"Downton Abbey" fame spotlights Maggie Smith

Every bit as formidable as her character on "Downton Abbey," Dame Maggie Smith gives a rare and "spiky" interview to 60 Minutes

The following is a script from "Dame Maggie" which aired on Feb. 17, 2013. Steve Kroft is the correspondent. Deidre Naphin, producer.

Of all the great British actors of the past half century none are more respected or honored than Dame Maggie Smith. She is most familiar now as the Dowager Countess on "Downton Abbey," which concludes its third season later tonight on PBS. She has won two Oscars, three Emmys and a Tony Award, all wrapped around a long and illustrious career on the British stage.

At age 78, she is at the peak of her fame, much in demand and quite bankable. Last spring's "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" was a surprise hit and there is a new film out, "Quartet," directed by Dustin Hoffman. She doesn't have much time -- or much interest in giving interviews -- which she's compared to testifying in court. They are a rarity. We were fortunate enough to get one.

Steve Kroft: You seem to have no interest in celebrity and fame.

Maggie Smith: Absolutely none. I mean, why would I?

Steve Kroft: Do you accept the fact that you're a star?

Maggie Smith: If you say so. Yes. I do-- I don't feel any different to the way I felt before and I'm not quite sure what it means. I am familiar to people now, which is what I was not before. That is entirely due to the television set.

She's talking about "Downton Abbey," the highbrow British soap opera that follows the intrigues of an aristocratic family and their servants at the turn of the last century. It's drawn critical acclaim and record audiences in Britain and for PBS's "Masterpiece" series here in the U.S. due in large part to Maggie Smith's portrayal of Violet, the imperious, sharp-tongued Dowager Countess of Grantham.

[Clip from "Downton Abbey:" "Mama, may I present Matthew Crawley and Mrs. Crawley, my Mother, Lady Grantham."

"What should we call each other?"

"Well we could always start with Mrs. Crawley and Lady Grantham."]

Her role as a privileged matriarch coping with the intrusions of the modern world has become one of the most memorable in a storied career and has already won her two Emmy awards.

[Clip from "Downton Abbey:" "I'm so looking forward to seeing your mother again. When I'm with her I'm reminded of the virtues of the English."

"But isn't she American?"


Steve Kroft: Did you have any idea that "Downton Abbey" was going to be this successful?

Maggie Smith: No, I didn't, no. A whole very startled group of people, you know. I mean very pleased, but very amazed.

Steve Kroft: You're proud of it?

Maggie Smith: Yes-- well, yes, of course I am. I was just thinking-- pausing because I haven't actually seen it, so I don't sit down and watch it.

Steve Kroft: Never?

Maggie Smith: No, I haven't watched it.

Steve Kroft: You must be the only person in England who's not watching it.

Maggie Smith: Well, that's a record then, isn't it? Of some sort.

Steve Kroft: Don't you have a desire to see how the whole thing turned out? You do it in bits and pieces.

Maggie Smith: I will look at it when it's all over, maybe. Because it's frustrating. I always see things that I would like to do differently and think, "Oh, why in the name of God did I do that?"

Video courtesy of Carnival Films/Masterpiece on PBS
The Downton Abbey series is available for purchase on PBS