Vanity Fair Italia– She is world-famous for her role as The Queen in The Crown, however, she hopes that the Queen herself doesn’t watch The Crown.
Playing a “bourgeois” role, Olivia Colman admits that fame is a bit of a burden and that the
the only place she feels comfortable in is her home.
The night she won her Oscar, Olivia Colman ended up on stage without having any kind of draft of speech whatsoever, and so, when they handed her the statue, she took a deep breath, her emotions a mixture of laughter and tears, and said the only thing that came to her mind at that moment: “It’s genuinely stressful.”Laughters, applause… Then, in a speech that seemed like a brilliant number of stand-up comedy, Olivia – very English when it comes to underestimating herself as well as to humour – continued to make people laugh; at one point she even apologised to Glenn Close for winning instead of her, then she looked back at the time she used to clean for a living, and finally sent a message to the aspiring young actresses in the audience: “Any little girl who is practising their speech on telly, you never know” Her speech ended with a standing ovation.
The film for which she won was Yorgos Lanthimos’ Favourite, the amazing interpretation of Queen Anne. It’s been two years since that night, and Olivia Colman has remained the same down-to-earth actress that is instantly taken into consideration when it comes to playing British monarchs. Best known she is for her performance as Queen Elizabeth II, the most famous monarch in the world – the condensation of strength, seriousness and self-denial.
Her new film “The Father”, a film for which Anthony Hopkins won his second Oscar, has been out in theatres for a few days now. In the film, Olivia Colman plays Hopkin’s daughter, a woman who watches her father lose himself to dementia. Everything is narrated from the painful and unsettling point of view of the elderly man. Therefore, the viewer is put in the shoes of those who experience the disease firsthand. “I’ve never read such a script before: usually it’s the family’s experience that is described, here it is as if you were inside Anthony Hopkin’s head”, Colman describes through Zoom, sitting in her living room in London.
Anthony Hopkins said he didn’t want any other actresses to play his daughter.Did he really say that?
Olivia Colman: Oh, he just wanted to be nice.
We also see the esteem.
OC: Sure, but Anthony is also a sweet and kind man, he would have said that of any other actress. What I can say is that it has been a constant delight to get to wake up every morning and work with him on set. However, eventually, you come to realize that at the end of the day we are all just human beings.
What did you learn from him?
OC: I was struck by his joyful attitude towards life, his determination to enjoy it despite the bad things that have happened to him. It’s as if he was saying “I’m still here and I want to be fine.” That is not a very common mindset for seniors so it was a great lesson.
Do you share your way of dealing with life?
OC: In some ways yes, I also want to be very aware of how lucky I am, and I know who are the people I love and I love to be with. I don’t like parties or confusion. I love staying home.
So you haven’t suffered from the lockdowns?
OC: I am one of the few very happy people. I don’t even notice whether the pubs are open or closed.
And are you shy?
OC: Yes, I feel uncomfortable in large groups. I’m comfortable around my family.
Have you always been like that?
OC: No, but I have had to become that. You know, it’s not easy to walk into a room where everyone knows you but you don’t know anyone, the feeling is alienating.
So is fame hard to cope with?
OC: It is not easy to explain, but it is certainly something that no one wants to actually live with, and if someone says they would, they have no idea what it is like. It’s the downside of the job that I so very much love.
Can we say that you are an anti diva?
OC: I’m an actress and that’s it.
Your speech at the Oscars made everyone laugh.
OC: Oh my, I don’t even remember it anymore… But I can tell you that morning my husband and I got up and said to each other: we both know it’s not going to happen so let’s enjoy the evening, it happens once in a lifetime. Then my husband told me: however if you ever win… remember to thank all the fans. And him. So I did it.
How many times had you dreamed of that moment?
OC: So many, while cleaning, I would every now and then imagine and recite my Oscar speech. I think everyone has done it at least once, right?
How has your past influenced your ambitions and approach to work?
OC: I am grateful that I was not successful at a young age because it has really made me appreciate working today. This craft is very uncertain and there are so many actors unemployed. These are things to keep in mind when your life changes.
Your life changes but it always lead you to play queens…
OC: But it’s a coincidence!
A strange fact: you always say you are not a big fan of the monarchy.
OC: True, but I respect the Queen very much, she does what she has to do with dignity, other people in her position would not have behaved like her. Nonetheless, it is a job I wouldn’t want.
What do you mean by that?
OC: Being the queen is not a job you choose. You just have to do it. I, on the other hand, need to choose.
When did you choose to become an actress?
OC: At 16, during my first theatrical performance. But I didn’t tell anyone because I wasn’t sure I could do it.
And when did you discover that you have a talent?
OC: I am very fortunate and always try to improve myself.
Lucky but also talented: do you not recognise it?
OC: It sounds so bad coming from your own mouth. Laughs
Do you think the queen is watching The Crown?
OC: I hope not.
OC: Because she must think it is all wrong: the ways of doing things, the private conversations and relationships. The Crown is fiction and seeing yourself in a TV series must be something that makes you very angry.
A sensitive detective in “Broadchurch”, majestic Elizabeth II in “The Crown” … No matter her character, Olivia Colman has a gift for moving others. Her heartbreaking performance in Florian Zeller’s “The Father”, next to Anthony Hopkins and soon to be in theatres, could earn her a second Oscar.
“You must have talked with so many actors who would give better answers than me!” Sitting in her living room, Olivia Colman looks at her laptop with a saddened smile. In the adjacent room, we hear her dog barking. “I’m not an intellectual, I can’t talk about my acting. I’m scared that by over-analyzing it, I’d lose my spontaneity.” We could expect the English actress, aged 47, who had her breakthrough as sensitive detective Ellie Miller in the crime drama Broadchurch and who delivered a remarkable performance as Elizabeth II in the historical series The Crown, to be a bit blasé.
Despite the critics’ praise and a shower of prizes on both sides of the Atlantic, she actually shows a disarming modesty. When winning an Oscar for best actress in a leading role for The Favourite by Yorgos Lanthimos, in 2019, she showed up on stage and laughed “This is hilarious! This is not going to happen again”. But here she is nominated in the “best supporting actress” category for The Father and only a few days away from a possible second win during the Oscars ceremony on April, 25th.
“I dare you to not start crying when Anthony Hopkins is sitting right in front of you!”
In this adaptation by the French director Florian Zeller of his own play Le Père, she portrays Anne, the daughter of an old man who is suffering from dementia (Anthony Hopkins) and who loses his touch with reality. “She sees him falling apart and is forced to go from child to parent,” says Olivia Colman, who delivers a performance full of contrasts, who goes from melancholia to distress, from laughter to tears, without ever giving the impression of forcing it. A challenge in what she calls a “room movie”, and a new illustration of the intensity of her acting? “Ah! No, it was easy, Florian’s script is so beautiful, so detailed and delicate, that I did not have to think too much about it. And I dare you to not start crying when Anthony Hopkins is sitting right in front of you!”
“She always wants to do better, with a vulnerability, a form of insecurity that seems unlikely in such a performer.” analyzes Florian Zeller, who sees in her simply “the best British actress of the moment”. A humbleness that goes back to the beginnings of a woman, native to the rural East of England. “I was around 16 when I first started thinking about becoming an actress, but I didn’t think I had the right to do it,” she recalls. “I had no idea how to do it. Just like when we are kids, we go to the circus but this wonder seems inaccessible.”
She enrols at Cambridge University and intends to do a “normal job” but abandons the idea after one semester— “Thank God, I would have been a terrible teacher!”. It is then, that she joins an amateur theatre group before getting into the prestigious Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, at the end of the 1990’s.
For her final exams, she must convince a jury of her acting skills in under a minute. “In such little time, I decided that it would be easier to make them laugh rather than cry. Pulling a face has an immediate effect. A sad face takes longer to touch your heart.” A choice that sums up the follow- up of her career, going into comedy. David Mitchell and Robert Webb, two young amateurs she met at Cambridge, help her make her debut in the BBC sitcom Peep Show, starting in 2003. She portrays Sophie, a young and unstable woman.
“Her face is so versatile and has such expressivity that all emotions can appear on it successively.” Florian Zeller, director of “The Father”
Everybody thinks she’s hilarious except for herself, of course. “They needed a woman, they thought I was funny and I was available. It allowed me to have “actress” on my passport, it was glorious.” Also seen in an episode of The Office in 2002, Olivia Colman often comes back to her first love comedy, notably in 2016, in the TV show Fleabag, as impossible Godmother, “awful but delicious, unbearable with a smile”.
Around 2010, she starts to go to castings for drama movies. The actor and screenwriter Paddy Considine gives her a chance in Tyrannosaur (2011) in which she portrays a victim of domestic violence who meets a grieving man (Peter Mullan). “The movie is tough, its subject is so serious… I was terrified.” With an astonishing fragility and contained anger, she collects her first awards and catches the attention of the television writer Chris Chibnall, who was then working on Broadchurch.
Alongside David Tennant, she transforms a classical figure from the small screen, a troubled policewoman, into an ordinary woman at the centre of a tragedy, who holds in her anxiety, the impossibility to confront the inexpressible. An introspective, intimate approach, sublimed by her capacity to convey a vast variety of emotions with one single glance. “The physiognomy of Olivia allows her to be every age, to go from a vulnerable young girl to a mean old woman”, says Florian Zeller. “Her face is so versatile and has such expressivity that all emotions can appear on it successively.”
In 2014, Olivia Colman meets Yorgos Lanthimos – “I had seen his movie Dogtooth (2009) and I wondered what was possibly going on in his head!” The Greek filmmaker offers her a part in The Lobster, her first work with Lanthimos, as the director of a hotel where single people, all of them societal outcasts, come to spend their last moments. An embarrassing character, between grotesque and terror, who fits well with Colman and who marks the beginning of a collaboration that will turn into another shared project, four years later: The Favourite.
“Her emotional intelligence is astonishing. She seems to be able to get to her inner self effortlessly.” Florian Zeller, director and writer of The Father
Yorgos had a vision and let me participate. The view of the writer is the only thing that usually matters; to take into count another one might give it a twist. Her interpretation of Queen Anne of England, unhappy sovereign, stubborn and sick, in the 18th century, confirms her talent to move others, even in the skin of unbearable characters. “There is something so warm in her that all her roles become sympathetic, echoing her nature” sums up Tobias Menzies, who plays Prince Philip next to her in The Crown.
Olivia Colman has a simpler explanation: “I don’t like playing, I’m only being myself.“ She brings her own experience to all her roles. For The
Father, it was the memory of her mother who worked as a nurse in a clinic for Alzheimer’s patients, and the familiarity of Anthony Hopkins as a paternal figure – “I know his face so well, I’ve seen him so many times on stage, on the tv, in the newspapers that part of myself was saying “My God, Anthony Hopkins is not doing well, he is in front of me and his life is falling apart.”
Florian Zellers confirms: “Her emotional intelligence is astonishing. She seems to be able to get to her inner self effortlessly and can project her own effects on her co-stars as if they were her husband, her sister or here, her own father. She truly was overwhelmed by Anthony.”
The change from work to reality pleases her even more, so that this role seems distant, just like the two sovereigns she portrayed simultaneously in The Favourite and The Crown. Queen Anne is angry? Olivia Colman uses it to unwind herself. “Usually, I never lose my temper. Not one single argument in 27 years of marriage. But I love playing someone who gets angry. That may be the reason why I’m a joyful person: I put all my negative vibes into my job.”
Elizabeth II is impassive? “A rock that is not supposed to fall apart in front of others, just like me.” During the scenes that affect her the most, the actress even uses an earpiece that transmits the weather forecast. “At the risk of being a bit impolite and not listening to what my fellow actors say”, she joked on the BBC in 2018.
“To play a super-villain in a Marvel production, that would be amazing, I would have to work out and learn how to fly!”
After The Father, expected to be released in France when theatres open again, we will see her in The Lost Daughter, an adaptation of the novel “The Lost Daughter” by the Italian writer Elena Ferrante (My brilliant friend) and the first motion picture project of colleague Maggie Gyllenhaal. Is she waiting for a blockbuster? “I must have sent a million e- mails to my agent asking to find me a role in a Marvel movie. A supervillain, that would be amazing, I would have to work out and learn how to fly!” she says excitingly while swinging on her chair. We’ll have to wait for a long time if we ever want to see the day when Olivia Colman will be blasé…
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ET Online- Olivia Colman doesn’t remember much about the night she won her Oscar. She had been nominated for her performance in The Favourite, though in an especially tight Best Actress race, Glenn Close was the presumed frontrunner. But then the envelope was opened, and Frances McDormand read off Colman’s name. “This is hilarious,” she spluttered onstage, visibly dazed even as she cradled the gold statuette in her arms. “I’ve got an Oscar.”
Through tears, Colman thanked her co-stars and crew, as well as Close (“This is not how I wanted it to be!”) and her children, who she hoped were watching at home. (“This is not going to happen again.”) She wrapped up her speech by exclaiming both about and towards her fellow nominee: “Lady Gaga!”
“I can’t remember what I said. I only know because I’ve seen it played back now,” she tells ET over Zoom from her home in London. “I can’t remember what happened afterwards. My husband said it was the best night of his life. And had it been the other way around, if I could have watched him, I understand, I would have loved that, and I would’ve remembered everything. But I’m afraid I still can’t quite believe it happened.”
Contrary to what she said that night, Colman will soon have another chance to relive some of those memories, having earned her second Oscar nomination earlier this month.
This time, the recognition comes for her work in the dementia drama, The Father, which marks the directorial debut of French playwright Florian Zeller, adapted from his own award-winning stage show. The film centres on an ageing patriarch (Anthony Hopkins) struggling to make sense of his progressing memory loss. Unlike other works that have explored the same subject, this is told through Anthony’s perspective, the very fabric of the film — the sets, the timeline, even the actors — shifting as its lead fades into the fog of confusion. We, the viewer, experience what he might be.
“The first time I read it was the first time I’d ever experienced anything written from that point of view,” Colman says. “To suddenly make sense of the confusion because you are as confused. It’s been quite nice to understand where the confusion can stem from. If someone has been gentle in their lives, to suddenly see that they’ve got rage in them, is that the real them? Was the other one not the real them? But it’s OK. We’d all be f**king furious having to deal with this every day.”
Colman plays Anthony’s daughter and de facto caretaker, Anne. The play, and thus the film, was inspired by Zeller’s personal experiences with an ailing grandparent, making Colman’s character something like a surrogate for both himself and the audience. There she is, attendant and infinitely patient as she attempts to mask her breaking heart with a sunshiny hopefulness.
“She’s my favourite actress,” Zeller says of casting Colman. “And I think that the film would not have been the same without her. She has something magical. As soon as you see her, you love her. That was really important for the film because it’s not only about this man losing his bearings. It’s also about his daughter trying to face this situation.”
Zeller had written the script with Hopkins in mind, reasoning that because most people would have become familiar with Sir Anthony Hopkins throughout their lives, playing to his mortality would lend an additional layer of gravitas to the story. Colman found that to be the case when she got to set, explaining, “I’ve grown up with Tony’s face on films and I remember him being interviewed on Parkinson — it’s a chat show in the UK — and he was larger than life, a sort of acting god.”
“So, that made it extra poignant to me, I suppose, to watch this man who I admired so much confused or watch him crumple. All of that stuff in the back of my mind, in my history, helped,” she says. “And he’s so wonderful to act opposite. He is so good that I didn’t have to do anything except to watch him and feel it and react to him.”
The horrors of cognitive degeneration aside, Colman found filming to be especially enjoyable. “I suppose that sounds bonkers,” she laughs. Between takes, she sat with Hopkins and listened to him share stories of his storied life, slipping into impressions of Jimmy Stewart and Frank Sinatra for his delighted one-woman audience.
“I just sat there and I went, ‘Oh, please don’t say that we’re back on set. I’m just loving this so much.’ And he’d lean in and go, ‘Aren’t we lucky? Isn’t life beautiful?'” Colman giggles, trying on her own impression of Hopkins. “And I know there are lots of upsetting pieces in it, but we got to work with amazing people and the moment something sad is finished, you have a cup of tea and a cuddle and go, ‘It’s all right.’ And then you go do something else. You don’t carry on being miserable throughout the day. I wouldn’t be able to cope with that.”
The Father premiered at Sundance in early 2020 with a lauded festival run to follow. Still, Sony Pictures Classics, the studio behind the film, held off its theatrical release until the Oscars’ last eligible weekend, a risky move that nonetheless paid off: Not only is Colman nominated for Best Actress, but The Father is up for Best Picture and Hopkins for Best Actor, among six total nominations.
In an altogether unprecedented awards season, no one knows exactly what to expect from the forthcoming Academy Awards, let alone who might win one. Not that Colman believes it’s something you can ever prepare for, even now two years on from when she won her Oscar.
“I liken it to when I got married, someone said, ‘Every now and then, just pause and have a look and try and remember it all.’ Because it’s so much excitement and such a blur that when it’s all over, you go, ‘Well, all that planning, and I can’t remember it!'” Colman says. “The Oscars were a bit like that, just because I was sort of in a denial all the way. Sort of wafting into it, going, “It’s silly. It’s just silly. It can’t be real, can’t be real, can’t be happening.’ And then it happened.”
The Father is in theatres now and available on-demand on March 26.
don’t forget to check out our gallery for THE FATHER stills and more