Maggie Smith on the “Real Pressure” of Film and Television Acting

Maggie Smith

There probably isn’t a single person who thinks Oscar, BAFTA, Emmy, Olivier, Tony, and SAG Award-winning actress Maggie Smith is anything less than perfect at what she does… that is, except for Dame Maggie Smith herself. In a candid conversation with NPR, Smith reveals why she’s much more comfortable on a stage than on a film or television set and addresses the gossip that she can be difficult to work with.

When asked what she thinks about stories that she can be “intimidating – maybe even difficult at times” on set, Smith doesn’t deny it. However, she points to her insecurities — something most actors can relate to — as the reason for the way she behaves that way on a TV or film shoot as opposed to on stage. She explains, “I think it’s because – I know it sounds silly but I am – and I think a lot of actors would agree with this – I am very insecure. And I don’t know, I feel somehow – on a set, I feel a bit trapped because you’re in a corner, and you absolutely have to do it. There is no way out. In the theater, you know, you get another chance. You can do it the next night, the next performance. You can probably get it right then. But you don’t have any real say in a film. And quite honestly, I probably drive everybody mad and go on and on and on and want to do another take and – because I never feel that it’s right. So I always feel huge pressure. It’s an odd feeling, but when you’re there and you’re having to do it, the choice you make has to be absolutely right. And of course, it can’t be. It just absolutely can’t be. So you don’t really have a say in it. I find it very hard because I don’t know that I trust myself to know that – if it’s good or if that’s the take that should be or whether we just do it with one take or there isn’t time to do anymore. You know, I find that real pressure.”

Smith adds that the strict schedule of most film productions is what heightens that pressure. She continues, “I think there’s always great tension because there never seems to be enough – there is always pressure. There’s always pressure because there isn’t enough time. There’s never enough time for a movie, it seems to me. Never.”

Because of that pressure and limitations, Smith says she has great respect for actors who can really nail their performances on film. She points out, “You want so much to get it right. And – you know, there’s a thing in your head that kind of says to you, I think that was nearer it, you know? But when people are all around you and the pressure is that you’re going to get this shot in, you know, the light’s going to go – I have such admiration for film actors.”

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