A Sneak Peek into the Final Season of ‘Downton Abbey’

Elizabeth McGovern discusses the show’s six-year run ahead of a special cast event Thursday at Lisner.

Downton
Photo courtesy of Carnival Films for Masterpiece.
December 07, 2015
“Downton Abbey” has reached its final season after more than six years of capturing audiences with its blend of sophistication and scandal. The last chapter of the PBS British period drama premieres in the U.S. on Jan. 3,  giving fans a chance to say goodbye to the aristocratic Crawley family and their beloved cadre of servants. 
 
“Downton Abbey” executive producer Gareth Neame will join the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson and several of the show’s cast members on George Washington University’s Foggy Bottom Campus Thursday to share secrets about the final season.
 
A handful of lucky GW students might get to attend the event at Lisner Auditorium by joining the standby line at 5 p.m.
 
Before the discussion, George Washington Today's Julyssa Lopez caught up with Elizabeth McGoven, who plays countess of Grantham Cora Crowley, to talk about her character’s evolution and the end of Downton.  
 
Q: Because you’re part of an ensemble portraying a family, it seems you’ve built a tight-knit relationship of your own with the cast. How would you describe the experience of working and reaching the end together?
A: Doing a show like Downton Abbey—because of the fact that we’ve done this for so many years, and it’s impacted lives in a way that’s kind of unusual—I think it does bond you with your coworkers. You’re experiencing this thing that’s a bit of a shock together. When a show ignites, it’s almost as much as a surprise as when it’s a failure. It’s that bonding you have with people when you’ve gone through something together.
 
A lot of people were quite young when they started, and now they’re experienced, and they’ve grown. That’s an amazing thing to see, and it’s been a gift, really.
 
Q: Can you tell us about the evolution of your character? We’ve obviously seen Cora go through a lot as Countess of Grantham and as a mother. 
A: She’s slowly become more of an independent type of person who is more willing to say what she thinks and stand her ground. She’s grown in confidence as the years have gone by. She probably is getting used to the way times are changing and women are branching out and feeling freer to pursue their own identity. She doesn’t do it to the degree her daughters do, but to a certain extent, she is becoming a modern woman.
 
She’s let her daughters go as time goes on. She’s not a mother that hovers, so that when they’re adults living in the house, she has the presence of mind to step back and let them make their own decisions. She doesn’t meddle as much, which I think is admirable. 
 
Q: "Downton Abbey" became so popular and is now a household name. Did you expect the show to have this kind of presence when you first started? 
A: I really didn’t expect it. I’m obviously really pleased, but I sort of feel like I live in a really cocoon. It’s weird for me—people tell me it’s had this impact, but it doesn’t really feel like it, except in a situation where I’m talking with you on the phone. Most of the time, I feel like my life is just the same. It’s a job that I really loved doing, but it doesn’t feel as big as many people think it does. For me, I just kind of get on with the work. But it does make me feel confident to be a part of something so successful.
 
Q: Now that it’s ending, what place do you hope “Downton Abbey” will hold in television history? 
A: Right now, it’s hard for me to have that perspective. I’m in the middle of it, and I can’t really see it clearly, so I can’t say where it will fit in the pantheon of TV shows and times to come. I’m too much in it, if that makes sense. 
 
Q: Obviously, without spoiling too much, is there anything you can share with us about the new season and what’s next for you?
A: There was a bittersweet feeling about it, because we were always at the last time we’d be at a certain place and do a certain kind of scene. It gave weight to everything we did. It definitely charged things with a different emotion to know that it was on its way out. It’s something I loved doing, and I’m grateful for it, but I’m also excited to do other things. It feels like six years are really enough, and it’s exciting to think about other possibilities. I’m developing some projects and I’m working on music, which is a quite different world. I might also do a play, and it will be nice to get onstage. That’s as much as I know, but it’s nice to look into the unknown.