An expert stage/screen actress of British heritage, Maggie Smith gained critical acknowledgment and eminence with the award-winning role of Constance Trentham in Robert Altman’s Gosford Park (2001), where she collected a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award, a Golden Satellite Award, a New York Critics Online Award and a Southeastern Film Critics Association Award. She also brought home an Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA nomination for the same role. To younger audiences, however, she is best known as the elegant Prof. Minerva McGonagall in four Harry Potter movies: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005).
Smith’s rewarding acting career is traced back to 1969 when she magnificently took the title turn in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and reaped an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award and a Film Critic’s Guild Award. She also won an Academy Award for playing Diana Barrie, a hotel guest from London, in the drama comedy California Suite (1978, also won a Golden Globe Award). Next, she played many notable roles, including Joyce Chilvers in the comedy A Private Function (1984, won a BAFTA Award), chaperon Charlotte Bartlett in A Room with a View (1985, took home a BAFTA Award and a Golden Globe Award), the title turn in The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1987, netted a BAFTA Award, an Evening Standard British Film Award and a Variety Club Award) and Lady Hester Random in Tea with Mussolini (1999, earned a BAFTA Award).
As an accomplished stage performer, Smith gave exceptional performances in “The Beaux’ Strategem” (1970, won a Los Angeles Critics Award), “Private Lives” (1972, netted a Variety Club Award), “Virginia” (1980, won an Evening Standard Drama Award), the New York version of “Lettice and Lovage” (1990, garnered her a Tony Award) and “Three Tall Women” (1994, collected a Variety Club Award and a London Evening Standard Theatre Award).
Outside the limelight, in 1970, Smith was appointed a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) and in 1990, she received the higher rank of DBE (Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), making her Dame Maggie Smith. She also became an honorary D.Litt of St. Andrew’s University (1971) and Cambridge University (1995), as well as a patron of the Jane Austen Society. In 2001, she became the 10th actress in the Orange Film Survey of Greatest British Film Actresses. As for her romantic life, Smith once wedded Robert Stephens before marrying Beverley Cross (1975, to his death in 1998). She is also the mother of actors Chris Larkin and Toby Stephens.
Childhood and Family:
Maggie Smith was born Margaret Natalie Smith on December 28, 1934, in Ilford, Essex, England, to pathologist Nathaniel Smith and secretary Margaret Hutton Little. She is the younger sister of twins Ian and Alistair Smith (born on December 8, 1928).
Maggie attended Oxford High School for Girls and graduated in 1951. Having a special knack for acting since a young age, she took Drama programs at the Oxford Playhouse School in Oxford, during 1951-1953. While studying, she also became an assistant stage manager and performer.
Maggie’s love life became a little bit scandalous when, on June 19, 1967, she gave birth to the child of actor Robert Stephens (born on July 14, 1931), named Chris Larkin (later became an actor). Ten days later, Maggie and Robert married, and on April 21, 1969, their second son Toby Stephens (later became an actor) was born. Troubled by Maggie’s success and Robert’s alcoholism and bouts of depression, the couple separated in 1974. The actress ended up marrying her old beau, writer Beverley Cross (born on April 13, 1931, died on March 20, 1998), in 1975. Her marriage with Beverley lasted until his death.
Maggie Smith began acting in 1952 with a stage role in Oxford University’s Dramatic Society production of “Twelfth Night.” The performance apparently brought her to New York where she was cast in the Broadway sketch revue of “New Faces of ‘56” (1956). Going back to the UK, Smith made her big screen debut with an unaccredited part as a party guest in Child in the House (1956) and followed it up by having a turn in an episode of the TV series “Kraft Television Theatre” (1957). She received a BAFTA nomination after having the female lead role of Bridget Howard in the crime drama Nowhere to Go (1958). It was ensued with a part in the made-for-TV comedy Hay Fever (1960), for director Caspar Wrede.
Meanwhile, after making a London stage debut in “Share My Lettuce” (1957), the young actress became a member of the Old Vic Company, where she played opposite Laurence Olivier in “Rhinoceros” (1959), before gaining recognition through her performances in Peter Shaffer’s “The Public Ear” and “The Private Eye” (1962). The following year, Smith joined the National Theatre and became a charter member. With the theater group, she played Desdemona in Laurence Olivier’s “Othello” (1963).
As a screen actress, Smith’s turn as Chantal in the comedy movie Go to Blazes (1962) led her to the Golden Globe-nominated part of Miss Mead in The V.I.P.s (1963). Following The Pumpkin Eater (1964), Smith reprised her role of Desdemona in Stuart Burge’s revival of Othello (1965) and earned an Oscar nomination. She also appeared as Beatrice in another Shakespearean film, Much Ado About Nothing (1967, TV) and played Patty Terwilliger Smith in the comedy Hot Millions (1968).
Smith’s biggest step toward fame came with the title role of a liberated Scottish teacher at a girls’ school in the big screen adaptation of Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969). Her portrayal in the drama garnered a wealth of critical appreciation, winning her an Oscar, a BAFTA and a Film Critic’s Guild for Best Actress, as well as a Golden Globe nomination. Her screen victory was soon followed by a stage accomplishment in The Beaux’ Strategem (1970).
Maggie had several appearances in the TV series “Play of the Month” (4 episodes, 1968 and 1972) before achieving an Oscar nomination for her witty turn as Aunt Augusta in the George Cukor-helmed drama comedy Travels with My Aunt (1972). Also in 1972, the stage actress superbly headlined a London production of “Private Lives,” in which she netted a Variety Club for Best Stage Actress. After starring as Lila Fisher in Alan J. Pakula’s movie Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing (1973), Smith decided to take a break from acting.
Three years later, she returned to the screen with the role of Dora Charleston in the parody Murder by Death (1976). She was then seen as Diana Barrie, a hotel guest from London, in the drama comedy California Suite (1978). Smartly playing the role in the 1978 movie, she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and a Golden Globe for Best Actress, and received a BAFTA nomination. On stage, after playing her Tony-nominated role in Tom Stoppard’s play “Night and Day” (1979), Smith won an Evening Standard Drama for Best Actress for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in “Virginia” (1980).
Impressively carrying out the turn of Lois Heidler in the movie Quartet (1981), Smith nabbed an Evening Standard British Film Award and was nominated for Best Actress at BAFTA. Following her roles in the adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun (1982), and the made-for-TV drama Mrs. Silly (1983), the skilled actress took the BAFTA-winning turn as Joyce Chilvers in the comedy A Private Function (1984).
Smith’s magnificent acting as chaperon Charlotte Bartlett in A Room with a View (1985) was critically applauded and she was awarded a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. For the same role, she was also nominated for Oscar’s Best Supporting Actress. In 1987, she reaped more appreciation for her work in The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, where her first-class titular turn garnered a BAFTA, an Evening Standard British Film and a Variety Club for Best Actress. The same year, the versatile actress won a Banff and accepted a BAFTA nomination for her memorable turn as a vicar’s wife named Susan in the “Bed Among the Lentils” segment of the miniseries “Talking Heads” (1987).
Smith again drew public attention with her outstanding stage role of Lettice Douffet in Peter Shaffer’s “Lettice and Lovage” (1988). Originally playing the role in London, she reprised it in the 1990 New York production of the play and gained a Tony for Best Actress in a Play. Next up for Smith, she voiced Rozaline in Armando Acosta’s Romeo-Juliet (1990), played the adult Wendy in Steven Spielberg’s version of Hook (1991) and costarred as Mother Superior in Sister Act (1992).
The recipient of the 1993 BAFTA Lifetime Achievement award, Smith received rave reviews for her 1993 films, the remake of The Secret Garden and the TV version of Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly, Last Summer. Following her highly praised turn in the London stage revival of “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1993), the skillful performer starred in “Three Tall Women” (1994) and collected a Variety Club and a London Evening Standard Theatre for Best Actress. Two years later, she reprised her TV role of Susan in the stage version of “Bed Among the Lentils” (1996) and the 1997 production of “A Delicate Balance.”
Amid her successful stage work, she was cast as the Duchess of York in Richard III (1995), before winning a National Board of Review for her lovely turn as Gunilla Garson Goldberg in the comedy The First Wives Club (1996). Awarded with a 1996 BAFTA Academy Fellowship, Smith was then cast as the meddlesome Aunt Lavinia Penniman in Washington Square (1997). In 1999, the veteran actress undertook many roles, including the BAFTA-winning turn of Lady Hester Random in Tea with Mussolini and Aunt Betsey in the TV film David Copperfield (earned an Emmy and BAFTA nomination). The recipient of the 1999 William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre, Smith also starred in Alan Bennett’s play “The Lady in the Van” (1999).
Reaching the peak of her triumphant journey in acting, Smith gathered various awards for her role of Constance Trentham in Robert Altman-directed drama comedy Gosford Park (2001). Her exceptional performance gathered a Kansas City Film Critics Circle, a Golden Satellite, a New York Critics Online and a Southeastern Film Critics Association for Best Supporting Actress. She also gained a Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by the Cast of a Theatrical Motion Picture, as well as brought home an Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The star-studded movie also featured Michael Gambon, Camilla Rutherford, Trent Ford, Ryan Phillippe and many others.
Still in 2001, Smith expanded her popularity among younger audiences with the well-known role of Prof. Minerva McGonagall in Chris Columbus’ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Adapted from J.K. Rowling’s novel, the movie is the first installment of the Harry Potter franchise. Smith later reprised her role of the kind-hearted, elegant professor in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004, helmed by Alfonso Cuarón) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005, for director Mike Newell).
In between her role in the Harry Potter franchise, Smith was seen on stage, opposite Judi Dench, in “The Breath of Life” (2002) and reprised it on Broadway the next year. She also became a critically acclaimed television actress after outstandingly carrying out the part of Mrs. Emily Delahunty, a writer of romance novels, in the TV drama My House In Umbria (2003). Her portrayal in the TV film won an Emmy for Best Actress and brought a Golden Globe nomination. She was then seen in Charles Dance’s directing debut Ladies in Lavender (2004) and the comedy Keeping Mum (2005, alongside Rowan Atkinson and Kristin Scott Thomas).
In 2006, Smith will take a part in the romantic drama Becoming Jane, a biographical portrait of Jane Austen and her romance with an Irishman. She will also reprise her famous role of Prof. McGonagall in the fifth film of Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), for director David Yates.