Downton Abbey: Interview with Dame Maggie Smith

Maggie Smith plays Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, widely hailed as one of the finest actresses of her generation. Her wonderfully tart observations about the way modern life is intruding on Downton Abbey have become one of the show’s best loved aspects.

Downton Abbey's producer Gareth Neame's praise for Maggie: “We were absolutely delighted because she’s never been in a TV series before. We were elated because she’s acted almost as Julian ’s muse. This is the third time he’s written for her, and she’s able to articulate his writing so beautifully.”

[Dame Smith] begins by revealing that she missed the enormous acclaim that greeted the first series of Downton Abbey because she and Penelope Wilton were making a film in India called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with long time friends Dame Judi Dench and Bill Nighy. Maggie recollects, “We were in Jaipur, and it felt very remote. But it was wonderful to come back and hear that Downton Abbey had been this huge success. I think it took everybody by surprise. Yes, I may have been in lots of successes, but I actually do very little television, so I’ve never been in anything that’s been this big before.”

According to Maggie, “Julian [Fellowes] has written an incredible piece of television. There are so many stories there with so many characters involved that it is a truly ensemble piece. It’s not as though there are any individuals really - it’s a whole company piece. And I think that’s interesting. I think the viewers love to know what’s happening in Carson’s life as much as what’s happening in Daisy’s and Mary’s. There are so many different storylines that keep the plot rolling, and that is why I think audiences love it. People get completely involved in all these different stories, and I think the way Julian’s managed to weave them all together is amazing.”

The actress reveals the cast find Downton Abbey just as addictive as the audience do. She says, “You become absolutely obsessed and riveted by it. We don’t get all the scripts together in one batch because Julian is still writing them clearly. But I will be reading the script, then be desperate for the next one, desperate to know what’s going to happen next!”

Photo: Belfast Telegraph

The imperious character of Violet has really struck a chord with audiences. Maggie explains why her alter ego has proved so popular. “She’s always been imperious from the age of two, and I think she’s just about got the hang of it now. I also like to think that she’s got this sort of fa├žade and underneath she’s got a heart of pure custard. That’s my theory anyway. She’s a lot of fun to play because Julian has written some wonderful lines for me to say, so it’s all thanks to him really. She bosses people about and speaks her mind. She just comes right out with it. I have a great desire to do the same thing as Violet and I really have to curb that!”

The actress goes on to assess how Violet reacts to the war. “Even when that war started, I don’t think anyone had any perception that it was going to go on for as long or be as hard as it was. Everybody thought it would be over quickly, done and dusted within no time at all. “I think Violet was fearful of what was going to happen, but I don’t think they were prepared at Downton Abbey; they couldn’t have been prepared for the horror of that. It’s inconceivable; the four years of total hell that it was, and the loss of the golden youth. But Violet is older and wiser than the rest of them and I think she had been there, done that and got the T-shirt. Eventually, the war did change things and forced people to change. The huge losses made them change.”

Every young actor on Downton Abbey says that the highlight of working on the show is the opportunity to collaborate with Maggie. The actress is very flattered by the compliments. “Oh come on! Well I am very, very touched; I think that’s amazing. I think that’s lovely. I think they are sensational, and those three girls just take my breath away all the time." “I mean all of them are fantastic actors but I am involved with the family more, and I very rarely go downstairs. I am never in the kitchen, but I think they are stunning. Also it’s a very pressured job on Downton Abbey. They do work hard, they really do."

During the last series, viewers really latched onto Violet’s quips. So does Maggie have the opportunity to improvise a little bit as Violet? “Don’t let Julian hear you say that word!” She exclaims. “You wouldn’t dare. Every word is a pearl. No, we wouldn’t dare do that.” Audiences also adored Violet’s rapier tongue. But, Maggie reminds us, “It’s Julian’s tongue, it’s not mine. I’m a pussycat!”

Source: ITV / Milk Publicity

Waiting until September 18th for Maggie to receive her Emmy award!
(She better receive it or the Emmy folks will have an uprising on their hands!)

More on Season 2 of Downton Abbey


  1. LOST is also an emsemble piece. Just throwing that out there!
    I just realized I've never before seen a photo of her out of character.

  2. @peri
    LOST IS an ensemble piece! Are you suffering withdrawal?...
    How is it possible you've never seen Maggie out of character?

  3. She is amazing. And she made a movie with Judi Dench?? I am so there!

  4. oh i absolutely adore this woman.i wish i could be anything like her!!

  5. Thank you for whetting my appetite for the new season of DA! If only I could watch it now instead of having to wait until January!



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