Elizabeth McGovern

Elizabeth Lee McGovern (born July 18, 1961) is an American film, television, and theater actor, and musician. She received an Academy Award nomination for her role as Evelyn Nesbit in the 1981 film Ragtime. She is also known for her performance as Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham in the British drama series Downton Abbey, for which she has been nominated for an Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award. Her other films include Ordinary People (1980), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), The Handmaid's Tale (1990) and The Wings of the Dove (1997).

Elizabeth McGovern
Elizabeth McGovern 2012
Elizabeth McGovern at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival
Elizabeth Lee McGovern[1]

July 18, 1961 (age 57)
EducationJuilliard School
Years active1979–present
Simon Curtis
(m. 1992)

Early life

McGovern was born in Evanston, Illinois, the daughter of Katharine Wolcott (née Watts), a high school teacher, and William Montgomery McGovern, Jr., a university professor.[2] Her younger sister is novelist Cammie McGovern. Her paternal grandfather was adventurer William Montgomery McGovern, her maternal great-grandfathers were U.S. diplomat Ethelbert Watts and Admiral Charles P. Snyder, and her maternal great-great-grandfather was Congressman Charles P. Snyder.[3][4][5] During her early years, the McGovern family moved to Los Angeles, where her father accepted a teaching position with the law school at UCLA.

Agent Joan Scott saw her performance in The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder, was impressed by her talent, and recommended she take acting lessons. McGovern studied at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, and graduated from The Juilliard School in New York City, a member of Group 12, 1979–1981[6]


In 1980, while studying at Juilliard, McGovern was offered a part in what became her first film, Ordinary People, in which she played the girlfriend of troubled teenager Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton). The following year she completed her acting education at the American Conservatory Theatre and Juilliard, and began to appear in plays, first Off-Broadway and later in famous theaters.

In 1981 she earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Evelyn Nesbit in the film Ragtime.[7]

In 1984, she starred in Sergio Leone's gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America as Robert De Niro's romantic interest Deborah Gelly. She had leading roles in two other films that year, Racing with the Moon, a coming-of-age story also starring Sean Penn and Nicolas Cage, and the comedy Lovesick, as a patient whose psychiatrist (Dudley Moore) falls in love with her, risking his practice.

In 1989, she played Mickey Rourke's girlfriend in Johnny Handsome, directed by Walter Hill, and the same year she appeared as a rebellious lesbian in Volker Schlöndorff's film The Handmaid's Tale.

McGovern co-starred with Kevin Bacon in a romantic comedy, She's Having a Baby, directed by John Hughes, and starred in the thriller The Bedroom Window, directed by Curtis Hanson. She teamed with Michael Caine in 1990's A Shock to the System, a comic mystery about a man who plots the murder of his wife.

In a 1994 comedy, The Favor, McGovern played a woman who cheats on her boyfriend (played by Brad Pitt) by becoming her married best friend's proxy in a tryst with a man the friend has fantasized about.

McGovern appeared in a number of films in the 21st century, including Woman in Gold, a drama starring Helen Mirren.


McGovern has appeared in several television productions, mostly in the UK. In 1999 and 2000 McGovern played Marguerite St. Just in a BBC television series loosely based on the novel The Scarlet Pimpernel.

On American TV, she appeared in a 2006 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit titled "Harm," in which her character of Dr. Faith Sutton was a psychiatrist accused of complicity in detainee abuse. Her other television work includes Broken Glass (Arthur Miller, 1996); Tales from the Crypt; The Changeling; Tales from Hollywood; the HBO series Men and Women; The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt; Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre ("Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"); and If Not for You (CBS 1995, own series).

In May 2007, she played Ellen Doubleday, Daphne du Maurier's paramour, in Daphne, a BBC2 television drama by Amy Jenkins based on Margaret Forster's biography of the author.[8]

In December 2008, McGovern appeared as Dame Celia Westholme in "Appointment with Death", an episode of Agatha Christie's Poirot. In the same year, she appeared in the three-part BBC comedy series Freezing, written by James Wood and directed and co-produced by her husband Simon Curtis. First broadcast on BBC Four, it was also shown on BBC2 in February 2008. McGovern played an American expatriate actress named Elizabeth, living in Chiswick with her publisher husband, played by Hugh Bonneville, and co-starring Tom Hollander as her theatrical agent.

From 2010 to 2015, she portrayed Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, wife of Robert Crawley, 7th Earl of Grantham (played by Hugh Bonneville) in the British TV series Downton Abbey.[9]


McGovern is also a singer-songwriter. In 2008 she began fronting the band Sadie and the Hotheads at The Castle pub venue in Portobello Road, London.[10] The band released an album of songs she developed with The Nelson Brothers, who are now part of the band. The album also includes Ron Knights on bass and Rowan Oliver, borrowed from Goldfrapp, as drummer for the recording sessions.[7] Michelle Dockery, who plays McGovern's eldest daughter in Downton Abbey, has occasionally sung with the band.[11]


Roles in New York include:

In her theatre programme CVs (below), McGovern lists her other theatre work in the U.S. as including:

Since moving to London, McGovern's stage work has included:

McGovern was awarded the 2013 Will Award by the Shakespeare Theatre Company.[15]

Personal life

When she was 23, McGovern was engaged to actor Sean Penn whom she met on the set of Racing with the Moon.[16] In 1992, she married British film director and producer Simon Curtis; the couple have two daughters, Matilda and Grace.[17][18]



Year Title Role Notes
1980 Ordinary People Jeannine Pratt
1980 Last Year's Model Unknown Short film
1981 Ragtime Evelyn Nesbit Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress
1983 Lovesick Chloe Allen
1984 Once Upon a Time in America Deborah Gelly (adult)
1984 Racing with the Moon Caddie Winger
1986 Native Son Mary Dalton
1987 The Bedroom Window Denise
1988 She's Having a Baby Kristy Briggs
1989 Johnny Handsome Donna McCarty
1990 The Handmaid's Tale Moira
1990 A Shock to the System Stella Anderson
1990 Tune in Tomorrow... Elena Quince
1993 King of the Hill Lydia
1993 Me and Veronica Fanny
1994 The Favor Emily
1995 Wings of Courage Noelle Guillaumet Short film
1997 The Wings of the Dove Susie "Sue" Stringham
1998 The Man with Rain in His Shoes Diane
1998 The Misadventures of Margaret Till Turner
2000 Manila Elizabeth
2000 The House of Mirth Mrs. Carry Fisher
2001 Buffalo Soldiers Mrs. Berman
2006 The Truth Donna
2008 Inconceivable Tallulah "Tutu" Williams
2010 Kick-Ass Mrs. Lizewski
2010 Clash of the Titans Marmara
2011 Angel's Crest Jane
2012 Cheerful Weather for the Wedding Mrs. Thatcham
2015 Unexpected Samantha's mother
2015 Woman in Gold Judge Florence Cooper
2015 Swung Dolly
2016 Showing Roots Shirley
2017 The Wife Elaine Mozell
2018 The Commuter Karen McCauley
2018 The Chaperone Norma
2019 Downton Abbey Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham Filming


Year Title Role Notes
1979 California Fever Lisa Bannister Episode: "The Girl from Somewhere"
1984 Faerie Tale Theatre Snow White Episode: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"
1990 Women & Men: Stories of Seduction Vicki Television film
1991 Ashenden Aileen Somerville Television film
Nominated—CableACE Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
1992 Tales from Hollywood Helen Schwartz Television film
1993 Performance Beatrice-Joanna Episode: "The Changeling"
1995 If Not for You Jessie Kent 8 episodes
1995 Broken Trust Janice Dillon Television film
1996 Broken Glass Margaret Hymen Television film
1996 The Summer of Ben Tyler Celia Rayburn Television film
1996 Tracey Takes On... Judge Loring Episode: "Vanity"
1996 Tales from the Crypt Laura Kendall Episode: "Horror in the Night"
1997 Clover Sara Kate Television film
1999 The Scarlet Pimpernel Lady Marguerite Blakeney 3 episodes
2000 Thursday the 12th Candice Hopper Television film
2001 The Flamingo Rising Edna Lee Television film
2001 Hawk Susie Hawkins Television film
2001 Table 12 Mel Episode: "Preserves"
2003 The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire Helen Shaw 7 episodes
2006 Three Moons over Milford Laura Davis 8 episodes
2007 Daphne Ellen Doubleday Television film
2007 A Room with a View Mrs. Honeychurch Television film
2007 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Dr. Faith Sutton Episode: "Harm"
2007–08 Freezing Elizabeth 3 episodes
2008 Agatha Christie's Poirot Dame Celia Westholme Episode: "Appointment with Death"
2009 10 Minute Tales The Ex-Wife Episode: "The Running of the Deer"
2010–2015 Downton Abbey Cora, Countess of Grantham 52 episodes
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series (2013, 2015)
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series


  1. ^ https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/uknews/9145002/Barack-Obama-hosts-State-Dinner-for-David-Cameron-at-the-White-House.html?frame=2168264&page=-60
  2. ^ "Katharine Watts Is Future Bride Of Law Alumnus; Engaged to William M. McGovern Jr., Who Is Harvard Graduate". The New York Times. 1958-06-22.
  3. ^ "Marriage Announcement 1 -- No Title". Chicago Daily Tribune. 1958-09-19.
  4. ^ Cass, Judith (1958-06-18). "Burnhams to Celebrate in West". Chicago Daily Tribune.
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Hoggard, Liz (1 November 2010). "Elizabeth McGovern is the real dame of Downtown". London Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 12 January 2012. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
  7. ^ a b Heawood, Sophie (2008-02-08). "Elizabeth McGovern: from Hollywood to a South London pub". Times Online. Retrieved 2010-03-31.
  8. ^ "Last night on television". The Daily Telegraph. London. 2007-05-14.
  9. ^ Downton Abbey at ITV.com
  10. ^ "Downton Abbey's Elizabeth McGovern goes all grunge out with band Sadie and the Hotheads". Daily Mail. 15 January 2013.
  11. ^ The Times, interview with Michelle Dockery, 6 November 2010
  12. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/1992/04/03/theater/review-theater-a-high-keyed-hamlet-starring-stephen-lang.html
  13. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/1988/01/13/theater/theater-midsummer-night.html
  14. ^ Gardner, Lyn (2008-10-03). "Aristo: Minerva, Chichester". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-01-07.
  15. ^ Goldstein,, Jessica (7 August 2013). "Backstage: Rorschach and Synetic thrilled with Kickstarter campaigns". The Washington Post. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  16. ^ "Why I had to escape Hollywood's clutches: Downton Abbey star Elizabeth McGovern on why she had to leave fiance Sean Penn". Daily Mail. 29 October 2010. Retrieved 15 January 2012.
  17. ^ Gilbert, Gerard (18 December 2010). "'Hollywood never suited me': Elizabeth McGovern on fleeing LA and Downton Abbey's Lady Cora". The Independent. Retrieved 15 January 2012.
  18. ^ "Downton's Elizabeth McGovern: 'Ladies, never say never. It isn't over yet...'". The Daily Telegraph. 14 September 2014.

External links

A Shock to the System (1990 film)

A Shock to the System is a 1990 American dark comedy crime thriller film directed by Jan Egleson and starring Michael Caine, Swoosie Kurtz, Elizabeth McGovern, and Peter Riegert. It is based on the 1984 novel A Shock to the System by British author Simon Brett.

Buffalo Soldiers (2001 film)

Buffalo Soldiers is a 2001 satire film, based on the 1993 novel by Robert O'Connor, which follows the rogue activities of a group of US soldiers based in West Germany during 1989 when the fall of the Berlin Wall is imminent. It stars Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris, Anna Paquin, Haluk Bilginer, Scott Glenn, and Elizabeth McGovern and is directed by Gregor Jordan.

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (film)

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is a 2012 British comedy drama film directed by Donald Rice and starring Felicity Jones, Luke Treadaway, and Elizabeth McGovern. Adapted from the 1932 novella Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey of the Bloomsbury Group, the film is about a young woman on her wedding day who worries that she's about to marry the wrong man, while both her fiancé and her former lover grow increasingly anxious about the event. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on 20 April 2012.

Freezing (TV series)

Freezing is a BBC comedy series starring Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern about an otherwise successful couple in their forties who find themselves out of work. Matt (Bonneville) is a publisher who has recently lost his job and Elizabeth (McGovern) is an Oscar-nominated American actress who is having a hard time getting work since moving to live with Matt in London.

Freezing was originally a one-off comedy as part of BBC Four's Tight Spot season in February 2007, which then became the first episode of the series when it aired on BBC Two in February 2008.Freezing is written by James Wood and directed by Simon Curtis.

Lovesick (1983 film)

Lovesick is a 1983 American romantic comedy film written and directed by Marshall Brickman. It stars Dudley Moore and Elizabeth McGovern and features Alec Guinness as the ghost of Sigmund Freud.

Me and Veronica

Me and Veronica is a 1993 American comedy drama film starring Elizabeth McGovern, Patricia Wettig and Michael O'Keefe.

Racing with the Moon

Racing with the Moon is a 1984 American drama film starring Sean Penn, Elizabeth McGovern, and Nicolas Cage. It was directed by Richard Benjamin and written by Steve Kloves. The original music score was composed by Dave Grusin.

Ragtime (film)

Ragtime is a 1981 American drama film, directed by Miloš Forman, based on the 1975 historical novel Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow. The action takes place in and around New York City, New Rochelle, and Atlantic City early in the 1900s, including fictionalized references to actual people and events of the time. The film features the final film appearances of James Cagney and Pat O'Brien, and early appearances, in small parts, by Jeff Daniels, Fran Drescher, Samuel L. Jackson, Ethan Phillips and John Ratzenberger. The music score was composed by Randy Newman. The film was nominated for eight Oscars.

She's Having a Baby

She's Having a Baby is a 1988 American romantic comedy film directed and written by John Hughes.

The film portrays a young newlywed couple, Kristy and Jake Briggs played by Elizabeth McGovern and Kevin Bacon, who try to cope with married life and their parents' expectations.

Simon Curtis (filmmaker)

Simon Curtis (born 11 March 1960) is a British film director and producer. He has directed various theatre productions and the television dramas David Copperfield and Cranford. His feature films include the Marilyn Monroe drama film My Week with Marilyn and Woman in Gold.

The Bedroom Window (1987 film)

The Bedroom Window is a 1987 American psychological thriller film directed by Curtis Hanson. It stars Steve Guttenberg, Elizabeth McGovern and Isabelle Huppert, and was shot in Baltimore in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood. Based on a novel The Witnesses, by Anne Holden, it tells the story of a young executive who starts an affair with the wife of his boss which then escalates into nightmare after he lies to the police in order to protect her.

The Chaperone (2018 film)

The Chaperone is an upcoming film, directed by Michael Engler, with a screenplay by Julian Fellowes, from the novel by Laura Moriarty. It stars Haley Lu Richardson, Miranda Otto, Elizabeth McGovern, Blythe Danner, Campbell Scott, Géza Röhrig and Victoria Hill.

It had its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival on September 23, 2018. It is scheduled to be released on March 29, 2019, by PBS Distribution.

The Favor

The Favor is a 1994 romantic comedy film directed by Donald Petrie and written by Sara Parriott and Josann McGibbon. It stars Harley Jane Kozak, Elizabeth McGovern, Bill Pullman, Brad Pitt and Ken Wahl. The original music score was composed by Thomas Newman.

The Handmaid's Tale (film)

The Handmaid's Tale is a 1990 film adaptation of Margaret Atwood's novel of the same name. Directed by Volker Schlöndorff, the film stars Natasha Richardson (Kate/Offred), Faye Dunaway (Serena Joy), Robert Duvall (The Commander, Fred), Aidan Quinn (Nick), and Elizabeth McGovern (Moira). The screenplay was written by Harold Pinter. The original music score was composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto. MGM Home Entertainment released an Avant-Garde Cinema DVD of the film in 2001. The film was entered into the 40th Berlin International Film Festival.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (TV series)

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a series of television drama programmes loosely based on Baroness Emmuska Orczy's series of novels, set during the French Revolution.

It stars Richard E. Grant as Sir Percy Blakeney, and his alter ego, the eponymous hero. The first series also starred Elizabeth McGovern as his wife Marguerite and Martin Shaw as the Pimpernel's archrival, Paul Chauvelin. Robespierre was played by Ronan Vibert.

It was filmed in the Czech Republic and scored by a Czech composer, Michal Pavlíček.

The Summer of Ben Tyler

The Summer of Ben Tyler is a 1996 Hallmark Hall of Fame made-for-television comedy-drama film directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman and starring James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, and Len Cariou.

Tune in Tomorrow

Tune in Tomorrow is a 1990 comedy film directed by Jon Amiel. It is based on the Mario Vargas Llosa novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, and was released under that name in many countries. Relocated from the novel’s setting in 1950s-era Lima, Peru to New Orleans, Louisiana that same decade, it stars Peter Falk, Keanu Reeves and Barbara Hershey in a story surrounding a radio drama and love. Supporting roles were filled by actors including Elizabeth McGovern, Hope Lange, Henry Gibson, John Larroquette, Buck Henry, Dedee Pfeiffer, Joel Fabiani and the Neville Brothers. The soundtrack for the film was composed by Wynton Marsalis, who makes a cameo appearance with various members of his band.

Wings of Courage

Wings of Courage is a 1995 American-French drama film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. The 40-minute film was written by Annaud with Alain Godard. It was the first dramatic film shot in the IMAX format.

Wings of Courage is an account of the real-life story of early airmail operations in South America. The film stars Craig Sheffer, Val Kilmer, Elizabeth McGovern and Tom Hulce.

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