Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess: I’ve Never Seen the Show

Maggie Smith in "Downton Abbey"
Maggie Smith in "Downton Abbey" Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE

Millions of people tune in to Downton Abbey every week, in large part to watch Dame Maggie Smith — who plays Dowager Countess Violet Crawley on the show — sling her signature zingers. But Smith herself is not among them.

In a rare interview airing on 60 Minutes, the 78-year-old Oscar winner confesses that she has never watched the popular PBS program. Asked whether she's proud of her work on the series, the veteran actress pauses before answering. But her hesitation is not a sign that she dislikes the show, only that she honestly doesn't know. "I don't sit down and watch it," she tells Steve Kroft, who asks, somewhat incredulously, "Never?"

"No, I haven't watched it," she replies. Kroft, in turn, tells her she must be "the only person in England who's not watching." (And possibly in America: The Season 3 premiere on Jan. 6 was the highest-rated drama in PBS history, and the Feb. 3 episode ranked second in ratings, behind only that Sunday's Super Bowl.)

"Well, that's a record then, isn't it?" Smith quipped. "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?'"

So why do it at all, if not to see the finished product? "It's the delight of acting," she explains simply.

She's certainly not doing it for the recognition, or for the heightened celebrity. Though Smith's portrayal of the Countess has earned endless praise and numerous accolades — including a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, two Emmys, and a Screen Actors Guild Award — she insists she has no interest in fame. "I don't feel any different to the way I felt before, and I'm not quite sure what [being a star] means," she tells Kroft. "I am familiar to people now, which is what I was not before. That is entirely due to the television set."

The season finale of Downton Abbey airs Sunday, Feb. 17, on PBS.

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