Elizabeth McGovern

Elizabeth McGovern

Birth name: Elizabeth Lee McGovern
Born: July 18, 1961
Age: 62
Birthplace: Evanston, Illinois, U.S.
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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).


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. 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. The McGovern family moved to Los Angeles, where her father accepted a teaching position with the law school at UCLA. Her younger sister is novelist Cammie McGovern.

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, then at The Juilliard School in New York City.


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.

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 1997 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 has appeared in a number of films in the 2000s, including the film Woman in Gold, a drama starring Helen Mirren.


McGovern has also 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.

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, Countess of Grantham, wife of Robert, the Earl of Grantham (played by Bonneville), in the British TV series Downton Abbey.


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. 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. Michelle Dockery, who plays McGovern's eldest daughter in Downton Abbey, has occasionally sung with the band.


Roles in New York include:

  • Melissa Gardner in Love Letters (A R Gurney) at the Edison Theatre, October 1989
  • Ophelia in Hamlet with the Roundabout Theater Company at the Criterion Center Stage Right, April 1992.

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

  • My Sister in This House (Wendy Kesselman)
  • Painting Churches (Tina Howe)
  • The Hitch-Hiker
  • A Map of the World (David Hare)
  • Aunt Dan and Lemon (Wallace Shawn)
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream at the New York Shakespeare Festival, Winter 1987
  • When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout (Sharman McDonald)
  • Maids of Honour
  • Three Sisters (Chekhov)
  • As You Like It

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

  • Jenny in The Misanthrope (Molière freely adapted by Martin Crimp) at the Young Vic Theatre, February 1996
  • Darlene in Hurlyburly (David Rabe) at the Old Vic Theatre, March 1997
  • Nan and Lina in Three Days of Rain (Richard Greenberg) at the Donmar Warehouse, March and November 1999
  • Beth in Dinner With Friends (Donald Margulies) at the Hampstead Theatre, June 2001
  • Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne adapted by Phyllis Nagy) at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester August 2005
  • Jackie Kennedy in Aristo at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester Festival Theater September - October 2008
  • Judith Brown in Complicit by Joe Sutton in The Old Vic, January 2009
  • Miss A in The Shawl by David Mamet in the Arcola Theatre, September 2009

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

Personal life

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



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 Completed


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 and 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"
2010-2016 Downton Abbey Cora, Countess of Grantham 52 episodes
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
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

[ Source: Wikipedia ]

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