For the big-screen version of his hit stage play The Father, Florian Zeller turned to Olivia Colman to play a woman helping her bewildered parent deal with his dementia. Mark Salisbury talks to the Oscar winner about working opposite acting legend Anthony Hopkins.
Screen Daily– After her Oscar-winning turn as Queen Anne in the Favourite and a two seasons stint as Elizabeth II in Netflix’s The Crown, Olivia Colman seemed to have cornered the market in British royalty. But starring opposite Anthony Hopkins in devastating dementia drama The Father, which premiered at Sundance 2020 and played, virtually, at Toronto International Film Festival in September.
Based on Florian Zeller’s award-winning French play Le Père, The Father is an intensely moving examination of dementia as seen through the fractured mind of Hopkins’ 80-year-old Anthony. As the titular father, he refuses all help from his daughter Anne, played mostly by Colman, but also by Olivia Williams, who is either single, moving to Paris, or married to Mark Gatiss or Rufus Sewell.
“I’d never read anything written from that person’s point of view before,” explains Colman over Zoom. “Whenever I’d seen anything about dementia, it was as an onlooker, and suddenly this made sense of the confusion. I was as confused as Anthony. It was a really clever idea and a great read. And when I found out it was Anthony [Hopkins] as well, it was a definite, ‘Oh God, please let me do it. I want to work with him.’” Perhaps surprisingly, Colman had never crossed paths with Hopkins before “I think I nearly curtsied when I met him” but found him a joy, on set and off. “Weirdly, there was a sort of shorthand because I had grown up seeing his face and listening to his voice and watching his films,” she recalls. “I remember him on [UK talk show] Parkinson years ago, being interviewed, so I felt like every part of his face I recognised. And then to sit with him and see that he’s gentle and funny and so generous, and does hilarious impressions and tells brilliant stories… He’s so lovely to be around. It was quite an easy leap to imagine he’s your daddy. And to watch that man crumble and be confused was heartbreaking. It made my job very, very easy.”
Ceding The Throne
Since her best actress win in 2019, Olivia Colman has starred many productions including Fleabag, Les Misérables and The Crown although she will soon relinquish her throne to Imelda Staunton. When she is asked if she will miss it her anser is clear. “That was the longest job I’ve had. Broadchurch covered a long time but was shorter chunks. We filmed The Crown in amazing places. That was one of the biggest privileges, really, going into these beautiful houses. But I like playing diferent people.” She also adds that she would love a part in a Marvel movie, but has yet to be offered a blockbuster or franchise picture. “Every time there’s a Marvel movie, I phone my agent and say, ‘Please can I be in a Marvel movie?’ Because I’m a Marvel nerd. But I’m perfectly happy. I’m doing good work here. I don’t have to be away from home, so it’s perfect for me. I feel really lucky.”
Colman will next be seen in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directing debut, an adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel ‘The Lost Daughter’ which she filmed in October in Greece. Olivia also adds “I am a big fan of Maggie Gyllenhaal, and was so excited to be directed by an actor, and I liked the story. It was a very different sort of person to anyone I’ve played before. A confident, sexual person, which I am absolutely not.I was meant to do a Brigitte Bardot walk across a room and I said, ‘I can’t do it! I can’t do it!’ I can do almost anything fall apart, snot and cry but trying to look like you’re sexually confident? No. Makes me feel sick at the thought of it.” So that was a challenge in itself. We’ll see how it turns out. It’s hard to know.”
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