Elizabeth McGovern broke up with Sean Penn because he was ‘exhausting’

Before Sean Penn married Vincent D’Onofrio’s daughter, before Charlize Theron ghosted his ass, before Robin Wright ran screaming from him, before his brief marriage to Madonna, Sean Penn had a youthful romance with Elizabeth McGovern. She was 23 years old at the time, and he was 24. They fell in love hard and fast. They got engaged. They broke up, they got back together. They broke up again. She left Hollywood and moved to the UK, met and married Simon Curtis and now has two young-adult daughters. McGovern did something she has rarely done over the years: she reflected back on her romance with Penn and explained why it didn’t work out:

Downton Abbey star Elizabeth McGovern has reflected on her career in acting, and the path she could have taken had she married former partner Sean Penn. The former couple met on the set of their 1984 film Racing with the Moon, and soon after they fell in love and got engaged when Elizabeth was 23. However, the relationship was short-lived and continued on-and-off for two years.

During her recent chat with Daily Mail, the actress explained: “There’s a road I could have taken, but I decided to call it off. It just felt like we were on different tracks. We were only in our early 20s. It would have been nothing short of a miracle had that become a lifelong partnership because we were both really young and figuring out who we were.”

Sean went on to marry Madonna, while Elizabeth moved to England in 1992 and met now-husband, British film-maker Simon Curtis. They are now doting parents to two daughters – Matilda, 28, and Grace, 23. Elizabeth, who plays Lady Cora in the beloved period drama, previously touched upon her failed engagement with the publication, and described their relationship as “exhausting”.

“It was the frenzy of Sean’s feelings that overwhelmed me,” she said. “It was also the first real experience of boys I’d had, which was kind of nice. In the beginning it was fun. We were a similar age and in the same place professionally, so we were experiencing everything together. It was so exhausting, I couldn’t sustain it. We also wanted to do different things. He likes to pretend he’s not really a Hollywood person, but he is.”

[From Hello]

This is probably one of the best assessments of Sean Penn I’ve ever read? I think it explains so much about who he is in relationships and why his romantic history is somewhat shambolic. He falls hard and fast, he love-bombs, he exhausts women and he is that thing he hates most: a Hollywood cliche. That being said, I still think he did *something* to Charlize. That breakup was so swift and brutal, it wasn’t a case of “Sean exhausted Charlize.” There was a hard breaking point. But yeah… he seems manipulative and childish. And worse.

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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26 Responses to “Elizabeth McGovern broke up with Sean Penn because he was ‘exhausting’”

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  1. Eurydice says:

    I find him exhausting and I only notice he exists once every couple of years.

  2. There is no woman in Hollywood that would ever get the amount of infantilization this man has gotten. He has a history of abusive and problematic behavior towards women. The end.

  3. Lizzie Bathory says:

    “We also wanted to do different things. He likes to pretend he’s not really a Hollywood person, but he is.”

    Ooh, I bet he haaaaaaates this.

    • Laura says:

      Ohhh yeah. He loves to pretend like he’s holier than thou with his charity work and turning his nose up and anyone and everything. He’s an abusive, spoiled snob, nothing more.

  4. steph says:

    I’ll never forget what he did to Madonna.

  5. Justplainme says:

    She was a beauty when she was young and still is. Classy too.

    • BothSidesNow says:

      Yes, she is very diplomatic in her comments regarding Penn. Though I was completely unaware of their romance. She certainly dodge a bullet with Penn!! I would imagine no self respecting woman would ever want a relationship with him, or Kanye. They are both exhausting just by their existence. Yup Julia, you may be loving the attention now, but wait until you are no longer a use for Kanye, as he isn’t the most respectful or one that would not hesitate to made derogatory remarks about you.

  6. Liz Version 700 says:

    So literally more than one woman has …fled the country after dating him….

  7. Mac says:

    I assumed Charlize dumped him over the El Chapo stunt.

  8. tealily says:

    Elizabeth walks the walk as far as not being a “Hollywood person,” so I have no doubt about what she’s saying. I’ve been in relationships like what she’s describing. Not abusive, but exhausting. I don’t think it’s impossible that Sean has been both over the course of the past few decades.

  9. candy says:

    I cannot wait for the next Downton movie, I think it comes out in March?

  10. MangoAngelesque says:

    Didn’t Madonna go on the record to say that those stories weren’t true?

    I can’t stand Sean Penn, don’t get me wrong. But shouldn’t she believed when she says what did or didn’t happen to her?

    • MangoAngelesque says:

      My comment was supposed to have been a reply to @Steph. No idea why it wasn’t nested correctly 🤷‍♀️

      • AMA1977 says:

        I don’t know for certain (I did a cursory googling) but I believe that a police report was made regarding the “tied to a chair” allegations and she sought medical care from being hit with a bat by Penn. There are lots of reasons why a woman might minimize abuse after the fact, and “I made it all up” is, I suppose, one of them, but given his subsequent history and his prominence in the entertainment industry, it seems more likely that she just doesn’t want to think/talk about it and retracting it seemed like the best way to make that happen.

    • Boxy Lady says:

      I remember the story of him tying her to a chair for hours. There was a police report made, if I’m not mistaken.. And I think her brother Christopher wrote about it in his memoir.

  11. Miriam says:

    Speaking of actresses from period dramas…did anyone catch the first episode of Gilded Age yesterday on HBO? I am obsessed! The cast is incredible…Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, Denee Benton, Carrie Coon, Jeanne Tripplihorn AND Louisa Jacobson (another Streep daughter) in the starting role! The costumes alone are to die for and Morgan Spector as George Russell is charisma personified! I need some Celebitchy coverage of this program!

  12. Jill says:

    A friend of mine who grew up and worked in Hollywood in the 80s and 90s said Sean Penn is the single most charismatic man she’d ever met. “Hands down.” Explains a lot.

  13. GrassRoots says:

    She should be as big a star as he is because she is incredibly gifted. It’s another example of sexism in Hollywood that there were not enough roles for women for her to have a bigger career. As she said, they were in the same place in their careers when they met. I’m old enough to remember that when she debuted in her first few movies, she was considered to be a brilliant actress that was about to be the next serious leading actress. That didn’t happen. She had a very respectable career but nothing like what she should have had. I loved the movie they were in when they met, “Racing With the Moon”. Deserves a re-watch, especially for her performance.

    • AnneL says:

      I really like her, think she’s beautiful and enjoyed her early work, but I don’t care for her on Downton. Cora is too simpery for me, or something. But I think that’s more the character than the actress. I fell out of like with that show when its insidious classism became more and more apparent. Also, repetitive storylines. The costumes are wonderful though.

  14. TIFFANY says:

    I still believe Charlize ghosted him because he said or did something out of pocket regarding Charlize’s oldest daughter.

    Charlize don’t suffer fools and only need one time.

  15. lolalola3 says:

    I remember that romance. I was convinced it was for the sake of the film — so I obviously know/knew zip. She is one of the few celebrities on earth that got so much prettier as she got older. Thank god she got away from Penn. He looks about 60 years older than dirt.

  16. Trish says:

    How does Sean Penn get these beautiful women to even entertain him, I’ll never understand. It’s the Fred Durst phenomenon.

  17. MsGnomer says:

    “Racing With the Moon” was a long time favorite movie of mine. I’ll have to view it again soon! Nic Cage was also in the movie, playing the best buddy to Hopper. (played by Penn)

    I also loved McGovern’s performance in “Once Upon a Time in America.”

    Always wished she had made more films back then, but so pleased to see her in “Downton Abbey.”

    —- would like to add I heard some unfortunate stories about Penn weilding a baseball bat to get teenagers(friends of his children) to leave his home in Marin County. Yeah, so much charisma. :X