Olivia Colman knows what she’s doing. Even when she doesn’t, she does.
“I think just time passing gives me a bit more, you know, confidence,” Colman tells Esquire Middle East.
The English actress, 47, has in the last decade gone from one of the most underappreciated talents in the world to one of the most universally beloved, collecting an Academy Award for Best Actress, four BAFTAs, three Golden Globes and a Screen Actors Guild award.
On top of that, she’s nominated for another Academy Award this year, too—for her role in Florian Zeller’s The Father, opposite fellow nominee Anthony Hopkins.
Colman is one of the rare individuals who, no matter how many accolades you bestow upon them, never seems to be changed by it all in the slightest. Talking to us over Zoom, she’s as genial and open-hearted as ever, someone who you can’t talk to without feeling like you’ve made a new friend.
The secret to her success—and her unbridled warmth and aforementioned confidence—is in her acceptance that you don’t need to be perfect to be great.
“I know what I’m doing now. Well, you never get to the point where you really feel like you know what you’re doing. But I trust myself, all because I know I can make mistakes. I think that helps. I trust that if I make a mistake, it doesn’t matter,” says Colman.
The actress, who famously has no process in how she gets into characters, performed nearly automatically opposite Hopkins in the Father, a harrowing portrayal of one man’s failing mind and the daughter he’s relying on to cling to man he once was, and can’t accept he no longer is.
The two worked without rehearsals, sparring back and forth in one or two takes and then laughing off the screen. All of this was enabled by a first-time filmmaker in Zeller who trusted his actors and allowed them the space to create without the preciousness or stress that often comes with inexperience.
That, to Colman, was everything.
“I think it’s so important to feel safe and secure. Anyone who tries to sort of break you down and make you feel absolute nonsense. If you feel safe and secure, and you trust everyone around you, you can go anywhere with any amount of emotion,” Colman says.
“If you get someone who’s an a**hole, you don’t want to be nice. You don’t want to do good work for them.”
Rufus Sewell, who plays Colman’s increasingly less-patient husband, took to the vibe that Zeller, Colman and Hopkins had created on set immediately.
“I’m not a particularly serious person. When people meet me, they’re often surprised because I always get cast as these dour, humourless tw*ts,” says Sewell.
Colman brought out the silly in Sewell like few had before.
“It was very fun, easy, and especially silly. There was a lot of silliness. With me and Olivia, I felt like that we were going to be separated. That was the joy of it. I looked forward to each day,” says Sewell.
Colman, Sewell and Hopkins would eat together each day, getting a laugh out of one another hours on end.
“There were no dressing rooms or trailers. Most of the time we were in the same makeup room telling stories and jokes and, you know, farting around. For me, it was a wonderful discovery that my favourite actors work the same way I do,” says Sewell.
At the end of the day, of course, what matters most is the work itself, and in The Father, the crew has turned in a masterpiece—a wholly unique, horrifying and tightly-wound drama that deserves every one of the six Academy Awards its nominated for, including Best Picture.
The specialness of The Father, of course, is not lost on any of them, least of all Colman herself.
“I know that I had no problem getting out of bed every morning. No, I was excited to go to work. I thought I’m part of something really beautiful and I’m working with lovely people. I love my work. I love working. I love going to work. But every now and then you get one that’s really special, and this felt special. I’ll be eternally grateful to Florian for writing it and letting me be in it and letting me act opposite Anthony Hopkins. I can die happy now that that’s happened,” says Colman.
The Father is in theaters now across The Middle East
If there’s anyone who knows how to captivate us with the subtle and magnificent power of performance, it’s Olivia Colman.
One of Britain’s best-loved actors drew us in with a series of pitch-perfect roles in Peep Show, Broadchurch, The Queen, The Night Manager – and of course, her Oscar-winning turn in 2018 period comedy The Favourite.
Clearly, this is a woman who knows how to get under an audience’s skin with raw, emotive and inherently believable storytelling.
So it’s music to our ears to hear that Coleman’s performance in a new film about a father’s struggle with dementia is being hailed as one of her greatest yet. The trailer for the drama has just been released, offering a glimpse of what the film critics are so excited about.
The Father, based on an award-winning French play of the same name, sees Colman play Anne, the daughter of larger-than-life Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), who is suffering a slow and baffling decline from dementia.
Anthony’s battle with the degenerative illness is all the more gut-wrenching because of the kind of charming, cantankerous and ebullient person that he is. The audience sees first-hand his frustration at the worried reactions of those around him, including his daughter (Colman), his nurse (played by Imogen Poots) and a third woman (Olivia Williams) who appears to become his daughter.
“The way you keep looking as if something is wrong, everything is fine,” he snaps at his daughter at one point, as she herself is heard saying: “I saw it in his eyes, he didn’t know who I was. It was like I was a stranger to him.”
The new film is written and directed by French novelist Florian Zeller, who also wrote the play. But those expecting a one-dimensional drama about the tragedy of memory loss are in for a surprise.
As well as drawing back the curtain on the more heartbreaking aspects of dementia, The Father brings moments of farcical comedy in the mix – along with a thriller-esque feel of unreality. The viewer is invited to experience dementia from an inside perspective, so they are never really sure whose version of reality is correct, or where/in whom danger lies.
Amid this creeping sense of unease, Colman takes commanding lead as a woman who is struggling to balance the demands of her increasingly erratic father with her own life, and her relationship with husband and maybe-bad guy Paul (Rufus Sewell).
The play on which The Father is based won the prestigious Molière award; an honour that the film version now seems likely to emanate. After airing at Sundance earlier this year, several critics tipped Zeller’s adaptation for Oscar success next year (LA-based critic and writer Donny Sheldon hailed Colman’s performance as “the most empathetic, heartfelt work of her career”).
Just under a million people suffer from dementia in the UK according to Alzheimer’s Society, and that figure is set to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.
With the condition still widely misunderstood and coated in confusion – not least from the perspective of those who have it, and their loved ones – The Father plays an important role in driving the narrative around dementia forward (and in that sense, it’s not dissimilar to Emma Healey’s hit thriller novel Elizabeth Is Missing, which was also based on a protagonist with dementia).
One thing’s for sure: with the powerhouse duo of Colman and Hopkins at the helm, this twisty and harrowing film is sure to be top of your watch list when it comes out in 2021.
Do you need support with a loved one suffering from dementia? Get expert help and guidance at DementiaUK
Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman will star in the film adaptation of Florian Zeller’s award-winning play The Father, it is being reported.
The tragi-comic piece is about a man experiencing dementia, and is part of Zeller’s trilogy of plays about family (alongside The Mother and The Son). Hopkins will play the titular father, Andre, while Colman will play his daughter Anne.
The film version is expected to start shooting in the UK later this year, with Zeller himself on board to direct the piece (in what will be his directorial debut) with Christopher Hampton adapting the screenplay.
First running in France in 2012, the English adaptation of Zeller’s play first premiered at the Ustinov Studio in 2014, with the role of the father played by Kenneth Cranham. The show went on to transfer to the West End, where it was nominated for an Olivier Award and Cranham won the award for Best Actor in a Play.
It later had its American premiere in 2016, where it was nominated for Best New Play and star Frank Langella won the Tony Award for Best Actor.
A release date for the film version of The Father is to be confirmed.