updated 01/13/2013 AT 4:00 PM ET
•originally published 01/14/2013 AT 10:30 AM ET
Everyone has a past … even the actors on Downton Abbey.
As Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, Smith reigns over her costars, often offering some comic relief in the form of barbs. But prior to Downton and long before her iconic roles in Sister Act and the Harry Potter films, Smith was a fresh-faced girl engulfed in her studies.
After McGovern made her film debut in the Robert Redford directed Ordinary People, she went on to earn an Oscar nomination for her role in Ragtime. She later appeared in a variety of films and television shows, but it was when McGovern learned that Downton creator Julian Fellowes was looking to cast Lady Cora Crawley that she kicked into high gear.
McGovern, 51, told the Daily Mail that she wrote Fellowes saying, “I’m on my knees – I really want to play this part!”
See more flashback photos of the Downton Abbey cast here.