It’s fair to say that those who had never heard of British actress Olivia Colman have been well and truly suckered in by the disarming and charmingly awkward acceptance speech she made at this year’s Academy Awards.
The 44-year-old actress scooped the Best Actress gong for her highly praised interpretation of Queen Anne, even though highly acclaimed The Favourite failed to win any of the nine other nominations it was in the running for.
But as she revealed in her hilariously personal and kooky speech even though she appears to finally have the world in her grasp, Olivia’s career was certainly no overnight success and that in the early days of her career she had to make ends meet by working as a cleaner.
Growing up in Norwich, Colman says she halfheartedly dreamed of being an actor from a young age, describing it as “a secret dream, like talking to animals”. While she would appear in school plays, she never actually considered acting as a possible career path, which left her in a dilemma about what she actually could do in the real world, especially as academically, school was a tough place for her.
“I had to go back to school for an extra year as I did so badly in my final exams,” the kooky actress told The Hollywood Reporter. “No uni would have me. So I went to Homerton in Cambridge [to become a teacher] but didn’t last there for very long [because] I wasn’t very good at studying.”
After she left Homerton, she decided to stay in Cambridge, snuck into lectures, took part in plays and realized that acting was what she wanted to do. It was there where she auditioned for Footlights and met Robert Webb and David Mitchell for the first time, the comedy duo who would become an integral part of her success.
However, after two years studying at Bristol Old Vic drama school, she discovered life as a working actor was not going to be easy.
“I worked as a temp and cleaner for quite a long time but then Lindy King from what was called PFD took me on from the show at the end of drama school so had her on my side,” Colman recalls. “She was putting me up for all sorts but I wasn’t getting any auditions.”
In spite of all the knockbacks, she was determined to battle on. “I was never crushed [by disappointment] because I knew I couldn’t do anything else.”
Sticking to her guns, roles began to trickle in for Colman and she began to land parts in the kind of dramas that fledgling actors tend to cut their teeth on, like Holby.
But Colman has her Footlights mates Mitchell and Webb to thank for her eventual success after they suggested her to the BBC for a role in their show Bruiser that this started to take shape.
From then on, she appeared in a series of comedic vehicles like Peep Show, Green Wing and Hot Fuzz, before dabbling in her fair share of dramatic roles, including Tyrannosaur, for which she won acclaim for playing an abused wife and The Iron Lady, for which she played Margaret Thatcher’s daughter Carol.
Her profile was significantly raised when she landed the role of DS Ellie Miller on Broadchurch for which she scooped a Best Actress BAFTA. She would go on to appear in the BBC miniseries The Night Manageras a British intelligence operative for which she won a best-supporting actress Golden Globe.
Now she is in the process of shooting the third and fourth seasons of The Crown, having taken over as Queen Elizabeth from Claire Foy. Although the fee she has received for the role has not be revealed, she is expected to earn a lot more than the reported $40, 000 that Claire Foy was paid for the title role.
You may remember that last year, controversy raged when it was revealed that Foy’s payment was revealed to be way below that of her co-star Matt Smith’s, who played the supporting role of the Duke Of Edinburgh.
After a petition was raised to encourage producers of The Crownto persuade Smith and Netflix to donate part of his salary from the show to Time’s Up legal fund, showrunners Suzanne Mackie and Andy Harries confirmed the shocking pay gap and assured the incoming sovereign would be paid handsomely and fairly as “nobody earns more than the Queen.”
But with her role in The Crown and her Golden Globe and Oscar wins for The Favourite, Olivia can expect to enjoy a very fruitful career indeed, that will substantially increase her value and net worth of £2.8 million, made during her 20-year career.
“Olivia Colman has got it made now,” former OK! Associate Editor Phil Gould tells me. “She has really grafted hard over the years and made a fair amount of money from the British shows that she has appeared on.
“But now, after having scooped a Golden Globe and an Oscar, she is a much more bankable star and will attract more job offers and looks set to earn more money in the next year or so than she has over the past twenty!”
However, Gould thinks that it may take some time for Colman to land the kind of multi-million pound movie deals that the likes of Scarlett Johansson and Emma Stone are offered. Last year, the Avengers star was named the top female earner in Hollywood with $40.5 million in pretax earnings between June 1, 2017 and June 1, 2018, thanks mainly to her lucrative role in the Marvel series.
“It’s unlikely she’ll be earning the same kind of fees just yet as Hollywood big hitters like Scarlett Johansson and Emma Stone, but it all depends on the roles she is offered and accepts,” Gould explains.
“She’s a character actress like Meryl Streep and Helena Bonham-Carter so is unlikely to land a role in a big glossy big budget vehicle straightaway. But then again, who’d have thought that Meryl famed for her dramatic roles in Sophie’s Choice and Kramer Vs Kramer would have ended up doing Mamma Mia, or Helena joining the cast of Oceans 8.”
He concluded: “The great thing about Olivia is she can turn her hand to anything – comedy, drama, you name it – so hopefully we can look forward to her really making a deserved mark in the US!”
But Olivia is adamant that fame is something that has never interested her. “I hate the loss of anonymity,” she told The Independent recently. “No one teaches you how to deal with that. I now just tend to stay home because it’s so weird not to be on an equal footing with people. They know your face, and you don’t know them. It’s not that people aren’t lovely, but it’s harder to deal with than you imagine.”
But whether Colman likes it or not, her recent spate of awards has also given her an even more important status – that of ‘national treasure’ alongside acting legends like Dames Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren.
Although Colman is a lot younger than those acting heavyweights, the great British public and her peers have taken her to their hearts and hold her in very high regard. It’s hard to define exactly what makes someone a national treasure but in most cases they are folks who possess wit and warmth, who are down to earth, humble, real and who capture the nation’s imagination
Actor Charles Dance – who will appear with Colman in The Crown – recently said he thought she was the Dame Judi of her generation. “I first met her when she was playing a maid in Long Day’s Journey Into Night in the West End. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, this is a smart girl’,” he told The Evening Standard. “She has rocketed away. I don’t think it’s too much to say that she is her generation’s Judi Dench. And like Judi, she has a wonderful sense of humour but also works incredibly hard and takes the job very seriously.”
So Olivia Colman is at a very pivotal point in her career when the world is at her feet. The future certainly looks bright and whether she likes it or not, post Oscars, Olivia’s life will never quite be the same again.