With no history of acting in the family, Maggie Smith enrolled in drama school at age sixteen. Following performances in student revues and in cabaret, she joined London's Old Vic Theater alongside Laurence Olivier before moving on to London's National Theatre. No stranger to Masterpiece, Maggie Smith has appeared in such productions as David Copperfield, Memento Mori, All for Love, and All the King's Men. She has two sons, also actors, Toby Stephens and Chris Larkin, both with Masterpiece credits of their own. Adding to her astonishing array of awards, including two Oscars, Smith won the 2011 Emmy for best supporting actress in a miniseries for her Downton Abbey role as Violet, the Dowager Countess.
Of Violet, Smith says, "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 façade and underneath she's got a heart of pure custard." And the Dowager Countess's rapier tongue? Smith quips, "It's Julian's tongue, it's not mine. I'm a pussycat!" Pussycat or no, she is renowned for her sense of humor. As Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes explains, "Maggie Smith has a unique sense of comedy, based on a somewhat ironic view of real life, making it both funnier and more sad. But perhaps her greatest ability, or at least the one that most intrigues me, is how she can convey deep and powerful emotion without a trace of sentimentality."