Sarah Caroline Sinclair (née Colman) was born on January 30, 1974 in Norwich, England to her parents Mary Leakey, a nurse and Keith Colman, a chartered surveyor. She has mostly English ancestry but, as was discovered on the UK genealogy programme Who Do You Think You Are?, her fourth great-grandfather, Richard Campbell Bazett, had been born on the island of Saint-Helena. Olivia was privately educated at Norwich High School for Girls and Gresham’s School in Holt, Norfolk. She had her first role in a school production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at the age of 16 but still spent a term studying primary teaching at Homerton College, Cambridge before she decided to pursue acting professionally. She cites her mother’s interrupted career as a ballet dancer as an inspiration to start studying drama at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, where she met future co-stars, David Mitchell and Robert Webb. It was also then, while she was performing in a production of Table Manners, that she met her future husband Ed Sinclair, a law student who had become disillusioned with law and preferred to write. Olivia and Ed got married in August 2001 and have three children together.
Olivia graduated in 1999 and made her professional acting debut just one year later, at the age of 26, as part of the BBC 2 comedy sketch show Bruiser. She also earned her first theatre credit as Cathleen in Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Lyric Theatre, London. Many on-screen roles in BBC, ITV and Channel 4 television series such as People Like Us, The Office, etc. and regular voice acting appearances on the radio in BBC Radio 4 comedies (Concrete Cow, Think the Unthinkable, The House of Milton Jones and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency) followed. Since 2003 she’s worked closely together with Mitchell and Webb on several projects, her most famous being the role of Sophie in their comedy Peep Show which she left at her agent’s suggestion so as to not become too closely associated with Mitchell’s and Webb’s work. Yet, it was a decision that was made ‘with tears‘ and Olivia continued to appear on the show until it ended in 2015, though less often.
Another comedy she had a recurring role in was the surreal Green Wing which ran from 2004 to 2006. During that time Olivia had both “The worst experience of her life” in form of one of her first film credits as naturist Joanna Roberts in the 2006 mockumentary Confetti, and nearly had her career ruined by her infamous 2004 AA car insurance advert appearance as Bev, alongside Mark Burdis’ Kev. Olivia jokingly describes the series of adverts as “the bane of her life”. Yet, in 2007, she again added three titles to her growing filmography, first starring as PC Doris Thatcher in the action-comedy Hot Fuzz, followed by her role as Alice in the comedy Grow Your Own and her leading part in Paddy Considine’s short film Dog Altogether. She ended the decade with her 2008 appearances in the BBC sitcom Beautiful People, a guest appearance in Skins and her second on-stage credit as Philippa in the 2009 production of England People Very Nice at the Royal National Theatre, London.
Olivia started 2010 with another leading role, playing Alex Smallbone in the BBC sitcom Rev. alongside on-screen husband Tom Hollander until the series’ end in 2014. Also in 2010, she made an appearance in „The Eleventh Hour“ an episode of the sci-fi series Doctor Who, introducing Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor. Usually associated with comedies, like her part as Sally Owen in the 2011 comedy series Twenty Twelve, it was in 2011 that Olivia delivered her first award-winning drama performance. First, she appeared in the BBC drama Exile but it was her second collaboration with Paddy Considine that was widely recognized. For her part in Tyrannosaur Olivia was awarded a BIFA Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a British Independent Film and the Empire Award for Best Actress. She was furthermore inspired by her research for the role to become the patron of the UK charity Tender, which uses theatre and the arts to educate young people about how to prevent violence and sexual abuse. Her following performance as Carol Thatcher in the Academy Award-winning drama The Iron Lady, with Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent earned her the London Film Critic’s Circle Award. In 2012, Olivia worked for the first time with Phoebe Waller-Bridge starring alongside her as Myra Arundel in the 2012 stage adaption of Hay Fever, at the Noël Coward Theatre.
In 2013, Olivia presented two awards at the Mind Media Awards celebrating accurate, responsible and sensitive portrayals of mental health across all areas of the media. She has spoken openly to the Big Issue about her experience of postnatal depression after the birth of her first child. Other charity work in 2013 included participating in the Alzheimer’s Society’s Holkham Hall Memory Walk, a topic that affects Olivia personally as her great-grandmother suffered from dementia and her mother was involved in running a nursing home for sufferers. She has also given support to charity campaigns for the Marie Curie Great Daffodil Appeal (care for the terminally ill) and was involved in a BBC Radio documentary about the plight of women in Afghanistan on behalf of Amnesty International.
Her first BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress followed in 2013 for her outstanding performance as DS Ellie Miller in ITV’s crime drama Broadchurch, a role that got her a nomination for an International Emmy Award for Best Actress as well. She returned to the drama in 2015 and 2017 for its second and third series. Also in 2013, she starred as Margaret Lea opposite Vanessa Redgrave in the BBC television film The Thirteenth Tale. In 2015, Olivia worked with Yorgos Lanthimos for the first time. She received a nomination for the London Film Critics’ Circle Award for Supporting Actress of the Year and won the BIFA Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Lanthimos’ absurdist dystopian film The Lobster with future co-star Rachel Weisz. Olivia received praise for her performance as Angela Burr in the 2016 miniseries adaption of The Night Manager and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award and received a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film. That same year, she starred as Deborah Flowers in the channel 4 black comedy series Flowers, voiced Strawberry in the Netflix/BBC animated miniseries Watership Down and appeared as Godmother in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s critically acclaimed black comedy series Fleabag. She reprised her role for the series’ second season in 2019.
A ‚dream come true‘ followed in 2017 when Olivia starred in Kenneth Branagh’s remake of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express as on-screen maid Hildegarde Schmidt to Judi Dench’s Princess Dragomiroff. An unforgettable experience she talked about on‚ David Tennant does a podcast with …’ on January 28, 2019. 2017 also saw her latest performance on stage as Jenny in Mosquitoes at the Royal National Theatre. Furthermore, it was made public in 2017, that Olivia was cast as Queen Elizabeth II in the third and fourth season of Netflix historical drama series The Crown, taking over from Claire Foy.
In 2018, Olivia starred in her second collaboration with Yorghos Lanthimos, this time taking on the lead as Queen Anne in the period black comedy The Favourite opposite Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. In preparation for the role, she gained 35lb (16kg). Her performance earned her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical and a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Furthermore, she was recognized as Best Actress at the Academy Awards, winning her first Oscar. Her awe-struck and humorous acceptance speech following the somewhat unexpected win was widely covered in the media. Olivia ended 2018 with positive reviews for her supporting role as Madame Thénardier in the BBC’s miniseries adaption of Les Misérables. She also became Patron of blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan in 2018 which helped a friend of hers.
Following the 2017 announcement of her upcoming role as Queen Elizabeth II, the third season of Netflix’ historical drama series The Crown was released in 2019 and earned Olivia a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. The fourth season premiered on November 15, 2020. In November 2019, Olivia could be heard singing Glory Box (by Portishead) as part of a star-studded ensemble on Got It Covered, a Children In Need album that featured ten celebrities covering some of their favourite songs to raise money for charity.
In the 2020 film The Father Anne opposite Anthony Hopkin’s. The film is a Florian Zeller’s adaption of his own stage play The Father which earned her a second Academy Award nomination. Furthermore, she made a guest appearance on The Simpsons, providing the voice of Lily in the episode The Seven Beer Itch. In November 2020, she signed an open letter condemning violence and discrimination against trans women. She ended 2020 with a performance as Godmother in the star-studded BBC zoom pantomime Cinderella: A Comic Relief Pantomime for Christmas.
In 2021 Olivia landed her voice for PAL in the critically acclaimed animated science-fiction comedy film Connected.
Olivia has upcoming projects in both film and television. They’re headed by her performance as Leda in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut The Lost Daughter. Other projects include the British drama Mothering Sunday, starring her as Mrs Niven. She will return to television screens in the true-crime miniseries Landscapers, a joined project with husband Ed Sinclair who is writing for the series. She will also star in Sam Mendes’ next film Empire of Light, we don’t know the plot yet but it is described as a love story set in the 80s. Olivia will also make will make her MCU debut with Secret Invasions.