If you have even a smidgen of taste in comedy then you’ll already be familiar with Olivia Colman, who played Mark’s on-off (mostly off) girlfriend in Peep Show, PC Doris Thatcher in Hot Fuzz and harassed mum-of-many Harriet Schulenberg in Green Wing. Lately, however, Colman’s career has begun to move into more serious drama with films such as Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur and the Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady.
Tyrannosaur is a drama about domestic abuse in which Colman plays a Christian charity worker who seeks escape from her violent husband James (Eddie Marsan) through a friendship with alcoholic widower James (Peter Mullan). The film has already stormed its way through Sundance, picking up the Directing Award and Special Jury Prize, and rumours are abound that it could do equally well at this year’s BAFTAs.
However, I went into this interview straight after watching Studio Ghibli’s latest animated adventure Arrietty, based on the timeless children’s novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton. Colman provided the UK voiceover for the character of Homily, the hand-wringing, fretful mother of the title character who would probably benefit greatly from “borrowing” some Xanax. Despite her fits of anxiety, the character is incredibly endearing and Arrietty is every bit as beautiful and heart-warming as the world has come to expect from a Studio Ghibli film.
Bleeding Cool: What was the dubbing process like for Arrietty? Were you recording alongside the other actors.
Olivia Colman: No, well I certainly didn’t meet any other actors, so I heard what they’d recorded and then I did my bit. I don’t know if anyone else met but it’s funny, I can’t wait to see it so I can see if it works or not. It’s a funny feeling, having a chat but not ever meeting anybody.
BC: Had you read the book before?
OC: Yes, and we’ve got the audiobook in the car that my kids listen to and I remember reading it when I was very little. I remember seeing the film, you know the Jim Broadbent film, years ago when that came out and I loved it.
BC: Had you heard that they’ve also recorded another English-language version, but with American accents for the US audience?
OC: Yes, I’d just learnt that, it’s great! So you get your own accents for your own regions. It’s nice to have a little reminder of the Englishness of it when it’s set in that beautiful Japanese garden.
BC: The next big release for you is Tyrannosaur, directed by Paddy Considine. How did you get involed with the project?
OC: Apparently, Paddy says, we met during Hot Fuzz, and when he turned up for his first rehearsal I was terribly excited that Paddy Considine was about to walk through the door, and I jumped up and grinned at him and opened the door for him, and he says that was the moment when he thought “Oh she’ll do for the film.”
I don’t why know why he did that but I’m very pleased he did. He was thinking at the time for a short and he was looking for someone to play my character. Luckily he stuck with it and I did the feature as well.
BC: It sounds like a very intense story and it covers a lot of sensitive subjects. How did you prepare for the role?
OC: I’m not sure that you can, really. He’s written it so beautifully and the characters are so multi-dimensional that you just have to throw yourself in and go with it. That sounds a bit vague, but it’s so beautifully written that you just have to imagine what it would be like to be that unhappy or that happy … [Laughs]. It’s not great, is it? I would be a rubbish drama teacher.
BC: Did you do a lot of rehearsal beforehand?
OC: Not really, we sat and talked a bit, and you felt very secure and trusted him, and you just walked through where’d you think you might move to. He said, “I don’t want you to fix it, I don’t want you to feel stuck, you don’t have to say any of the lines yet, we’ll wait until everyone’s ready and then you can just go.” So as long as you didn’t let it out of the room in the middle of a speech and hope the camera would follow you … I found it quie scary initially, because I’m used to parameters, but it was a lovely experience.
BC: Tyrannosaur has already done very well at Sundance, are you now looking forward to the BAFTAs?
OC: I don’t know. It’ll be nice to see how the general public take to it and I think they’ll love it. I’m so … if someone says they don’t like it I’m not sure I’m going to be able to cope, because I was so passionate about it. I really hope people love it as much as we do and I don’t suppose it matters about awards. If anyone comes out with, “yeah, it was alright, ” I don’t know what I’ll say. I think it’s going to be a love or a hate thing, a Marmite thing.
BC: Paddy started out as an actor and became quite well known for doing that before he started to make the move into writing and directing. Would you ever make the move behind the camera?
OC: Ooh, no! No, it’s never even crossed my mind, and I think that if, by 37, it hasn’t crossed my mind then there’s a good reason for that. Some people are good at it and some people aren’t and I think I would be in the latter camp. I don’t think I could bear the responsibility.
BC: You’ve got another very interesting film coming out, The Iron Lady. Did you have any scenes with Meryl Streep?
OC: Yes, all my scenes are with Meryl. It was an amazing experience and completely different to Tyrannosaur, because it was a much bigger budget and a lot more, sort of, organised, I suppose, and I lot of waiting for the right lights to be done. So it was a really different way of doing things but interesting and very exciting to be part of it. I have only seen little bits of it in ADR, I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve seen lots of Tyrannosaur, I’ve seen it a few times when we went to Sundance together, but I haven’t seen Iron Lady yet. From what I have seen it looks very exciting and Meryl is, as you’d imagine, amazing!
BC: You’re already very well known for comedy, with TV series like Peep Show, but now it seems you’re doing a lot more serious drama. Was that a move you chose to make or did it just work out that way?
OC: No, it’s just turned out that way, it’s not a conscious decision. I started out just wanting to be an actor and it ended up that I did a lot of comedy first, which was brilliant because you get to laugh all day at work! So yes, I’m loving the fact that I’m getting more stuff to do now, but it’s just the way it’s worked out, really.
BC: What’s next for you?
OC: At the moment I’m just finishing Rev, which is a telly series about a vicar, and I’m just about to start a film with Bill Murray called Hyde Park on Hudson, which is really fun, but luckily it’s all set in England. It’s meant to be America but they’ve found places that look like it here, so I don’t have to go away!
Arrietty is in UK cinemas this Friday, June 29th, with Tyrannosaur to follow in early October and The Iron Lady coming along in January (or December, apparently, in the US).