For nominee McGovern, Emmys mark a homecoming

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — For American expat Elizabeth McGovern, this weekend’s Emmys mark something of a home-away-from-homecoming. The actress is a nominee for her lead in the British period drama, “Downton Abbey.”

Some 20 years ago, McGovern left the U.S., and a busy Hollywood career, to live in London, which she said she has long considered home. “That’s just where life took me,” the actress explained in a recent interview, while promoting the upcoming second season of “Abbey.” “So I feel particularly emotional about (the nomination). It’s been emotional for me just to come back even just for these couple of days, and remind myself where I come from.”

The Evanston, Ill., native marked her feature debut at age 19 playing Timothy Hutton’s girlfriend in director Robert Redford’s 1980 Oscar-winning best-picture smash “Ordinary People,” which was followed by a string of generally highly regarded commercial disappointments, including the period pieces “Ragtime” (1981, for which she earned an Oscar nomination), as well as “Racing With the Moon” (1984) and “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984). But not even hitmeister John Hughes could score her a big box-office success, directing her opposite Kevin Bacon in the romantic drama “She’s Having a Baby” (1988).

Her Hollywood movie career was put on the back burner following a move to London in 1992 to live with husband-director Simon Curtis, with whom she has two teenage daughters. While McGovern’s really never stopped working — on stage, in film and on television, primarily in the U.K. — ratings-hit “Downton” probably marks her highest-profile work since “Ordinary People.”

“It feels a similar kind of impact, I must admit,” McGovern said. “But at the time of ‘Ordinary People,’ there was no way I could really appreciate how unusual that was. Now, having put in the years I’ve put in, I must say, I’m loving it. It is really gratifying. And I just feel so grateful to be a part of it.”

For the 50-year-old McGovern, the delayed return to the limelight may prove good timing — coming when television is increasingly providing a haven for female talents of a certain age, including 2011 Emmy nominees Diane Lane, Tina Fey, Laura Linney, Julianna Margulies and Edie Falco.

“The truth, of course, is, that women turning 50 have so much more to give,” McGovern said. “They are so much more interesting. There are so many more stories to tell.”

She noted how television then adapts these stories “for an audience that is that age, that are sitting at home, that are raising their kids and looking for something that will feed them intellectually, emotionally and speak to them where they are in their lives.”

The “Downton” sequel begins at the start of World War I, with McGovern’s Cora at a loss as to what to do as the lady of the house after the estate has been converted into a wartime hospital.

As for this Sunday’s Emmys? “No matter what happens, it will have been amazing for me and my personal life that my country has had the good taste to pat ‘Downton Abbey’ on the back. I’m proud of you guys, thank you.”

McGovern faces some stiff competition in the lead actress, miniseries or movie category, including Kate Winslet (HBO’s “Mildred Pierce”), Diane Lane (HBO’s “Cinema Verite”), Taraji P. Henson (Lifetime’s “Taken From Me”) and Jean Marsh (PBS’ “Upstairs Downstairs).

Season two of “Downton Abbey” debuts in the U.K. this weekend and is set to premiere Jan. 8, 2012, on PBS’ “Masterpiece Classic.”

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