Now perhaps best known to international cinema audiences for her role as Professor Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter film franchise, or to television audiences as the acid-tongued Violet Crawley in TV’s “Downton Abbey,” Dame Maggie Smith is a highly respected actress across both stage and screen.
Born in Ilford, East London, in 1934, Smith made her film debut in 1956 before becoming an early stalwart of the National Theatre in the 1960s. She won the first of her several Oscar nominations for her performance as Desdemona opposite Sir Lawrence Olivier’s “Othello” in the 1965 film version of their theatrical production.
She would go on to win the Best Actress Academy Award for her role in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” in 1969, and the 1978 Best Supporting Actress honor for her performance in 1978’s “California Suite.”
Another great British actress with a reputation for parts in period dramas, Smith also had high-profile parts in film adaptations of “The Secret Garden” and “Room With a View,” as well as “Tea With Mussolini,” “Gosford Park” and “Becoming Jane.” She is also noted for frequent collaborations with arguably the UK’s greatest living playwright Alan Bennett, appearing in both series of his dramatic monologues “Talking Heads,” as well as the stage adaptation of “The Lady in the Van.”
However, three Academy Awards and countless other nominations, as well as a recurring role in the “Sister Act” films and “Downton Abbey,” all of this pales into insignificance next to the fact that Smith starred in the Harry Potter films as Professor McGonagall. The heavyweight cast of adult actors clearly began the series as a bolster to the inexperience of the younger wizards, but by “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” their collective experience and skill gave the Harry Potter franchise one of the most insanely talented supporting casts in the history of cinema.
In her personal life, Smith married twice. She had two children with her first husband, the late actor Robert Stephens. Her children both became actors, Chris Larkin and Toby Stephens, the latter of whom is probably best known to international audiences as the villain in Pierce Brosnan’s final Bond film, “Die Another Day.”
Even at the age of 78, the hard-working Smith shows no signs of slowing, appearing most recently in 2012’s “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and the Dustin Hoffman-directed film about aging opera singers, “Quartet.”