Elizabeth McGovern on why she left predatory Hollywood for the stage and her role in the Downton film

Elizabeth McGovern is the Hollywood star who threw away a brilliant career and a superstar fiance in Tinseltown. But she became famous for the second time in her forties after taking on the role of the American heiress Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, in the television phenomenon Downton Abbey.

But McGovern, now 57, is a versatile performer who cannot be defined by her most famous role. Later that year, it will appear in the long-awaited one Downton Film ("Nobody will be disappointed," she smiles), and she also plays in another drama, The supervisorthat she produced.

This month she appears alongside Matthew Broderick in the play on the West End stage The Star Messengerand she also releases her third album with her folk band Sadie And The Hotheads.

Elizabeth McGovern is a versatile performer who has just appeared in the Downton Film, on stage in The Star Messengerand released her third album with Sadie And The Hotheads

Personally, McGovern – who was once engaged to Hollywood villain Sean Penn – is quiet and reserved. The daughter of academics from Los Angeles is more the gentle, selfless Cora than the guitar-studded Sadie, who has to carry equipment with her bandmates through festival fields for miles.

She has steadfastly refused to even think about using botox or any form of surgery to look younger, but is more in demand than actresses half her age. Downton The creator Julian Fellowes calls it "a calm storm and not a woman to be underestimated", and McGovern agrees with this assessment. "I was very lucky that my whole life I didn't care what others think."

What do we know about the new? Downton Movie? It is about a royal visit by King George V and Queen Mary, played by actors Simon Jones and Geraldine James. Imelda Staunton who is married to in real life Downton Butler Carson (Jim Carter) is also included in the cast as an impressive Lady Bagshaw, but Lily James – who has become a superstar in leading roles in films since the end of the ITV show in 2015 Mamma Mia! here we go again to Cinderella – was not written in the film as Lady Rose because of her workload.

McGovern is aware of the massive impact of the Fellowes story. "Downton has changed our whole life. It's less of a television show than this juggernaut that surprised us all. I didn't expect my career at my age to take this new direction. When the series (first shown in 2010) ended in 2015, everyone was very emotional because it was the end of something special, but everyone was also incredibly preoccupied with other opportunities that arose from them Downton. Coming back felt like a family reunion. Everyone was in a holiday mood because it seemed such an achievement to turn this show into a movie. We all walked around with a big smile.

Refusing to be defined by her most famous role as Lady Grantham in Downton (with husband Hugh Bonneville on the screen above), she says returning to the set for the film feels like "coming home".

She refuses to be defined by her role as Lady Grantham Downton (above with husband Hugh Bonneville on the screen) and says returning to the set for the film felt like coming home.

"Downton has a reputation for being a good job. It's probably the friendliest set I've ever worked on because we all camp out there for the duration and we all have great respect for one another.

“Imelda was on set with Jim so often that she already felt like a member of the cast, and Simon and Geraldine are both excellent actors. Everyone finds it exciting, and obviously we have Dame Maggie (Smith), possibly the smartest, most inspiring, and funniest woman to meet. It just felt very special. And then there are the usual concerns that you need to remember, like carefully choosing your fork for the banquet scenes – filming takes 12 hours, and what looked appetizing at 8 a.m. makes you sick from 9 p.m. I always take a small piece of carrot or green bean. "

Has beenDownton Movie stars mean that luxury chefs from Winnebagos and Michelin stars clutter the manicured lawns of Highclere Castle, Hampshire, where the series is set?

McGovern laughs. & # 39; Absolutely not. There was no change in the changing rooms or in the catering. It was all exactly the same. The food is all very standard TV tariff. But it was nice to be back with my screen daughters Michelle (Dockery who plays Lady Mary) and Edith (Laura Carmichael) and of course my screen husband Hugh (Bonneville), whom we all love. We all fit into our old patterns. A lot of music is played because some of us play guitar, but I played a lot less this year and Michael Fox (who plays foot soldier Andrew Parker) did a lot of songs with Michelle. "

"For me, true feminism is about exploring female characters who have their own inner strength." The star ambassador (above with co-star Matthew Broderick)

Dockery is known for playing everything on it Downton Set, from topic to The sound of music according to jazz standards such as Ella Fitzgeralds Blue sky and the odd Bob Dylan number.

McGovern says he works with fellowes again Downton was different from her time when she worked with him in 2018 The supervisor. In the 1920s film, McGovern plays a Kansas housewife who accompanies future silent movie star Louise Brooks on her first dance job in New York. The film is directed by Michael Engler, who also directed the film Downton TV series finale and the new film.

"I read the book and fell in love with it," says McGovern, "and Julian (Fellowes) wrote the script." It was very different to work with him on a different level, to go to meetings and to see a completely different side of his vision.

“In a way, it was strange to come back to it Downton and be one of the "children" again. As an actor, you do not have the same say in meetings or you do not know everything that is going on. But I learned so much from Julian on both sides of the camera. "

As a teenager, McGovern surprised her parents with the announcement that she wanted to be an actress, and at 21 she played alongside Robert De Niro in Once Upon a Time in America (top)

As a teenager, McGovern surprised her parents with the announcement that she wanted to be an actress, and at 21, she played in alongside Robert De Niro Once Upon a Time in America (about)

Whether there will be one Downton The film sequel will not speculate. But everything seems possible for McGovern. When she was a teenager, the A-star student surprised the parents of her university lecturers by announcing that she wanted to become an actress.

And she quickly found success. Her first role in Robert Redford's directorial debut Ordinary peopleIn addition to Donald Sutherland, she won four Oscars and a year later she won her own Oscar nomination for ragtime. At 21, she played alongside Robert De Niro in Once Upon a Time in America and got engaged to Sean Penn before appearing alongside Brad Pitt, Mickey Rourke and Michael Caine.

But McGovern turned his back on Hollywood – first to New York to appear in plays and then to England in 1992 after meeting the British filmmaker Simon Curtis, who is now her husband and father of her two daughters Matilda (25) Grace, 20 .

She says she meets Curtis, the 2017 director Goodbye Christopher Robinwas the best thing that ever happened to her. She discovered the joys of England that she now calls home ("since real coffee became a big deal about ten years ago – it was the only thing I really missed about America").

Around the same time, she was engaged to the Hollywood villain Sean Penn (above 1984); She previously described her high octane relationship as "dramatic" and "stressful".

Around the same time, she was engaged to the Hollywood villain Sean Penn (above 1984); She previously described her high octane relationship as "dramatic" and "stressful".

She was able to motherhood and a steady flow of TV and film roles (from The favor in 1994 to The house of birth with Gillian Anderson in 2000) with a number of theater works. In 2008 she played in the BBC comedy Freezeand played half of an unemployed couple against none other than her Downton Partner Hugh Bonneville. She smiles: "We are very good at playing husband and wife."

McGovern's relationship with Curtis is far from the high drama of her early 20s with Penn. "I married a smart, funny man who is very talented," she says. Our family is our priority, but I couldn't have done it The supervisor Without his support and advice and away from work, we live a very normal life. "

She previously described her high-octane relationship with Penn in the Hollywood spotlight as "dramatic" and "exhausting", and it is clear – though she no longer gossips – that McGovern's values ​​converge with them DowntonLady Grantham, who, like her, left a fast life in the United States to Great Britain.

"I didn't think I'd throw a career away," she says. “First I went to New York and then to England. Back then, it was almost unknown to a Hollywood actress to want to play theater because the striving was always to be a movie star, but none of that ever bothered me – I just wanted to do interesting work. I didn't find anything compelling about this Hollywood lifestyle, so it just seemed right to leave. I wanted to learn more about life. Los Angeles is a small place that focuses on one thing – movies – and I wanted to see something else. "

But she turned her back on Hollywood and moved to England in 1992 after meeting the British filmmaker Simon Curtis (top in 2011) who became her husband and father of their children

But she turned her back on Hollywood and moved to England in 1992 after meeting the British filmmaker Simon Curtis (top in 2011) who became her husband and father of their children

They wonder if this was partly because she was a young, beautiful actress trapped in Hollywood's predatory culture, but she says, “Hollywood is all about attraction and mysticism, and it was for actresses especially difficult because there was always a blurry line with the attraction you should have as an actress and who you were as a woman. I was grateful on my knees when women started to speak and the #MeToo movement knocked over these powerful men in the film business. It was a culture that was not unknown to me, although nothing ever happened to me. It happened and people didn't talk about it. I was lucky because as an actress I never came from a place of despair, so it was not easy to take advantage of. Although I put up with little things my daughters would never tolerate – just the general way women were addressed, people are now thinking about it. "

McGovern strives to create female characters whose inner strength speaks of what she calls "true feminism". Lady Cora is the glue that holds the family together. And in her new piece The Star MessengerMcGovern plays a woman whose husband, as an astronomy teacher, is in crisis after his father's death. His job is under threat and he believes the answer to his problems is a young nurse he has fallen in love with.

"But my character doesn't fall apart because she has a rival. We're so used to the insecure woman falling apart, but that's not so helpful news. For me, true feminism is about exploring female characters who have their own inner strength, women who can grow and develop at any age, women who are sure who they are and what they do. ”

McGovern is not an insecure woman, something she recognizes is unusual for an actress. Aging has never bothered her. "I would never have botox or anything done. I have no problem with what people do with their faces to look younger, but I find it strange – young faces, old hands … or faces that no longer look like theirs. "

The decisions McGovern made – which stunned her Hollywood co-stars and agents at the time – worked out well for her personally. She has a well-rounded, philosophical approach to her life that she finds more suitable for life in England than the Razzmatazz of Los Angeles. "People talk about wanting to be happy, but you can't always jump up and down happily." Satisfaction is much more important to me, satisfaction with yourself, with your life, with the things you do. "

She has a successful marriage, a successful career, and in the fifties challenged herself to do more – to become a musician and to lead the band Sadie And The Hotheads. McGovern, who writes the lyrics to the songs, says that she is on stage with her band, which makes her feel most free.

As a musician, her life is far from the reserved, delicate tea parties of Downton. She has often paid "very poor" stays at festivals and played in front of an audience that may have even heard of the band or not. She smiles: "We made an appearance in Bishop & # 39; s Stortford where it was so cold that my hand on the guitar was frozen. We had traveled miles to get there and I looked at the audience and it no one was there, but when things are going well and people are watching and singing, well … "She pauses." You don't want to stop. "

She has played in an empty field, in pubs, at the Isle of Wight Festival and most recently as a warm-up act for Sting at the Montreux Jazz Festival. She says that her performance in Montreux has nothing to do with the fame she has found Downton. Sting told me that he had never seen Downton. He hadn't seen it at all. He just doesn't really watch TV. But we talked about acting and performance. He did both. He said he preferred music because he had more control. "

She shrugs and laughs at her musical personality. "I know it doesn't seem to be something I would do." I am not the person who rushes into a room to seek attention, I am absolutely the opposite. But there is something in me that only wants to occur.

"It scared me to go on stage," she says. “Especially at the beginning when we were playing in front of a man and his dog, but I wanted to do it, and when I was out there I was just thrilled with the performance.

& # 39; manufacture The supervisor was maybe a more naive move because I had no idea how difficult it would be or how long it would take (in the end it took almost eight years, from story to canvas). But I'm so proud of myself.

"When women get older, we should just go away, but you can't allow it." You don't have to buy yourself into this myth. I've never been so busy and never been so excited. "

Does she ever think what would have happened if she married Sean Penn?

She laughs: “Never. A different life. Another story. I am very happy with the decisions I made. "

Elizabeth McGovern will play "The Starry Messenger" at Wyndham & # 39; s Theater in London at starrymessengerplay.com starting May 16


1. Shadow lands

Elizabeth McGoverns Downton Husband Hugh Bonneville stars as The chronicles of Narnia Author CS Lewis in William Nicholson's award-winning play. Until May 25th Chichester Festival Theater

Hugh Bonneville (above as CS Lewis in Shadowlands at the Chichester Festival Theater) is just one of the many Hollywood names that will soon come to a stage near you

Hugh Bonneville (above as CS Lewis in Shadow lands at the Chichester Festival Theater) is just one of the many Hollywood names that will soon appear on a stage near you

2nd All of my sons

There are still a few tickets left to see Sally Field and Bill Pullman as Kate and Joe Keller in Arthur Miller's family tragedy. Until June 8th, The Old Vic, London

3rd Rosmersholm

Ibsen's lesser known work is again presented by Duncan Macmillan, with Hayley Atwell and Tom Burke leading the cast. Until July 20 at the Duke of York & # 39; s Theater in London

4th The night of the iguana

Clive Owen returns to the London stage after 18 years to play the debilitated, alcoholic Reverend Shannon in Tennessee Williams & # 39; classic story of lust and ruin. From July 6th Noël Coward Theater, London

5. Bitter wheat

David Mamet's new play, which celebrates its world premiere, is loosely based on Harvey Weinstein and plays John Malkovich (in his first West End role in more than 30 years) as depraved Hollywood mogul Barney Fein. As of June 7th, Garrick Theater, London

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