TODAY   |  March 07, 2013

Maggie Smith: ‘I prefer to be somebody else’

Dame Maggie Smith, who plays “Downton Abbey” favorite the Dowager Countess, talks to NBC’s Michelle Kosinski about playing the beloved character on the hit series, her new movie, “Quartet,” directed by Dustin Hoffman, and aging in the limelight.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> interview with one of britain's most acclaimed actress, maggie smith or as fans of abbey know her, the count. michelle was lucky enough to interview her.

>> before we sat down with dame maggie smith , we heard how she never does interviews, intimidates everyone, we found out how she was hilarious and could never have been funnier about the persona and how playing older stronger characters helped her accept aging.

>> reporter: an ocean away from hollywood, miles from imposing do "downtown abbey" where she rules as the more imposing violet of grantham. dame maggie smith in real life casually declines makeup or primping, can't imagine why we want to talk to her.

>> i don't know. i'd prefer to be somebody else. selling myself always feels a bit odd. i never think it's that interesting.

>> reporter: not that interesting to her as a career spanning more than half a century. oscars, golden globes . she's even been in " clash of the titans ," " sister act " and "kotter."

>> that was bloody brilliant.

>> thank you for that assessment.

>> reporter: most recently, the "marigold hotel" and playing a real diva.

>> this is a madhouse.

>> reporter: directed by dustin hoffman and directed by a woman somehow in this field just accepted ageing a long time ago.

>> everybody lies about their age and injects their faith.

>> i know. i kind of missed out on all that. if i had started earlier doing all that --

>> reporter: do you think you would have?

>> i don't know. i truly think if i went to los angeles , i think i'd frighten people. they don't see old people.

>> reporter: while she feels the loss of ability, at a very busy 78, she has not experienced, is a sad thing, it's good to portray it as a rich part of life.

>> i've been playing old parts forever. i play 93 quite often. when you've done it more than once, you take the hint. i think it's a great hurt if you're one of those fantastic stars who have always been beautiful, then i think it's hard.

>> reporter: you've always been beautiful.

>> please, pull yourself together.

>> reporter: it's true.

>> i'm talking about those amazing young girls.

>> reporter: now, her star is rising lower as the countess sachets into american living rooms and enthralls us.

>> oftening i'll have the weekend.

>> what is a weekend.

>> she has to drop down dead at some point. must be about 110 logically. i don't know what's going to happen.

>> reporter: you've had enough of her?

>> no. i'm only kidding!

>> reporter: again, dame maggie surprised us by admitting underneath the jewels and one-liners, she is scared.

>> reporter: when you're violet sitting there in your incredible hat, are you nervous?

>> like a lump of jelly, worried if i don't get this speech right, i'm done for.

>> and dustin hoffman in his directorial debut is also nervous.

>> hard to imagine you and dustin hoffman nervous what you're doing.

>> we're all juggering like crazy. it was so amazing to have somebody who knew what it felt like to be on the other side of the camera.

>> reporter: do you think people will be terribly disappointed that you're really nice and really not like violet?

>> if they meet me, they'll find out the truth, that i'm really me.

>> she had no trouble playing someone older. it will be released in the u.s. tomorrow.