Elizabeth McGovern: Downton is almost a total parody of itself

The star who plays Cora Crawley talks Twitter, Downton Abbey spoofs and cheering up for series four


Series three of Downton Abbey was an eventful one for Cora Crawley, played by 52-year-old American actress Elizabeth McGovern. Her eldest daughter walked down the aisle, her middle daughter was jilted at the altar and, just weeks later, her youngest died in childbirth. Then, as if things weren’t bad enough, her husband, who she blamed for her daughter’s death, lost her fortune. And to top it all off, her new son-in-law died in a car crash on the day her eldest daughter gave birth to Downton’s heir. Phew. Let’s hope series four is a little less dramatic, eh?


Before the series kicks off on ITV, RadioTimes.com caught up with Elizabeth McGovern…

What can we expect from Cora in this series?

I would sum up Cora’s modus operandi in series four as someone who’s reacted to probably the worst thing that can happen to anybody, which is the death of a child, by deciding to make the most of what she’s got left in life, and having a little fun. That seems to me to underscore a lot of her stories throughout the season.

She’s very much in support of her daughters going out and going after what they want to do and having fun in their lives. She’s not asking them any questions because she’d rather not know. It would probably only upset her. She just wants to have a good time. She’s ready to throw a party, she’s having people come over. She’s sort of seen that life is fleeting and it can be snached away from us at any moment and that seems to me to be the driving force behind her. And I think she also wants to loosen Robert up a little and make him kind of relax and enjoy himself, to kind of roll with the punches a bit.

Was it a relief to lighten up after the events of series three?

Frankly, yes. It was nice.

Why do you think people continue to love Downton Abbey so much?

There are a couple of things that make it a little bit special. One is the fact that there are obviously great stories and great twists and turns but intrinsic to the whole enterprise is a sort of wit underneath it all. It’s almost like sort of winking at itself which is why I think people have so much fun making fun of it.

Sometimes I feel as though we are almost doing that ourselves but we are deadly serious at the same time. That’s what I love about the show. It’s almost not taking itself really seriously and yet we are completely serious in our approach. I think that’s what makes it special.

You could play every scene almost as a total parody of itself – and play it almost exactly the same way! There’s nothing quite like that out there.

There are plenty of parodies and Downton spoofs out there. Do you watch any of them?

There are a lot of good ones! It’s hard to beat Puff Daddy’s one, but there’s another guy [Luke Kempner] that imitates all the characters, who does really good impressions of every body. I think he calls his show The Only Way is Downton.

Do you pay attention to the reaction from fans on social media as the episodes air?

No, I’m not one of these that likes to Tweet or retweet while I’m watching, in fact that makes me crazy. I’d much rather people just watched the show! But it’s a reality of life today and I really love that people are having fun with it.

The episodes have quite an impact. What’s it like to know you inspire such emotion in the viewing public?

It is nice. It’s very gratifying. You know, when people get angry or when they want to criticise the show, if it’s still engendering a big response I’m happy. I think that we’ve done our job if that’s the case.

What is working with Julian Fellowes (the show’s creator) like?

I’m still loving the challenge of just acting his scenes. That keeps me going because I don’t know what I would do if it was year four and I didn’t have that element.

You’ve worked with the same cast for four series now. Do they feel like part of the family?

Yeah, inevitably. It’s bound to happen when you spend so many years playing a family.

But what’s really nice is I feel after four years of working with this core group of people that we’ve come to a place which is really filled with trust and respect and it’s nice to feel that. It’s a nice way of spending the day at work.

Downton Abbey returns to ITV later this month