Olivia Colman interview
Run is on Mon 15th – Thurs 18th July at 10pm, Channel 4
The following feature is available free for reproduction in full or in part.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock – and a rock with very, very poor TV reception and no Broadband – for the last few years, you’ll be well acquainted with Olivia Colman. One of the finest actors to emerge in years, she is equally adept playing knockabout comedy as heart-rending tragedy. Indeed, she won BAFTAs for both drama and comedy at this year’s awards, as well as starring in the drama hit of the year so far, Broadchurch.
Today, Colman is talking about her latest role, in Channel 4’s brilliant new urban drama Run, a series looking at four seemingly unconnected people facing life-changing decisions. Here she explains more about the project, talks about THAT evening at the BAFTAs, and reveals how Broadchurch has changed everything.
You get offered a lot of roles – what was it that made you say yes to this one?
I loved the role as soon as it came through. It’s unusually written, but it’s a story that’s clearly straight from the heart. It’s written by these two fantastic young guys, and the role, Carol is a great part to play. You don’t often get scripts this good through the post, they are few and far between.
Can you describe Carol?
I like Carol, she’s ballsy, a tough old bird. She hasn’t had it easy and she’s trying to do her best against all the odds. She’s a really strong woman who loves her children, but maybe in what some people would term an unpalatable way – they’re not what you’d call a classic rosy family by any means. But she’s doing what she has to do. She’s not an angel, but a lesser being might go under, and I like her for that. I never like playing doormats, and she’s certainly not that. She really feels for other people and although her moral judgment is slightly clouded, she does have it.
As you say, the writers are two young men – it’s quite an achievement for them to write a role like Carol with such skill, isn’t it?
Most of the parts I’ve played have been written by men, just because there seem to be more men writing. Men can write brilliantly for women. But they often don’t. Carol is based on women in their lives, strong women that they’ve known – mums, aunties and so on – and those women had a big influence on them and meant a lot to them. All of the characters in the whole series are people that they know, who they’ve seen and lived next to, so that’s why I think it’s so beautiful. It’s from the heart, and from something that they’ve known. I couldn’t believe how young the writers were when I first read the script; it’s so exciting to think about where else they’re going to go.
Looking at your body of work, you seem to either star in comedy or quite bleak dramas. Do you quite like the contrast between the two?
Yes, I do, suppose. I don’t know if it’s on purpose, or just by accident, but the difference is so vast. They’re more interesting to play, I suppose, those two ends of the spectrum. Comedy is obviously brilliant fun to do, and I feel very fortunate to be allowed to do the drama, because for a long time, people can’t see you as anything other than the thing they’ve seen you in before. So it’s lovely to do something you can really get your teeth into.
Is it quite draining, filming something like Run?
No. I’m not method, and you know it’s pretend. So you do it in the moment, and it’s really cathartic when you get to do it, and then you finish, and it’s not you, and you get to go and have a beer with everybody and have a nice time.
So you were able to enjoy the filming, in spite of the tough demands?
Yeah, definitely. Because of the constraints on time and budget, TV work tends to be quite quick and I like that. In the films I’ve done, I’ve found it quite hard to sustain interest for six hours, so I much prefer this. I love the way Charles [Charles Martin, the director] works. He uses the people around him, it’s really immediate, he understands how actors like to work and doesn’t rehearse everything to death. So by the time you come to do it you’re not bored with it and it’s natural, I like the way he does that. It makes your job so much easier, and it’s so much more enjoyable. He banishes ‘marks’ which is lovely. You just do what feels real and you get a better product that way. There’s a lot to cover every day but I’ve really genuinely enjoyed it.
You’ve filmed in some of London’s livelier communities. How’s that been?
Where we’ve been filming – Brixton, Peckham – contrary to the assumption some people might have about those places, I have to say they’ve been the friendliest. We’ve been on the street filming with real people. You go to other parts of London and people are really put out that you’re on the pavement. I’ve loved it. If you saw the characters you’d presume things about them and almost invariably you’d be wrong. I like that. They look hard because they’ve come from a hard place, but they’re good people.
The guys who played your sons are brothers in real life, aren’t they?
Yeah, JJ and Billy are brothers. And that tattoo on Billy’s arm that says ‘Mum’ is a real tattoo. So that was perfect. Billy had actually been in an episode of Rev – I don’t know if he had a speaking role, but he was the one that Tom accosted when he’d stolen a bag – except he hadn’t really. I think that was him. He was certainly playing a ‘toerag’ in one of them. They’re fantastic in it. And all the way through, in Carol’s eyes, Billy was being led astray, and then when I finally saw the fight scene, you see Billy push his brother aside and absolutely go quite psychotic. The way it was done, it was so nice not to have seen that til afterwards. And I thought “Oh my God, I was protecting the wrong one all this time.”
You also star opposite Neil Maskell. He’s something of the man of the moment just now, isn’t he?
Quite right, he’s absolutely brilliant. It was an honour to work with him. It just makes your job very easy when you’re playing against people like that. His face in repose is such a sweet, gentle, twinkly face. It’s amazing to watch – he just goes into character and suddenly becomes quite chilling. It’s similar working with Eddie Marsan as well – that little, sweet pixie face can suddenly become something terrifying.
Along with Neil, you seem to be the busiest actor in the country right now. Do you work ridiculously hard?
No, I think part of that is an illusion because schedulers put everything on at the same time. I don’t think I’ve worked any more than I’ve always worked. You get big chunks of weeks when you’re not doing anything. When I started out, I didn’t have a job for a year, and luckily for me the gaps have got smaller between jobs, but I think that’s just because I’ve now done jobs that more people have seen. But I still have lots of time at home, and from that point of view it’s perfect for family life. The longest I’ve ever been away was for Broadchurch. I’ve never done a really long job away from the family. Normally it’s six weeks tops, and I get to go home at weekends.
You recently won BAFTA awards for both comedy and drama. That must have been an incredible experience.
Yeah, that was a bit bonkers. Every now and again I’ll ask myself “I wonder if that really happened or not.” I can’t really put that into words. I still haven’t really registered that it happened. It was all a bit overwhelming, so straight after dinner I asked my husband “Can we go home? I want to put my socks on.” So we snuck off.
That’s so not showbiz of you. You should have been falling out of a limo at 4am.
Once upon a time I would have been. And my mates know I’m the last one to leave a party. But stuff like that is just a bit too much, a bit too overwhelming.
Where are the BAFTAs sitting?
If I was really cool, they’d be in the downstairs loo, but I’m not that cool, so they’re in the sitting room where everyone can see them.
You mentioned Broadchurch, which was a massive drama juggernaut this year. Did you have any idea, when you were making it, that it was going to turn into such a behemoth?
No! Lots of times I’ll read a script and think “This is great, I’m going to enjoy doing this,” and you hope people like it. But I’ve never read a script and thought “This is great, it’s going to go nuts.” I don’t know if you can tell or not. But it did go completely bonkers. A lot of people watched it. It was extraordinary.
Do you get recognised a lot more since Broadchurch?
Yes. Previously I’d normally get somebody every day going “I like Peep Show” or something. And now that happens quite a lot more, to the extent that I get quite embarrassed. I only do journeys that I really have to, because I don’t know what to do. I’ve never had a bad experience, it’s just funny. Someone knows your face, but you don’t know theirs. It’s a bit peculiar, and I’m sure I’ll get better at it. But if I need to get a pint of milk, I’ll wait until I really need to go. Where I live, actually, everybody knows me, so that’s all fine, but when you’re away from home, it’s slightly daunting, and I’m a bit of a chicken.
Lots of people will first have seen you in Peep Show. Do you see that as your breakthrough role?
I don’t know if there was one breakthrough. I’ve been working a long time, it was a sort of slow burn. I’m really grateful that it’s been like that. Peep Show is a show that people took to their hearts, but even then it had relatively small viewing figures. So the word breakthrough sounds a bit “Ta-Daa!” and it wasn’t like that. But it’s a show we’re all incredibly proud of. I think it’s great, I’ve always loved it. I’m so grateful I was in it, and working with some of my favourite people in the world.
What roles have meant the most to you over the years?
Tyrannosaur, easy-peasy. Until I die, I can’t imagine any role being more important to me than that one. And actually, I have to say Run was one that I absolutely loved doing as well. It’s about the environment that you’re working in as well. Lovely Charles Martin, the director of Run, really understands actors and lets them do their job. It felt like a really lovely, collaborative project, telling a good story with a good script. Tyrannosaur was like that too. And the other role I really loved was in The Accused.
An indication of how crazy your life has become is that you’re among the favourites to be the new Doctor Who. What’s it like to read stuff like that about yourself?
It’s all on Twitter, isn’t it. I don’t have Twitter. It is all on Twitter, isn’t it?
No, it’s been in the papers as well.
Oh, has it? I didn’t know that. MY brother sent me a text saying “Congratulations, they’ve released odds on you being the new Doctor Who.” Which we thought was very funny. No-one’s ever asked me about it. I wouldn’t put any money on it. I assume they would have to ask me for it to be true.
Credit info: Run is on Mon 15th – Thurs 18th July at 10pm, Channel 4