Olivia Colman On ‘The Night Manager,’ BAFTA, and the Bonkers

It was not by any means an obvious distinction to make, but, as I was connected to Olivia Colman on the telephone, the first thing I noticed was that her voice sounded exactly as it does in the films and TV in which I have admirably watched her. We can sound different on the telephone like we can look different in the mirror or in photographs. Olivia has a chirpy, honest way about her. She seemed as pleased to speak to me (someone she has not previously met) as much as I was to converse with her.

Before I could interrogate Olivia Colman about her flourishing career, including the recent AMC limited series The Night Manager, she was politely inquisitive about whether I did these interviews for a living and whether or not I was in America or the UK. There was definitely a pleased pang in her voice when she first realized I was a fellow Brit.

At least, that what I think…

What are you favorite films and TV shows from the last twelve months? Anything you loved or are hooked on? 

Recently? Filming again now, Broadchurch. The last few weeks have been… we call them lates. We start at two in the afternoon and finish two in the morning. My tele-watching has gone down the shitter. But about to go back into normal hours. I’d quite like to watch Billions. It’s on Sky, but we don’t have that channel at home. But away where I am staying in Bristol we’ve got a Sky box, so quite exited about that. And I saw Deadpool last night with my husband.

Yeah, funny. 

Which is very funny. And really shockingly violent. I didn’t imagine them to be chatting and cracking jokes while beheading people. [Both Laugh] I really enjoyed that. Mainly it has been This Morning, that’s the only time I am awake. [Both Laugh]

So, what triggered that ambition to be an actress, and how old were you? What was it were you thought “Oh, that’s it, that’s what I want to do?” 

I was sixteen, and it was the first time I had ever done a play at school. After the first night we did Jean Brodie. I was Jean Brodie. The first night with everyone clapping, I had a proper light bulb moment – I was like “Oh you are kidding. If I can get money for doing this, that would be amazing.” It was something I could do, and I loved it. For a long time I was no sure I could be an actor because I didn’t know anyone that was, and my parents weren’t. I didn’t know you could get into it if you didn’t have that sort of background. It took a long time to finally pluck up the courage to say out loud: “I want to be an actor.”

Was there a Plan B? 

I just thought I might be a nurse. My mum was a nurse, and I would have loved it – but wouldn’t have loved it as I do my job at the moment. So it would have been nursing if I hadn’t discovered acting, I would have gone down that route.

Before we get onto the TV, and a little bit of film stuff, I know you have done quite a bit of charity work – awareness on Alzheimer’s, women in Afghanistan, depression, violence, domestic violence. Do these transcend into your acting work, or inspire it? Does it become useful for any particular roles? 

Some of those are just you get asked to go to them. So it might look like I have done lots of stuff, but I may have only done one thing for a particular charity. It is the domestic violence that became an obsession of mine after filming Tyrannosaur. Now working with a charity called Tender, who like to solve things before things get out of hand, teaching children about equality and kind relationships – which I think every child should have access to these workshops. So that’s part of my mission, I think actors get asked to do things as it is the nature of our society. Sadly people don’t really listen if an expert say something, but they do if someone they have seen on the tele say something. I know an awful lot less than anybody else, but if people are wiling to listen then I am very happy to do it. I don’t know if it does tie in with my work, sometimes it does, for example the research I did for Tyrannosaur. I think anybody has particular causes they feel passionate about, they want to help, and actors just get to say it out loud more often.

Photo Credit: Des Willie /The Ink Factory/AMC
Photo Credit: Des Willie /The Ink Factory/AMC

Onto TV then, everyone ought to know you from Peep Show, especially if you are in the UK. I remember you in another great TV comedy, and I think I prefer it, Green Wing

Do you?

Yeah. It kind of stuck with me more. It’s quite a bonkers show. Does that kind of comedy reflect any facets off your own personality? 

[Laughs] Well, I think, and this sounds really wanky, but I think anything you play there are bits of you in it. You know, all of us have the serious us and the funny us, us at home. There s always many faces to everybody so I suppose when I am dicking around that’s me. I just hope I am a little bit more organized than Harriet Schulenburg [her character from Green Wing]. [Both Laugh] I’m marginally there I think.

Yeah. But even in Broadchurch, that character is quite funny sometimes even though the show is very, very serious. So I wondered if that was a bit of you. 

Well, that’s all scripted, but the writer has got to know us, he says once he gets to know us a little bit he is still writing as the series is being filmed. So maybe that would be nice, with some of the funny bits. It’s all written by Chris [Chibnall], I can’t take any credit for that.

You have a few big films on your CV too. Quite diverse choices, like Tyrannosaur we mentioned. You did The Lobster as well. Which was bonkers. 

Yeah, bonkers that one. I feel very lucky, so grateful to be working. So many much better actors are not working, so always grateful and appreciative. The best thing is I find I am now allowed to do a mixture of things, for a long time you get stuck a pigeon hole – “Oh she is funny, so cant imagine her doing anything else.” [That’s] frustrating for an actor. The whole point is you are meant to be doing all different things, although time and time again women I can think of off hand. They have done comedy sometimes, and then everyone’s surprized when they do drama. I am very grateful I am allowed to do both.

Are these the kind of acting challenges you look for? Even in Locke, the Tom Hardy film, you were the voice [of the woman giving birth]. Are you looking for that kind of thing?

Yeah, in an ideal world you know I would love to play a baddy in my next job and it would just appear, but it doesn’t work like that. I do enjoy the stuff that comes through that is a bit different. I am much more excited by it. I suppose as I want to do different things, often when something comes out you may get a run of scripts sent to you that are in a similar vein, that are perhaps not as interesting. And I don’t want to sound very spoiled, but I suppose in the last few years I have had a bit more of a choice. That’s what I would like to do if possible to pick something different each time.

Yeah, that’s good. So I will touch on more TV now. And Broadchurch. Which I thought was excellent. Particularly the first season. 

Yes, the first season was my favorite as well.

I mean, there is loads and loads of drama now, in England, so for something to stand out – and for me that stood out. 

Isn’t that great, that there is so much drama on. I think all the channels have just gone “Oh there’s a great market for it.” They are giving us what we want, which is great. Very lucky.

Not enough time to watch them all. We want more drama, and now we have it I am whinging as I don’t have time to watch it all [Both Laugh] 


So congratulations on the BAFTA, well deserved, absolutely well deserved.

Thank you very much.

You were great right the way through it, but at the end when you find out “who,” that scene was like watching real life, honestly. I’m sure I am not the first to say that. 

Aw, thank you so much. I was very lucky. It was a brilliant part, beautifully written. And there is something about that process too, being done chronologically, as we don’t have all the scripts when we start. So it’s much easier to do your job well when, doing it as you go, feels more real.

[Broadchurch is] one of my favorite shows of the last five years. I wrote about it on AwardsDaily TV, it was a pleasure. 

Aw thank you very much. I will tell Chris. He will love that.

Yeah, usually when there is a twist in a show, it’s for the audience and to see it is a shock. But we have Hardy [David Tenant] find out, and then we have to wait for you to find out, so the twist has gone, and then it is your reaction that sort of steals the twist – tramples all over it. I had no idea.  

They were so clever to do that. The twist came in episode seven didn’t it, which I thought was brave as I always assumed the twist would come right at the very end. It was clever as you could look at so many other aspects of the fall out from it.

Yeah, great, great show. 

Aw great, thank you.

I had to mention Broadchurch, was trying to get my wife to watch it, but she doesn’t like to watch shows about children going missing and things like that. 

I don’t blame her I do understand. The first episode was just the worst thing, if you are a parent, or if you are not a parent, it is hard to get around.

Yeah, wondering where they are. 

Yeah,  worst nightmare.

Photo Credit: Des Willie/AMC
Photo Credit: Des Willie/AMC

So I have watched The Night Manager. And you were excellent in that as well. 

Thank you very much, but you have to say that as you are on the phone to me.

[Laughs] No, no, honestly, you were really, really good. I mean, it’s a great cast, and the director [Susanne Bier] is amazing. So how did you get that role? Where you looking for another drama? Did it land on your lap? 

No, that was not through me looking. It was a script that came through, and I heard it had Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie already attached to it so I was “Oh wow, how exciting.” So I read it, think I was sent the first episode, by which time I think they had just decided they would make [Angela] Burr a woman. So a lot of what I read was Burr as a man, but I could completely see why they could make him a her. And I loved it and was really impressed with the decision. I mean the book was written twenty years ago. It was quite right to update it. That was a great way to give it an update. So I went to meet the director Susanne Bier, who I loved. She is really dry and bright and so wise. She looks at you and you crumble ever so slightly. She has those piercing eyes and wants to see what’s going on inside your head. She’s great. I had to break the news to them on the meeting that I had just found out I was pregnant, and I had this spiel ready because, you know, Frances McDormand in Fargo… It would not have been the same if she hadn’t been pregnant. Susanne said [impersonating Bier perfectly] “Yeah, okay, I’ll talk to them. Leave it with me. I will see what they say.”

That’s a really good impression. [Both laugh] 

To their credit they all went “Yeah, cool, we can do that” because you know spies are people too. They get pregnant. I think I can relate much more closely what a modern spy is than what we have got used to seeing, like glamorous, cocktail-drinking, jet-setting, which is a bit obvious. A good-hearted, normal person seems to be a proper reflection of a modern spy I think.

Yeah, not just because Burr is a woman, and pregnant, she was not vulnerable in any way, quite panicky about what Jonathan [Hiddleston] was doing. I don’t know how accurate that was. I have never been a spy. 

Me either.

But it seemed an honest portrayal. 

It’s right. People go into that to look after fellow people, so male or female. It is a better view of modern spies.

And what a cast that is. 

What a honor it was to work them. Great.

Did you read John Le Carre’s book? 

I didn’t, no. There’s obviously quite a lot that’s changed, and for me I just wanted to be loyal to what I was given in the script. Otherwise I would be like “Oh, I wish I could do that bit, I like that bit.” It was much easier to work with what I was given. I should go back to the book now it is done. Haven’t yet, but I will do that.

It was a clever thing to do, changing the character from a man, as it was written such a long time ago. And I didn’t know that until I spoke to the director last week, and I don’t think you would know that watching it would you. 

No, I think it completely fits, doesn’t it?

Yeah, it makes sense that the character is like that. 

Yes. And almost nothing was changed about what was said. We are living in a world where we are still fighting for certain equality, even in our country, men and women say the same things, so it was only right.

Do you pay much attention to awards buzz? Not sure about the Emmys and The Night Manager. But it should be there. 

There have been years were I have been nominated and never got it, but to be encouraged by your peers is the greatest accolade. I feel blessed and lucky, if it happens then lovely. And it’s great, but there’s no point getting excited about it. Sometimes it does not happen. I say that but when I got my first BAFTA I was always saying “It doesn’t matter.” Then it happens and I was like “It really fucking matters!” A great day. [Both Laugh]

So you are doing Broadchurch, is there anything else I can get excited about that you are going to be in? If you are allowed to tell me. 

Oh, well it is a long way off, but Yorgos Lanthimos, who did The Lobster, is doing a film called The Favorite next summer. A film about Queen Anne’s court, and I am Queen Anne. He has cast me before we get there, but so far I am very excited about that.

Oh yeah, great director. 

You’ll like that one.

I will do, yeah. My wife is Greek. 

Oh is she!??

The Lobster was her favorite film of last year. 

So did she see Dogtooth then?

Yeah, we saw that, we liked it. 

That’s another bonkers one isn’t it.

Yeah. There is no film like that. 

The images in it can only be from that film. He is so original.

He is. Well, you and him working together again is definitely something to look forward to. Thanks for talking to me. I have really enjoyed your work over the past years, it has been terrific. 

Thank you very much, that is so lovely.

Just keep it up is all I ask. 

I will try, if they’ll have me. [Both Laugh]

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