Elizabeth McGovern, 60, is leaving the soft-spoken countess behind to take on a Hollywood legend
She charmed legions of Downton Abbey fans in her role as the genteel Countess of Grantham.
But now Elizabeth McGovern, 60, is leaving the soft-spoken countess behind to take on a Hollywood legend.
She will transform into Ava Gardner for a new stage play, Ava: The Secret Conversations, which she has written herself.
The screen siren will be portrayed in her later years following a stroke – but the play also explores her 1940s and 1950s acting heyday.
In a first-look image, Miss McGovern is seen clutching a whisky, wearing a pink negligee and sheer dressing gown. The US actress told the Mail she was excited about a role that is the ‘polar opposite’ of Cora Crawley. She said: ‘Her personality was so full of contradictions and funny, warm and frustrating.’
Miss Gardner, who died in 1990, was an outspoken hard drinker who was married three times – including to Frank Sinatra. The play opens at London’s Riverside Studios in January.
It has been written based on notes, drafts and recordings gathered by Peter Evans who compiled Miss Gardner’s biography.
Miss McGovern said she found Evans’s notes ‘really entertaining’ and felt Miss Gardner was a ‘fascinating and charming’ character to study.
The play will look at various aspects of Miss Gardner’s career, which saw her become one of Hollywood’s greatest stars during the 1940s and 1950s, co-starring with some of the biggest names of the time.
Miss Gardner, who died in 1990, was an outspoken hard drinker who was married three times – including to Frank Sinatra. The play opens at London’s Riverside Studios in January
Her private life – including her three marriages to Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra – will also feature.
Miss McGovern said she was ‘for sure’ worried about portraying such an iconic figure but found ‘comfort’ in the fact she would be playing her later in life.
She added: ‘I’m playing a character that is very much diminished by age and you do see the images of her from her movie days, beautiful images of her in her prime, but they are contrasted to this woman you first encounter on stage who’s older, she’s had a stroke, life has taken its toll.
‘So I feel comfortable playing that because I feel like I can embody that.
‘The life I’ve led gives me a certain amount of confidence playing someone who has had some experience in the movie business and also who is an ageing actress.
‘Life has given me the right to play that.’
Miss McGovern said it was ‘thrilling but so scary’ to be back in a theatre, not just because of the time away caused by Covid but also due to audience’s changing attitudes over the past year.
She explained: ‘It’s not just the pandemic but I think our world was blown apart by the last couple of years in many really productive ways with political upheaval.
‘I think that people are still not quite sure what kind of world we are going back into tentatively.
‘It seems as though the whole world was really shaken up and people started to re-look at everything – at race, at women, at our history.
‘Everything that we were taking for granted we have to look at afresh and re-evaluate.
‘I think it makes it very scary to present anything in the theatre because you just don’t know what the world is you’re going to be talking to.’
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