Elizabeth McGovern chats about her long running role in Downton Abbey

L-R; Elizabeth McGovern stars as Cora Grantham and Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith Hexhamin - Downton Abbey: A New Era, a Focus Features release.

WITH the release of Downton Abbey: A New Era on DVD we speak to award winning actor Elizabeth McGovern about her role of Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, which she has played from the outset of Downton Abbey and reprises the role in the second film in the series, Downton Abbey: A New Era.

Is it easy to get back into the character of Cora, like slipping on a pair of comfortable shoes, or is it more
complex than that?

It is easy. It is an interesting thing because really the work is already done and is not something that you can fake. There are no short cuts to it. It is literally a question of spending years with the character in the trenches with other people and you have won the right to just have it there. It’s in your bones, your DNA, and it is quite a nice feeling.

How rewarding was it as an actor to play Cora’s very personal storyline in this film?

In a way, it is really an opportunity to open the window to Cora’s inner soul because when someone is at the end of their life and is forced to look at what it all meant, you really do see who they are, their essence. And it was nice for me to play a character who could look at what she had done in her life and feel happy about it and feel contented with it. 

I think so much of life today is a feeling of anxiety, that we haven’t done enough, and we don’t own enough, and there is always someone to compare ourselves to, so to play a character who looks at everything and says that it was enough and that she is pleased and happy, is quite inspiring. 

Did you enjoy getting to work again with your husband, director Simon Curtis, on this movie?

First, it is such a joy for me because he is so good at what he does, and I don’t think I’m saying that because I love him and I am married to him; he has been by far our best director. I think a lot of people in the cast feel that way. I don’t mind saying it. It is about the way he is very clear, keeps everybody happy, really listens and really establishes a direct line of communication with all of the actors. 

Simon, I think, has re-oxygenated it. For the producers and for all the creative team, it is the most difficult thing in the world because you have to give the people what they want; they depend on the consistency of Downton Abbey. It is a thing in life that they can depend on. It is consistent. You know what Carson (Jim Carter) is going to say and you know what Violet (Maggie Smith) is going to say, and to take that and make it fresh is a very difficult thing to do and I feel that Simon managed to do it, helped by a very good script.

Did you feel that Julian Fellowes’ writing and Simon’s direction did a good job of juggling all the different
emotions that come through in the film?

Oh, yes, I did and I have been in the business for so long that I know just how difficult that is to do. It is like orchestrating a piece of music. And to tell all those stories so economically and so clearly and to control the rhythm of the sadness and the happiness, and the pace, takes a very deft hand. Simon has really earned it. He has worked so hard in every capacity in the business and he is at the top of his game, so it is a lucky thing that we got him when we did.

Has it been rewarding to see the younger actors grow up alongside their characters over the 12 years of Downton?

Absolutely. It is so huge for me. I remember when we were shooting the scene where Violet says to the two girls that they have been good granddaughters. I almost cry just thinking about it now. I almost lost it because I feel as though they have grown so much from the day I first met them, and I feel so proud of them both and that is when things get confused. I feel that that relationship is like being their mother and it doesn’t happen to me very much. Usually, I have a very distinct line between the part and real life, but it all gets confused in this instance.

What is a particularly treasured memory from making this film?

One of the most incredible days was on Maggie’s last day when the family came into the trailer and we decided to give her the silver pepper pot which had sat in the middle of the dining room table for the 12 years of doing dining room scenes. In that pepper pot were all these little slips of paper. We had amused ourselves by playing this game called Wink Murder in which we passed around the pepper pot and the person who drew the paper that had an X on it then tried to murder by winking everybody else round the table — while we were shooting a scene — without letting the camera or anybody else know. Maggie would just jump into this and play it every single time. So the family — which was Hugh, Laura (Carmichael), Michelle (Dockery) and I — on our last day went into her trailer and gave her this pepper pot with all the pieces of paper and it was incredible. It makes me cry even now. It was a very beautiful moment.

Downton Abbey: A New Era is now available on Digital, Blu-ray™ and DVD – RRP $39.95.

Win Win Win

Downton Abbey: A New Era is now available on Digital, Blu-ray™ and DVD and to celebrate we have some DVDs
for some lucky readers to win. To be in the draw simply email win@haveagonews.com.au with Downton in the subject line or write to Downton
Abbey c/- Have a Go News PO Box 1042 West Leederville 6901.
Closes 1/9/22.


Credit: Ben
Blackall/ © 2022