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“It’s about bloody time, right? I mean, we’ve had Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters…” says the character actress Olivia Colman as we sit down in the penthouse of the Whitby Hotel in New York to record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter‘s ‘Awards Chatter’ podcast and begin discussing what a rarity it is to see a film like her latest, Yorgos Lanthimos‘ The Favourite, which stars three women. The others, in this case, are Oscar winners Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. In the dramedy, Colman plays Anne, the Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1702 through 1707, while Stone and Weisz play cousins in Queen Anne’s court competing for her affection. Colman, who is widely regarded in England — where she was born, raised and made her name — as a “national treasure,” has already won a Golden Globe and been nominated for Critics’ Choice, SAG and BAFTA awards for her performance. She continues, “It’s lovely to work opposite someone who’s good, and they are both brilliant. So we had a lovely time, just three women together. It was really supportive and lovely.”
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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below [starting at 26:45], following a conversation between host Scott Feinberg and Elsie Fisher, the 15-year-old Golden Globe-nominated star of Bo Burnham‘s Eighth Grade, about her breakout performance.
Check out our past episodes featuring the likes of Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lorne Michaels, Barbra Streisand, Justin Timberlake, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Gal Gadot, Warren Beatty, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Colbert, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Margot Robbie, Ryan Reynolds, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, Jimmy Kimmel, Natalie Portman, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Gervais, Judi Dench, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Jerry Seinfeld, Elisabeth Moss, RuPaul, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy Fallon, Kris Jenner, Michael Moore, Emilia Clarke, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Helen Mirren, Tyler Perry, Sally Field, Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, JJ Abrams, Emma Stone, Ryan Murphy, Julia Roberts, Trevor Noah, Dolly Parton, Will Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Sacha Baron Cohen and Carol Burnett.
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Sarah Colman (Olivia is a name she adopted after becoming an actress) was born in Norfolk, England, to a mother who was a nurse and a father who was a surveyor, and discovered her passion at the age of 16. “I wasn’t terribly good at anything,” she says, “until I did a school play, and then I suddenly found the thing that I loved.” Still, becoming an actress seemed an impossible dream, so Colman applied to a teacher training college in Cambridge, where she struggled academically. As she recalls, “I left the college, but stayed in the town and just cycled around. I worked as a cleaner, went to other people’s lectures and did loads of plays. And that’s when I realized I didn’t want to be anything other than an actor.”
For many years, Colman was best known for her work with the British comedy team of David Mitchell and Robert Webb. She first met them at an audition for Footlights, Cambridge University’s drama club, and, she recalls, “We all just got on really well.” Around that time, she also met her future husband, Ed Sinclair — “I saw his right-hand profile and I went, ‘That’s him! I’m gonna marry him!'” Sinclair was pursuing law, but they decided to apply to drama school together. Upon graduating, she had an agent, but few offers, and worked as a temp and a cleaner, but never considered abandoning acting. “I couldn’t do anything else,” she says. (Sinclair, however, eventually walked away from the profession to become a writer.)
Eventually, rather out of the blue, Colman received a invitation to audition at the BBC — it turned out that Mitchell and Webb had suggested her for a sketch show they had been commissioned to make — and she got the part. For years thereafter, Colman worked with them performing sketch comedy on radio and TV — most famously on Peep Show, a POV-shot program, on which she appeared for nine seasons between 2003 and 2015 — before her agent suggested she step away to try to expand into other things. “I loved comedy,” Colman says — she also appeared on episodes of The Office, Black Books and Green Wing — and it was only in recent years that she became closely associated with drama.
The seeds of her work in drama were planted when she first worked with fellow actor Paddy Considine on the 2007 film Hot Fuzz. That collaboration inspired Considine to cast Colman in his directorial debut, the 2007 short Dog Altogether, in which she played a Christian charity shop worker who is violently abused at home. Four years later, he adapted the short into an indie feature, Tyrannosaur, with both he and Colman reprising their parts. “It was one of the first times I really did proper research,” she says, “because I thought playing that character is such a responsibility to anyone, man or woman, who’s gone through that. I didn’t want to not do it justice.” Colman says of the four-week shoot, “It was an amazing experience. The first time I think I really felt like I got my teeth into something.” And the resulting, massively acclaimed performance, along with an appearance opposite Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady that same year, put her on the map internationally for the first time. “Larger parts and scripts were being sent to me,” she says, “which was nice.”
In 2012, Colman played her first queen, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, in the film Hyde Park on Hudson, and also worked on the West End for the first time, in Hay Fever. But it was the next year that her profile exploded. She won two BAFTA awards for acting, for her work on Accused and 2012 — “That was amazing, that night” — and starred on the breakout hit Broadchurch, an eight-part ITV mystery series, for which the leading female role of Ellie had been scribed with her in mind. “It was so beautifully written,” Colman says, “and also she’s great — she’s funny and ballsy and she’s good at her job and she’s a mom. She was fab. I loved her.” (For her performance, the actress would win another BAFTA the following year.) More than nine million tuned in to watch the resolution of the series, and, for the first time, Colman could not go out in public in the U.K. without being recognized. “I didn’t respond very well to it,” she says. “I love my job, and I didn’t really sign up to the other stuff.” She adds, I find it quite stressful.” Even so, Colman insists it was a “no-brainer” to do a second season, even if it was “was much harder” to execute because the public, the press and, sometimes, the paparazzi, was always watching.
Lanthimos first entered Colman’s life with the offer of a part in his 2015 film The Lobster. “I kind of loved it ’cause it was nuts,” she says of the script, which called on her to play the manager of a luxury resort to which single people are forced to go for a month, at the end of which they either have a romantic partner or are turned into an animal. “After Lobster, I wasn’t entirely sure that he was happy with what I had done,” she confesses. “And then to find out about The Favourite!” It was around the time of The Lobster‘s release that Colman first learned Lanthimos wanted her to play the ailing Queen Anne. The schedule for the third and final Broadchurch series made that impossible at the time, but Lanthimos agreed to wait. “I’d have been so upset if someone else had done it,” she says with a chuckle. Meanwhile, as other actresses became attached to and then unattached from The Favourite, Colman, while pregnant, played a spymaster in the limited series The Night Manager, adapted from John le Carre‘s novel, ultimately winning a Golden Globe and garnering an Emmy nomination.
Finally, The Favourite began to come together, and Colman set about preparing. “I had to put on a lot of weight for it, she says, “so I spent a few months eating,” acknowledging, “I ended up putting on about two-and-a-half stone,” or 35 pounds. Lanthimos also sent her and her castmates dance videos and old comedies to reference ahead of their three weeks of rehearsal together and the actual shoot itself. “I loved making the film,” she asserts. “I think the film is beautiful. I think that Yorgos is genuinely an auteur, a proper genius.” And, she adds with candor, “If people don’t like it, I don’t like them!” The Favourite premiered to raves at the Venice Film Festival, had its North American premiere at the Telluride Film Festival and then opened the New York Film Festival. It bowed in limited release on Nov. 23, and has been accumulating momentum ever since, garnering a field-leading 14 Critics’ Choice Awards nominations and 12 BAFTA Awards noms, including mentions for Colman, who also won the best actress (musical or comedy) Golden Globe Award earlier this month. Is she enjoying all of attention? “It’s made me feel very nervous,” she admits.
Through it all, the actress has been shooting the third and fourth seasons of the Netflix drama series The Crown, having been hired to succeed Emmy winner Claire Foy in the role of Queen Elizabeth II as the series moves into the 1960s and ’70s. “I was such an enormous fan of The Crown and watching it and watching Claire — Claire is amazing,” Colman says. “I was doing what everyone else was doing — sort of binge-watching it. So when the call came for that, it was a very uncool, ‘Yes, please!’ straight away, immediately, without really considering that joining something which is so successful is a bit of a pressure, because what if you’re the one that fucks it up? But I know I’m going to be employed for two years, which is a very nice feeling when you’ve got dependents and a mortgage to play and bills to pay.”
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