Olivia Colman may not be a household name yet, but the 37-year-old British actress is having a breakout year. She’s currently starring alongside Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady and she delivers a heartbreaking performance in Tyrannosaur, which opens Friday.
In Tyrannosaur, Colman plays Hannah, a Christian shopkeeper who publicly exudes warmth and kindness, but who is tormented and abused by her husband at home.
The film’s writer and director, Paddy Considine, hired Colman after the two worked together on the 2007 comedy, Hot Fuzz. Though Colman is best known for her comedic chops, Tyrannosaur is anything but funny.
Despite the dark subject matter, Colman says she wanted to play Hannah from the first moment she read the script.
“I liked that she wasn’t a victim. No matter what she endured at home, she was a soldier,” she says.
“She’d still go out every day and face the world and still offer love to people, which I thought was a mark of someone incredibly strong.”
And though the scenes were demanding, she was up for the challenge.
“You want to play someone who’s different from you,” she says. “You want to hopefully do something like that justice. And I wanted to make Paddy proud. He took kind of a gamble giving me the main female part.”
The gamble paid off. Colman was awarded the World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Dramatic Breakout Performances at the Sundance Film Festival last year and won Best Actress at the British Independent Film Awards in November.
On Jan. 17, however, she was upset to learn that she did not receive a nomination for a British Academy of Film and Television Award (BAFTA), Britain’s top honour.
“I really did feel genuinely heartbroken,” she says. “I let myself think that I might get a BAFTA. I dreamt of [that] since I was a girl.”
But two days after she was snubbed by the British Academy, she was awarded British Actress of the Year by the London Film Critics’ Circle for her work in both Tyrannosaur and The Iron Lady.
Colman, in The Iron Lady, had an opportunity to work with Meryl Streep, who played Margaret Thatcher.
“It is so lovely to meet one of your heroes and to realise that she is absolutely as good as I’ve always thought she was — she’s better.”
In the film, Colman plays Carol Thatcher, daughter of British Prime Minister. Donning a blonde wig, “hideous” clothes and a prosthetic nose, and speaking with a distinct lisp, Colman is virtually unrecognizable in the role.
But she was anxious that her impersonation of Carol, who is very well-known in Britain (she was even a contestant on 2009’s I’m a Celebrity… Get Me out of Here!) would be criticized by the British public. “The pressure was horrible,” she says.
In the end, she says she felt lucky that everyone would “have their eyes on Meryl, so I [could] probably get away with my attempt at the impression.”
Judging by her critical success, her portrayal passed the test.
Colman will next be seen on the big screen alongside Bill Murray and Laura Linney in Hyde Park on Hudson, in which she takes on the role of yet another British public figure — Queen Elizabeth.