In The Father, the Oscar-winning actress plays a woman caring for her ageing dad, who is suffering from dementia. It’s incredibly moving—and her performance has already earned her another Oscar nomination.
Vogue- Shot almost entirely in one location over just a few weeks, with only a few costume changes and no rehearsals—very little about The Father is what you might expect.
It’s the greatest strength of this powerful new film, starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman, both of whom have been Oscar-nominated for their performances. The movie follows their relationship as a father and daughter, living together in a London flat and preparing for the next stage of their lives. Because Anthony (Hopkins), has dementia, and though he doesn’t quite realise it, his daughter Anne (Colman) is struggling to care for him on her own. Based on a play by the film’s director Florian Zeller, the movie takes you inside Anthony’s mind as it breaks down, deftly weaving truths and fictions together in a way that is both devastating and disorienting as well as, ultimately, empathetic. You will cry—a lot. But you will also find yourself reflecting on life, and death, long after you leave the cinema.
Colman is the anchor of the film and its emotional heart. She has such a quiet intimacy with Hopkins that it’s hard to believe The Father is only their first film together. There’s one scene after they’ve had a miscommunication, in which Anne carefully, but silently, helps her dad into a sweater. That short moment says so much more about their relationship, and about Colman’s character’s resilience, than any shouty argument scene ever could. A lesser film than The Father, and a lesser actor than Colman, would definitely have opted for the latter.
Here, Colman talks about her personal relationship to the story of The Father, and how making the movie helped her reflect on her own parents—and her own life.
VOGUE AUSTRALIA: You play Anne, who’s torn between wanting to do the best for her father, and still wanting to live her life. Did the part speak to you personally?
OLIVIA COLMAN: “Yes, I’m at that time of life in my forties when I have children who still need looking after, and my parents are also getting older. They’re in pretty good health at the moment, but it was an eye-opener to work with Tony in The Father and see the child become the carer. It speaks to everyone across all generations because unless you do die young, you’ll end up old. You could end up playing tennis until you’re ninety, and die in your sleep, or you may have to deal with dementia and so will your family. It’s hard to explain what the experience of filming was like, it felt completely real and beautiful. Being there in a scene with Tony when he’s confused, or sad, it was really heart-breaking and hard to do. I think that’s also because, as Anthony Hopkins, we know his face and we’ve loved him for years, that it can feel overwhelming to see him like that. It feels pretty raw. It really made me think that I don’t know how people manage to hold their parents’ hands and watch them go through something like this. I keep on hoping this can be avoided for my folks.”
VA: At this stage in your career, how do you choose a project?
OC: “It’s all in the script for me. That’s probably the same for most actors, but I also know that I feel a little bit guilty, I feel bad about saying no. But you just know when there’s a script that’s really special, and then I am very uncool about it, and I say, ‘yes please’ because I’m not good about playing the game and saying, ‘that’s alright, but I may be a bit busy.’ I’m afraid I don’t do that. I have to get better at saying no! But when a script’s really good, like this one, it’s a no brainer.”
VA: You didn’t rehearse scenes in The Father. How was that for you, given time is out of sequence in the film?
OC: “I think both myself and Anthony like working without rehearsals. Listening to Florian’s vision, he wanted to use the power of cinema instead of theatre. In theatre you have to rehearse, you have to know exactly where you’re going to stand because you don’t want surprises in front of an audience. But with filming, it can produce something that’s very real and very natural and that’s the way we wanted to work anyway. If you know the script and you trust each other, then you can just let it happen. It was Florian’s first film and he was extraordinary, ten times better than most directors who’ve made ten films. He was so instinctive and beautiful and kind. We felt safe and so rehearsals or no rehearsals, with Florian in charge, we were happy.”
VA: Did Florian Zeller give you any cues for the sense of disorientation that’s at the heart of the film?
OC: “I’ve never read a script where you’re in the head of someone suffering from dementia. It was a real insight into how confusing and disorientating it was. I think a lot of the sense of confusion came from the set we worked on because it was like another character. It would subtly change depending upon what was happening in the film, adding to the sense of disorientation of Anthony’s character, who thought he was in his own apartment. It would also become my flat or the doctor’s surgery, depending upon where we were in the film. I found it really helpful to have our environment changing all around us. We’d step onto set day after day and it would have changed colours. It was weird because it would still stay the same size and have the same doors. Those physical changes definitely helped us.”
VA: Your mother worked as a geriatric nurse. Did that influence you in the role at all?
OC: “She was an incredible nurse before she retired. Her passion was geriatric care and she was nursing long before I was born. She was—is—just a kind person who would look after anyone. Maybe there was an influence there in taking the part but I’m unaware of it. She’s got endless patience and I’ve never seen her lose her temper, apart from when she’s driving!”
VA: Did filming The Father make you reflect more on your life?
OC: “It did make me think of my parents. Ageing can be so cruel and rude. It’s hard to think of my parents, because my mum and dad are still madly in love, and it’s unfair to think that they grunt when they sit down now and have aches and pains because they’re getting on in age. You think, ‘that’s where I am going’ and actually, that’s where you hope you are going because hopefully you’ll end up old, and happy and fulfilled. Filming The Father did make me think of them and how pleased I am that they’re still together and happy.”
The Wrap– Searchlight Pictures and Sam Mendes are teaming on the director’s next project with Searchlight boarding Empire of Light with Mendes on set to direct and Olivia Colman in negotiations to star. This will mark Mendes first film since his Oscar-nominated 1917 and will also mark the first time both he and Colman have worked together. The film will also re-team Mendes with cinematographer Roger Deakins, who won an Oscar for his work on 1917.
Mendes will direct “Empire of Light” as his follow-up to the Best Picture-nominated “1917.” Mendes also wrote the film; it marks the first time he’s penned a screenplay solo. “Empire of Light” is a love story set in and around a beautiful old cinema on the South Coast of England in the 1980s.
Mendes will also produce “Empire of Light” with Pippa Harris through his Neal Street Productions, ad Searchlight is aiming for a release in fall 2022.
“Sam has written an exquisite cinematic drama that captured our hearts from page one. He is a masterful filmmaker, and we look forward to working with him, Pippa, and Roger and to reunite with the great Olivia on this truly special film,” Greenbaum and Greenfield said in a statement.
Colman was just nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her work in “The Father” alongside Anthony Hopkins. This follows her already Oscar-winning turn for “The Favourite.” She also played Queen Elizabeth II in “The Crown” and starred on the Amazon series “Fleabag.” She’s next set to star in “The Lost Daughter,” Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut opposite Dakota Johnson.
GMA News – With the Oscars just around the corner, we would like to focus on four talented veterans this time: Colman, 47, received her second nomination and the first in the same category as Close for her performance as Anne in the drama, “The Father,” where she shared the limelight with Hopkins.
We last saw you in London right before the lockdown, and you confessed that you won’t mind staying in your home for a couple of months as you enjoy the privacy. After nine months of lockdown, are you ready to go out and work and enjoy your life?
I miss going to work but actually, I have to say I am probably the only person who I could happily do this for two solid years. I love it.
So what are you doing during lockdown?
Cooking, trying to get better at cooking. My husband’s a very good cook. I’m a little bit rubbish but quite good at baking. I am just being at home with the kids. It felt like an opportunity, to have that much time with school-aged kids will never happen again and so I was just trying to enjoy it and trying to enjoy being with them and try to endear myself to them I suppose (laughs) by making food that they liked.
Could you take us to your TV room and describe it? What are your favourite TV shows?
I am in our TV room right now and I’ve tried to make it look as nice as possible. In fact, all the crap is hidden that side of the camera so, you know, dog beds and the cars and there’s a lot of mess but it’s cosy and lived in.
Recently, we’ve been watching as a family. We’ve been watching “Community” because we always try and watch something that we can all watch together. We went through “New Girl” at the beginning of the lockdown. We watch comedies together and I loved “Normal People.” I was totally obsessed with that but we had ’til the kids had gone to bed to watch that one and there’s “Queen’s Gambit” which I really want to see.
What is your TV guilty pleasures?
I do love “Bake Off” and I adore something called “Selling Sunset” recently. I saw one episode of “Selling Sunset” and thought that’s something I could probably get lost in.
What is your first memory of TV?
So there’s a little girl with a chalkboard. I remember being home from school because I was unwell and we had a black and white telly. She was on it an awful lot and then “Farming Diary” came on. I think there was only “Pebble Men” at 1:00 and “Farming Diary” and that was it until I came home from school and then really there was almost no telly on and it was only two or three channels. My dad would fall asleep in front of the telly and yes then the National Anthem. And then he realized he should go to bed. Amazing.
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In a NZ exclusive Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman talk to Karl Puschmann about their powerful film THE FATHER
The New Zealand Herald– The night after watching The Father I woke up panicked. It was still dark and the faint amber glow from my young daughter’s night light in the room across the hall threw uncertain shadows against the wall.
She may have played the Queen, but Olivia Colman thinks it’s “bizarre” that the monarch is still Australia’s head of state.
Herald Sun- She may have played the Queen on The Crown, one of the world’s most popular dramas, but Olivia Colman is just a tiny bit baffled by Australia’s interest in the real-life drama surrounding the real royal family.
“It is a bit bizarre the Queen is still your head of state,” laughs the British actor via Zoom from the London home she shares with her husband, Ed, and three children.
“In Britain, growing up with them always there, you don’t really consider them. It’s like, if you live in Sydney, you probably don’t go to the Opera House.
“I don’t go to all the incredible things in London because they’re there. And it’s the same with the royal family – they were always there so you don’t think about them. I think for people outside of the UK, they’re a much bigger deal. But I could be wrong about that!”
Colman’s stunning performance as Queen Elizabeth II won her huge acclaim (and a Golden Globe), but she says she was more than ready to hand over the reins (or the reign!) to fellow Brit, Imelda Staunton, who takes on the daunting role for the show’s final two seasons.
“I have a short attention span, so playing a role for two years is a long time for me,” Colman says. “And though I was sad to say goodbye to everybody and I really enjoyed it, I was excited to do something different. Playing the Queen, even though she is very strong and stoic and silent and she listens a lot, I wanted to [play a role] where I have a bit of a rant and be less controlled.”
Colman’s new film The Father, based on the award-winning French play, is not exactly a rant-fest but a poignant and deeply emotional ride about a woman dealing with her father’s (Anthony Hopkins) rapidly advancing dementia.
It’s a brutal, heartbreaking film about a topic many of us have either dealt with – or eventually will deal with – the declining health of ageing parents.
“My folks are still around and still together. They’re the late-70s now and there’s no sign of dementia, so hopefully, they’ve escaped it,” Colman says. “Watching that happen to your parents must be tough. I just can’t imagine watching someone that you love and admire go through that.”
Colman says when she found out she was going to star opposite fellow Oscar-winner, Hopkins, in the film she swore – a lot.
“It was like, ‘f—,” Colman laughs. “I mean, can you imagine? I’ve known his face my whole life and everything he’s done – he’s a bit of an acting God to me – and you think to yourself, you’re going to do a job with him. And I was like, ‘f— off, shut up, no way!’. And then he’s so much nicer, he’s so kind, he’s so generous, he’s so f–ing brilliant at his job. Every morning I’d say to my husband, ‘Ha, I’m going to work with Tony Hopkins!’ ”
Despite the story’s heavy emotional content, Colman says she and Hopkins would crack each other up between scenes. “I know it’s a really hard watch, but we had such a joyful time together; I know that sounds weird, but Tony tells hilarious stories and does amazing impressions. We had a lovely time, and that’s our approach to work anyway – neither of us is very method.
“Tony would lean over and whisper to me, ‘Aren’t we lucky?’ and I’d say, ‘YES!’ ” The role, which has already won her an AACTA (Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards – “I was so thrilled and surprised – I’ve never been to Australia!”), has also landed Colman her second Academy Award nomination. (She won the Best Actress Oscar in 2019 for playing another queen – the wildly eccentric Queen Anne in The Favourite.)
Indeed, in recent years, the 47-year-old’s career has skyrocketed, making her one of Hollywood’s most in-demand actors. And her deserved success is not just for her sheer talent but her incredible versatility; she easily navigates between drama (The Crown, Broadchurch, The Night Manager) and comedy (see her breakout performance in the UK classic, Peep Show, while her biting turn as Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s hideous stepmother in Fleabag literally stole the show).
THE REAL DEAL
The utterly charming Colman is also that rare type of Hollywood star – resolutely down to earth, and self-deprecating. “People get too full of themselves,” she has said.
She’s also honest about her insecurities around the constant scrutiny that comes with being in the public eye.
“I’ve got a ring light here which is meant to be more flattering,” she says pointing to a bright light above her computer screen.
“Because the moment there’s a photo from this angle,” she says, pointing up from under her chin, “everyone comments on it and you think, f— off, I wasn’t born a supermodel and I’ve had three children and my body is stretched and bits have drooped and it’s not fair everyone is expected to conform. Because I feel embarrassed if I’m meant to be dressed up for a do, or feel like people are thinking, who does she think she is – you can’t polish a turd. Anyway, I’m nice and my husband loves me.”
Colman says she navigates media scrutiny by “not really going out”. (The pandemic, she says, has helped with that.)
“But I know I’m not alone. I know many women feel negative things about themselves, and I have got marginally better. I also protect myself by not putting myself in that position as much as possible. I can see my friends whose bodies have changed, or their faces have changed over the years, and I think they’re so f—ing beautiful because they’re amazing people. I can see that just by looking at them and I want to get to that in my own head, but I’m not there yet.”
With that Colman is keen to get back to a lockdown-induced Friends marathon with her son.
“We’re always watching Friends – my younger boy loves it. I love cuddling up with him and watching it because I’m sort of reliving my 20s.”
That’s the good thing about pandemic-era home Zoom interviews – you can pop off to the next room to watch Friends with your kid.
“You can also wear slippers,” Colman continues with another huge laugh, pulling one of her feet up to the camera to reveal some very fancy silver footwear.
“The one thing about doing interviews during the pandemic is that I can wear my slippers. So … silver linings.”
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