Jimmy McGovern’s award-winning BBC One series, Accused: Mo’s Story
Olivia Colman plays hard-working mother, Sue Brown, who lives with her son, Sean (Oliver Lee), and works locally at her best friend, Mo Murray’s, hairdressing salon. Their lives are happy enough until she backs Mo up and takes a stand against the controlling gang culture.
Ever versatile actress Olivia, who it is fair to say audiences can scarcely recognise from one role to the next, is perhaps best known to television viewers for appearing as Alex Small Bone in the award-winning comedy series, Rev, opposite Tom Hollander and in Peep Show.
On film at the start of this year she was totally believable as Carol Thatcher, a daughter struggling with her mother’s dementia in The Iron Lady, opposite Meryl Streep. And, Olivia’s performance in the film Tyrannosaur, in which she played a charity worker enduring hidden domestic abuse, has this year garnered a clutch of prestigious Best Actress awards from the British Independent Film industry, the London film Critics’ Circle and the London’s Evening Standard Film Awards.
Olivia also scooped two Broadcasting Press Guild Awards for her television work, winning best actress in Rev and the breakthrough role prize for her performance as Nancy Ronstadt in Exile and she was nominated for a 2012 BAFTA for best female performance in a comedy for Twenty Twelve.
So having tackled so many different characters what attracted her to the part of Sue and this story from Carol Cullington and Jimmy McGovern which explores the enormity of murder?
Without hesitation Olivia’s replies: “It was a beautiful script, and that’s a terribly rare thing. I didn’t manage to read it once without welling up.”
Indeed, her feelings about the script were born out the first time the actors read it out loud to the production team. Many tears were shed. Not something that happens that often amongst seasoned professionals.
In this tragic story in which one of the mother’s sons is murdered, does Olivia, a mother of two sons, feel motherhood informs her performance?
“I don’t think it matters what gender your children are, I have always been very susceptible to emotional or upsetting stories, since having children it’s like I have no protection at all. You don’t have to dig too deep to imagine the pain of losing a child.
“Sue’s loyalty to her friend, Mo, and what she believes is right has terrible consequences, but her courage and dignity throughout is irrefutable.”
Does Olivia admire her and would she do as her character does?
“Who knows? I’d like to think so, but in reality I have no idea,” is Olivia’s disarmingly honest response.
“Her courage is one of the reasons I loved the part so much. It’s nice to play someone with strength. That’s what all these characters have; Anne Marie’s Mo has it in spades too.”
Thinking about the danger that these mothers face when standing up against the corrupting and corrosive effect of drugs and guns in their community does Olivia think the story rings true?
“Yes,” says Olivia. “There have been a lot of similar campaigns where parents have tried to make a safer environment for their children to grow up in, sadly often after a tragic loss. There are far too many families struggling in similar circumstances, so yes, I think this story has relevance.”
Did Olivia do any research before taking her role? “No” she avers, “It was all in the script.”
Does telling a story of such tension and magnitude affect the atmosphere on set?
“Absolutely not,” replies Olivia. “Working with Anne Marie was a dream come true – I had a complete ‘girl crush’. She’s a very bad influence, and a naughty giggler. So much fun. The whole cast and crew were brilliant. It seems the heavier the subject matter, the more fun and lightness on set.”
But even so is Olivia successful at leaving her characters at work?
“Yes,” she says emphatically, “You can’t take all of that home, you’d go mad. I’m aware that it’s pretend. You have to do the story justice and be as emotionally truthful as you can at work. But that’s where it stays.”
Lastly, having embraced accents as diverse as Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in the film Hyde Park On The Hudson, how did Olivia, a native of Norfolk, tackle a northern accent?
Luckily, she says: “I have an ear for accents, but not like Anne Marie, she’s amazing at accents.” Also, says Olivia, her on-screen son Mancunian, Oliver Lee, couldn’t have been more helpful with her accent questions. In the end she says: “I pretended that my character hasn’t always lived there, you’ll see why when you hear it!” she jokes.
So for one our most popular and busiest thespians downtime must be in very short supply. If she has a moment away from work what does she look forward to doing? And, without a moment’s hesitation her response is: “Sleep.”