Maggie Smith on her hit show, ‘Downton Abbey’: ‘I’ve never actually seen it’

By now, I’ve seen the entire third season of Downton Abbey, and I can’t say I completely hated it. There were some surprises (at least they were surprises when I initially read about them months ago) and some hurt feelings and such, but I think overall the third season was stronger than the second, and maybe not as strong as the first season. As I’ve said many times, I take Downton for what it is – a fancy, melodramatic soap opera with great costumes. I don’t believe that Downton should be taken as “high art” or anything. It’s just a soap opera.

And one of the greatest stars of the soap opera is Dame Maggie Smith’s battle-ax Dowager Countess. I get the feeling that the Dowager Countess is probably the writers’ favorite character, just because she seems like the most fun to write for, and she truly gets all of the best lines of the show. Maggie Smith has won so many awards for this role, but she rarely comes to any of the awards shows to pick up her prizes. I’ve always wondered why, and maybe I’ll get a chance to figure it out because Maggie is interviewed on this weekend’s 60 Minutes!! So far the only video clip 60 Minutes has offered is this one, below, where Maggie tells Steve Croft that she’s never watched Downton. Ha.

Millions of people have watched Maggie Smith on Downton Abbey. But she’s not one of them. The 78-year-old actress portrays Lady Grantham in the popular series, which is currently airing its third season on PBS in the U.S. But the award-winning British actress said in an interview with 60 Minutes that she hasn’t watched the drama.

‘I haven’t actually seen it, so I don’t… I don’t sit down and watch it,’ she told Steve Kroft.

‘Never?’ he asks, to which she firmly replied: ‘No, I haven’t watched it.’

She explained doing so would only make her agonise over her performance. She said she may watch it someday. Smith explained of her decision not to watch the show: ‘Because it’s frustrating. I always see things that I would like to do differently and think, “Oh, why in the name of God did I do that?”‘

Smith told Kroft, in an interview to be televised Sunday, that what she takes from the role is ‘the delight of acting’.

She has two Oscars, three Emmys and a Tony Award. But she said the Downton Abbey role has given her more public recognition than anything in her career.

‘I don’t feel any different to the way I felt before and I’m not quite sure what (being a star) means. I am familiar to people now, which is what I was not before,’ she says. ‘That is entirely due to the television set.’

[From The Mail]

I think Maggie is probably slightly amused by the love her character gets, but she’s probably a bit bewildered too. People expect her to rattle off pithy one-liners like the Dowager Countess, and while her “I never watch it” comment seemed promising, I don’t think it was bitchy or saucy at all. She’s just a neurotic actress who can’t watch her own performance – many actors can’t watch themselves. It’s not a judgment of Downton!

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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44 Responses to “Maggie Smith on her hit show, ‘Downton Abbey’: ‘I’ve never actually seen it’”

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  1. T.Fanty says:

    To be fair, though, it isn’t a very good show.

    ETA: Maggie Smith is (or should be) Queen of the Universe.

    • Seagulls says:

      To be fair, though, it is. Kaiser’s right, it isn’t ligpfe-altering, but it’s pretty entertaining. And it’s certainly better ths season than last.

      Love Dame Maggie.

      • T.Fanty says:

        It wasn’t the pulpiness that I objected to, and although I get a little bit Morrissey in my distaste for the sentimentality over class in it, I simply found it boring. Maggie Smith stands out because she is the only one who gets any good lines.

      • Naye in VA says:

        I think its a pretty great show as well. Someone elsewhere called it “costume-porn”. Totally. I shotgunned the first season on Netflix a few months ago and that may be how you have to watch it. i can see how the show would drag if you waited every week to see a new episode.
        I just finished this season yesterday, and this season did a really good job of connecting me to the characters more personally, especially Thomas, Branson, edith and Matthew. IDK how they are going to pull off next season though without my two favorite characters. And I still hate Mary.

    • jane16 says:

      The show is such a contradiction…the acting, costumes and sets are divine, and the writing and directing and editing are horrible. I hate the non-stop melodrama, one catastrophe after another, and especially the five second scenes! Seriously, how many shows have sooo many scenes that are 10 seconds or less. One right after the other, it just flips from scene to scene is a dizzying manner. I would like the show so much better if it took more time and fleshed out each scene. Let us hear what each character standing there has to say. Other than that, it is certainly addicting.

      • GoodCapon says:

        I agree! The acting (some of it), setting and costumes are divine, the rest… not so much.

        Season 2 was the worst. Edith getting it on with that farmer is the shark announcing its arrival to be jumped over.

        But my main gripe is the music editing. Three seasons gone and they always, always chop the music as a scene ends; there’s no subtle fading into the background. It’s very distracting IMO.

  2. Esmom says:

    I can see her point but at the same time you’d think she’d be curious to at least get a glimpse of how it all looks and comes together, even if she wants to avoid picking apart her own performance.

    Agree that she’s one of the best parts of the show. My favorite line of her from this week was the one about how she saw her kids for “a whole hour, every single day” when they were growing up.” Priceless.

  3. Amelia says:

    To me, she’ll still be always be meanie Mrs Medlock from The Secret Garden!
    I’m so glad I’m not an actress. I’m such an obsessive person, I’d probably drive myself mad seeing anything with my face on it.
    Fun fact of the day – the villain in Die Another Day was played by her son.
    I don’t know why I feel the need to mention that, but I do :)

    • T.Fanty says:

      He is not just “the villain from Die another Day.” He is Toby Stephens and he is FINE. Show some respect for hotness, woman.

      (He is also the Sheriff in Robin Hood, which I know some CBitches here watch)

      • Amelia says:

        *bows head in shame*
        I apologise most sincerely, T.Fanty :)
        He also played a cracking Mr Rochester for TV, I think.

      • Micki says:

        May I join Great Toby club?

        His Mr.Rochester is my favourite, followed by william Hurt’s and then Ciaran Hinds’s performances.

      • j.eyre says:

        There is a rule on CB that I get ALL the Mr. Rochesters, correct? Just wanted to remind everyone of that.

      • T.Fanty says:

        @ Ms. Eyre,

        I’m sorry, but I have to pull a Celebitch on this one. I claimed Toby years ago. I am, however, willing to work on a trade, or temporary loan if you have something to offer in exchange.

      • j.eyre says:


        *languidly drapes an arm around the rugged McAvoy*


      • T.Fanty says:

        Sorry for the delay – I was just hosing Toby down before I sent him over.

        If you throw in one night a week with both of them, I might be willing to sell Jaguar Holmes.

      • T.Fanty says:

        P.S. Every time I open this post, I immediately get that pic of Dame Maggie and assume she’s judging me for wanting to do despicable things to her child.

      • j.eyre says:

        Sorry, The Jag is a trade for EsCon. If you want both, you will need to cough up Hiddles or Ewan.

        Remember, I have the Rochester Fassbender to bargin with as well.

      • T.Fanty says:

        Fassbender doesn’t do it for me. I loves me some Cumby, but, I would happily sell Jaguar Holmes (on my nights – ECon and I have an arrangement), Ewan, and anyone else you care to consider, down the river for a shot at Toby and McAvoy together. If Fassy’s nice, I’ll let him stand in the corner and serve the boys quartered oranges when they need refreshment.

        Btw, when did James MacAvoy get so hot? My loins have been afire for him since that photo yesterday (or possibly since I heard he was doing Macbeth, being the dork that I am).

        ETA: Hiddles might be off the table since the last CB post on him possibly revealed his penchant for spanking. I need to keep him close until I’ve finished punishing him for his twitter.

      • j.eyre says:

        First, a dumb question: what does ETA stand for? I only know Estimated Time of Arrival

        Yeah, Fassy would be a fun romp but he’s not a bargaining chip for me.

        I am not sure about the Mac. It was an interview of him that got me. Somewhere around Wanted, I think. I can’t wait to see Shame. Have you read that book? They don’t make a shower hot enough to wash that off you. And doing MacBeth? I know he did an adaptation for television – is he doing it again? You should watch the other. He plays a chef and well, biscuits will be tingled.

        I saw you discovering Hiddles dark side – step back sweetheart. I’ve had him tied to my bedpost for some time now. I not only want him left on the table but I want the rose kept between his teeth. Especially since Kay-Doo seems to be dimming her Hiddles light.

        But don’t fret, I am really good about sharing my toys. Now carve yourself some Hiddles as Ewan and I discuss the merits of his having that beard.

      • T.Fanty says:

        Miss Eyre,

        I am prefacing this by saying that I have had a LOT to drink between my last post and now, so apologies for typos.

        ETA stands for “edited to add.”

        The Hiddles dark side was a little scandalous, and although it made me a little more appreciative of him, the mummy/son thing got a little weird- those public schoolboys are an odd sort.

        I haven’t read Shame. Who is it by? I’ve actually just read Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, which should be on the CB book club list and should also be a movie, preferably starting Ewan it McAvoy as the gentleman. Although in my head, he is rarely gentlemanly. Have you read it? You should.

      • j.eyre says:

        T.Fan – what is embarrassing is that I had absolutely nothing to drink last night and I am the one who made the mistakes – gross ones at that.
        Shame, of course, is the title of two notable movies – one with the afore mentioned Fassbender and the second with the deity that was Steve McQueen.
        Filth is a book by Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting) that was adapted into a movie that stars The Mac. The story is about filth on all levels: literal, physical, sexual, moral, etc. You want and should hate the main character but something deep inside you hopes he comes through which makes McAvoy brilliant casting and I think he can pull it off.
        I have put Fingersmith on my GoodReads list and thank you for the suggestion.

      • T.Fanty says:

        Of course! I know of Shame – this is why one shouldn’t drink and post! I know the book Filth, but didn’t know there was a movie. I’ll check it out.

        Let me know what you think of Fingersmith. I LOVED it. I’m now onto her gothic novel, Little Stranger.

    • Esmom says:

      Haha, to my 12 year old son she will always be Professor MacGonnagal from Harry Potter. In fact he came running into the room one time I was watching DA because he recognized her voice.

  4. Mia 4S says:

    It was an amusing show for awhile, but I’m over it. The Emmys and SAGs should be embarrassed for nominating it for so many awards. In England it’s hugely popular but not award winning…which makes far more sense!

    Maggie is wonderful and so over all of us. I love her.

  5. Simple Red says:

    Well being European myself, that is a popular show and I personally like it..

  6. Aiobhan says:

    I watched the second and most of the third season in one weekend and I liked it a lot. I did not fall in love with it like most people did but it is a solid evening soap. I agree that Maggie is the highlight of this show.

  7. L says:

    That’s pretty common for actors. Apparently Johnny depp hasn’t seen any of the movies he’s been in. Meryl and Denzel either.

  8. Bored suburbanhousewife says:

    Quality not as good as original Upstairs Downstairs but cracking good brain candy and lifestyle porn. I get dizzy with the schizoid character switches e.g. In Season 1 Anthony Stralian was being pushed by her parents on MARY as a perfectly suitable husband candidate and in Season 3 he is considered totally unsuitable for EDITH. In reality, they would have been over the moon about him and Edith.

    I have been getting a slight tingle at the new upscale Branson. Looks good in white tie as well as cricket gear. Just realized he was Marcus Agrippa in Rome– I’m always amazed by consistent type casting of actors on major British shows. Low born soldier who loves Emperors patrician sister in Rome etc.

    See also Alan Rickman’s turn in Barchester Towers. Looks like a Snape audition tape. He actually slithers. Could cite many others…..

  9. fabgrrl says:

    I think her’s is my favorite Downton character. I love the show!

  10. serena says:

    Aww I really like her! She needs even more love from people!

  11. Louisa says:

    Loved her since “A Room with a View”. Hilarious scenes with her and Judi Dench.

  12. TG says:

    I love the show and no amount of bad criticism will change my opinion. I should say that I am obsessed with all things British. Immediately after watching each Sunday I rush downstairs to the computer to read a bunch of recaps and comments on the episode. Slate has a good one and the people who comment on there put forth intelligent and thoughtful and often very funny comments. Then the next day I come in and chat it out with a few of my work friends.

    I love the clothes and the set location and I love to pick apart the characters. I am currently enjoying hating Lord Grantham this season. I love the Thomas O’Brien angles because those two are really bad guys but they also have a good side. I came to the conclusion that O’Brien is truly an evil person because her revenge plots go way beyond the real or perceived slights she thinks she has suffered. I mean she thought Lady Grantham was getting rid of her so she tried to kill her and her unborn child. That’s a bit much. She didn’t like Bates so she dragged his horrible wife into the picture which ultimately led to his imprisonment for her murder. Now she wants Thomas to go to jail and possibly be killed just because he was nasty to her nephew.

    Like most people the Dowager Countess is my favorite character too.I really can’t stand Rose’s character and wish Julian would write her out. She was super annoying and doees not belong on the series. Am very disappointed to see she is back on the finale. Hopefully she will get killed or Julian will work his magic and actually make me like her or at least like watching her.

    • Bored suburbanhousewife says:

      I am the same way. I see Rose as the duplicate of cousin Georgina in Upstairs Downstairs original. When the romances and plots of the first couple of seasons are resolved, they have to start bringing in new relatives and love interests to keep moving.

    • Princess Lizabeth says:


      I just love, love, love the show. I lose myself in it. Any flaws that it may have never interfere with my enjoying it. The Dowager Countess is a gem, and I love the interactions between her and Isobel Crawley.

      I hope the show will last many more seasons…

    • Shelly says:

      I have the same obsession with this show! I don’t care what any critic says, the show brings me a huge amount of joy. It is one show I could watch over and over again and never tire of it. It is like being inside of a long and delicious novel!

  13. karmasabiatch! says:

    Maggie Smith and Downton Abbey- I love you.

  14. LAK says:

    I always think she looks so attractive now she’s older. It’s completely superficial i know but some people have old faces which don’t make sense until they are physically old. see also Clooney and Judi Dench. Conversely you also have people who have young faces that are super cute when they are young and make no sense at all when they are past a certain age and older e.g. Selena Gomez, Macualay Culkin, Haley Joel Osment

  15. Maxine says:

    I love Downton Abbey and I kind of get tired of people chalking it up to just a “soap opera.” I was a history major in college and one of the things I think is fascinating about the show is how it weaves historical context into the drama. Ponzi scheme anyone.

    The show is well done and brings a level of understanding to a period of time that I think needs review. Keep it up Downton.