The actress dishes on her passionate side project – and performing on the new Downton Abbey Christmas Album

By Gillian Telling
November 13, 2014 09:10 PM
Harry Herd/Getty

Turns out, Cora Crawley can rock!

Though she plays the upper-crust aristocrat on Downton Abbey, in real life, Elizabeth McGovern spends her free time jamming with her folk/country band, Sadie and the Hotheads, and can be heard singing on the upcoming – wait for it – Christmas at Downton Abbey album, out Nov. 17. So what exactly does a Downton Abbey Christmas album sound like?

“It’s just a really nice collection of Christmas songs done in a classical way, with the Budapest City orchestra and a beautiful choir,” McGovern tells PEOPLE. And cast members singing! McGovern does a solo version of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” as well as a duet of “The First Noel” with fellow Downton cast mate Julian Ovenden who plays Charles Blake, one of Lady Mary’s two new suitors. (Ovenden, a professional singer, has several other solo songs on the album.) Jim Carter, who plays Carson, does a spoken-word version of ” ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

“I’m not even a big Christmas person, but I do love the music,” McGovern says. “If you separate them from that association, they’re really just beautiful songs. ‘The First Noel’ is a stunningly well-written song, and so is ‘Little Drummer Boy.’ ”

As for her side project, Sadie and the Hotheads, McGovern says she’s been jamming with them for more than 10 years, but now credits the hit TV show with allowing her to pursue music more seriously.

“It was just the thing I would always do privately with myself and the people I play with,” she says. “If it hadn’t been for the show, we wouldn’t have crossed paths with this agent who has gotten us great gigs like opening for Sting at the Monterey Jazz Festival. “It’s weird, but Downton has opened the door for me to have a place in music.”

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