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Playing an American living abroad in Downton Abbey isn't such a stretch

Actress Elizabeth McGovern on the twists of fate that transported her career (and family life) to England.

Jan. 19, 2012   |  
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Carnival for Masterpiece/PBS

Her British husband may not be an aristocrat, but otherwise, Elizabeth McGovern says, playing an American living in England in the oh-so-English PBS period series Downton Abbey is a practically a slam-dunk for the actress.

“I’m living in a world that wasn’t my own growing up,” says the L.A. native, who has lived in London for 18 years. She has two teenage daughters with director Simon Curtis.

We asked her about the expat life and more:

How hard was it to move abroad?

“It was traumatic. I was making three life-changing decisions at once. I was pregnant, getting married and changing countries. I was also sort of abandoning my career. But I never thought twice about it. I have no regrets.”

What do you wish you knew at 20?

“When I was younger, the effort to seduce or engage the male was much more prevalent. I viewed women as competitors. I was very awkward and socially much more self-conscious. I judged myself much more.”

What made you change?

“Having children connected me to the world in a different way, and it connected me to other women, pulling me out of my shyness.”

Do you think older is wiser?

“Now I can bring life experience and wisdom to any situation. There’s an increased confidence in having lived. That’s liberating and rewarding.”

How did you end up being in a band called Sadie and The Hotheads?

“I come from a very musically obsessed family, but I never saw myself having any talent in that area. When my kids started school, I had a lot of time on my hands. I was working occasionally as an actress, but it all seemed to be so much effort for so little reward. I had an idea for some lyrics and soon discovered writing songs came naturally to me.”

How's life at 50?

“I’m a happier person than I ever was, but I do mourn certain aspects of youth. This is a business for the young. I was always resentful and knocking against those ingénue chains. But my desire to be sexy and alluring is not gone. Yet I would never go to the extent of wanting to do surgery to look younger.”

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