It may sound a dream role: playing the world’s longest-serving monarch, a woman of both mystery and power.
And Olivia Colman rose the occasion when was cast as Queen Elizabeth in the hit Netflix hit The Crown. But the role hasn’t been without its woes.
Because the queen is very much alive and kicking, going about her royal duties with the vim and vigour she has applied to her job for the past 65 years.
And for the actress, therein lies the rub.
She is terrified Her Majesty will watch her and think she’s doing a terrible job, Olivia said recently.
“You’re thinking, ‘Oh my God, what if Queen Elizabeth watches the series and sees me? Perhaps she will think that my interpretation is completely wrong. She’s going to change channels,” the 46-year-old actress says.
“There is much more pressure when you’re playing someone who is still living – you have this fear that they’re watching it and won’t like it.”
Playing someone so well known only makes things worse, she adds. “Viewers have someone to compare me too. It’s tough!”
It was a different story when she played the 18th century monarch in the 2018 movie Queen Anne – a role that bagged her a Best Actress Oscar.
“The beauty of Queen Anne is that no one can tell me she didn’t sound like that, but everyone can tell me what Queen Elizabeth sounds like, and that’s slightly annoying.”
With three seasons of The Crown done, fans are now counting down the days to season four, which is set to start on Netflix on 15 November. A trailer to the new season was recently released – and what a fabulous trailer it is, promising hours of drama and intrigue and family turmoil.
A worried queen reigning over troubled late 1970s and early 1980s Britain, tempestuous Princess Margaret with her high sex drive and feelings of inadequacy, sensitive Prince Charles, even a hint of Diana the bride… Bring it on!
This season marks the last one in which Olivia plays the beloved monarch. For season five, which will reportedly only be released in 2022, English actress Imelda Staunton (64) will take over from her. Each actress portrays the queen for two seasons – Claire Foy had the honour in season one and two.
Olivia got up close and personal with the royal family last year when she was invited to Buckingham Palace to receive her Commander of the Order of the British Empire medal for services to drama.
She collected her gong not from the monarch but from her daughter, Princess Anne, and the two were photographed chatting and smiling during the ceremony.
Olivia also mingled with the blue-blooded family at a reception hosted last year by Prince William and she couldn’t help but ask him if he watches The Crown.
“He said, ‘No, no, dear. I don’t watch it,’” Olivia told Vanity Fair. “But maybe he can’t say that he watches it.”
She was quite taken by the second in line to the throne. “He had this magical quality,” she added. “He made you feel like you were the most exciting person he’d ever met.”
Still, chances are he was a little star-struck too. Olivia is one of the UK’s most successful and best-loved actresses in the UK, with roles in hit TV shows such as Broadchurch, The Night Manager and Fleabag and movie credits such as The Lobster and Murder on the Orient Express under her belt.
But The Crown, she says, is one of the parts she was most delighted to land – not least because she’s a huge fan of the show.
“I binge-watched the first season and then I was offered the job just before I watched the second season. I was like ‘Yes, please’,” she told journalists last year.
The star – who once worked as a cleaner to make ends meet – tries her best to do justice to the part.
“I’ve always been a fan of the queen. I think as a human being she is marvellous and amazing. My job is to do justice to the part.”
While understanding how the monarch thought was integral to getting to grips with the role, the biggest challenge was perfecting the way she moved.
“They had to teach me how to sit like her and walk like her – I’m terrible with that, I have no physical awareness. One of the directors told me I walk a bit like a farmer,” she told Harpers Bazaar last year.
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The voice was another challenge. “I thought that general ‘posh’ would do it, but apparently not. You have to perfect these really unusual vowel sounds.”
Before embarking on the role, she also had to shed the weight she picked up to play Queen Anne, who was an infamous glutton.
“It would have felt a bit wrong to play Queen Elizabeth II as the same size as Queen Anne,” she told OK! magazine. “I probably won’t say yes to putting on weight for a job again. It’s been very difficult to lose.”
Speaking of weight, she says her Oscar, which lives “on a sideboard in the sitting room” of the South London house she shares with writer husband Ed Sinclair and their three young children, is “really heavy!”
“I could do some amazing weightlifts with it,” she told Harpers Bazaar last year. “We keep laughing at it – it looks fake, it’s so shiny!”
She says she still has to pinch herself to believe she’s an Oscar winner. But few will forget her witty acceptance speech, which went down as one of the most entertaining of the 2019 Academy Awards and was capped off with her blowing a raspberry at the continuity person telling her to wrap things up.
Olivia protects her family life fiercely. She has two sons, 14-year-old Finn and 12-year-old Hall and a four-year-old daughter listed only as “Baby Girl Sinclair”.
Her family are “deliciously uninterested” in her work, Olivia says, and she tries to keep her home life as normal as possible.
She routinely refuses jobs that take her away for any length of time. “I get homesick. If it isn’t in the school holidays, so we can all go together, I don’t want to do it. I did a little film in Ohio for two weeks, and that was the longest I’ve been away from Ed in 25 years.
“I don’t do very well away from them.”
A humble homebody – how unlike the queen she is!
Sources: dailymail.co.uk, people.com, harpersbazaar.com, OK!, YouTube economictimes.indiatimes