Michael Fassbender, Olivia Colman and John Hurt stole the honours at Monday night’s Evening Standing British Film Awards which was a blazing success despite an alarming delay.
The awards took off to a rocky start when stars were evacuated from the venue following a fire alarm which put the ceremony behind schedule, according to BBC News.
Famous guests including Colman, Hurt, Clemence Poesy and Jessica Brown-Findlay stood out in the cold until it was deemed safe to return inside.
However the show continued without a hitch as prizes were handed out to the best in the business.
Fassbender won the best actor prize for his role in sex addiction drama ‘Shame’ and as Edward Rochester in ‘Jane Eyre’. He was not present for the awards so ‘Shame’ writer Abi Morgan accepted the prize on his behalf with a message from the actor saying he “truly honoured and delighted” by the win.
The best actress gong went to Olivia Colman for her performance in drama ‘Tyrannosaur.’ ‘The Iron Lady’ star beat Oscar winners Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Weisz and Tilda Swinton for the honour.
John Hurt picked up the Alexander Walker lifetime achievement award for his contribution to cinema. ‘The Elephant Man’ star, 72, was presented his prize by ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ director Stephen Frears.
The prize for best film went to Lynne Ramsay’s ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin,’ a drama about a woman who tries to deal with the grief of her teenage boy who goes on a high-school killing spree.
‘Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2’ picked up The People’s Choice Award for Blockbuster of the Year.
The awards were hosted by ‘Green Wing’ star Stephen Mangan at the London Film Museum
I was apalled to see that Olivia had not been nominated in the BAFTAs this year after such an incredible run of performances from her. She deserved to be recognised by these awards and I was so upset to see that they had overlooked her, however I was heartened when I saw how loved she is via Twitter where celebrities and us normal folk alike were using their 140 character limit to let the world know just how upset they were at this! It is truely incredible to see how loved and appreciated Olivia and her work is and I hope she saw our upset at her being overlooked at the BAFTAs and realised that we love her.
I want to extend my major congratulations to Olivia for her award win at London Film Critics’ Circle Awards where she was given the Moet & Chandon Award: British Actress of the Year! So well deserved it is wonderful to see her incredible talent finally being recognised though we saw it a long time ago! I have added some beautiful pictures of her at the event to the gallery click the picture below to see them:
Time to Change, the mental illness charity organisation, is launching a new campaign to encourage people to talk about the issue of mental health.
The “It’s time to talk. It’s time to change” campaign aims to “remove the fear and awkwardness” around mental health by encouraging people to talk openly about it.
The TV, press, radio and digital campaign was created by Dare, and includes a series of cartoon strips showing common misunderstandings around mental health, drawn by Stephen Collins, who has previously created cartoons for the Times and Spectator.
Olivia Colman, who played Sophie in Channel 4 TV programme Peep show, will voice one of the characters in the radio ads.
The charity is also inviting people to make a pledge towards ending the silence around mental illness through an online portal that offers help on how to start a conversation on the subject or send e-cards to let someone know they are thinking of them.
Time to Change director Sue Baker says: “The aim of our social marketing campaign is to use creative, innovative methods to reach our target audience. It’s time to talk. It’s time to change, encourages the public to talk and open up about something that affects one in four people in our communities. Through the use of subtle humour in our advertising, we hope we can remove the awkwardness and fear that stops many people talking about mental health.”
The Time to Change campaign is jointly run by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, and recently received new funding from the Department of Health and Comic Relief.
You can find out more about this charity here:Time to change
Tomorrow morning, Olivia Colman is alarmed to remind herself, she is due at the first rehearsal for a West End play. “It is Hay Fever by Noël Coward. And I am very nervous about going back on the stage. I am playing Myra, or Myrna, is it?”
Colman will be appearing alongside Lindsay Duncan, Jeremy Northam, David Haig and Freddie Fox, but the list of illustrious co-stars does not help. “I used to do stage all the time, but it has been such a long time. I feel they are all going to be shaking their heads soon enough, saying to each other, ‘I can see we are going to have to carry this one.'”
The 37-year-old has applied her subversive wit to a wide selection of critically acclaimed television comedies over the past decade, from Peep Show to Green Wing and Rev, but recently pulled a switch on her audience by proving she can deliver uncompromising emotion, too. Her performance in Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur, in which she played a charity shop worker enduring hidden domestic violence, won her best actress at the British Independent Film Awards in November, and her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher’s daughter Carol in director Phyllida Lloyd’s film Iron Lady was last week saluted by critics.
“I don’t believe any of the Thatcher family have seen it yet. I think they have decided that if they see it they will do so in their own time, which seems right, although I know Phyllida did ask if they wanted to see it first.”
Colman researched her role as the prime minister’s daughter by watching back-to-back tapes of the 2009 series of I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, the jungle-based reality TV show in which Carol unexpectedly triumphed.
“I know it seems a bit silly to play someone without meeting them, but seeing the show was very good, because it meant I watched her when she was unaware of the cameras. Although the gung-ho, fearless Carol of the bush is not the same woman as in my scenes in the film, which are much more emotional.”
Residual affection for the hearty and occasionally maladroit Carol is based, Colman thinks, on her eccentricity.
“I think the English understand that it must be very difficult to grow up in the shadow of someone like her mother, although in America the reaction is different, I hear, because the younger generation do not know anything about Margaret Thatcher, let alone her daughter. You wonder at first how they could not know, but of course they don’t.”
When it comes to the politics of the film, Colman holds the party line, embellishing the director’s view that the film is not about Thatcher’s policies or her social impact. “I am not in the same camp as Thatcher politically myself, but the great thing about the film is it looks at how powerful she was and how contentious a figure she was and shows she did it with dignity. It is about the fading of powers. Dementia is such a terrifying thing for all of us, and we are particularly bad at coping with old people in this country.”
This subject, she says, coupled with “the more universal family dynamic in the story”, drew her to the screenplay. “If you hate Thatcher, you are not going to be satisfied. Although if you look at the film objectively, you will see she is shown as someone who both impressed millions of people and is thought to have ruined millions of lives too.”
Decisions about which parts to take – and there are growing conflicts – are based on the scripts.
“If when I read it I can’t imagine making it sound real, then I just can’t do it,” says Colman. “If a script is good, you are 10 steps into the part just reading it. But my choices are not all down to my taste. It is about people you have worked with before. A series like Look Around You, which I did with Peter Serafinowicz, was down to luck. He asked me and he has very good taste in comedy.”
Aside from amusing early appearances in the AA’s “Kev and Bev” adverts, Colman began to be recognised in 2003 as sensible Sophie from Peep Show, alongside David Mitchell and Robert Webb.
“I suppose I am very sensible,” she says. “I mean, here I am now and I’m building a fire and making a cup of tea at the same time as talking. But in fact I was slightly badly behaved at school and got in trouble. I would get a bee in my bonnet about something I thought wasn’t right, and I would ape about too, to make everybody laugh. That was my way through my girls’ school, because I wasn’t very academic.”
Funny was never going to be the whole story though. Colman wanted to be taken seriously as an actress and admits running through her awards acceptance speech from the age of eight. “I suppose everybody who wants to perform does that.”
She grew up in Norfolk and, after a truncated spell studying in Cambridge, trained at Bristol Old Vic.
“They tried to knock the edges off my funny voice, so that I can do ‘received pronounciation’. But my voice is working for me now. It’s not really a Norfolk accent, I have moved about a bit and at school I wanted to sound like everybody else.”
It was Colman’s agent who nudged her into pulling away from a lucrative run of comic roles. “She said not to panic, but that doing straight-girl parts and giving Mitchell and Webb the feed lines was not going to make it easy for me to do other work. So I talked to David and Robert about it and they just said: ‘We wondered when you were going to say that.’ It was a hard decision though.”
Since Considine’s Tyrannosaur, the break from sketch shows has proved its worth. “People know I can do other things now. That is all down to Paddy, who stuck his neck out for me.” Yet Colman is not turning her back on comedy. “If people still trust me with a funny line, then that is fine. If that is what gets me work.”
The popularity of the BBC’s Rev, in which she plays the wife of Tom Hollander’s vicar, Adam Smallbone, has brought a new breed of fan. “We tried to do some guerrilla filming for the series at the Greenbelt religious festival, but in the end we couldn’t use any of the footage because it was like being the Stones. We were mobbed by people saying they loved what we had done with Rev. They are normal human beings, after all, and fed up with constantly being portrayed as starchy.”
Colman adds that, while she is not a believer, she is happy that the show is good PR for the church. “Adam Smallbone is an everyman: good, kind, worried and troubled. I have enormous admiration for people that do believe. Maybe one day I will take that step.”
Colman lives with her writer husband, Ed Sinclair, and their two small boys. “It is easier now the boys are at school. I don’t feel so bad leaving them all at home.”
Colman met Sinclair in a student production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Table Manners. “I saw his right profile as I entered the room and felt a thunderbolt. He didn’t feel it, though. It took me about six weeks to convince him. At least it wasn’t six years.”
The suggestion that offers of work may soon come from America is unsettling, she says. “It hasn’t happened yet, but I would find it hard to sign up for seven years for a series. It would be very tricky. I would have to take everyone. I don’t really sleep if I am not with my husband, and seven years is a long time not to sleep.”
For now, British television audiences can look out for Colman in a new series of Jimmy McGovern’s The Accused, in which she stars with Anne Marie Duff.
“I always want to work. I have got a huge mortgage and I am the only earner at the moment, so I need to work too. It took me a good week or so to calm down over Christmas. Now I have completely relaxed, so I am a bit daunted by the rehearsals tomorrow. I’ve been used to having the boys come into bed and just lying there. But that all has to change again now.”
I have updated the gallery with a ton of absolutely gorgeous photos of Olivia from the Iron Lady premiere click the picture below to see them:
How does an actor with well-established comedic chops turn in a shattering performance in one of the year’s darkest, most disturbing films? Olivia Colman says she did it in “Tyrannosaur” by doing what’s real for her character—with the help of a pitch-perfect script.
“I didn’t go anywhere different for it,” Colman says. “You just go to where you need to go to do her justice.” Her work in this film by writer-director Paddy Considine was dubbed the breakout performance at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
One more breakout is coming her way, however. She more than holds our attention as Margaret Thatcher’s daughter, Carol, opposite Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady.”
But in “Tyrannosaur,” Colman plays Hannah, a Christian woman who works in a thrift shop and who holds out a literal and figurative hand to the damaged, raging Joseph (Peter Mullan). Yet Hannah bears her own scars, caused in large part by her marriage to the monstrous James (Eddie Marsan). The film began life as Considine’s short; in the feature film he expands Hannah’s role to show her background and develop her relationship with Joseph.
Back Stage: How did you meet Paddy Considine, and how did he cast you in this project?
Olivia Colman: We met on a film called “Hot Fuzz.” We met the first day of our rehearsals. I knew Paddy was coming, and I was so excited to meet Paddy Considine. And he came up the stairs, and I opened the door for him, and he said, “After you,” and I went, “Oh, no, no, after you.” And he says that at that point he thought, “Oh, right, she’s the one for my short film.” I’m so pleased I held the door open for him.
Back Stage: How much time did you have to prepare your character for the short?
Colman: I didn’t. I read the script, but then I had to fly to Glasgow and do my scenes just in one day, because I was in the middle of a job. The short went down very well. It won a BAFTA for best short. After that, people were saying, “I want to know what happens with these characters.” And then it was just about four years between the short and the feature.
Back Stage: If there was no back story for Hannah, did you make one up for her?
Colman: Everything was on the page. She worked in this charity shop; she was the only person who extended a hand of friendship to this man who most people would have walked to the other side of the street away from. I didn’t need to know an awful lot more about that. I know lots of actors might disagree with me, but to me I just did what was on the page. She was a lovely, warm person.
And when you come to the feature, she just shows herself as a lovely, warm person. She doesn’t show what’s going on, anyway, in her back story. It’s unveiled during the course of the film. But I think it’s right that she doesn’t show everybody, and that’s what’s more interesting.
And the whole film is about challenging perceptions: You make snap decisions, snap judgments about people, and you’re invariably wrong. Looking at the film after you’ve witnessed what Joseph’s done, you can’t believe you can feel so differently. But I don’t think you need to demonstrate everything, because that’s not what people do. They keep their secrets, and they keep them well.
Back Stage: Any other research?
Colman: I went to this charity called Refuge, in the U.K., which tries to help victims of domestic violence. I talked to women who work for the charity—not to any of the women, or men, they help—because I couldn’t promise I wouldn’t cry. So they gave me a case study to look at, which was so shocking—a hundred times worse than anything you saw onscreen—and that was enough. I’ll never get rid of that now, the horrible images from that. That was enough to inform what I thought Hannah was.
Back Stage: What was Paddy’s set like? Formal? Funny?
Colman: Informal and very, very safe, very friendly. They’re all funny people: Paddy, Eddie, and Peter. All lovely, warm people who tell funny stories and joke with each other. Also the crew. When you’re feeling exposed when you’re doing something, you don’t want to hear someone giggling ’cause they’re doing a private joke over there. No one did that [on this film]. Everyone was completely committed.
Back Stage: What kind of rehearsals did you have?
Colman: We had one day that had been put aside, before we started the shoot. Paddy and Peter and I sitting. But it ended up we didn’t really talk about the piece at all. We ended up going to the pub and having a drink. The characters were already so whole, so multifaceted, so complete on the page, I didn’t want to talk about it. It feels like you’re taking the lid off the pressure cooker. If I can feel it, it’s all there; please don’t make me say it before we have to do it.
I told Paddy, “I’m really nervous about rehearsing for this; I don’t want to.” And he felt the same. Because I felt it so deeply, I would be sobbing during a rehearsal. He said, “No, don’t say a word. Roughly when you get to that point, where do you think you might go? [The camera will] just follow you and make sure we get it.” That was lovely. It was liberating.
Back Stage: What did you learn about acting while working on this film?
Colman: There’s a certain feeling I have a bit more now, which is I do deserve to be here. I always thought, “I’m going to be found out.” I couldn’t have done “Iron Lady” three years ago. I did “Iron Lady” three years after this, and I thought, “It’s all right; I can hold my own,” after Paddy giving me confidence like that.
Back Stage: What did you learn watching Streep?
Colman: She has a very strong work ethic. There is no ego; there’s no vanity; there’s no place for that. That’s why she is so extraordinarily good at what she does. I don’t want to? see the working behind a performance. To be; that’s it. And to feel it.
And laying on extra stuff—I don’t enjoy watching that. She takes what she needs to, to make that person real. People would have paid to sit there and watch her in the flesh doing it. And she was amazing, and you completely forgot that underneath the prosthetics she looked different. She became the person.
Back Stage: In “Tyrannosaur,” what was the most difficult scene for you?
Colman: The one I was always terrified of, from the moment I got the script, was Hannah’s breakdown. I was scared of doing it justice. I didn’t want to let Paddy down. And he shot us chronologically, which was brilliant. Because he’s an actor, he knows how important that is. So the whole journey, you’ve already done it. It makes your job very easy.
There was [another] scene which didn’t make it to the final cut. I think we all felt it wasn’t working. Paddy kept trying. And then I traveled home for the weekend. And Paddy called me and said, “We’re going to reshoot that scene.” And I was so upset that I hadn’t done it right, I’ve let him down, he’d taken the gamble. And then he says, “It wasn’t you. I was saying all the wrong things, and I was directing it wrong.” Which is sweet of him.
Back Stage: And the one scene you wouldn’t mind reshooting?
Colman: The scenes I found hardest were the scenes that were re-creating the short. It was weird—it was like an echo. We did it four years previously, and I was trying to make it? fresh again now, but I could still kind of hear my own voice. I found those the hardest, which is why I wouldn’t want to shoot them again, ’cause it would just get worse.
Back Stage: What was your worst audition ever?
Colman: It was for the Donmar [Warehouse, in London]. I was going to be meeting [casting director and creative associate] Anne McNulty, and I was so excited. Quite early on [in my career]. Wanted to be taken on by my agent. And the script had a lot of mention of camera shot things. And it was for the part of a whore.
So I had a short skirt and tried to look as whorish as I could—or as I could bear. Got there, took my coat off, and she looked at me and said, “What do you think of the script?” And I said, “Oh, it’s good.” And she still looked puzzled. And then she said, “Should we have a little read?” And it wasn’t the script that I’d been sent. It was for the part of a nun. We did laugh about it, but it was humiliating. And I didn’t get that part.
THE New Year couldn’t be getting off to a better start for Olivia Colman, one of our most liked actresses seemingly on a fast-track to National Treasure status.
In November she won Best Actress at the Moet British Independent Film Awards for her heartbreaking performance as an abused wife in Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur, trumping Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin.
The film has shaken-off in sensational style any kind of perception of Colman as a strictly comic actress after years of appearances in some of out most popular TV comedies, including Peep Show, Green Wing and Rev.
Her role in the latter as a mumsy but frisky vicar’s wife has received whoops of appreciation from the genuine articles (“who wants to be portrayed as starchy?” she says) and a third series looks a certainty if star and co-creator Tom Hollander can rev himself up.
“I think he’s still a bit frazzled” she admits.
“It’s a solid year of work for him up to finishing the edit so I think if I was to ask ‘are we doing a third one?’ he might start twitching.”
Now she is starring opposite Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady as Carol Thatcher, a role she describes as even more intimidating than her battered spouse in Tyrannosaur.
The fear lay in the recognition factor – “we all know her voice and her face and I’m not good at impressions” – but Carol’s public profile proved a blessing in terms of research: Colman, 37, watched the entire series of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! in which Carol emerged triumphant as “Queen of The Jungle” in 2009.
“She was a favourite to lose when she went in and she ended up winning it” admires the actress who is completely convincing in the film, nailing Carol’s familiar voice with its soft Rs and looking like her too, aided by a prosthetic nose.
“She was gung-ho and witty and quite fun. She’s a ballsy person to play.” A tad potty too, I venture. “Yes, it’s great to play potty. Potty’s a good word.”
She recounts an episode in I’m A Celebrity in which Carol had to drive a car across a wobbly bridge over a ravine even though she can’t drive.
“She just climbed in thinking ‘death is preferable to failing the task and not feeding my comrades.’”
Yet Colman’s performance is no caricature and provides the picture with its warmest and most touching moments as Carol confronts the upsetting reality of her mother’s dementia.
It’s a storyline that has attracted controversy for it’s portrayal of Lady Thatcher as a lonely and vulnerable old lady conversing with the ghost of her late husband Dennis, played by Jim Broadbent.
It falls on Colman’s Carol to try and gently remind Lady Thatcher of her present-day circumstances (“you’re no longer Prime Minister and daddy’s dead”) while the story flashbacks to her past glories and challenges as Britain’s first female Prime Minister.
Streep is magnificent (“I just watched her with my mouth open” says Colman) but some have questioned the taste of portraying the former PM in such a way while still alive.
“I feel very sad if people find it distasteful” says Colman, suddenly quite crestfallen.
“It’s not mocking or cruel, it’s sensitive and tender and I think it’s actually incredibly flattering for Margaret Thatcher. It does show the light and darkness of her reign, some of the unrest, so it’s honest like that, but above all it shows her as a woman who achieved something remarkable. Maybe people are saying things who haven’t seen the film yet.”
As for Carol, the actress has never met her and shrinks at the possibility of doing so, although it’s hard to see how Carol can be anything other than chuffed at the spot-on casting: like Carol, Colman exudes a game positivity that makes her company quite life-enhancing.
“I don’t want to meet her in case she hates me. In case I’ve done a really bad job.”
Of course she hasn’t. Her Carol is immensely sympathetic and humorous. Their politics may be different, says Colman, who grew up in Norfolk, the daughter of a nurse mother and chartered surveyor father, but she has great sympathy for Carol’s predicament as the offspring of a world famous mother.
“The children of people so extraordinarily famous have a pretty hard time of it” she suggests.
“Anything you achieve is going to be compared to them. I would hate it and I don’t think I’d cope with it so there’s something admirable about coming out and doing whatever you do when everyone’s looking. It takes a thick skin and courage.”
Colman is a mother herself, to two boys aged six and four, and the bulk of the childcare falls on her writer husband Ed Sinclair who works from home, especially in the last year when Colman found herself in almost constant demand.
The pair met while students in Cambridge, Colman attending a teacher training college which she left after a year to study drama at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Ed at the university proper.
“I always try not to take jobs away from home so I can get back every night and offer him some moral support” she says of family life.
“I definitely have an easier time of it. You’ll do anything for your children and utterly utterly adore them but it’s still pretty tiring and hard work.”
Ed is a “brilliant parent” she enthuses.
“He’s much better at it than I am actually, much cooler about things. I always assumed I’d be a terribly patient mum but it turns out I’m not!”
There doesn’t seem much prospect of a let-up in 2012 for Colman. Later this month (January) she starts rehearsing for her part in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever in London’s West End alongside Lindsay Duncan and Jeremy Northam and directed by Howard Davies.
“Lots of wonderful people are in it who know what they’re doing so I’m going to hide behind them” quips Colman who describes herself as “pretty rubbish” on stage.
She’ll also be seen as Queen Elizabeth, the future Queen Mother, in Hyde Park On Hudson, an account of a weekend in 1939 when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor.
Directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill), it’s a romantic drama centred on the complicated love life of the US President, played by the notoriously elusive Bill Murray.
“The film was five years in the making and trying to pin him down was like trying to nail jelly to the wall apparently” chuckles Colman who found the actor “hilarious, anarchic and brilliant.”
Although she says she’ll take whatever jobs “come my way”, there’s no doubt that Tyrannosaur, which she describes as “the thing I’ll be most proud of until I die”, has opened up new avenues for her as a dramatic actress.
“Yes, I’ve had some different things come through the letter box which is so nice, it’s really exciting. The ultimate dream is to do a bit of everything” she says, fizzing with good cheer.
The 2011 awards season may be young, with a great many breathless winners yet to soak the stage in tears, but I’m not sure we’ll see another acceptance speech quite as humbly overwhelmed as Olivia Colman’s at the British Independent Film Awards earlier this month. Visibly trembling and sincerely astonished at having beaten a roster of nominees including Tilda Swinton, the unassuming London-based actress managed to stammer out a brief list of thank-yous before scuttling off the stage, seemingly shaking her head in disbelief at her good fortune.
It was, of course, not the first trophy she’s won for her shattering performance as a brutally abused charity worker in actor Paddy Considine’s hard-bitten directorial debut “Tyrannosaur,” which also won the top prize at the aforementioned BIFA Awards. Her success began nearly a year ago with an acting award (shared with co-star Peter Mullan) at the Sundance Film Festival, while a Chicago Film Festival prize followed in the fall. Earlier this week, she snagged a nomination from the London Film Critics’ Circle. All through the year, Colman has remained a prominent dark horse in the Oscar conversation, fiercely championed by critics and bloggers who fear this minute UK indie will slip through the cracks: the actress isn’t optimistic about her chances of being invited to that particular dance, but such talk, she finds, is its own reward.
“It’s incredibly flattering, but let’s be honest — it doesn’t seem like a feasible prospect, does it?” she asks cheerily over the phone. She’s just returned home from a day of filming of a long-nurtured TV pilot in Watford; supper is being prepared as we speak. She audibly beams when I mention Hollywood Elsewhere blogger Jeff Wells’s self-funded campaign on her behalf, arranging screenings of the film in L.A. for potential awards voters, though she’s clearly as amused as she is touched by the effort.
“I didn’t even know until people started talking about us that there was all this massive campaigning around the Oscars every year, I had no idea that’s how it worked. This film means so much to me, and when people show that they like it, I couldn’t be happier. I’m in shock that people are even talking about me, but it’s lovely, and it may never happen again — so why not go with it? But I’ve never expected to win anything, and I still don’t.”
Whether it happens again or not, the likelihood has been significantly raised in the past 12 months, as Colman’s big-screen profile has shot up with key roles in two major 2011 releases: in addition to her weighty lead turn in “Tyrannosaur,” she’ll reach even more audiences in The Weinstein Company’s upcoming Oscar hopeful “The Iron Lady,” where she plays Margaret Thatcher’s put-upon daughter Carol, and consequently shares the screen in multiple scenes with Meryl Streep. Under a blobby prosthetic nose and distressed blonde wig, Colman gives the most open, affecting turn in an often stifling film; her rapport with Streep, as the elderly, dementia-plagued former British Prime Minister, is sweetly evident.
This one-two of dramatic projects is an unexpected breakthrough for an actress, now in her mid-thirties, previously best appreciated as a secret weapon of British TV comedy: shows like “Green Wing” and “Look Around You” built up to a long-running gig as seemingly gormless, but ruthlessly manipulative, office drone Sophie in the superb “Peep Show,” where she makes a rich comic virtue of the character’s utter lack of wit. Her dry gifts also reached cinema audiences in the hit police spoof “Hot Fuzz,” where she first worked with Paddy Considine. The off-kilter actor was sufficiently impressed by Colman’s work to offer her a part opposite Peter Mullan in his short film “Dog Altogether,” which won awards from BAFTA and the Venice Film Festival, and essentially served as the opening chapter for “Tyrannosaur.”
“I’ve always done some smaller serious roles along the way, but I’d go to auditions, and I wound up getting picked for a lot of comedy parts — which is great fun, and a lovely way to spend your life,” she says, speaking with great affection of her work on “Peep Show” in particular. “But drama is where my heart’s always been, and it took Paddy to see it. And I don’t know why he did, because no one else had — it was always other actors who got the big, ballsy parts. I’m so thrilled he took a chance on me.”
“Dog Altogether” introduced the emotionally damaged protagonists of “Tyrannosaur,” Joseph and Hannah (called Anita in the short), but left them dangling in their suffering. Colman explains that Considine initially conceived a second short following Hannah’s story in more detail, but when funding for that fell through, decided to expand the project to a full feature — writing the script in just one week. Colman and Mullan remained on board throughout, she says: “They’re such beautiful people to play: to have someone write a character like that specifically for you is amazing, but then you have to justify their faith.”
For Colman, that meant going to some psychological territory she’d not yet been in her work: the abuse endured by Hannah at the hands of her husband (strongly played by Eddie Marsan) is as tough to watch as it surely was to play, beginning with a much talked-about scene in which he urinates on her as she pretends to sleep. The action she takes against him forms the nervy moral crux of the film.
“Paddy had warned me while writing the script that he was taking it somewhere quite dark,” she says. “And I remember seeing his wife Shelley at an event and her saying to me, ‘Oh God, I can’t believe what Paddy’s going to make you do.’ So I’ll admit that when I read it, I was scared. But I wanted to go there. That he believed I could do that was incredible, and I wanted to prove him right. With Paddy at the helm, you feel like you can do anything.”
Colman speaks of her director with immense affection, calling him “an extraordinary creature” and citing his own formidable acting experience as a key factor in encouraging her to lay it on the line: “It goes without saying that Paddy is a great actor, but it turns out he’s an even better director. I felt completely safe with him, even doing the hardest scenes; he would sit as close to me as he possibly could on set, so I never felt I was on my own while he was staring at a monitor. He understands what it feels like to be that exposed, which other directors don’t — they might think it’s better to leave you to your own process, which doesn’t always give you courage. It’s magical to see that little smile on his face at the end of a really tough take and think, ‘Yay, I’ve made Paddy proud.'”
As unflinching as the film is in its depiction of emotional suffering, Colman was determined not to play Hannah simply as a doleful martyr, and found her comedy experience valuable in this regard. “The comedy I’ve done, that I’ve always been drawn to, tends to have a bit of darkness to it. You can find darkness in comic characters — in ‘Peep Show,’ for example, Sophie makes one bad choice after another — and conversely, in an unhappy character like Hannah, you can find a lot of strength and warmth. Everyday life is about finding comedy in misfortune and vice versa; acting is much the same. There’s nothing lovelier than hearing people bursting with laughter in the cinema; you need that release. But you can surprise people with those moments in films where they aren’t necessarily looking for it.”
That sense of balance carries over into the narrative’s most tragic stages, she continues: “As an actress, I respond to characters who are human, who are understandable rather than perfect. Hannah is both human and animal, I suppose — they go hand in hand. An animal can only be pushed so far: at some point, it’s not your fault if you snap. She believes in goodness and she believes in love, even if she’s exposed to so little of it in her daily life. As an actress, I have to make the audience understand that.”
In “The Iron Lady,” the principal challenge that concerned Colman was more a technical one: how to successfully inhabit a living figure whose face and distinctive lisp are still fresh in the minds of UK audiences, thanks to Carol Thatcher’s recent exploits on local reality TV. She recalls turning up for the audition, her jangling nerves amplified when she observed the spot-on mimicry of some of her rivals for the part: “I’ve never been very good at impressions myself. So I did think it was pointless, since, well, why wouldn’t they want the soundalike? Luckily, I was wrong. Or maybe I wasn’t, and they asked the soundalike, but she turned them down. I don’t know.” She laughs.
“I’m intrigued to see how people take me as Carol,” she says, genuine curiosity creeping into her voice. “I used some broad brushstrokes, but overall, I tried to ignore the fact that I was playing someone so familiar and focused instead on making the mother-daughter relationship work. Surely that’s what’s more important. Anyway, Meryl’s doing such an extraordinary job, so you’re already standing there alongside her worrying about what a tough act she is to follow. How much pressure is it reasonable to put on yourself?”
Colman isn’t too blasé to describe working with Streep as a “sheer out-of-body experience,” though she floated back to earth soon enough. “The first day I went to meet her, I couldn’t sit down — I was beside myself with excitement and nerves,” she recalls. “And then Meryl walked right past, then spotted me and backtracked, before giving me a big hug and saying how pleased she was to see me. I couldn’t say anything; all I was thinking was, ‘Oh my God, Meryl Streep’s given me a hug!’ But in a snap, that feeling’s gone, because you just realize that she’s real and lovely and just this incredibly warm, funny woman. She makes you feel like you’re her equal, though who is?”
As we say our goodbyes and she settles in for a hard-earned dinner, I don’t tell her that her performance in “Tyrannosaur” is one Streep would have been proud to give in her prime. Perhaps I should have. But one of Olivia Colman’s greatest personal and professional assets, it seems, is her lack of outward awareness of just how good she really is.