The daughter of educators, Elizabeth McGovern moved from her home town of Evanston, Illinois to Los Angeles when her father, a law professor at Northwestern, transferred to UCLA. Discovered for the movies while appearing in a high-school play, McGovern made an impressive screen debut as the girlfriend of emotionally disturbed teenager Timothy Hutton in the Oscar-winning Ordinary People (1980). The following year, she earned an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of notorious turn-of-the-century "kept lady" Evelyn Nesbit Shaw in Ragtime. She honed her acting skills at Julliard and the American Conservatory Theatre, then made her off-Broadway debut in a 1981 production of To Be Young, Gifted and Black; her later stage credits include Painting Churches and The Hitch-hiker. Carefully avoiding the make-work roles usually reserved for actresses of her generation, McGovern has opted for offbeat characterizations in such films as Racing with the Moon (1984) and Once Upon a Time in America. She seems unconcerned with the size of her roles, so long as she can make a lasting impression as witness The Handmaid's Tale (1991) in which she deftly handles her role with such formidable co-stars as Natasha Richardson and Robert Duvall with her brief appearance as self-deprecating lesbian prostitute Moira. Elizabeth McGovern also starred in the 1995 TV sitcom If Not for You.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Her mother was an English teacher and her father was a law professor at UCLA.
- Studied with acting teacher Jared Sakren.
- Was a student at Juilliard when she accepted the role of Jeannine Pratt in Robert Redford's Ordinary People (1980), her feature-film debut.
- Dated and was briefly engaged to Sean Penn after meeting him on the set of Racing With the Moon (1984).
- Lives in London.
- Dabbles in music as the singer-songwriter of the acoustic band Sadie and the Hotheads.