Does ‘Downton Abbey’ Star Elizabeth McGovern Ever Regret Not Marrying Sean Penn?

Elizabeth McGovern, the cast member of Downton Abbey behind the incomparable Cora Crawley, was once engaged to Sean Penn — although that feels like several lifetimes ago now. Decades after their 1980s romance, does McGovern harbor any regrets about bidding Penn adieu?

‘Downton Abbey’ cast member Elizabeth McGovern almost married Sean Penn after meeting him on a movie set

Elizabeth McGovern and Sean Penn in a scene from the film Racing With The Moon
Elizabeth McGovern and Sean Penn in a scene from the film Racing With The Moon | Paramount/Getty Images

Downton Abbey star McGovern first encountered Penn when they worked together on the 1984 flick Racing with the Moon. McGovern was only 23 years old then, and their romance was everything she thought she wanted.

“However, the pair split when Elizabeth decided to move to New York to focus on her theatre career, ” the Independent reported. “She has described their relationship as ‘exhausting.’”

Does McGovern — who is married to director/producer Simon Curtis and has two daughters — ever look back at her time with Penn and wonder: what if?

“No,” the Downton Abbey star answered decisively. “You’d go mad if you did.”

Perhaps it wasn’t just the relationship with Penn — but Hollywood as well — that convinced McGovern to leave. She describes feeling a bit torn as a young actor there, per the Independent:

I was busy growing up and being a professional actor and, at times, that was difficult. Those two things are sometimes in conflict. You have to do all the stupid things kids need to do, but you’re in the glaring light of public opinion and I think when I was first working it was more uncommon for someone young to be successful.

Does Elizabeth McGovern ever think about what it would be like to have Sean Penn as her husband?

The Daily Mail spoke to McGovern about her time on Downton Abbey — and her past with Penn.

Elizabeth McGovern And Sean Penn In 'Racing With The Moon'
Elizabeth McGovern and Sean Penn in a publicity portrait for Racing With The Moon | Paramount/Getty Images

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“She has previously described her high-octane relationship with Penn in the full glare of the Hollywood spotlight as ‘dramatic,'” they wrote.

It seems to the Daily Mail that “McGovern’s values converge with those of Downton’s Lady Grantham who, like her, left a fast life in the US for the UK.” McGovern has no regrets whatsoever.

“I didn’t think I was throwing a career away,” she explained.

The publication also asked the Downton Abbey alum if she ever thought about what it would be like to be married to Penn now.

“Another life,” McGovern responded. “Another story. I’m very happy with the choices I’ve made.”

At age 59, Cora Crawley from ‘Downton Abbey’ is living her best life

Her actual life today? The Daily Mail calls it “a far cry from the high drama of her early 20s with Penn.”

“I married a smart, funny man who is very talented,” McGovern said of her husband. “Our family is our priority.” She also credits Curtis for “his support and advice.”

However, McGovern finds her life fairly normal and drama-free.

“… away from work we live a very regular life,” she told the publication. And she’s perfectly content to keep doing so.

Elizabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville in the Downton Abbey movie
Elizabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville in the Downton Abbey movie | Jaap Buitendijk / © 2019 Focus Features

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“I’ve been very lucky that all my life I’ve never really given a damn about what anyone else thinks,” the Downton Abbey star said.