Studied acting at Oxford Playhouse School in Oxford, England, from 1951 to 1953.
  • Made her Broadway debut in the 1956 revue New Faces of '56.
  • Joined Laurence Olivier's Royal National Theatre Company in 1963.
  • Has shared dressing rooms with such acting greats as Judi Dench, Bette Davis and Angela Lansbury during her lengthy career.
  • Honored as a DBE (Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 1990. 
  • Underwent treatments for breast cancer during the filming of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
  • Is notable for the collective of awards she has accrued over the course of her career. Her wins include BAFTA awards, Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Emmys, SAG Awards, a Tony and a Laurence Olivier Award.