Olivia Coleman: Queen Anne was a gift of a part to play says The Favourite star
Who better to play back-to-back monarchs than Olivia Colman? With Oscar rumours abuzz, the multi-award-winning actress tells Gemma Dunn about her most recent royal roles, including in critically acclaimed Irish co-production The Favourite
ALL rise for queen Olivia Colman. This year promises to be a majestic one for the English star, who will not only debut as Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix drama The Crown but is hotly tipped for Oscar success for her riotous take on Queen Anne in The Favourite, too.
Having won best actress for the latter at the Venice Film Festival and the British Independent Film Awards (BIFAs), plus landing a Golden Globe nomination, it's certainly a reign on track for glory.
The first period film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite – set against an outrageously aristocratic tableau of 18th century royals – is a dark yet comic story about a little-known period of British history.
Led by three powerhouse women, the court is made up of: Queen Anne (Colman), the last (and historically most ignored) of the Stuart line, who reigned between 1702 and 1714; her life-long intimate friend and political adviser Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), and Sarah's penniless cousin-turned-social-climbing chambermaid Abigail (Emma Stone).
It goes without saying that Colman – who had previously worked with Lanthimos on The Lobster which was, like The Favourite, co-produced by Irish film company Element Pictures – jumped at the chance to lead the big-screen epic.
"I was so excited," cries the 44-year-old, visibly thrilled at the prospect. "You have a gut feeling when you read a script and I just thought, 'Oh my God, I can't wait, I really want to do this'."
"It took quite a long time to get people's timings and things together, waiting to get cracking," she recalls of the movie, which was filmed by Dublin cinematographer Robbie Ryan (American Honey, Fish Tank, I, Daniel Blake). "But what a gift of a part to play."
Given Anne was encumbered by grief, gout and insecurity – the grief triggered by the unfathomable loss of 17 children – there was no question it would require Colman to delve into a dark place.
"She must have had extraordinary strength," she says. "I think she wanted to be seen as a good queen but she just didn't have the confidence to do it. I never saw her as pathetic. I'm quite proud of her."
She explains: "There's so much sadness in her background, she must have been terribly lonely because in her position you never really know if people genuinely like you or if it's only because you're the queen."
The bereavement in particular was hard to comprehend.
"That was the main thing for me that struck a chord," Colman says. "Any behaviour after that, you go girl. Do whatever you need to do."
The Norwich-born thespian, who came to prominence for her supporting role in the Channel 4 comedy series Peep Show, is a total joy to be around.
In 12 short years – her film career only began in earnest in 2007 with Hot Fuzz – the Bristol Old Vic alumnus has climbed the ranks at a spectacular pace.
She has shifted effortlessly between TV, film and stage with equal aplomb to secure her title as one of Britain's and now Hollywood's most sought-after talents.
An unassuming star, it seems even an appointment on The Crown's throne is unlikely to elicit a wobble from the queen of class.
Marking her consecutive run of monarchs, Colman will next take over from Claire Foy in the third series of the hit drama.
Jumping forward to 1964-1970, the three-time Bafta winner (Broadchurch, Twenty Twelve and Accused) will head up the next two series opposite the likes of Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret and Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip.
While you might assume she'd be used to her status by now, mother-of-three Colman says the two royal interpretations couldn't be any more different.
"I find the harder one [to play] is Queen Elizabeth because everyone knows what she looks like, everyone knows what she sounds like, and everyone has an opinion on whether the casting is right," says Colman, who also played the Queen Mother in historical comedy-drama Hyde Park on the Hudson.
"I am loving the job. I am loving trying to play her, but I find her harder," she says. "But playing different people is what I went into this job for – that's the whole point of being an actor – so I am having a lovely time."
Has she found her co-stars and the crew have begun to courtesy on set?
"No," she says with a smile. "Yet they sort of take the p**s when I say, 'Can I get a cup of tea?' They say, 'Of course you can, you're the queen'. I'm not the queen – it's pretend!"
Jokes aside, it's a big responsibility, she says: "I want to do it justice and do it well and be respectful and all of those things – but the writing is incredible so that helps."
She adds: "But because we've finished The Favourite now – it's out there – it's like our baby going out into the world and I hope people like it.
"[Whereas] there's still whispers about, 'Oh what's she going to be like in The Crown?' so that makes it harder."
Does she find that aspect of the job hard, the public ruling?
"I love doing the work so much, it's almost a shame that people have to see it," she says.
"Because people who weren't there get to say what they think about it, which is quite hard.
"But the fact that people have loved The Favourite as much as I have loved it just fills my heart with such joy and makes me so happy."
She says the film is not "just for women, it's for great men, too".
"It's sort of a litmus [test]" she says. "If somebody goes, 'No, I didn't like it', I sort of think I wouldn't like them – 'Well OK we're never going to get on' – which is a little bit narrow-minded of me.
"But I love it so much that I love it when other people love it."
:: The Favourite is in cinemas now. Series three of The Crown will stream on Netflix later this year.