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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 62)
Education Juilliard School
Occupation Actor and musician
Years active 1979–present
Simon Curtis
(m. 1992)
Children 2
Musical career
  • Vocals
  • guitar
Associated acts Sadie and the Hotheads

Elizabeth Lee McGovern (born July 18, 1961) is an American actress and musician. She is the recipient of numerous accolades, including a Screen Actors Guild Award, three Golden Globe Award nominations, and one Academy Award nomination.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, McGovern spent the majority of her early life in Los Angeles, California. After attending the American Conservatory Theater and the Juilliard School, McGovern made her feature film debut in Ordinary People (1980). For her role as Evelyn Nesbit in the musical film Ragtime (1981), she received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She subsequently had lead roles in a number of major studio films, including Once Upon a Time in America (1984), She's Having a Baby (1987), The Bedroom Window (1987), The Handmaid's Tale (1990), and The Wings of the Dove (1997).

In 2007, McGovern, after years of studying guitar, formed the musical group Sadie and the Hotheads, with whom she has released four studio albums since 2016. McGovern was met with further international attention for her portrayal of Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, in the British drama series Downton Abbey (2010–2015), for which she was nominated for an Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award. She reprised her role as Cora Crawley in the subsequent films Downton Abbey (2019) and Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022).

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. She is of Irish, English, and Scottish descent. 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.

When McGovern was 10 years old, she relocated with her family from Illinois to Los Angeles, California, where her father accepted a teaching position at UCLA School of Law. She attended North Hollywood High School, where she began performing in school plays. After high school, she attended 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.


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. 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. In 1990, she teamed with Michael Caine in a comic mystery A Shock to the System.

In 1994, McGovern played Emily Embry in a romantic comedy The Favor, directed by Donald Petrie.

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, 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 the Denishawn School. The Chaperone is the first film that McGovern has also produced. Her husband, Simon Curtis, was an executive producer for the film.

McGovern reprised her role as Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham for the Downton Abbey film in 2019 and its 2022 sequel. The films continue 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. 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", where she played a psychiatrist, Dr. Faith Sutton. 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 Crawley, Countess of Grantham, wife of Robert Crawley, 7th Earl of Grantham (played by Hugh Bonneville) in the British TV series Downton Abbey, and also in the 2019 and 2022 film adaptations. 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.


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. Michelle Dockery, who plays McGovern's eldest daughter in Downton Abbey, has occasionally sung with the band. Dockery was also a guest backing vocalist on the bands second album How Not To Lose Things, released in 2012. Terl Bryant also joined the band, taking over from Rowan Oliver as drummer and percussionist.

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. 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. Still Waiting was released in early 2014 prior to their next UK tour as the support act for Mike and the Mechanics.

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.

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. 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.

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.


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.
  • Mrs. Conway in Time and the Conways at the American Airlines Theatre, October 2017

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
  • Viola in Twelfth Night
  • 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 Macdonald)
  • 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, August 2005
  • Jackie Kennedy in Aristo at the Minerva Theatre, 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
  • June in Sunset at the Villa Thalia by Alexi Kaye Campbell at the Royal National Theatre, May - August 2016
  • Veronica in God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza at the Theatre Royal, Bath, August – September 2018
  • Anne in The Starry Messenger by Kenneth Lonergan at Wyndham's Theatre, May - August 2019
  • Veronica in God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza, on tour in the UK, January - February 2020

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

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.

Personal life

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



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 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 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 [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
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
2022 Downton Abbey: A New Era Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham


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"
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
2019 War of the Worlds Helen Brown 8 episodes


Sadie and the Hotheads

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


Year Album title Notes
2019 The Truth Features all Sadie and the Hotheads musicians.

Album guest appearances

Year Album title Notes
2014 Christmas At Downton Abbey Vocals on "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" and a duet on "The First Noel" with Julian Ovenden.
2017 Duke Robillard & His Dames of Rhythm Vocals on "Me, Myself and I".

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Elizabeth McGovern para niños

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