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Q&A: Elizabeth McGovern of ‘Time and the Conways’

Category Actor Spotlight

|by Jeryl Brunner |

Elizabeth McGovern stars as Mrs. Conway in 'Time and The Conways'

Elizabeth McGovern plays mercenary matriarch Mrs. Conway in the Broadway revival Time and the Conways. The Roundabout Theatre Company production was directed by Rebecca Taichman, who won a Tony Award last season for the play Indecent. McGovern, who has not performed on Broadway since playing Ophelia in Hamlet in 1992, played Countess Cora Crawleyon Downton Abbey for six seasons.

Elizabeth McGovern stars in 'Time and the Conways'

Elizabeth McGovern stars in 'Time and the Conways'

What attracted you to doing Time and the Conways
Elizabeth McGovern: I thought it was an interesting, challenging idea, seeing a family from the prism of the past and the future. To learn how the behaviors of the mother and society take effect decades later is so interestingly executed by the playwright, J.B. Priestley. Also, it was attractive for me to do a play that is not done that much. 

Mrs. Conway is not very nice, especially how she treats her children.
EM: I know – she’s awful.

Yet, you make her very human. What qualities do you like about her?
EM: The important thing about playing her is that she genuinely comes from a place of love for her children. Like many horrible mothers, her whole life has been about her children. The worst thing is that she has channeled all of her dreams and fantasies of glamour and success onto them. It makes her unable to appreciate her children for who they really are. The beautiful people they might be are not the people she has created in her image of the ideal child she wants. That all comes back to haunt her and them.

Mrs. Conway loves her children. But she doesn’t have the emotional intelligence to know how to raise or see them for who they are. Having been a parent myself, that is a fun thing to explore. It is hard being a parent. Nobody teaches you how to do it. I have great empathy for anybody who is a parent. You’re trying to do the best you can. So I loved exploring this parent who is so bad at it. It was really interesting.

What was one of the first Broadway shows you ever saw? 
When I first came to New York to be a student at Juilliard, I saw Salt Lake City Skyline with John Lithgow. It was playing at one of the smaller theaters at The Public. I remember thinking this is my first play in New York. John is coming to the Roundabout to do Stories by Heart

Can you share one of your earliest memories in New York City? 
EM: I remember my very first fancy dinner in New York. It was at Tavern on the Green. I remember the novelty of the restaurant in the park with the sparkling lights outside. I remember that very vividly.

You haven’t done a play in New York since 1992 and have been living in England. What do you love about being in New York again?
EM: New York is a total buzz for me. I love just the sheer energy of it. When you go away for a really long time, you forget the things that you take for granted when you live here. For somebody who has been in London for as long as I have, New York seems new once again. It’s kind of astonishing.

When I was first back after a 25-year absence it shocked me how many people are piled into such a small space. They’re all one on top of another in these tall, tall buildings. Also, I hadn’t even really come to visit much when I was away. It has this feeling that life renewed itself. I am in awe and wonder and feeling like a kid again. My own children have only just grown up and left the house, so it’s a good way for me to cope with empty nest syndrome. My husband and I are both feeling like we’re kids in New York again. So, I’m loving it.

What do you like to do in the city?
EM: I like to walk, walk, walk, walk everywhere. When I have time, I find a place and walk to it. That’s my way of really experiencing the city and all things you see, the conversations you overhear, the cacophony.

I like walking the High Line and going all the way up to the top of the north end of Central Park and then walking down. I walk from Chelsea to The Village quite a lot. And the obsession with food is also something that strikes me anew. If you get hungry between the 15 fantastic restaurants, there’s a food van for a snack.

Time shifts back and forth in Time and the Conways. If you could go back in time, what would you like to tell your younger self?
EM: I would probably say, “It’s all going to be fine.” That is the thing that you don’t really know when you’re young. I would also say, ‘It’s not going to be either as glorious or as horrendous as you fear. But everything is going to be fine.’

When you’re not working what do you love to do? 
I love music so playing my guitar or listening to music. That is always what I do with my free time. Also, a big part of the joy coming back to New York is seeing friends who I haven’t seen in years. I absolutely love that.

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