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People In Film | Olivia Colman

Olivia Colman: Queen of All She Surveys

A highly experienced British comic actress, who has recently shown she can play dramatic roles with the very best of them, Olivia Colman was not daunted by the task of playing Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in Roger Michell's HYDE PARK ON HUDSON. While Colman's countrywoman Helena Bonham-Carter had been Oscar-nominated for playing the same part the year before in The King's Speech, she was anything but flustered. “Our performances are going to be so very different that it would be pointless to compare the two,” she said when quizzed on the subject by The Telegraph. Colman’s main focus was not to imitate the Queen Mum. Indeed she quipped to Indiewire, “There was very little recording of her voice ...so thankfully I could get away with murder a bit.” Her focus was making clear the very human dimension of the Queen on this trip to Hyde Park. Colman highlights how tough things were: “Elizabeth was dealing with cruel remarks comparing her unfavorably to Wallis Simpson; she had lost weight for the trip. All eyes were on them.” Colman, on the other hand, had a great time making HYDE PARK ON HUDSON. Unlike the Queen, Colman stayed in Britain, since despite the film being set in New York State, production took place in Blighty. For Colman, it was “a lovely experience.”  A big part of that was being in a film with Bill Murray (who plays FDR). “He was absolutely lovely, a force of nature,” Colman told the British paper The Telegraph. “He left me a voice message and I’ve still got it! I’ll never erase it. He’s saying, 'Hey Olivia, we’re coming over to the Groucho [Club] tonight, don’t know if you’re around.' I wasn’t, more’s the pity. I could have got pissed with Bill Murray.” Colman's enjoyment of the creative process on HYDE PARK ON HUDSON has translated into audiences truly enjoying her performance in the film, with Colman and her co-star Samuel West (who plays her onscreen husband, King George VI) being widely lauded. The Toronto Film Scene said, “Both West and Coleman are ...a blast to watch as the fish-out-of-water King George and Queen Elizabeth attempting to keep their good humour in the face of a house full of boorish Americans.”

Olivia Colman: Born to Act

Olivia Colman jokes that it was a blessing for the English education system that she did not become a teacher. Born in the mid-1970s in sleepy Norfolk (“a beautiful place, and a lovely community, heavy on the eccentrics,” she recalls), Colman was studying to become a schoolmarm at Cambridge University when the acting bug caught up with her. It was there, in the early 1990s, that she met longtime collaborators David Mitchell and Robert Webb and got involved in Cambridge's legendary Footlights student comedy troupe. Looking back at her career in acting, Colman says that she really took the only option open to her. “I was shit at everything else,” she told Metro. “I’d be screwed if work dried up. I was Jean Brodie in The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie when I was 16. It was my first school play and I knew I wanted to try to make a living from acting from then. I really liked the clapping at the end and pretending to be someone else.” Work, however, has never come close to drying up; since finishing her training at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, the very down-to-earth Colman has been working almost incessantly. Though Jean Brodie is hardly a laugh riot, Colman discovered that she was a natural comic actress possessing, as The Guardian’s Sarah Dempster wrote, a classic British comic sensibility: “There is something of the Ealing schoolmarm about Colman. Dimpled and jolly, you can imagine her raising an eyebrow at Alastair Sim following a misunderstanding over a hockey stick.”

Olivia Colman: Queen of British Comedy

Olivia Colman plays a regal figure in HYDE PARK ON HUDSON, the sweet-natured Queen Mother, and she has a similarly understated but important role within U.K. comedy, thanks in large part due to her collaboration with those stalwarts of the Britcom scene, David Mitchell and Robert Webb. "They're two of the loveliest people I know and they always were,” she says of her old Cambridge chums. “They haven't changed. We were just a bunch of 20-year-old idiots. Slightly bumbly. We just got on." Their easy relationship has resulted in the trio having worked together now for almost two decades, with their most famous collaboration being Peep Show, Mitchell and Webb's cult sitcom in which Colman plays the sweet but formidable Sophie. The series started in 2003 and ran for seven seasons, and Colman has also teamed with the pair on the shows Bruiser, The Mitchell and Webb Situation and That Mitchell and Webb Look. In addition, she also shone in the spoof science show Look Around You (co-created by another Cambridge pal, Peter Serafinowicz), the hilariously surreal hospital-based comedy Green Wing, the religious sitcom Rev (opposite HANNA villain Tom Hollander), and the Olympic Games-related satire Twenty Twelve, in which she played the lovelorn secretary of Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville. Being such an active and in-demand player within British comedy has meant that the sweet and unassuming Colman looks upon her work as simply having fun with her friends, and she has particular fondness for her past experiences with Mitchell and Webb. “It was a lovely way to spend your time, mucking about with all these funny people,” she told The Telegraph. “And we all got on terribly well. I owe Rob and David so much — they gave me my first job. I might not be doing this at all if it wasn’t for them. And they’re lovely friends.”

Olivia-Colman: Delving into Drama

While Olivia Colman's first forays into film were in a comic vein –– notably her appearances in the Brit romantic comedy Confetti (also featuring old pal Robert Webb) and Edgar Wright's police romp HOT FUZZ –– film has been the medium in which she has shown her serious side. The man who helped her transition was actor Paddy Considine, who cast Colman in the lead role of battered wife Hannah in the highly acclaimed indie hit Tyrannosaur, which won Colman an acting award at Sundance and several Best Actress prizes, including at the British Independent Film Awards. Though comedy became her staple in the first part of her acting career, she told Hitfix, “drama is where my heart's always been, and it took Paddy to see it. And I don't know why he did, because no one else had –– it was always other actors who got the big, ballsy parts. I'm so thrilled he took a chance on me." Building on that considerable success, Colman then played Carol Thatcher, daughter of legendary British prime minister Maggie Thatcher, in The Iron Lady, in which Meryl Streep took the title role of Thatcher. Recalling to The Glasgow Herald working with Streep, Colman said, "I didn't know what to do with myself. She looked like Margaret Thatcher, which is pretty intimidating and scary anyway. And I knew it was Meryl Streep under it, which is also pretty intimidating." However, she managed to overcome her nerves sufficiently to not only give a great performance, but make a fan of Streep. Indeed Streep's admiration for Colman was so great that when she accepted her Best Actress award for The Iron Lady at the BAFTAs, she gave special mention to her on-screen daughter, calling Colman “divinely gifted.” Whether she's playing real-life figures like Carol Thatcher and the Queen Mother in dramas, or just messing around with her friends in home-grown comedies, Colman keeps her feet on the ground and doesn't lose sight of the fundamentals. “You can over-think things,” she says. “If the script’s good, everything you need is in there. I just try and feel it, and do it honestly.”

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