the iron lady
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:
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.
WHAT to do on meeting a double Oscar-winning actor playing a triple election-winning prime minister?
It’s the sort of matter etiquette guides don’t cover, so Olivia Colman went with her instincts and gave Meryl Streep a playful biff on the arm.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself,” says Colman, who plays daughter Carol to Streep’s Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. “She looked like Margaret Thatcher, which is pretty intimidating and scary anyway. And I knew it was Meryl Streep under it, which is also pretty intimidating.”
This is said in such a breathless, oh-gosh way you might never guess the speaker has just won the British Independent Film Award for best actress (for Tyrannosaur), is a cult comedy heroine courtesy of Peep Show and Rev, and seems to be on more “people to watch in 2012” lists than Hillary Clinton and Beyonce combined. Colman, refreshingly, is not your flint-faced diva type. Naturally wide-eyed and dressed in a fake fur coat, she looks like a woodland creature who has wandered indoors to a PR firm’s Soho offices for a heat rather than a rising star punting a picture.
Heat has already come The Iron Lady’s way, with former ministers and aides queuing up to condemn Phyllida Lloyd’s biopic, usually on the basis of the trailer alone. One called the film indecent and exploitative for showing Thatcher as an infirm old lady.
Although “on the other side of the fence, views-wise” from Thatcher, the film made Colman, 37, appreciate what a mould-breaker the Tory leader had been. “It is extraordinary that a woman fought against a sea of men, and a sea of men who didn’t know how to cope with women anyway because they were all public schoolboys. To rise to the very top of all of them, amazing. Everything else is a matter for debate.” She pauses and laughs. “I’m trying to be diplomatic about it.”
What has irked some Thatcher supporters is the way the film highlights her current frailty. Unfair? “It would be unfair if we were laughing at her predicament. That would be appalling.” Instead, says Colman, the film shows in a tender way how even the most powerful person can be made fragile by old age. “Sickness doesn’t care who it is attacking.”
Whatever the reaction to the film in 2012, last year was a very good one for Colman, with critics hailing her portrayal of a battered wife in Paddy Considine’s demanding drama, Tyrannosaur. Also starring Scotland’s Peter Mullan and Eddie Marsan, it looked like a tough gig.
“Actually it was one of the most enjoyable shoots I’ve ever had, which sounds weird having seen the film. We all felt we were part of something very special. Those are the sort of films most actors want to do. I can’t imagine anything topping that experience, ever.”
And there was always Mullan to cheer things up. “He’s such a raconteur, he’s got a million stories and he’ll have everyone in stitches then go straight into a scene where he’s ….” At this point three things happen. She segues into a Scottish accent, suddenly looks horrified, and starts to apologise. “Sorry, I can’t believe I did that accent to you. How awkward.” I’m too busy laughing at the impersonation to be offended.
To those who only knew Norfolk-born Colman from Peep Show, Tyrannosaur would have been a surprise. She first met David Mitchell and Robert Webb in Cambridge. They were “clever, clever” students at the university, she was doing a teacher training course. She doesn’t quite know why they clicked. “They’re two of the loveliest people I know and they always were. They haven’t changed. We were just a bunch of 20-year-old idiots. Slightly bumbly. We just got on.”
Colman didn’t become a primary school teacher – “There’s a whole generation who should be grateful for that” – and instead went to drama school in Bristol.
Having appeared in Hot Fuzz, Green Wing, and That Mitchell and Webb Look, she achieved spotted-in-the-street recognition as Sophie, David Mitchell’s demanding girlfriend in Peep Show.
What sort of a girlfriend was Colman? “It depends who the boyfriend was. I think I was quite a good girlfriend. I never really went in for drama.
“I used to watch some of my lovely, witty girlfriends being dramatic with boyfriends and think that was a bit boring and tiring. I was quite fun. Probably more fun than Sophie.”
Sophie certainly gives heightened meaning to the word intense. Particularly during those childbirth scenes, which turned out to be remarkably similar, in sound effects, to Colman’s own experiences. “Apparently I mooed,” says the mother of two. “My husband said it sounded quite like a cow. I said that’s nice, thank you.”
At the prompting of her agent she decided to start branching out on her own. “I was so terrified about telling [Mitchell and Webb] because I love them so much. They were so supportive, with Rob saying ‘We knew it was only a matter of time’.”
It was a gamble, she admits, but it is paying off. Besides Tyrannosaur and The Iron Lady, she’s on stage in London in February in Noel Coward’s Hayfever, and she has just done a pilot for a new Channel 4 comedy series, Bad Sugar, a British take on Latin American telenovelas. Also starring Nighty Night’s Julia Davis and Pulling’s Sharon Horgan, written by Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show), and directed by Ben “The Inbetweeners” Palmer, the omens for Bad Sugar are good.
Colman, Davis and Horgan came up with the original idea, though she’s keen to give the credit to her co-stars and particularly the writers. “I couldn’t have written it and I wouldn’t have the confidence to think of an idea without them.” Really? “Definitely. I haven’t done it up till now. Lots of people think of things all the time. I never did. It’s clearly not what I naturally do.”
It’s hard to reconcile this view of herself with the opinion others, Mitchell, Webb, Considine and the rest, obviously have of her. She, however, is more comfortable talking up their talents rather than her own.
“It’s very nice that people might think it’s a collaboration but that would be wrong of me to take that glory. We all get on very well. Maybe there’s something about me that makes them think of something. It would have happened without me.”
Her children won’t see her in The Iron Lady – not really the thing for a four-year-old and a six-year-old – and they’ve been too young to catch her other stuff (the Doctor Who part was far too scary). But many others will see her soon as Carol Thatcher, false nose and all. She was glad of the prop.
“It made me feel a bit more confident. It’s scary playing someone we all know so well. I’m slightly terrified about her seeing it and saying ‘it’s nothing like me’. It’s a piece of fiction with a hint at her. I can’t do impressions so I’m hoping people will forgive me. And they’ve got Meryl to watch.”
The Iron Lady opens in cinemas on January 6.
Few of us in Oscar Blogger Land have seen “The Iron Lady,” however, and Colman’s being overshadowed — ever so slightly — by her co-star, Meryl Streep, for the work she does as Margaret Thatcher. (Colman plays Carol in Phyllida Lloyd’s upcoming biopic, and tells me she’s thrilled to share the screen with Streep, as you’d guess.)
But we have seen “Tyrannosaur,” Paddy Considine’s hard-to-handle relationship drama, which is why we can’t stop talking about Colman’s devastating performance. She plays Hanna, a battered and bruised soul who clings to a wavering religious faith and finds herself tested by a surly lout who stumbles into her shop one day.
Weeks ago, I wrote of “Tyrannosaur” that, “like a traditional Irish wake, it is, at times, depressing, celebratory, devastating and boisterous. Yet the script’s honest probes of such taboo subjects as rape, alcoholism and savage, blue-collar violence are unflinching, which pushes ‘Tyrannosaur’ past like-minded, melodramatic Sundance pap.
“What you’ve heard about Colman is true. … The actress allows numerous difficult emotions to flood across her tranquil face. Considine’s focus shifts from Colman to [Peter] Mullan at times, though both are so good at wallowing in the human pain of this raw story that ‘Tyrannosaur’ rarely misses a step.”
Colman made the rounds in Los Angeles in support of the film recently, and I was able to ask her a few questions about the movie, her performance, and the picture’s Oscar hopes. Here’s Olivia Colman:
HollywoodNews.com: Please give me a few things about Mr. Considine’s script that appealed to you?
The main thing was that the characters he’d written were whole, multi-faceted, complicated people. The script was beautiful, you almost never get scripts like that through the post, it was the most affecting script I had ever read.
HollywoodNews.com: I think most audiences will recognize you from your comedic efforts, like Gervais’ brilliant OFFICE, GREEN WING, the hilarious PEEP SHOW or HOT FUZZ. Were you actively seeking something more dramatic as a means of challenging yourself?
I find it funny that people assume their is any element of choice in an actors career. You have to be a fairly hefty, established actor to have that. I had dreamt about this job from about the age of 12, Paddy took a punt on me, and I will be eternally grateful. I got work in comedy and I’m very grateful for it. I have had the best time laughing with some of the loveliest people, but I always wanted to do work like this. But you have no control as an actor, you have to wait for someone to give you the chance.
HollywoodNews.com: At what point in the process of constructing your performance did you finally figure Hannah out? And how did Mr. Considine help you shape the performance?
Hannah was figured out on the page. The moment you read her, you know who she is. Paddy gave me confidence, He made us all feel safe. He has the ability to say just the right words to tap into your head. He was extraordinary. You want to make him proud.
HollywoodNews.com: I’m usually fascinated by actors who turn to directing. What can you tell me about Mr. Considine as a director? And would you ever give directing a try?
Paddy was brilliant because he knows what it feels like to be an actor. He films in sequence as much as possible, [and] he doesn’t make you do a scene over and over. He knows when he’s got it. He inspires and gives you the confidence to throw yourself in. He’s a protective and nurturing force. He’s also hilarious.
I’ll never direct, though. I’d be rubbish.
HollywoodNews.com: Since its Sundance debut, Tyrannosaur has been receiving awards support. The British Independent Film Awards nominations were a particular boost. What does awards recognition mean to you? Did it ever once cross your mind that Tyrannosaur might be in the Oscar conversation when you were filming it? Maybe as you watched Mr. Mullan’s gut-wrenching performance, or dailies of you and he acting together?
No, we had no place in our heads for awards talk during filming. That’s not why it was made. We all felt we were part of something special. This is Paddy vision. He wanted to create cinema. When people first saw it and got it, that was a beautiful thing. To be noticed and recognized by nominations and things, well of course that’s overwhelming. We all feel so proud of this film, of what Paddy has made. It means the world if people recognize it. Watching Peter and Eddie doing ANYTHING is an honor. They’re flawless.
HollywoodNews.com: Lastly, which is more exciting: Acting alongside Meryl Streep for “The Iron Lady” or playing Queen Elizabeth for “Hyde Park on Hudson”?
Ooh, tricky. I’ll be able to die happy that I was even in the same room as Meryl Streep! And, every day on ‘Hyde Park’ was a joy also. Cant compare I’m afraid.
Olivia Colman has confessed she’s worried about what Carol Thatcher will make of her portrayal of her in an upcoming film.
The Rev star plays Margaret Thatcher’s daughter in The Iron Lady, alongside Meryl Streep as the steely former Prime Minister.
“I’m not a terribly good impersonator so… hopefully people will allow some artistic licence,” Olivia revealed.
“Apparently (Carol)’s watching it! She’s going to watch a cut of it! I didn’t meet her, so I hope she doesn’t mind it. She’s a very sweet character in the film.”
And Olivia revealed she researched her character by watching hours of footage of Carol on the 2005 series of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!
“I watched all of I’m a Celebrity – she came across brilliantly. She was hilarious. And if you’re ever going to be stuck in the jungle you’d want her on your team,” the actress added.
“She was favourite to lose and then she ended up storming it because she was just so gung-ho. She was amazing – very funny.”
:: The new series of Rev begins on BBC Two on Thursday November 10.
There are more photos from the set here movieweb.com – The iron lady set photos featuring Meryl Streep
Principal photography will commence in January on director Phyllida Lloyd’s take on the former British Prime Minister’s dotage, The Iron Lady.
Award-winning actress Meryl Streep will portray the British leader. British writer Abi Morgan (Brick Lane) has written the script that focuses on Margaret Thatcher’s later years as she combats retirement and poor health and reflects on some important moments of her political career.
Jim Broadbent (Another Year) will play her husband Denis and Olivia Colman (Tyrannosaur) their daughter Carol.
The Iron Lady will be Lloyd’s first film after global box office smash Mamma Mia! The film has run into controversy before the shoot, with Thatcher’s family members reportedly upset about its content, describing it as “some Left-wing fantasy.”
The project’s £13m budget is financed by Pathé, Film4 and the UK Film Council. Pathé Managing Director Cameron McCracken said, “It is a film about power and the price that is paid for power. In that sense, it is the story of every person who has ever had to balance their private life with their public career.”