She has an Oscar, a Bafta, a CBE and – if modesty allowed – files full of rave reviews.
If Olivia Colman, actor and current national sweetheart, needed to be brought back down to Earth, it seems a day of playing the Queen might do the trick.
Colman, who is taking over from Claire Foy in the new series of The Crown, has admitted her attempts to mimic the Queen’s voice with the show’s “amazing” voice department had initially fallen flat.
“Once you start going through it, you realise that every syllable in every word…you’ve got it wrong,” she said.
Following in the footsteps of Foy on the Netflix show, she joked, was therefore “horrendous”, adding: “Everyone loves Claire Foy, so I have got the worst job in the world at the moment.”
Of her role playing one of the world’s most famous women, she said: “It’s the same as any classical play you do — everyone will have already played that part before.
“The first week, I did feel myself trying to do Claire impressions. ‘What would she have done?’”
Colman has joined the third series of The Crown along with an entirely new main cast, with Tobias Menzies playing the Duke of Edinburgh, Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, Josh O’Connor as Prince Charles and Emerald Fennell as the then-Camilla Parker Bowles.
Future series, to be cast as the characters age, could see Dame Helen Mirren return to the role of Queen for Netflix as writer Peter Morgan told Entertainment Weekly she “loves the show”.
The third series, broadcast from November 17, will begin in 1964 and cover events including the unmasking of the Queen’s art adviser Anthony Blunt as a Soviet spy, the Aberfan disaster and the moon landings.
Asked whether viewers would accept the new cast, Morgan said: “It’s a bit like changing contact lenses. I think it takes you about five minutes to get used to it.”
The plot will move away from the marriage of the Queen and Prince Philip, actors said, with Colman telling the US magazine: “Between them they’re more settled, aren’t they? Slightly more mature, they’ve got all of their children now. It’s more external factors that are bothersome.”
Scandal will instead focus on Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden, played by Ben Daniels.
“They’re such extraordinary people,” said Daniels, “Completely addicted to each other. Even right up until the minute they were getting divorced, they still had a really strong physical relationship.
“People often said that it was like foreplay for them, having a big row. They would have these huge rows and then amazing sex.”
The full interview is available in Entertainment Weekly.
Olivia Colman is “thrilled” that there are now more roles for actresses in their forties, and believes audience power is behind the change.
The star, 45, won an Oscar in February for playing Queen Anne in The Favourite, and many of her most acclaimed roles — including in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, BBC’s The Night Manager and ITV’s Broadchurch — have come later in her career.
Colman said she was “grateful” that she has had to work for her success, saying: “It’s been a long, slow road, but I feel very blessed.
“I’ve always worked — apart from the first couple of years, but I’m also grateful for that because it teaches you to push.”
She added: “There are more roles now for women in their forties, and the roles get more interesting because they lean on that experience. It used to be over once you’re passed the ingenue thing, but those voices are being heard now.
“People go, ‘I want to see myself depicted [on screen], because I’m the one in charge of the remote control and I’m paying the bills.’
“Love doesn’t just belong to people in their twenties. I’m thrilled those parts have come around for me.”
Colman also revealed that she often does not conduct in-depth research when preparing for a part. She said: “Otherwise, I think, you’re throwing too much in. The work has been done for you if it’s a good writer. I think, ‘What could I possibly find out that the script hasn’t already told me?’ ”
The Oscar-winning actress has taken over the royal mantle from Claire Foy for the Netflix hit’s third and fourth season, and admitted that the show’s voice coaches provide indispensable assistance when she goes “off in the wrong direction.”
“Playing the Queen is not all me. You have an awful lot of assistance,” she told Metro.
“There is an amazing voice department who are always there and who whisper vowel sounds and things because I keep going off.
“Weirdly I feel like her voice is quite close to Cockney, which is quite hard to explain, and I can feel myself going off in the wrong direction.”
The 45-year-old went on to reveal that her “amazing movement coach Polly” has helped her out with the intricacies of royal protocol, giving her “little tricks to remember how you are meant to stand.”
She explained that she has been watching “lots” of old videos of the Queen in order to prepare for the role, telling the paper that “the research department search for all the footage there has been and send it you.”
Colman will be joined by a new cast of on-screen royals as the show’s action moves into the 60s and 70s, with Helena Bonham Carter set to play the Queen’s younger sister Princess Margaret and Tobias Menzies taking over from Matt Smith as Prince Philip.
It takes a lot for a film to be nominated for even one Academy Award. But to be nominated for 10? Now, that’s a feat. That’s what Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos achieved with period drama The Favourite, which premieres exclusively in Ayala cinemas today, February 20.
It might have the huge hair, the big dresses, and the ornate castles, but The Favouriteisn’t your typical period drama—not when Lanthimos is the mind behind The Lobster, a black comedy film where people have 45 days to find a soulmate before turning into an animal. He also helmed Dogtooth, a drama about a couple who try to keep their children as isolated from the outside world as possible.
The Favourite stars celebrated English actress Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, the sick and spoiled royal who leaves it to her aide Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) to handle the government side of her rule. Queen Anne enjoys being Her Royal Highness, while Sarah does the dirty work of her duties. But when Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) turns up in search of a job, they start going head-to-head to become Queen Anne’s, well, favorite. Needless to say, things start getting crazy. The film also starsNicholas Hoult and Joe Alwyn.
The film is a reunion for Lanthimos and The Lobster co-stars Colman and Weisz. Colman is most known from the series Broadchurch and the film Tyrannosaur but if you’re not familiar with her yet, you might want to catch her as Queen Elizabeth II in the upcoming season of The Crown. She’s long been known as one of the best English actresses both on TV and film, which is why her work on The Favourite has earned her many nominations and awards. She won Best Actress in a Leading Role from the British Acedemy Film Awards and she’s also up for Best Actress at the upcoming Academy Awards.
Before you find out for yourself what makes The Favourite an awards-show favorite, Colman shares about her experience working on the film in this exlcusive interview. She talks about the process of preparing for her role, working with Lanthimos, her “bitches” and now-lifelong-friends Weisz and Stone, and finally making it big on the international stage.
How much did you know of the history behind The Favourite?
Not a thing. It’s amazing, isn’t it? The film is surprisingly accurate, because it does feel so far away from what we know to be period drama. You think it has got to be made up. But so much is correct.
I just love the way Yorgos has done it. It’s not the way you think a period drama is going to be. Everything he did with the shots; the fish-eye lenses. It’s all so different from any period movie you’ve seen before.
But, in a way, it’s less about the history of the piece as it as about this woman who has lost all these children, and her love for these other women. It’s less about holding yourself in a certain way, or getting used to the way people speak in period dramas. These are real people, and you can kind of smell them. They’re a bit grubby and unwashed. I was actually a little nervous about it being a period drama, but it just isn’t that.
How does the process of filmmaking begin?
It’s all written down. Yorgos is less interested in big discussions. When a script is done, he says, throw yourself into that. You don’t really need to know all the things around it. This was written so beautifully. It’s obvious, the moments when she’s being a cow, when she’s being manipulative, or she’s bored and she’s childish. So we just let rip and run with it.
What did you like about Queen Anne when you read the script?
The fact that she displays every emotion, good and bad. Every trait. It’s great to play somebody who does so many things. It’s a challenge and it’s fun, so it was a no-brainer. I really wanted to play her. It’s a gift, really, to play all these things.
Did you find it personally helpful to dig into any research?
Only afterwards, which is what I often do. Otherwise, I think, you’re throwing too much in. The work has been done for you if it’s a good writer. I think, What could I possibly find out that the script hasn’t already told me? It’s there in the scenes between Anne, Sarah, and Abigail. You feel Anne’s frustration in the film. I wouldn’t want her job. You can’t really trust that anybody genuinely likes you. Everyone is just waiting to get their own needs met at all times, and you believe that of Sarah, but you find out she might be the only one genuinely there for Anne. She might be the love of her life.
You’ve worked with Rachel before, on The Lobster, which Yorgos also directed.
Yes. Rachel and I only had one scene in The Lobster, where she was instrumental in tying me up. I remember that we got on very well, very quickly. She’s a lovely, fun person. Emma, I’d never met. Yorgos held a lovely little dinner, for us to meet each other, and she came in full of energy and you instantly think, Oh, I’m going to like you. We will be friends for life, I think, the three of us.
Rachel had done a lot of theater and physical theater as a young woman, and Yorgos loves to rehearse in a physical way. So it was so much fun to do that with her. She was gung-ho, throwing herself into it, and so brave. It’s a joy to work with someone like that, because once one person has gone for it, it encourages the rest of you to go, “Great, let’s all jump in.” There was no embarrassment here at all.
Yorgos seems particularly interested in awkwardness and embarrassment, and a lot of this film deals with those things.
I think that’s true. I think that comes through the rehearsal process, especially for The Favourite. He comes from theatre too, so we’d play classic theatre trust games and things like that. You become very close, and that really helps. It’s not like you’re meeting on Day One, “How do you do?” And then you’re shooting a sex scene. That’s hideous.
Also Yorgos has no embarrassment, and it always starts from the top. He’s a disarmingly big, gentle bear. He’s lovely, warm, friendly. I only once saw him roll his eyes and go, “Ugh,” and it was when I asked him what happened to the girl at the end of Dogtooth [laughs]. He went, “Ah, I don’t know. The film is finished, make your own mind up.” He puts it all up on screen and then it’s up to you to decide.
You want to impress Yorgos. He wants you to be human, and real, so you go for it. You’re snotty and spitting. I wanted him to think, “Oh, good. She’s willing to be disgusting.” I think we all felt that. We always want to see him do a little smile and nod at the end of a scene.
You say it’s not a traditional period drama, but you do get to wear some spectacular costumes in the film. Did you enjoy that aspect of it?
I loved them. It’s Sandy Powell [Powell is a three-time Academy Award winner and an 11-time nominee]. The Queen’s clothes were hilarious. I spent most of the film in a nightie, so I was fine. Poor old Emma and Rachel were a little more tailored. I was eating cake and pizza and trying to keep as fat as possible, while wearing a big, flowing nightie.
Yorgos encourages his team: “Come on. Surprise me. Do something bold.” So you have Nadia Stacey, the makeup designer, coming up with such fun looks. In the ball scene, you may not even notice them, but instead of those heart-shaped beauty marks you see, she came up with stencils of horses and carriages. Taking something we’ve seen before, but making it bonkers. Sandy was the same way. A flash of red, or the servants wearing denim. There’s so much to see from all these different inputs, and Yorgos gave everyone the courage and free rein to have fun. Everyone was told, “Do it. Nothing is too silly.”
You’ve been on British screens for a while, and now you’re enjoying international success. How hard fought has that been?
It’s been a long, slow road, but I feel very blessed. I’ve always worked. Apart from the first couple of years, I’m also grateful for that because it teaches you to push. I suppose you come into your own. There are more roles now for women in their 40s, and the roles get more interesting because they lean on that experience. It used to be over once you’re passed the ingenue thing, but those voices are being heard now. People go, “I want to see myself depicted, because I’m the one in charge of the remote control and I’m paying the bills.” Love doesn’t just belong to people in their 20s. I’m thrilled those parts have come around for me.
The Crown is changing up its cast when it returns later this year for its third season. As the hit Netflix royal drama moves forward to the middle-years of the Queen’s life, Claire Foy, Matt Smith and the rest are out, with Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies and more filling the roles instead.
Colman, of course, previously played British royalty in The Favourite, in which she starred as Queen Anne and has just received her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress for. Portraying a living queen is obviously a lot more responsibility and comes with more pressure, though, and the star revealed to Town&Country Mag that she tried to keep the worry of impersonating Elizabeth II out of her head when filming.
“You kind of can’t think about that, I think… I don’t want anyone to watch and go ‘she’s totally off the mark.’”
Colman went on to say that The Crown makes use of a large team of experts who ensure the series remains as historically accurate as possible. Nailing the Queen’s distinctive accent was particularly important for the actress, with the voice department regularly on hand to coach her.
“With the word ‘television’, there’s a way of saying it that’s partly historical and partly, she sort of has her own accent… ‘telivision,’ so it’s an ‘i’ sound. I enjoy all of those. That’s that quite fun.
So has The Crown increased Colman’s admiration for the Queen? The star revealed that, though she’s not personally much of a royalist, embodying the character has definitely left her with an “almost unbearable” amount of appreciation for the monarch.
“Not sure I was ever a monarchist—I wasn’t—but the Queen is an incredibly impressive human being,” she said. “And I’m slightly obsessed with her. It’s grown, it’s become almost unbearable now.”
Alongside Colman and Menzies, Helena Bonham Carter will be playing the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret, Ben Daniels is Margaret’s husband Lord Snowden and Jason Watkins will be seen as Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Casting has already begun on season 4, as well, with Gillian Anderson playing Margaret Thatcher.
The Crown season 3 doesn’t have a release date yet, but it’s likely coming in the back half of this year.
Her mantelpiece already groans with awards including two Golden Globesand three Baftas. Now, following her Best Actress nomination for her performance as Queen Anne in The Favourite, Olivia Colman may be adding an Oscar to her collection.
If she wins an Academy Award next month she can expect demand for her services (not to mention her fee) to go through the roof.
It’s all a far cry from the days when she was so broke she lived in a friend’s attic and had to rummage under the sofa cushions in search of coins to buy a single potato for dinner.
From her job as a cleaner and struggles with debt to the ‘gorgeous’ husband she gives half her pay cheques to — as Alison Boshoff discovered, there is far more to this down-to-earth actress than meets the eye.
A cleaner and cheery but hopeless secretary
Like most aspiring actors, Olivia struggled for work. She took jobs as a secretary — ‘not a very good one, although I was cheery’ and as a cleaner. ‘There were years of no work. It was a hard time. I actually really loved my cleaning jobs. I loved the job satisfaction. I’d really go to town. I’d wipe skirting boards, the top of lights. I never looked in drawers.’
She never wanted to do anything but act, though. ‘Being able to put ‘Actor’ on my passport was all I wanted in the world.’
Finding pennies down sofa to buy a potato
Speaking of her early days with now husband Ed Sinclair, she said: ‘We had what we call our Angela’s Ashes day when we first moved to London from Bristol (in 1998). I had £1 left in my overdraft and cash machines don’t dispense pounds.
‘Ed didn’t have any money either, so we managed to find enough pennies from the sofa to buy one potato to share.’ They lived in the attic of friends who had a place in Epping, Essex, for two months.
In 1999 they bought a two-bedroom flat in London’s East Dulwich, using a £30,000 inheritance from Ed to help them meet the £90,000 asking price. They sold it two years later for £150,000.
If it all goes wrong I could be a midwife
The couple took out a credit card in 2001 and ended up £3,000 in debt — a relatively small amount but Olivia found it traumatic as neither was earning regularly.
However, she was determined to pursue an acting career. ‘My mum said, “You’ll probably give it a year.” And I said, “No, I’ll give it ten”.’
Her career began to take off in 2003 when she was cast in Channel 4’s Peep Show, with old friends David Mitchell and Robert Webb.
There followed the ‘Kev and Bev’ AA adverts and another sitcom, Green Wing.
She counted herself lucky to be paid £25,000 for each comedy series, which took nine months to film, and said that it was enough for her and Ed to live on if they were frugal. As recently as 2009 she had a five-month ‘dry spell’ which led to her starting to look up midwifery courses.
A childhood full of grand designs
Olivia was born Sarah Caroline Olivia Colman near the ‘golden coast’ of north Norfolk in 1974. She is the daughter of chartered surveyor Keith Colman and his wife Mary, a nurse.
She said: ‘They both had a good work ethic. I was really proud of my mum, dedicating her life to making people better.’
Both parents also devoted themselves to renovating houses. Olivia estimates that she uprooted herself 17 times in childhood, and that her parents have moved 30 times in all.
She said: ‘They basically fall in love with a property that hasn’t been cared for and do it up sympathetically.’
Among properties they have lived in, done up and sold on are a nursing home in Horstead and cottages in Freethorpe. They also renovated a cottage in Great Yarmouth, buying it for £310,000 in 2013 and selling it for £850,000 in 2017.
Olivia went on: ‘I had a lovely, feral, free childhood — out and then come back when you’re hungry or it gets too dark. I feel slightly cruel that I’m not offering my children the same.’
Her father was car crazy and she learned how to drive at his knee aged 12 in the fields of Norfolk. By the time she was 16 she had a rally licence. Her first car was a Morris Minor she called Moomin.
She can be up there with Meryl
Young Sarah was sent to Norwich High School For Girls, an exclusive establishment with a shining academic record. Fees go up to £4,854 a term. She first got the acting bug playing Miss Jean Brodie, aged 16.
‘I was on stage, and I suddenly felt really at ease, and at home. Of course, at that age you keep it to yourself, you say, “I want to be a nurse or a teacher”.’
In the sixth form she switched to Gresham’s in Holt, Norfolk, where she is remembered for being ‘popular and kind’. The private boarding school charges £11,660 a term.
Her former drama teacher Paul Hands said: ‘Even when I taught her when she was 18 I knew this was going to be the likely future for her.
‘She is a very special actor and she was a very special student, too. She was never difficult — when you see her being interviewed now, that funny, sensitive and delightful person was the person she was to work with when she was a teenager.’
Olivia returned to Gresham’s recently to open a boarding house and unveiled a plaque in the common room, which includes the words, ‘Olivia Colman, Old Greshamian, who played Miss Jean Brodie at an impressionable age and never looked back’.
Mr Hands adds that he believes she will be counted as ‘one of the great British actors of her generation’ saying: ‘I think she can be as good as Meryl Streep.’
The dramatic breakthroughs
The 2011 film Tyrannosaur was a turning point. She played a charity shop worker abused by her alcoholic husband. She was then cast as Carol Thatcher to Meryl Streep’s Maggie in The Iron Lady.
Next came her performance as DS Ellie Miller in Broadchurch, which won a Bafta, and The Night Manager, for which she won a Golden Globe. She is now filming The Crown, in which she plays our current Queen. But there is a problem: ‘I emote. The Queen is not meant to. She’s got to be a rock for everyone, and has been trained not to [emote]. We’ve discovered that whenever anyone tells me something sad, it makes me cry. It’s sort of shameful, but they give me an earpiece and play the shipping forecast. It’s somebody going, “And the winds are fair to middling…blah, blah.” I’m sort of not listening to what they are saying. I’m trying so hard to tune in to the shipping forecast and not cry.’
Extended home sweet home
In 2011, she and Ed bought their current home, a large five-bedroom Victorian terrace on the Peckham/Camberwell border. They paid £885,000 for it and it is now worth around £1.5million.
It has been extended twice — with a loft conversion in 2011 and a huge six-metre kitchen extension in 2013, which opens out via glass doors onto the garden.
Ed built a treehouse for their children, aged 12, ten, and three, from scratch.
Also at home is a Jackapoo, Alf.
Olivia has said that she hopes to own a second property ‘as a pension’ one day and gossip in Binham, Norfolk, suggests that she has already done just that.
Certainly she is now very well paid; it is suggested that she is getting around £350,000 per series of The Crown.
She said: ‘There’s all sorts of things now we can fix. We can fix the loo, which hasn’t worked for about three years.’
Balancing fame and family
Olivia hesitated over Broadchurch, as it meant four months filming in Dorset — but went home every weekend. She said: ‘If I was away for a long time, we’d all have to go. I don’t like being away from them. It’s as simple as that.’
Olivia finds fame difficult. ‘I hate the loss of anonymity. No one teaches you how to deal with that. I now tend to stay at 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’, she adds, ‘but it’s harder to deal with than you imagine.’
Dreaming of meeting Oscar
‘If I’m really honest, I’ve always dreamed of holding an Oscar…but I’m really trying to sort of keep everything in check, keep calm.
‘This is silly. What are the chances? I don’t want to get excited. I don’t want to face that disappointment. I just want to be on an even keel.
‘I’m a mum, a wife, I’m a mate. I’m other things. You can see how people get sort of swept into it and I want to stay sane.’
The Favourite, a movie that is loosely based on historical fact, was always going to generate a big reaction at the Venice Film Festival.
Olivia Colman plays the frail and slightly unhinged early 18th century British monarch, Queen Anne, who jostles with two woman in a power struggle in her court as they vye for her sexual favour. Lady Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), whose husband is away fighting the French, is effectively running the country. But when her conniving cousin the Queen’s new servant Sarah (Emma Stone) arrives, the naïve monarch is seduced by her charms.
For a second time this year Weisz has a woman-on-woman love scene after Disobedience with Rachel McAdams, while the film marks a follow-up too for Oscar winner Stone after her portrayal as Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes.
At The Favourite’s Venice press conference, the usually hilarious Colman (The Night Manager) was asked about the sexual politics in the historical film, to which she replied, “There was a lot of it!”
“That aspect of the film is timeless. We think we invented sex but we didn’t. It’s been going on for quite a long time. It was awfully fun having sex with Emma Stone.”
“It was really fun having sex with you too,” Stone quipped.
In the film, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer starring Nicole Kidman) Stone plays an educated aristocrat who has lost her status and will do anything to get it back. At the age of 15 her father lost her to a fat German with a thin penis in card game. She may be devious but she’s not evil, says Stone.
“She’s overcome a lot, she’s a survivor. I loved every element of getting to play her. In terms of the challenges for me I was the only American in the cast, so it was a bit daunting trying to make sure that the accent made sense. The corsets were a challenge too just because you can’t breathe all day.
“The whole cast had this three-week rehearsal process before we started shooting and it was far from traditional. We did a whole bunch of crazy stuff. We had to learn to be embarrassed in front of each other and rely on each other. I think by the time we were shooting we all felt very close and comfortable. When I had to have sex with the Queen, with Olivia, it was very comfortable. We were very good friends.”
I asked Colman, who is playing Queen Elizabeth in season three of The Crown, about playing two queens in one year.
“They’re not very similar,” she deadpanned, “and that’s good. We’ve started filming on The Crown and I’m having a lovely time, so I hope I don’t let you down when it comes out. I can’t really compare the two queens. I don’t think Queen Elizabeth learned anything from Queen Anne!”
I then suggested that the heavily bewigged Nicholas Hoult, whose brilliant blue eyes are offset by a stunning Sandy Powell royal blue costume, and Joe Alwyn (otherwise known as Taylor Swift’s beau) were playing women as well.
“It was fabulous!” replied Hoult.
Colman: “I just want to give you a visual of Nick who is 6’ 2” with heels and a foot and a half of wig! None of us could look at him when we were acting because it was just too funny.”
Alwyn added, “It was a lot of fun running around in wigs, in high heels and in fancy costumes. It’s every man’s dream!”
While the film’s story delves into the power that the three women held as they made decisions on a whim that could effect millions of people, can it also be seen as a statement about women’s empowerment post MeToo#?
“Obviously I don’t mind that idea, but we can’t take credit because we started the project many years ago,” Lanthimo replied. “I think the positive aspect of this film is that it focuses on three female characters, which is rare. But what we tried to do is portray them as human beings, because most of the time, given the prevalent male gaze in cinema, women are portrayed as housewives or girlfriends or objects of desire. So we tried to show them as complex and complicated, wonderful and horrific. They are like every other human being.”
Olivia Colman and I are drinking tea in the sitting room of her double-fronted south London home, talking about school runs. Only problem is, I’m distracted. Because on the floor, just inches from my feet, is a pile of scripts. “Second series of Broadchurch,” she explains, with that open, lovable, gummy smile. “I’m so frightened that someone will get hold of them that I burn a few pages every time we light a fire.”
Brilliant, devastating Broadchurch. More than nine million of us were on the edge of our sofas last winter as we watched the terrible truth about who killed 11-year-old Danny Latimer unfold. In the end, the fact that Broadchurch did not disappoint was largely down to the Bafta-winning brilliance of Colman’s performance as DS Ellie Miller. Who can honestly say that they didn’t feel her heart breaking when her boss, DI Hardy (David Tennant), told her the news that it was her husband Joe whodunnit?
And now Broadchurch is back for a second series. But whether it can be improved upon, or what on earth can happen in a tiny Dorset town where most of the inhabitants are now devastated, dead or under arrest, remains to be seen. For there is a danger here — and it is a real danger, let’s face it — that Broadchurch will turn into a seaside version of Midsomer Murders and that the ultimate victim will be its own integrity.
“Well, yes, I must say my initial instinct was to leave it well alone,” admits Colman. “I thought it was perfect as it was, and that it would be a travesty to touch it. But then Chris [Chibnall, the show’s writer and creator] talked us through his ideas for the second series and we all went, ‘Oh, OK… cool.'” Beyond this, Colman cannot — and will not — be drawn. ‘All I will say is that it doesn’t disappoint,” she says quietly, in her distinctive, treacle tone. Colman — “Collie” to friends — looks much younger than her 40 years, padding around her house in leggings and socks, her hair still wet from the shower. She talks constantly, with a rat-a-tat sweetness, as she makes endless cups of tea. And although she’s the very same soulful eyes and heartfelt smiles you see on television, somehow in person she’s smaller, despite insisting “by the time I finished filming Broadchurch last week, I was mainly eating cake.” But her (absolutely false) lament that she is overweight suits her love of jokes and self-deprecation. “You just can’t tell my size because I’m wearing black,” she says. “But I honestly almost cancelled this shoot because I couldn’t bear the thought of being the fattest person in Vogue.”
Whether she’s playing a battered wife (Tyrannosaur) or a vicar’s wife (Rev), the sister of a reluctant salsa dancer (Cuban Fury) or the mother of a murdered child (Accused), Colman draws us in, time and time again, with the sheer force of her humanity. Her extraordinary empathy — “like a watch with the mechanism visible” according to her Rev co-star Tom Hollander – has seen Colman rise from comic sidekick to tragic heroine in the space of a decade. “Olivia absolutely embodies all of our contradictions,” says Chibnall, who wrote Broadchurch’s Ellie with her in mind. “She’s not afraid to cry but she’s also incredibly tough. She’s funny, but she’s able to go into the deepest, darkest emotional territory. She inhabits a character from the inside out and, most of all, she understands what it is like to be alive – how ridiculous it is, how heartbreaking it is and how wonderful it is.”
There’s nothing saccharine about Colman. Her wide-set, brown eyes might well up with the tears at the slightest thing (“I have no armour, I’m afraid”), but they also flash with an intelligent feistiness which is, arguably, the true secret of her success. If a subject that comes up doesn’t sit well with her, she pounces on it like a cat. “Why the fuck should I care?” she blazes, when I ask if she was upset when Gracepoint, the American remake of Broadchurch, was cast with Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn playing the role of Ellie Miller opposite David Tennant. “It’s not my part. I don’t own it.”
The phrase “national treasure” might make her nose wrinkle with embarrassment, but it does go some way to describing the way that Colman is adored, Judi Dench style, by audiences and contemporaries. “I feel a little bit like I’m not ready to have that very nice title on my shoulders just yet,” she says quietly. “I know it comes from a warm and loving place, but I wonder if it means that I’m at the end of my career, and I feel like I’m only just getting going.” She catches herself “Well, at least, I hope I am, anyway.” Colman’s very British modesty has its roots in a loving, middle-class Norfolk upbringing. Her chartered surveyor father and nurse mother worked hard to send her to Gresham’s School (alma mater of Benjamin Britten and WH Auden), where she didn’t make any particular impression until, aged 16, she took on the title role in a production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and “suddenly felt really at home”.
But Colman came from a sensible world, where people didn’t do things like pretend to be someone else for a living. After leaving school she enrolled on a teaching course at Homerton College, Cambridge to buy herself some time. “I didn’t know what else to do and I still couldn’t quite let myself want to act,” she remembers. An early audition for Footlights (where she met her future co-stars David Mitchell and Robert Webb) set her on the right path. “I suddenly found all these people who were a bit weird and a bit shy like me; people who found being someone else easier, somehow, than being themselves.” Soon afterwards she met and fell in love with her future husband, Ed Sinclair, a law student who also harboured dreams of an acting career, and the deal was done. “We skipped of together into this nice, not-at-all-sensible world, where you were allowed to play forever.”
Once Colman settled on what she wanted to do, the force of her ambition burned brightly. She followed Sinclair (now a novelist) to Bristol Old Vic drama school but success did not immediately follow her 1999 graduation. The 25-year-old did a typing course and worked as a temp (“quite a jolly secretary, but not a very good one”) and even took work as a cleaning lady. At no point, however, did she consider giving up. “I couldn’t and wouldn’t do anything else,” she shrugs, almost apologetically. “Being able to put ‘Actor’ on my passport was all I wanted in the world.” Her parents were bemused but supportive; when her mother suggested she give it a year, Colman replied, with that honeyed steel of hers, that she thought she would actually give it 10.
Her scene-stealing performances in The Mitchell and Webb Situation sketch show in 2001 led to bit parts in comedies such as The Office and Black Books and a larger part, as a frazzled mother-of-four in the hit 2005 Channel 4 sitcom Green Wing. Bigger roles followed (Hot Fuzz, Peep Show), but it wasn’t until actor Paddy Considine cast her as abused wife Hannah in his harrowingly brilliant 2011 directorial debut Tyrannosaur that Colman’s star truly ascended.
Colman’s instincts are spot on; like an arrow to the emotional heart of something, she needs only to read the first few pages of a script to know whether it is for her. “It’s hard to explain,” she says, “but I can just feel whether I can do it or not.” Which is not to say that she doesn’t have a game plan. “I have a sneaking suspicion that audiences have seen me crying a little bit too often in the past couple of years,” Colman admits. “And if people get really fed up with me, then I won’t get more work. And if I can’t do what I love, then I will shrivel up and die.” So she is returning to comedy for the foreseeable future. Although stopping those tears may be easier said than done. “If something touches me, I cry. That’s it. I’m a bit raw, a bit rubbish really,” she explains. “Often a director will say to me, ‘I don’t think this is a scene where your character cries.’ And all I can say is, good luck with that!” In life, it is the same. “It was slightly embarrassing at a parents’ meeting the other day when a teacher was nice about my boy and I started to well up.” However, the thought of people turning on their televisions and seeing her, midflow, makes Colman giggle helplessly, ‘Oh look,”‘ she acts out. ‘Here we go; she’s crying again.'”
Fame, for Colman, has taken a bit of getting used to — “I do find it weird when people I don’t know are looking at me” — but her private life provides the perfect refuge. “As long as I have Ed and the boys, everything is all right,” she says of her husband of 13 years and their two young sons (eight and six), whom she asks, politely but firmly, not to have named. Their home is a happy, light-filled place, decorated beautifully in neutral colours. There are scooters in the newly converted, glass-fronted kitchen and a tree house, built from scratch by Ed, at the bottom of the garden. They don’t go out an awful lot. At the party after last year’s Baftas — at which Colman won the Best Actress Award for Broadchurch and the Best Supporting Actress Award for Accused (and, naturally, cried throughout her acceptance speeches) — she turned to Ed and suggested they sneak home. “We were in our socks, drinking tea by 10 o’clock.”
Every work move is made with her family firmly at the front of Colman’s mind. “I don’t like being away from them. It’s as simple as that.” It is not for this reason, though, that her work has been largely restricted to Britain. “If a script was good, I’d go anywhere for it. Truth is, I’ve never been offered a job in America.” But something makes me suspect that Colman — who will next be seen starring alongside Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz and John C Reilly in a “bonkers” futuristic sci-fi film called The Lobster (filmed in Dublin rather than Hollywood) — knows as well as anyone that international acclaim is well within her reach.
In the mean time, a new series of Broadchurch will no doubt secure Colman’s place in British hearts. And when she gets on that plane to Hollywood — as she’s sure to any day now — and leaves us feeling bereft, it will certainly be with “Actor” on her passport.
The ‘Broadchurch’ co-stars will continue working together once the popular ITV crime drama draws to a close after the current series as they are teaming up for their very own comedy musical stage show, which Olivia, 43, says she and the 45-year-old hunk will write together and hopefully star in.
According to the Daily Star newspaper, Olivia said: “We do have plans to work together again – we think it would be fun to do something like a panto.
“We would have to put us in it to play the Ugly Sisters.”
Olivia – who portrays Detective Sargent Ellie Miller in ‘Broadchurch’ – clearly didn’t find it difficult working with David, who recently admitted he was like a “grumpy old man” when he was shooting the hit show.
The nation may be preparing itself for mourning when the third installment – the final series to ever hit screens – comes to an end next month, but David – who plays DI Alec Hardy in the crime drama – admitted he was glad it’s almost over because he was sick of having to keep the storylines and scripts under lock and key for most of the year.
He recently said: “This is it. I think we should do three and leave them wanting more.
“It’s always been the way. Anything that’s a thriller has elements you want to hold back. Being on the show gets really tiresome because everything is sent with a password. One script has one password, another has another password. I just can’t keep up. I end up being a grumpy old man saying ‘just send me some paper!'”
The writer looks back in wonder at the humble origins of the drama, which features Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (David Tennant, Doctor Who) and Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman, The Night Manager) investigating gruesome crimes in the close-knit community of Broadchurch on the beautiful Jurassic Coast in Dorset.
On the eve of the third and final series, Chibnall reflects that, “It’s been an extraordinary journey – from tiny beginnings inspired by a walk in 2011 along the Jurassic Coast where I live, to a global success in 180 territories, with two international remakes, a novel adaptation, and Broadchurch walking tours that take a similar route to my first walk. It’s been quite a ride.”
Chibnall, who will take over from Steven Moffat as the show-runner on Doctor Who, continues that, “We’ve kept a lot of secrets, had a lot of fun and, hopefully, given people another reason to stay in.”
In this season, regulars Colman, Tennant, Jodie Whittaker and Andy Buchan are joined by Julie Hesmondhalgh, Sarah Parish, Lenny Henry, Mark Bazeley, Georgina Campbell, Charlie Higson and Roy Hudd.
This time, Hardy and Miller are desperate to find out who sexually assaulted farm-shop worker Trish Winterman (Hesmondhalgh, who played Hayley Cropper on Coronation Street).
Forty-three-year-old Colman outlines where Miller – still coming to terms with the fact that her husband murdered a teenage family friend – is at the start of the third season of Broadchurch.
“We discover that her dad is living with her after her mum has passed, but I think she is finding family quite annoying. She is on her own so her dad’s help is great, but her son…
“It’s not easy at the best of times for a teenager, but he knows what his dad was put away for, so it’s pretty hard and he is becoming a bit of a pain in the backside. So it’s all quite trying for Ellie and I think it is probably quite nice for her to be at work.”
Former Timelord Tennant, 45, chips in by explaining where viewers will find Hardy when they return to Broadchurch.
“It’s a few years down the line and some stuff has happened in the interim which we will find out as the series unfolds. At the end of series two, we didn’t know if he was getting in the cab or not…
“It turns out he did, but he has found his way back to Broadchurch and has found his way back to working with Ellie again. Although he is never entirely happy with his lot, he realises that this is probably where he is meant to be and that Ellie is the closest thing he has to a best friend.”
Colman, who has also gained plaudits for her work on Peep Show, Twenty Twelve and Accused, is delighted that the latest season of Broadchurch is tackling such an important subject.
“We know that every moment of every day there is someone reliving something like what Trish has gone through. The bravery of Trish is so fantastic to show.
“It’s also important to show that there are people who want to help you and who offer their time and protection and love.
“If you have the bravery to ask for help, it is all there. That is a great thing to show people.
“Speak out, don’t let anyone get away with this.”
The actress adds that, “I’m really pleased to be a part of this story, and it’s amazing how people don’t know how common this is. People need to know, I think.
“We have to do whatever it takes to stop this happening. We need to put everything we can into teaching and helping people to repair the damage. People have a right to be themselves and not to feel scared.”
The Broadchurch crime stories are always compelling but, above all else, it is the chemistry between Miller and Hardy that ensures audiences keep coming back to this drama.
Colman muses that, “Chris has written these two characters brilliantly. They are really good mates – possibly each other’s only mate. They need each other and it is quite funny – a bit like watching the old Hinge and Bracket, two old ladies always having a go at each other.
“It feels like they have been friends for longer than they have, the way they bicker. But they clearly deeply respect each other and would staunchly defend each other against other people.
“I think it makes people feel quite secure, watching their friendship. Maybe it just makes them laugh at how horrible they are to each other, even though they clearly love each other.”
As she contemplates the end of this hugely successful show, Colman concludes, “It really helps that David and I get on so well. You can tell that Hardy and Ellie like being together because David and I like spending time together. It makes it much easier.
“I will miss working with David. We giggle, he is never late, knows all of his lines … he is a dream person to work with.
“If we could stand next to each other on set every day, I would be so happy.”