A Right Royal Adventure

18th October 2019

Violet Wilder chats with Oscar-winner and all-round national treasure Olivia Colman, ahead of the actor’s latest venture ‘The Crown’, which airs on Netflix next month…

From comedy to drama, and from stage to tv to big screen, Olivia Colman has nailed every single role of her eclectic career with aplomb.

She began at the much-renowned Footlights Dramatic Club at Cambridge University, where she shared the stage with the likes of David Mitchell, Richard Ayoade and Peter Serafinowicz: the latest in a long line of undergraduates to have trodden the boards there. The route to a wider audience – almost always through the BBC – took Colman on the same path as older dramatists and comedians Hugh Laurie, Tony Slattery and Sue Perkins, and yet, despite excelling in Rev, Broadchurch, The Night Manager and The Favourite, the 45-year-old actress has arguably spent the last few years coming full circle.

Not only did she reunite herself with the simple pleasures of playing live to an audience, during a wildly successful National Theatre run as Jenny in Mosquitoes, but away from the dazzling sparks of Tinseltown’s arrogance, Colman has found herself reconnecting with the simple, organic, rustic – perhaps even socialist – pleasures you would generally associate with the student population.

“I think we all move through various stages in our lives and the worst thing you can ever do is stay in the same space continually,” she says. “I’m one of those curious characters who takes those sorts of things to extremes – I yearn for the next project, the next setting… yet when I get there I’m in it all of a few minutes before plotting another step elsewhere.”

That sort of mentality explains perfectly how London-based Colman, who is married to actor Ed Sinclair and has three children (two teenage sons and a much younger daughter), has progressed from sitcom to crime drama to film premiere. Along the way: three BAFTAs, countless other nominations and awards, and the securing of her place as a true doyenne of British culture.

There is a problem, though. “I’m not good at taking praise,” she admits. “It feels very awkward to me and every time someone fawns over my work I can’t help but think there are millions of people all across the country doing jobs that are infinitely more important than mine.

She’s trying hard to overcome this disabling modesty. “I know at some point I’ll need to get over that because it’s the job of an actor to take praise, run with it and move forward – it’s actually good for you to do that because, after all, there’s enough criticism floating about too. I just think it will take me a bit longer to get there!”

And on the subject of criticism, she recently tackled issues of body image in a brutally honest interview with US Vogue. Admitting to having panic attacks on the red carpet, she also sounded off about criticism of her figure, stating brazenly, “If someone doesn’t like me because of the size of my bum, they can [expletive]…” Well yes, Olivia, quite.

It is ultimately that brand of bullish honesty that has endeared Colman to a nation of admirers of many different types. Her ability to connect with an audience circumnavigates gender, social status and age – she takes a position that makes her as relevant to a young audience (in Peep Show, say) as she is to a different demographic who prefer to see her resplendent and regal – in, for instance, her forthcoming and highly-anticipated portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown, taking on the role recently vacated by the much-acclaimed Claire Foy.

Whatever projects she undertakes, Colman clearly doesn’t take the industry as seriously as some… most, in fact. When appearing in Noël Coward’s Hay Fever play in 2012 she had constant fits of giggles. “I felt really bad about it because it’s a brilliant production and the setting was so perfect. I think in that instance it relaxes everyone, even in a comic play. And yet, you do feel there is some part of the mystery that evaporates when you can’t make it through a line without sniggering.”

In summer 2019, Colman was back on the big screen in Them That Follow, a slow-moving film set in an isolated community of serpent-handlers. Mostly though, she is following the industry trend: the resurgence of tv drama. Via a mini-series of Les Misérables, across BBC comedy Fleabag, and on to the The Crown – which arrives on 17 November – her pursuit of creative endeavour is as premium-fuelled now as any time in the past.

“Working makes me happy and I do struggle to say no,” she admits. “I’ve an inherent fear of being pigeon-holed, and I think as a result of that I reach out in as many different ways as I can.”

That people still want to watch her, she adds, is “the biggest thrill and, of course, the greatest mystery…”

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