Downton Abbey’s Lady of the House, Elizabeth McGovern
To no one’s surprise the international phenomenon Downton Abbey has just been nominated for the Golden Globe’s best television drama series. It follows on the heels of the show’s well-deserved Emmy attention this year.
The much-acclaimed PBS Masterpiece Classic show launches season three Sunday, Jan. 6. And fans can anticipate more down the “Abbey” road since the British network ITV, which produces the show, has already renewed Downton Abbey for more episodes. Production for a fourth season is set to begin in February.
This season will begin as the Great War is at an end and the long-awaited engagement of Lady Mary and Matthew is on. But all is not tranquil at Downton Abbey as social changes, romantic intrigues, and personal crises grip Downton Abbey. Shirley MacLaine joins the cast, which includes Dame Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Dan Stevens, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Penelope Wilton, and many other fine actors portraying life upstairs and downstairs at the majestic English country estate.
Elizabeth McGovern is the radiant actress who plays Cora the lady of the house. Years earlier, American heiress Cora rescued Downton Abbey with her fortune, marrying Robert, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville). Now a financial crisis will have a big impact on their lives, along with a visit from Cora’s mother Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine).
Having MacLaine step into the role of Cora’s very American mother, in the upcoming season was a revelation for McGovern. “I felt that I really didn’t know who Cora was until I met Shirley. Suddenly it all became clear. I realized that for two years [filming Downton Abbey] I was in a bit of a fog. But I think that there is a light that mothers hand on to their daughters, which I think Shirley [as Martha Levinson] gave Cora in her aura. Which is one of great strength and humor and resilience and flexibility.”
That great quiet strength is the core of Cora, according to McGovern. “It’s the kind that has gone out of fashion in recent decades, because we started to fall in love with women who were towers of strength in a very muscular sort of way. And she (Cora) is a more old-fashioned idea of women’s strength, which is somebody who is extremely flexible and resilient, and can roll with the punches. She is strong in a quieter, more self-effacing way.”
McGovern admires those types of women like Cora. “I think it’s nice to resurrect that idea of female strength, because I think that has turned the wheels of history for many centuries — the quiet, strong woman that just connects all the dots in the family.”
So what qualities does she share with Cora. “None,” revealed McGovern laughing as she chatted away at a PBS press event. “I’m a raving lunatic.”
That statement makes seeing her performance as Cora all the more remarkable. What makes her acting seem effortless? She said, “You have to convince the audience. No matter the dialogue.” She praised the writing on Downton Abbey. “It’s so well written, that when we discuss it, we realize we don’t have to change a line — be it for an American or English audience.”
McGovern married British director and producer Simon Curtis in 1992, “and I moved to England with him, where I’ve raised our children, and still love to work in theater and television.” Her most recent big screen production is Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, which put her back in an English manor house for filming. It was just released and is playing the Laemmle NoHo7 Theatre and around town.
She has enjoyed living in England for 20 years now and pointed out, “life is very livable. With the little villages, you can walk down the mews and find history everywhere. You can feel it, and nurture it. There’s a relaxation that I feel. My kids are very English. They’ve grown up in a different culture than in the American culture. Of course, changing countries was frightening. I thought I was giving up my career. But I’ve gotten so much more.”
McGovern also finds time for music, another love of hers. She is a singer-songwriter, has recorded two albums, and formed a ban called Sadie and the Hotheads.
Now at age 51, McGovern loves everything going on in her life. She said, “The most important thing is I’m happy. I don’t think any of this is worth it if you don’t have a happy life. And I am happy.”