When Warner Bros. decided to undertake the Harry Potter adventure one of the most important requirements was to put together a strong cast. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have come into their own now, but back during the first few movies they were basically learning on the job, and more experienced actors were needed to help carry the films. Thankfully Warner Bros did just that by bringing on-board legendary British actors such as Alan Rickman, Richard Harris, and two time Oscar winner Maggie Smith to play supporting roles, and over the years it has been these actors that have made the movies special, for me anyway.
Nothing like the Harry Potter franchise had been undertaken before and it would require everyone involved, especially the actors, to keep spaces in their diary’s free for the next decade. Things were running smoothly cast-wise until Richard Harris unfortunately died in 2002, and the role of Dumbledore was then taken on by Michael Gambon in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
For the past 5 years the same actors have been appearing on our screens again and again, although fans of the franchise may have noticed something was different about one particular actress in the latest outing Half-Blood Prince. Maggie Smith who plays Minerva McGonagall wasn’t as ‘active’ on-screen as we had seen her in past instalments. I knew from previous reports that Smith had breast cancer and was undergoing treatment, although I didn’t know how bad it was for her during filming. Smith recently spoke to The Times about her cancer battle, and on filming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Last year Dame Maggie found a lump on her breast. “I had been feeling a little rum. I didn’t think it was anything serious because years ago I felt a lump and it was benign. I assumed this would be too. It kind of takes the wind out of your sails, and I don’t know what the future holds, if anything. I don’t think there’s a lot of it, because of my age — there just isn’t. It’s all been. I’ve no idea what there will be.”
She revealed that she made Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince — playing Professor Minerva McGonagall — during her cancer treatment. “I was hairless. I had no problem getting the wig on. I was like a boiled egg.”
The cancer was “hideous”, the chemotherapy “something that makes you feel much worse than the cancer itself”, she said. “You feel horribly sick. I was holding on to railings, thinking ‘I can’t do this’.” Dame Maggie is planning to “stagger through” filming the final Harry Potter film, The Deathly Hallows.
“The last couple of years have been a write-off, though I’m beginning to feel like a person now,” she said. “My energy is coming back. S*** happens. I ought to pull myself together a bit.”
Cancer isn’t kind to anyone, especially 74 year old’s, and while we didn’t see McGonagall marching around after students like we usually do, Maggie Smith gave another great performance given the circumstances.
It’s good to hear that her energy is coming back, as she will need it for Deathly Hallows. Fans of the books will know that McGonagall plays an important role in the final film. Now that Dumbledore isn’t around she is appointed Headmistress of Hogwarts, and during the Battle of Hogwarts she has wizarding duels with Snape (Alan Rickman) and Voldemort. While I don’t expect Maggie Smith to be doing anything too physical i’m sure these scenes can still be done. I mean it wasn’t actually Ian McKellen (70) and Christopher Lee (87) throwing themselves around the room during their battles in The Lord of the Rings.
The next time you hear young actors and actresses complaining about how hard it was filming for 10 hours a day or how tough it was running away from those planned explosions, block out their bull by admiring the tough cookie that is Dame Maggie Smith.