Elizabeth McGovern

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Elizabeth McGovern
Elizabeth McGovern 2012.jpg
McGovern at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival
Born (1961-07-18) July 18, 1961 (age 60)
Education Juilliard School
OccupationActor and musician
Years active1979–present
(m. 1992)
Musical career
Associated acts Sadie and the Hotheads
Website elizabethmcgovern.co.uk

Elizabeth Lee McGovern [1] (born July 18, 1961) [2] is an American actress 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 was 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), The Wings of the Dove (1997), and The Chaperone (2018).


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. [3] 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. [4] [5] [6] During her early years, the McGovern family moved to Los Angeles, where her father accepted a teaching position at UCLA School of Law.

McGovern studied at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, and studied toward a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama at the Juilliard School in New York City as a member of Group 12 from 1979 to 1981. [7]


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 . [8] She then appeared in Beginners (1982).

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 and directed by her husband Simon Curtis.

In 2018, McGovern starred in The Chaperone , directed by Michael Engler and written by Julian Fellowes, whom she also worked with on the British drama series Downton Abbey. Based on the novel by Laura Moriarty (novelist), McGovern played Norma Carlisle, a middle-aged wife and mother who volunteers to chaperone the young Louise Brooks to New York City to study dance at Denishawn school. The Chaperone is the first film that McGovern has also produced. Her husband Simon Curtis, was an executive producer for the film. [9] [10]

McGovern reprised her role as Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham for the Downton Abbey film in 2019. The film continues the storyline of the TV series.


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 . [11] She also starred in the four-part television crime drama series Thursday the 12th that same year.

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. [12]

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 , [13] and also in the film adaptation in 2019. Downton Abbey was the third time McGovern and Bonneville have been cast as a married couple on screen, having previously co-starred in Freezing and Thursday the 12th together. [14]


McGovern is also a singer-songwriter and plays the guitar. 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, I Can Wait, also includes Ron Knights on bass and Rowan Oliver, borrowed from Goldfrapp, as drummer for the recording sessions. [8] Michelle Dockery, who plays McGovern's eldest daughter in Downton Abbey, has occasionally sung with the band. [15] Dockery was also a guest backing vocalist on the bands second album How Not To Lose Things, released in 2012. [16] Terl Bryant also joined the band, taking over from Rowan Oliver as drummer and percussionist. [17]

Throughout 2013, Sadie and the Hotheads toured the UK and Europe and performed in festivals including the Isle of Wight Festival, Montreux Jazz Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe. [18] [19] [20] At the end of the year they announced that they were working on their third album with support from former direct-to-fan crowdfunding company PledgeMusic. [21] Still Waiting was released in early 2014 prior to their next UK tour as the support act for Mike and the Mechanics. [22]

McGovern recorded three Christmas tracks in 2014. Her rendition of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear and duet with Julian Ovenden performing The First Noel appear on the double-disc album Christmas At Downton Abbey, produced by Warner Music. Sadie and the Hotheads also released their cover version of the Christmas song The Little Drummer Boy. [23] [24]

Following the conclusion of TV series Downton Abbey in late 2015, McGovern and her band Sadie and the Hotheads began work on a fourth album and embarked on a mini tour of the UK. [25] While they continued to record their new album, the band released a compilation album of songs from their first three albums entitled The Collection (Everybody's Got A Song) in early 2016.

In 2017, McGovern and "Hothead" Simon Nelson collaborated with American singer and musician Duke Robillard on a track for his album Duke Robillard & His Dames of Rhythm. McGovern sings vocals for "Me, Myself and I" while Nelson is a guest musician on electric guitar for the track. [26]

McGovern's fifth album, The Truth, was released in early 2019. Unlike her previous albums with her band, The Truth was released under her name, though it features all of the musicians from Sadie and the Hotheads. The album includes a track which Samuel L. Jackson appears on as a guest vocalist. [27] [28]


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. [36]

In early 2020, McGovern was in rehearsal to star in a revival of The Little Foxes by American playwright Lillian Hellman at the Gate Theatre in Dublin. However, due to the Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the performing arts, the show has been postponed indefinitely. [37] [38] [39]

Personal life

In 1992, McGovern married British film director and producer Simon Curtis; the couple have two daughters and live in Chiswick, London. [40] [41]



1980 Ordinary People Jeannine Pratt
1980Last Year's ModelUnknownShort 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 Bainbridge 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 GuillaumetShort 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  [ de ]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
2011Angel's CrestJane
2012 Cheerful Weather for the Wedding Mrs. Thatcham
2015 Unexpected Samantha's mother
2015 Woman in Gold Judge Florence Cooper
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
2022 Downton Abbey: A New Era Cora Crawley, Countess of GranthamPost-production


1979 California Fever Lisa BannisterEpisode: "The Girl from Somewhere"
1984 Faerie Tale Theatre Snow White Episode: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"
1990 Women & Men: Stories of Seduction VickiTelevision film
1991AshendenAileen SomervilleTelevision film
Nominated—CableACE Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
1992Tales from HollywoodHelen SchwartzTelevision film
1993PerformanceBeatrice-JoannaEpisode: "The Changeling"
1995 If Not for You Jessie Kent8 episodes
1995Broken TrustJanice DillonTelevision film
1996Broken GlassMargaret HymenTelevision film
1996 The Summer of Ben Tyler Celia RayburnTelevision film
1996 Tracey Takes On... Judge LoringEpisode: "Vanity"
1996 Tales from the Crypt Laura KendallEpisode: "Horror in the Night"
1997 Clover Sara KateTelevision film
1999 The Scarlet Pimpernel Lady Marguerite Blakeney3 episodes
2000 Thursday the 12th Candice HopperTelevision film
2001 The Flamingo Rising Edna LeeTelevision film
2001HawkSusie HawkinsTelevision film
2001Table 12MelEpisode: "Preserves"
2003 The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire Helen Shaw7 episodes
2006 Three Moons over Milford Laura Davis8 episodes
2007 Daphne Ellen DoubledayTelevision film
2007 A Room with a View Mrs. HoneychurchTelevision film
2007 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Dr. Faith SuttonEpisode: "Harm"
2007–08 Freezing Elizabeth3 episodes
2008 Agatha Christie's Poirot Dame Celia WestholmeEpisode: "Appointment with Death"
200910 Minute TalesThe Ex-WifeEpisode: "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
2019 War of the Worlds Helen Brown8 episodes


Sadie and the Hotheads

YearAlbum titleNotes
2007I Can Wait
2012How Not To Lose Things
2014Still Waiting
2016The Collection (Everybody's Got A Song)Compilation album of songs from first three albums.


YearAlbum titleNotes
2019The TruthFeatures all Sadie and the Hotheads musicians.

Album guest appearances

YearAlbum titleNotes
2014Christmas At Downton AbbeyVocals on "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" and a duet on "The First Noel" with Julian Ovenden.
2017Duke Robillard & His Dames of RhythmVocals on "Me, Myself and I".

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