There is no Downton Abbey without a dowager, and with Dame Maggie Smith secured for next season (four), we can all breathe easy that the snobbish septuagenarian isn't going anywhere. One of England's national treasures, she made a career of playing older upper-crust wasps, and has racked up quite the award count in her 60 plus year career. We now take a look back to see how this grand dame became a household name.
Thriving in the feel-good, golden-oldies genre she's mastered, Smith plays a former opera diva who's forced to move into a home for retired opera singers. She then rejoins her former colleagues and clashes with her ex-husband -- as they try to save their home with a charity concert. Smith was also nominated for a Golden Globe in Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut.
Harry Potter (2001 2011)
In her longest running role to date, Smith played the much-loved Professor Minerva McGonagall in all of the Harry Potter Movies, including: Deathly Hallows (Parts One and Two), Half-Blood Prince, Order of the Phoenix, Sorcerer's Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Goblet of Fire, and Prisoner of Azkaban. With the same steely reserve, she served as the strict headmistress of Hogwarts with a kind heart. Sound familiar?
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)
Joining some of England's finest -- Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson -- Smith plays Muriel Donnelly, a former housekeeper, who, along with her fellow fair-haired retirees, decides to spend her twilight years in India. Lured in by the promises of a beautifully restored hotel and cheap living -- they end up being charmed by the old hotel and its cast of characters. With a sequel already in the works, Smith suggests the working title of Marigold Hospice.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002)
Following in the footsteps of Steel Magnolias, the film portrays an ensemble of comical stereotypes of Southern women, led by Ellen Burstyn. After years of tension, Vivi's (Burstyn) friends seek to mend the bond between mother and daughter Siddalee (Sandra Bullock). Ever the scene-stealer, Smith plays the wine-wielding Caro Eliza Bennett, one of the eccentric girlhood friends, proving once again her daft ability for delivering one-line zingers.
Gosford Park (2001)
Downton Abbey writer and creator Julian Fellowes cut his teeth writing this multi-storylined period drama set in 1932 England. Before becoming the Dowager, Smith plays the Countess of Trentham in her Oscar-nominated role -- an equally buttoned up and broke aristocrat. The upstairs/downstairs drama unfolds after a murder at the country estate, and everyone's a suspect.
The First Wives Club (1996)
Donning an American accent, Smith plays the wealthy New York socialite Gunilla Garson Goldberg (perhaps the greatest name in cinematic history), who aids her fellow first wives to exact their revenge on their ex-husbands. Is there a bat-signal used to contact her every time a sassy older rich woman role needs to be filled?
A Room with a View (1985)
Based on the E.M. Forster novel set during the chaste Edwardian Era, the film stars Helena Bonham Carter as Lucy Honeychurch -- a young socialite who tours Italy accompanied by her spinster chaperone, Charlotte Bartlett (Smith). Lucy naturally falls for the free-spirited George Emerson (Julian Sands) while abroad, and in true Mags-style, Smith's character does her best to dismantle their growing relationship.
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Before the CGI-driven monster-fest remake, Smith appeared in the original film adaptation of the greek myth of Perseus and his battle against Medusa and the Kraken. She plays Thetis -- a sea nymph, goddess and mother to the monstrous Calibos. Along with other theatre heavyweights, like Laurence Olivier, Smith delivered a powerful performance -- further evidence she possesses true god-like powers on screen and off.
California Suite (1978)
In another ensemble cast, Smith picked up an Oscar for playing the role of an Oscar nominated actress (Diana Barrie) in this satirical adaptation of Neil Simon's hit Broadway play. The film chronicles the adventures and hi-jinks of four groups of guests at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and makes the seamless transition from stage to screen.
Murder by Death (1976)
As part of her string of British whodunits in the 70s, Smith took on the role of Dora Charleston, based on the fictional sleuthing couple Nick and Nora Charles. Along with other famous literary detective characters, such as Miss Marple and Poirot, they're invited by the eccentric millionaire Lionel Twain -- played by no other than Truman Capote -- to solve a murder in this mystery spoof. Now we know who to blame for Clue.