Elizabeth McGovern on living in London: ‘My personality fits in naturally here’

Elizabeth McGovern is currently promoting Downton Abbey: A New Age. She plays the same character, obviously. She’s Lady Grantham, or Cora to her friends. Cora was a “dollar princess” – an American heiress who married into the British aristocracy in the late nineteenth century. Cora’s story, while fictional, is a happier version of the real phenomenon, and many British aristocrats went looking for American heiresses to prop up their own decaying castles and palaces. McGovern herself has been an American in Britain for decades. She married a British man and simply relocated there permanently. She spoke about that and a lot more with the Times Magazine. Some highlights:

She skipped the 1982 Oscars, where she was nominated: “I was working on something else,” she says. Did she regret not going? “No, not at all. I didn’t expect to win. I didn’t think I should win… Times were different then.”

When she presented at the Oscars the next year: “I went shopping at Debenhams with my mother for the dress. Now it’s crazy. It would all be stylists, people dressing you, all the blah, blah, blah.”

What she thought of the Oscar slap: “I just thought, ‘No, please, no. This is not right.’” Can she elaborate? (A few days later she tweets: “Something tells me that Jada [Smith’s wife] is capable of standing up for herself #teamChrisRock”.) “I do have views. I don’t know if I want to get involved. There are just so many elements to that whole thing in America that have to do with other issues…” Culture wars? “Oh yes.”

She always hoped that Downton Abbey would explore Cora’s dollar princess roots: “Yes, I always hoped we would explore that aspect of her life more than we ever did, because it’s potentially very interesting. It was very challenging for those women. Henry James, Edith Wharton, they’re obsessed by this. But it wasn’t anything that Julian [Fellowes, Downton’s creator/writer] or the executives were interested in.”

She moved to London in the ‘90s: It was an odd choice given McGovern’s first trip with her parents, aged 15. “I walked around London as a tourist with earphones on with Joni Mitchell’s California in my ear, just absolutely dying to get out of this grey, dismal country. But now I think it’s the best city to live in the world.” Yet people forget, she says, how different London was in the early Nineties: shabby, less cosmopolitan. Moreover to have a movie career then required living in Hollywood, under the industry’s nose, or you’d be forgotten. “This was pre mobiles or emails and even making a phone call to the United States was so expensive, you thought really hard before doing it.”

Whether she feels British: “My personality fits in naturally here, maybe more than in America. I guess I still have that American sense I was raised with that anything is possible. Whereas in Britain – or at least a clichéd idea of it – people are more at peace with their lot in life. Coming here was difficult, but then so many things that I wouldn’t have predicted came out of it. And so in retrospect, I’m really happy I took that leap. It felt like the worst idea in the world at the time, but now, I don’t regret it for one minute.”

[From The Times Magazine]

“But it wasn’t anything that Julian or the executives were interested in.” That’s sad because Cora’s backstory is genuinely fascinating. It’s especially weird considering Fellowes is currently doing The Gilded Age and we’re likely to get at least one “dollar princess” storyline in future seasons. As for the stuff about feeling British… I take that to mean that she has a pretty reserved, low-key personality and she was fine with making the best out of her situation once she got to London. It’s clear, throughout the interview, that she didn’t have the ambition to be a huge movie star or really work nonstop in LA. So yeah, I’m sure she was fine in the UK. I bet she could really go off on the cultural differences though, just not with a British interviewer. As for what she says about Will Smith and the slap… ugh.

Photos courtesy of WENN, Instar.

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25 Responses to “Elizabeth McGovern on living in London: ‘My personality fits in naturally here’”

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  1. Alexandria says:

    So you can be an American actress but fit in naturally in Britain. Just don’t be biracial and marry their Prince 😅

    • Amy Bee says:

      Well she did say it was difficult. I imagine she was snubbed by British actors who thought that this Hollywood actress was going to steal their roles.

  2. Mindy_Dopple says:

    Maybe Julian was interested in that and will fit it in with the HBO series, but I know what she means, exploring it with her in the role. Now I’m making a note to add Dollar Princesses to my internet reading list or perhaps tiktok search. I’m currently now obsessed with people who get adopted by or be friend crows!

    • ncboudicca says:

      Ah I just said more or less the same below but hadn’t seen your comment first! I agree. Maybe he was saving it all along for another show.

    • Kimi says:

      Liz McGovern narrated a great PBS doc called Million Dollar American Princesses! I watched after bingeing Downton

    • SpankyB says:

      I was adopted by a crow. He liked giving me dead lizards. Or half eaten lizards. It was amazing how accurate he could be dropping it to me as he flew over. Never landed on my head or foot, but always within an inch of my foot. It was gross and amazing.

    • Concern Fae says:

      The book that inspired Fellows to do the series was To Marry an English Lord. I actually owned it, having been a big reader of Wharton and James. It’s a great read, researched but not serious, mostly pictures and more for the readers of historical fiction than academics. I watched Downton and wondered if Fellows had read it. Of course he had!

      If you like Downton, I’d really recommend it. I gave my copy to my Mom, because she’s such a huge fan. It was out of print, but it has been reissued.

  3. ncboudicca says:

    Interesting – maybe Fellowes didn’t want to get into it in Downton because he always had a germ of an idea to do “Gilded Age” – exploring that era from the rich American perspective would make that type of story more logical in that show, rather than in Downton. I’m absolutely sure that’s where the story will go for Gladys Russell, since she’s the fictional stand-in for Consuelo Vanderbilt.

  4. Merricat says:

    London is great if you have money.

    • Twin Falls says:

      Is there somewhere that’s great if you don’t? I’d like to move there.

      • BlinkB says:

        Loads of great places to live in London, you don’t have to be broke. Not sure what it was like in the 90s, but London today is anything BUT reserved or low-key lol. It’s an intense city. What makes it remarkable is the diversity and the access to anything, so many different cultures all in one place.

        Where we are different, is the approach to the industry. LA is culturally so different to the UK when it comes to actors and projects. It’s far more down to earth here, and there’s less reverence for bullsh*t behaviour. LA is a lot if you work as an actor.

      • Merricat says:

        Lol, Twin Falls, it depends on what you prefer. I love NYC and London for a few days, but I’ll never live in a big city again. I like a quieter life with occasional trips into the city these days, and it IS less expensive and less of a struggle to live outside the action.
        Of course, in our present time, everything is expensive and a bit of a struggle.

    • Thinking says:

      Pretty much all cities are like this though.

    • tealily says:

      It’s great if you’re broke too. Free world-class museums, incredible parks, inexpensive and useful public transit… I was broke as a joke when I lived there and had a really wonderful life.

      • EBS says:

        Yes, and you can go to the theatre much more inexpensively than in New York. Eating out is expensive but Tesco costs the same everywhere. Housing costs a fortune but that is the same in all big cities.

  5. AnneL says:

    Hmmm. Well I’m glad she is settled and enjoys living there. She was quite the starlet and I always wondered what had happened to her until she re-emerged on Downton. Cora is kind of a simpering character IMO but I’m glad she found that role because she seems to enjoy it and it has certainly brought her more success.

    I saw a trailer for the new Downton movie when we went to see The Northman in the theater. It looks dreadful. Fun if you’re a Downton addict, but pointless and a little silly.

    • Lizzie Bathory says:

      I’m not surprised they never explored Cora’s backstory. Fellowes really didn’t develop her much beyond as a character who props up those around her. Elizabeth McGovern brings humanity & warmth to Cora, but there’s only so much an actor can do with what’s on the page.

    • lucy2 says:

      I don’t like Cora, simpering is a good descriptor of her. And I don’t like the accent or whatever Elizabeth does for her, but I’ve liked her in other things.

      • elle says:

        haha… “simpering” is exactly what I think of Elizabeth as Cora. to me, her acting in this role is Andie McDowell bad, especially compared to the unknowns in the cast.

      • Dara says:

        Huh. Simpering is the last word I think of for Cora. She is one of my favorite Downton characters. I think she picks her battles, and as an American outsider she sort of had to, but hoo-boy when she stands up for herself or someone/something she cares about, it is a beautiful thing. I cheered when she tells her husband to pull his head out of his aristocratic ass and behave like a gentlemen toward Nellie Melba, “you will sit next to her at dinner, and you will like it.” Or when she lets Barrow have it for trying one of his schemes on her. Or when she stands up to the Dowager and wins. Or when she helps haul a corpse through the halls of her house to save her daughter’s honor without batting an eye. Cora kicks ass.

    • Juniper says:

      I think it’s coming to Paramount+ in July so you don’t have to see it in the theater. I finally watched the first movie and it was quite terrible. Was the series always bad and I just didn’t notice until I was away from it for a few years?

      And simpering is the perfect word for Cora. I couldn’t think of the right words.

  6. candy says:

    I think the gilded age is Julian Fellowes’ deep dive into that story. It would be weird to suddenly fixate on Cora after years of her being steadfastly uncomplicated on Downton. As for the Oscar slap…if you’re white, just…don’t comment. There is such a deeper meaning at play and the usual gaslighting.

  7. Betsy says:

    I just cannot get over how nice she looks. She’s one of just a few who haven’t pulled or injected their way to a smooth face and she looks so refreshingly good. So human. She still had that bone structure to start with but she looks amazing.

  8. jferber says:

    She is a terrific actress and always has been. She was exceptional in a very underrated film, Shock to the System, with Swoosie Kurtz and Michael Caine (who are both underrated actors, too). Elizabeth was also wonderful in Ordinary People.

  9. Ann says:

    Love that pic of her on the cover! A feminist nod to the Robert Palmer video don’t you think!?