Maggie Smith: The work in ‘Downton Abbey’ & Harry Potter was not ‘satisfying’


I love Dame Maggie Smith mostly because she doesn’t GAF about much of anything. I would ascribe it to her age – she’s 84 years old – but I’m pretty sure she’s never had any f–ks to give for decades now. Since I was never a Potterhead (sorry, peeps), I don’t associate her with that franchise. I do associate her with Downton Abbey, and her defining role (for my generation, at least) as the Dowager Countess Violet. But like a true GOAT, Dame Maggie doesn’t even think those roles stretched her as an actress. Pish-posh, it paid the bills but little else!

Dame Maggie Smith has said her work in the Harry Potter films and on Downton Abbey “wasn’t what you’d call satisfying”. The actor, 84, played schoolmistress Minerva McGonagall in the boy-wizard films and the waspish Violet Crawley in the period drama.

Discussing the earlier years of her career, she told ES magazine: “It seemed to take ages to get away from light comedy.” She added: “I am deeply grateful for the work in Potter and indeed Downton, but it wasn’t what you’d call satisfying. I didn’t really feel I was acting in those things.”

Smith returned to the stage this year as Joseph Goebbels’ secretary in the Christopher Hampton one-woman play A German Life. She said that as soon as she agreed to do it, she suffered “doubt, doubt, doubt”.

“I suddenly felt twice as old as I actually was,” she said. “And also, when you haven’t done a show for a long time, there’s something pretty dumb about doing it totally on your own.”

The long-awaited Downton Abbey movie made almost $200m on release earlier this year, with home entertainment numbers expected to be healthy. Smith was reported to be on of the last cast members to agree to the feature film; her involvement would also be key to any sequel.

[From The Guardian]

The feeling I always got from watching Downton is that the writers always wanted to give Maggie the best lines, the best quotes (“What is a weekend?”). She just delivers those lines so well! But yeah, I can see how it’s not some huge stretch or acting challenge for her. For an ancient boss to play another ancient boss… well, it’s just typecasting. And easy money too. So, was Maggie rude? Or just being honest? Both, I think. She doesn’t care about the rudeness though.

Dame Maggie Smith poses at the 65th Evening Standard Theatre Awards on Sunday 24 November 2019

Photos courtesy of WENN, ‘Downton Abbey’.

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47 Responses to “Maggie Smith: The work in ‘Downton Abbey’ & Harry Potter was not ‘satisfying’”

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  1. Snazzy says:

    I love her in both those roles but I can imagine they weren’t really a stretch for her, acting wise. I adore her snarkiness as the Dowager. “Why does every day involve a fight with an American?” remains one of my favourite lines of the series.

    But (minor spoiler alert) didn’t they end the Downton movie in such a way that she wouldn’t necessarily have to be in the next one?

    • Lightpurple says:

      Yes. They gave her character an out.

    • BW says:

      Yes, I think they did add that scene at the end of the movie to hedge their bets that Dame Maggie didn’t want to do any more Downton movies. I read that she’s never watched a single episode. She doesn’t care.

      I’m old, so I associate her with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. If you’ve never seen it, you must.

      Also, there’s a little documentary out called Tea With Dames, with Maggie Smith and Judy Dench and a few other famous British actresses. Maggie tells the best stories in it.

      • C-Shell says:

        OH, my first sighting of Maggie Smith was in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie! I’d love to watch that again. There was some outstanding film making going on in that era.

      • Lightpurple says:

        We must have been thinking and typing our Tea with the Dames comments at the same time!

      • Maggie says:


        I loved that movie. It was wonderful! Everybody should watch it, it explores these women’s lives (Judi Dench in it too) from their beginnings, their friendships throughout – I adored it, my whole family did. Tho I still side eye Judi Dench re: Weinstein.

      • Bosandi says:

        Oh my I loved that movie “I am no longer in my prime”…. fabulous!!

    • Redgrl says:

      She’s great but the Downton movie was boring…

      • Granger says:

        SO boring. It was like watching a Downton Christmas special. So I totally understand why Smith would say that show didn’t challenge her.

      • Redgrl says:

        @granger – yes and even though I’ve watched Downton and various other similar shows for years (via BBC and Masterpiece) here I found the dynamics between the “upstairs” and “downstairs” in the movie very grating and over the top this time. Watching a whole group of people grovel to their “masters” and the whole “oi – I’m so ‘appy to be in service and tip my cap me whole life – we do what we can for yer, milady” really got under my skin. I wanted to slap all the aristocrats and tell them they were entitled useless twits.

    • Mo says:

      If you ever get a chance to see Nowhere to Go, see it. It’s a B&W British crime film from the ’50s and Maggie plays a very sexy rich girl gone wrong who helps out a criminal on the lam.

      Very different side of Maggie.

  2. Lightpurple says:

    If you haven’t seen it yet, “Tea with the Dames” is a delightful way to spend a few hours watching Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, and Joan Plowright reminisce about their decades long friendships and careers. And none of them ever hold back from speaking their minds.

  3. MMC says:

    As someone who grew up with Harry Potter she will always be Minerva McGonagall to me.

  4. kerwood says:

    I only saw the first Harry Potter movie so I’m not familiar with her work in them. But I can imagine that the role she played in Downton Abbey would be unsatisfying because she played the EXACT same role in Gosford Park, a film that is MUCH better than Downton Abby.

    • Giddy says:

      That moment in Gosford when she begins to laugh uncontrollably is one of my favorite movie moments ever. Also, as she sat in bed saying “Yum yum” as she was served her breakfast tray. She can take tiny moments and make them unforgettable.

      • Boo says:

        Fun fact: The creator of Downton Abbey also made Gosford Park.

      • kerwood says:

        Moments like that happen when an actor is feeling challenged and fulfilled by the work they’re doing. Harry Potter and Downton Abbey obviously weren’t challenges for an actor like Maggie Smith.

        Gosford Park is full of moments like that. I recently pulled out my DVD of it and was amazed all over again.

      • Godwina says:

        Yeah, Fellowes may have scripted GP but it’s ALL Altman and the cast and the production designers. Nothing touches it. I say this as a big DA fan.

    • tcbc says:

      The creator of Downton only co-wrote the screenplay to Gosford Park. It was directed (and co-written) by the great Robert Altman, which explains why it is excellent while Downton is only so-so.

      • kerwood says:

        THANK YOU.

        Robert Altman was one of the greatest film-makers in history and Gosford Park is a masterpiece. The creator of Downton Abbey basically waited until Altman was dead and copied Gosford Park. He knew American audiences would eat it up.

        Downton Abbey is most definitely so-so; I can’t remember if I made it through the first season. But while I was watching DA, all I could think was ‘Gosford Park was shorter, had an amazing cast and was MUCH better. Why am I watching THIS?’

  5. Cali says:

    I loved her in The Divine Secrets if the YaYa Sisterhood. And of course Downton and HP, too. Sad that she felt unsatisfied with those roles. I hope she is able to do some things that bring her fulfillment.

  6. Laalaa says:

    She was not rude, she was honest. She even said she was grateful. And it doesn’t make her “she doesn’t GaF”, it makes her a professional in my eyes. We have the right to be honest, and not to be pushed to fake org*asms. Peace

    • FHMom says:

      I agree. I wouldn’t have expected either of those roles to be a stretch for her. She said nothing that would surprise anyone. Rock on, Dame.

    • BellaBella says:

      I’m with you. I never watched any Harry Potter movies, but in Downton at least, she is a fairly one-dimensional character. Not that much to sink your teeth into as an actor.

      As someone who has hung out with a number of 80-something year olds in the biz, they are fantastic because they are honest about the business and how it works, which projects mattered and which they took for money. Great raconteurs.

      I’ll have to watch that documentary people are mentioning. I always thought it was a drama!

    • Maggie says:

      Yes things can get so twisted when articles get reposted w/paraphrasing sadly to say. Agreed she definitively still grateful

  7. Dizzy says:

    She’s a great actress. Try to watch “the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie “. It’s really old so I never see it streaming anywhere. It might be on TCM. She won an Oscar for it. She also is a great Shakespearean actress. She is just fantastic. And I loved her one liners in Downton Abbey.

  8. Dizzy says:

    Oh by the way, when Rupaul says “my girls”. But he pronounces it my gells. He’s quoting Maggie Smith

  9. FrenchGirl says:

    Excuse me but she does a « Katherine Heigl » here

    • TrixC says:

      No. Katherine Heigl was a mediocre TV actress who did a couple of romcoms. Dame Maggie is acting royalty. Heigl was criticised because she had an overinflated idea of how good she was, whereas Maggie Smith is basically just stating a fact.

  10. adastraperaspera says:

    Dame Maggie Smith on The Graham Norton Show is a great interview. Formidable presence. She says she’s never watched Downton.

  11. BANANIE says:

    Love Maggie Smith, love the Harry Potter books, don’t enjoy the Harry Potter movies at all. Even her involvement wasn’t enough to make them good movies, just decent.

  12. Boo says:

    I’m a ridiculous fan of both those productions and I’m not offended by this. Maggie gets to do whatever she wants and say whatever she wants. I’m just thankful she was even in them. Fun fact: she’s is the cousin of my cousin’s stepdad.

  13. Jay (the Canadian one) says:

    No idea why anyone would call this rude. She’s a master at her profession. It’s not the least bit surprising that she’d not find these roles particularly challenging. The only reason we don’t notice how little they give her to sink her teeth into is because she has the talent to make them feel deeper than they are.

  14. Evil Owl says:

    Dame Maggie doesn’t sound ungrateful here. She said she didn’t find those roles satisfying and she wasn’t acting. Maybe because she was being herself? I’d like to think she‘s that wry and snarky in real life

  15. emmy says:

    She’s a wonderful actress and anyone who has seen those movies knows what she means. But I never like it when people talk like that about work they’ve done, especially when that work is loved by so many. Just let it stand for itself.

  16. Silva says:

    Room with a view. I loved her in it…

    • Lightpurple says:

      I was just about to add that myself. It is my favorite Maggie Smith role and it is a fabulous film with an outstanding cast, including Judi Dench, Simon Callow, Denholm Elliott, Julian Sand, and very young Helena Bonham Carter, Rupert Graves, and in a hilarious performance: Daniel Day Lewis. The bathing scene is one of my favorite movie scenes of all time: “Look!” “DON”T LOOK!”

    • Godwina says:

      Yeah, that’s her defining role for me because it was the earliest BIG impression she left me with, as a teenager. I love her in it. And love the movie.

  17. Alyse says:

    First thing I saw her in was “Hook”… so I’ll always think of her as Old Lady Wendy lol

    Would recommend giving “Tea with the Dames” a watch to anyone who enjoys the real Maggie Smith btw!

  18. Godwina says:

    Maggie Smith will always be Charlotte Bartlett before anyone else, for me.

  19. shrugs says:

    I still love her from The First Wives Club as Gunnila Garson Goldberg! Does anyone else remember that?

  20. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    I’ve watched her acting for along time now, and even though I love her in both HP and DA, it’s obvious she could play those roles in her sleep. I’ve always loved her, so no, I don’t think she’s being rude, only super honest lol.