From 'Downton Abbey' countess to fighting aliens: Elizabeth McGovern on her new role

Cape Town – War of the World's, a reimagining of H.G. Wells classic premieres Wednesday at 20:45 on Fox (DStv 125).

Set in present-day Europe the series centres on an alien attack that nearly wipes out all of humanity. As aliens hunt and kill those left alive, the survivors ask a burning question – who these attackers are and why are they hell-bent on man's destruction.

The series stars an ensemble cast including Gabriel Byrne (Maniac), Elizabeth McGovern (Downton Abbey), Natasha Little (The Night Manager), and Daisy Edgar Jones (Cold Feet).

In this Q&A, Elizabeth reveals more about her character, what appealed to her about the series, and how it is different from other sci-fi shows.

Can you tell us about your character? Who do you play? 

I play Helen, and she was previously married to the character of Bill, played by Gabriel Byrne, and when the attack happens, he is making some efforts toward reconciliation. The cataclysm happens right in the middle of this story where he's trying to compensate for mistakes he made during their marriage, and she has moved on in her life. The alien attack interrupts his efforts to reconcile, but it also helps him with his efforts to reconcile to his ex-wife in a way that you'll have to see if you watch the show.

What is her journey throughout the series?

She starts off very antipathetic to Bill, her ex-husband, and as this cataclysm throws them together, she finds herself warming more and more toward him and starts to let him back into her emotional spectrum as the story unfolds. They draw closer and closer together, because they're in a situation where they're having to survive.

Gabriel Byrne and Elizabeth McGovern in War of the

What first appealed to you about War of the Worlds?

What I love so much about the story is that the writer is so interested in what happens to real specific people when they're looking at a cataclysm that might end life as we know it. It puts into a clear delineation, what your priorities, who you are and what your relationships mean to you when you have to redefine them and re-look at them in the context of this world possibly ending. That it's for me. It is much more interesting than watching plastic-looking odd creatures from outer space on the attack. It is because the writer is very interested in characters.

It's not so much the alien, but the presence of the aliens and what they do to these people and their lives that is very interesting to observe. It makes you think about what life is all about because you have to redefine it in these different circumstances. It is very interesting to watch all the characters and the way they all, individually, deal with this situation. The writing really embraces and explores that aspect of the story, which is what I find really interesting.

Is your character someone you think you could survive the end of the world with?

My character is pretty tough. I'm liking that she's a survivor and she takes a lot of knocks, and she gets up and keeps on kicking, which is an aspect of the character that I'm enjoying playing.      

Natasha Little and Elizabeth McGovern in War of th

How does War of the Worlds differ from other alien or sci-fi shows?

I think the aspect of it that makes it different for me is the fact that it focuses on the human beings, the characters, as they're impacted by this force, rather than the force itself. We don't spend a lot of time looking at, as I like to say, 'little pieces of plastic that are the alien invasion.' It's more 'how is this affecting all these people as they carry on their lives?' which I think is an interesting take on the story.


Tune in to War of the Worlds, Wednesday at 20:45 on FOX (DStv 125).

Compiled by Leandra Engelbrecht. 

(Photos supplied: FOX)