The Untold Truth Of Olivia Colman

The following article includes mentions of mental health issues and domestic abuse.

Often called a "national treasure" of England, actor Olivia Colman jumped into Hollywood at a later age than most. For perspective, as The Telegraph notes, "Kate Winslet was 20 when she filmed 'Titanic;' at the same age, Colman was doing teacher training." But this late Tinseltown bloomer was no less impressive once appearing on screen. After her starring performance as Queen Anne in 2018's "The Favourite," Colman won the best actress Oscar, which marked her first nomination and win. But the talented Brit's roles weren't always so dramatic. 

Colman got her start in comedy, appearing in the long-running British sitcom, "Peep Show." She's also kept things light behind the scenes by playing pranks throughout her career, including one with a sponge to shock co-star Emma Stone during a love scene. However, Colman truly became acting royalty for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the middle years of "The Crown," which won her an Emmy Award for outstanding lead actress in a drama series in 2021. But in a lesser known role, she has long been the voice of Marion the steam shovel in the children's animated series, "Thomas & Friends." This gig is in line with her family-friendly values, as well as the star's the difficult relationship with her increasing fame. 

Indeed, Colman didn't always have the confidence of a queen and certainly didn't come from a royal family — and she also has a few passions that are sure to surprise you. This is the untold truth of Olivia Colman.

Inside Olivia Colman's childhood

Olivia Colman was born in 1974 in the north part of Norfolk, England — a county on the east side of the nation. Her mother was a nurse and her father a surveyor for homes. This meant Colman's family moved around a lot for her dad to renovate houses. However, the constant movement didn't upset Colman, who remembered "an 'absolutely heavenly' childhood," as she told the Independent. "I had a lovely, feral, free childhood — out and then come back when you're hungry or it gets too dark," the actor explained. This freedom also extended to her choices of activities. 

"I had a nice, outdoorsy childhood — lots of camping, lots of walks on very wet beaches with anoraks," Colman told Vogue about growing up by the North Sea. When she was indoors, however, Colman recalled going to the movie theaters with her grandmother. But after watching "Bambi," the star revealed that she became quite emotional and "didn't go back for years" to the cinema. At home, Colman remembered watching TV in black-and-white. Among her favorites were "The Two Ronnies," "Knight Rider," and "Doctor Who." 

Fun fact: decades after watching the latter British television institution, Colman joined the cast of "Doctor Who" with a cameo in a 2010 episode of the long-running series, which also happened to mark Matt Smith's first appearance as the title character's 11th iteration. Steven Moffat, who was the series showrunner at the time, later admitted to Radio Times that he underutilized Colman: "I think, 'Oh we wasted that, didn't we!'"

Becoming a star was difficult for Olivia Colman

Even as a beloved figure in Hollywood these days, Olivia Colman has had trouble with fame — and some of her self-doubt started at a young age. "I look up pictures of myself as a teenager, and I think I was gorgeous. But I didn't feel that," the "Broadchurch" star revealed to Vogue, explaining how "all those little comments through those precious years can have long-lasting negative effects." 

Those effects can sometimes materialize on stage, as Colman admitted that while performing in theater, "I get genuinely terrified: panic attack, dry mouth." Noting that "the fear manifested itself as adrenaline before" in the early days of her career, she said, "But now it's just fear." Even at celebratory industry events, Colman has struggled with the spotlight, with award shows and red carpets causing a particular kind of fear. "A lot of people take on a pretend persona, but I'm crippled by it. I feel embarrassed."

In an interview with Harper's Bazaar, Colman expressed similar thoughts on life as a celebrity. "I find it very, very difficult to be stared at," she said, adding, "I'm very shy and private." As her fame continued to increase, the actor started working with a therapist to deal with the international attention, but revealed that the easiest remedy to her anxiety is to simply avoid those situations. "I don't go out! I find that fixes it," Colman said.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

This actor went from brooms to the stage

While living in Cambridge in her early adulthood, Olivia Colman was a professional house cleaner. But this wasn't research for an acting role — in fact, Colman "loved" her regular job, as she affectionately remembered in her Oscars speech.

"It was such a position of trust," Colman told Vogue, with the outlet noting that the future star "took great pleasure in making a house beautiful." The gig also actually helped her become an actor: With the money from the position, she was able to live in the college town, sneak into classes, "and, on a whim, [audition] for student-theater productions," per the magazine. "It was very important to me in my late teens and early 20s to have fun — it's a great time to have fun," Colman, who'd previously dropped out of Cambridge University's teachers-training college, explained. 

Looking for her next fun time, Colman joined the school's prestigious drama club, Footlights, whose previous members included Monty Python stars, as well as the likes of John Oliver, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Richard Ayoade, and Colman's future "Peep Show" collaborators, David Mitchell and Robert Webb.

The many names of Olivia Colman

Olivia Colman's birth name is Sarah Caroline Olivia Colman. But due to an "equity clash with another Sarah Colman," per the Independent, she changed her stage name to Olivia Colman. Luckily, the actor didn't mind the new moniker. "One of my best friends at university was called Olivia and I always loved her name," she said, before explaining that those closest to her never actually called her Sarah. "I was always called by my nickname, Colly, so it didn't seem so awful not to be called Sarah."

After marrying actor-writer Ed Sinclair, Colman's official name became Sarah Caroline Sinclair — which thoroughly confused fans at the Queen's Birthday Honors in 2019, as reported by the Mirror. The Oscar-winning actor received her CBE at the event. The honorary distinction is "the highest ranking Order of the British Empire award" and stands for Commander of the Order of the British Empire, per BBC News. While Princess Anne presented Colman with her medal, the star accepted the award under the name Sarah Sinclair.

How Olivia Colman started acting

Though she blossomed in acting later in life, Olivia Colman started her thespian career at school during her teens, the Independent reported. But she admittedly only acted for fun at the time and never thought she could be a professional in the craft, saying, "I'm the only weirdo in the family who's gone into it." The future star became truly passionate after "playing the title role in a production of 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie'" in school, per Harper's Bazaar. Recalling this moment, Colman said, "I was so s**t at everything at school, but I did the play and thought, 'Oh, I like this!' ... I was quite a jolly kid, but not particularly confident, and suddenly being someone else was amazing."

In 1999, Colman graduated from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and started going to auditions. But the future Oscar winner went an entire year without landing a part. Speaking with The New York Times, Colman said her mom was doubtful of her chance at success, telling her, "You'll probably give it a year." Undeterred by the rejections, the aspiring actor responded, "No, I'll give it 10 years." While Colman finally landed small parts, she still needed to work side jobs so she could continue to audition. As she explained, "I never wanted to do anything else. Also, I'm no good at anything else."

What was Olivia Colman's breakout role?

As previously mentioned, while part of Cambridge University's Footlights drama club, Olivia Colman worked with fellow actors David Mitchell and Robert Webb. Both men went on to star in the Channel 4 British sitcom, "Peep Show," and the series gave Colman her first major role to a national audience. As the Independent recapped, the star "played Sophie, the endlessly forgiving girlfriend of the appalling Mark [played by Mitchell]" in an impressive run between 2003 and 2015. 

But at a certain point, Colman had different aspirations and wanted to expand beyond the sitcom — this meant she "had to make the conscious decision to distance herself" from Mitchell and Webb, as the outlet put it. "I know you love them and I know you're probably going to cry," Colman recalled her agent saying of her university colleagues, "but you need to decide what you're going to do."

According to Colman, both guys thankfully respected her decision to move on. "I'm so grateful for them — they were my first job," she said, explaining how without the role, her career may have never taken off. Even after becoming a bona fide superstar, fans still reference her early comedic role. "They shout 'Peep Show,'" Colman told the Independent, before adding, "I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say in response."

This actor 'always wanted' to be a mom

Olivia Colman is a mom of three children — and one of her kids technically even made an appearance on screen. In the 2016 British series, "The Night Manager," Colman played a pregnant spy, but the actor herself was actually pregnant with her third child during production, per Vogue. Having a family was always in Colman's plans, which she envisioned back as an 11-year-old. But much like her acting career, Colman appeared to be "in no great rush" to welcome baby No. 1, as the outlet put it, considering she was in her 30s when she and husband Ed Sinclair first expanded their brood. "Although I get fed up with the mess and things, it's exactly what I always wanted," the star said of motherhood. "I wanted it slightly anarchic, noisy, grass with toys on it."

Although both Colman and her husband are both trained actors, she admitted that their kiddos have little interest in her work. Speaking with the Independent, Colman revealed that she once showed her two oldest children her episode of "Doctor Who" ... but she forgot that her character, at one point, has rather scary "piranha-like fangs," per the outlet. "I didn't really think it through," she admitted.

On the night of her 2019 Oscar win, Colman's kids — whose ages ranged from 3 to 13 at the time — were being babysat in Los Angeles at the home of Colman's agent, and stayed up late to see their famous mom nab the coveted trophy, per The Times.

Olivia Colman reveals how she met her husband

Olivia Colman first met her husband, Ed Sinclair, in the Cambridge University drama club, Footlights. "We did a play together," Colman told the Independent, explaining that her future husband joined the cast "because he fancied the director and I did it because she was a friend of mine." The Oscar winner also remembered being in awe of Sinclair, and revealed that it worked out partly because the director didn't fancy him back. "I saw Ed, fell in love, and lost it completely," Colman told Vogue of their early days together. "All I could see was him." (Cue a chorus of awws.)

After graduating, Sinclair continued his studies at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. "I was heart-broken that it would all end there. So I said I'd come along and I could support him," Colman told the Independent. After relocating, she applied to the same drama school and got in. The pair would marry seven years later in 2001. But after struggling to find acting roles, Sinclair transitioned into writing while Colman continued to act. She said of her husband, "I think he was quite relieved because he always wanted to write and he's brilliant at it." 

As her onscreen success continued, Colman said she became "lucky enough to pay the rent for both of us," noting, "It's not fair if I'm living the dream and he's not." Of their longtime marriage, she told the Daily Mail, "The important thing is to appreciate and love each other and to show that appreciation."

This 'Marvel nerd' manifested her role in the MCU

Even though Olivia Colman has twice played a queen, she revealed that other genres interest her, as well. Specifically, comic book movies. The actor told Screen Daily in early 2021 that she would love to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. "Every time there's a Marvel movie, I phone my agent and say, 'Please can I be in a Marvel movie?' Because I'm a Marvel nerd," Colman admitted. Although she built her career on dramatic roles and is often booked up with low-budget films, she still had a deep desire to join "a blockbuster or franchise picture." Colman said, "Maybe Marvel have been calling, but I've been too busy." 

However, the actor also admitted that even with her impressive resume, a role as a superhero may never be a possibility. "I've always wanted to play a Marvel baddie," Colman said in an interview with Vulture, but explained, "I'm not sure how many middle-aged women they have in Marvel."

Only a few months after her Screen Daily interview, news broke that Colman finally got her wish. As reported by Entertainment Weekly, the actor joined Marvel's TV series, "Secret Invasions" — appearing alongside Emilia Clarke from "Game of Thrones" and Samuel L. Jackson (a.k.a. the MCU's own Nick Fury).

Behind The Crown with Olivia Colman

While Olivia Colman only played royalty onscreen, she said her performance in "The Crown" still came with amazing perks. "One of the job's greatest privileges was the access to the most beautiful places," she told the Financial Times about filming the Netflix series. "Wilton House was one of our favorites, and Somerleyton Hall was a new addition this year that I adored," she revealed. According to the actor, her favorite shooting location was Balmoral Castle, the Scottish holiday home to the royal family. "It was so breathtakingly beautiful, so friendly," she remembered, adding that "filming outside by those lochs and on those hills was thrilling."

The royal role also helped her better understand what life must be like for the Queen of England. In her opinion, Colman told Vogue, "I think it's really hard. You can't just go, 'I don't want to do it today.'" Thanks to her incredible work in the series, Colman even had a chance to meet the real-life Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton. During the encounter, Colman could hardly contain her excitement. "I got over-grinny and a bit nervous and was sort of introducing Prince William to everybody," she admitted.

Further reflecting on the role itself, Colman said one of the trickier parts was nailing the queen's voice and unique accent. "I thought that general 'posh' would do it," she told Harper's Bazaar. Her secret, however? Say "ears" to replace "yes."

Your friendly, neighborhood Olivia Colman

At this point, Olivia Colman could easily get into any party in Hollywood — or London — as a well-respected and charming actor. But in reality, her favorite place to be is at home in England. As of 2019, the low-key star lived in a South London home with her family — three children, husband Ed Sinclair, and their two dogs, Pockets and Alfred, Lord Waggyson. 

"It is nested in a quiet neighborhood, leafy but not precious, with parks not far away," Vogue described of her idyllic residence. The Oscar-winning actor and her husband reportedly spend much of their free time hanging out in the tight-knit community, with the family enjoying frequent cookouts with neighbors on the weekend — Colman especially enjoys baking while Sinclair is the grill master. The couple have also participated in "shared playdates for the kids."

The actor said of her neighborhood, "These streets are a lovely community — they really look after you." Although part of her dreams of one day "buggering off to the seaside," Colman confessed, "I think I might never be able to completely leave London." Even short times away from her family for work affect Colman's state of mind, as she revealed, "I get homesick. I don't sleep well without Ed, and I miss the kids." That's why, if possible, she prefers to take roles based out of London so she can "return home in the evening to her family and neighbors," per Vogue.

She was close with her late father

According to Olivia Colman, her father was a major influence in her upbringing. She told the Daily Mail that he was the one to instill in her a strong work ethic. But more than just working hard, Colman remembered him as empathetic — a man who would "sit and cry at anything on the telly." The star also said that his emotion passed to her, which she later used "to cry on or off the camera at request." (Fans of "Broadchurch" can attest to this impressive fact.)

In early 2021, Colman described her dad as "a lovely man." However, she confessed that he had become "relatively frail compared to the young man I remember, and that's upsetting," adding, "But he's a very nice daddy." Sadly, that same year, Colman revealed that her beloved father had died. During her acceptance speech for lead actress in a drama at the 2021 Emmys, Colman said, "I'm very teary as [I] wish my dad was here to see this. ... I lost my daddy during COVID, and he would have loved all of this."

Olivia Colman reveals her surprising passion

Growing up in England not far from the North Sea meant that Olivia Colman had room to explore. At the age of 12, she first learned to drive a car in a local field, according to the BBC, while being propped up on her "car enthusiast" father's knee in the car (via the Daily Mail). This also started Colman's own passion for cars. For example, she remembered reading driving magazines growing up, especially while in "the loo," per the BBC. By the age of 16, Colman already had an official rally license, which could be used to compete in races.

The actor's earliest memory of a specific car was a Mini owned by her mother, a nurse who reportedly made a bed in the back of the car for her daughter to sleep in as she saw patients. When it came time to have her own car, Colman drove a Morris Minor, which she called "Moomin." The retro car, which first debuted in 1948, is considered a classic British vehicle by Auto Express. Colman's version apparently had "a raspberry colored grille 'like lipstick,' when she was at teacher training college in Cambridge" (via the BBC). When commuting back home to Norfolk from Cambridge, Colman would "have long confessional chats with Moomin."

Now as a famous actor, Colman reportedly "keeps biscuits in the car's glove compartment" as her must-have car accessory when driving around.

All about the actor's charitable side

The subject matter of Olivia Colman's films and her real life have lined up several times throughout her career — especially when it comes to charitable causes. For example, in 2013, the star returned to her home county of Norfolk in England to support the Alzheimer's Society's Memory Walk, the Eastern Daily Press reported. Colman later signed on to star in the film, "The Father," with Anthony Hopkins playing the title character, who is dealing with dementia. For the same reason she was connected with the charity walk, Colman joined the movie thanks in part to her mother. 

"My mum was a district nurse for the NHS for 40 years, and her passion was always geriatric care," she told BBC News, adding that her mom had long been "an ambassador for dementia care, so it's always been a big part of my family's life."

Colman also became a supporter of the Tender organization. "Domestic violence prevention education can make a real difference in the lives of young people, and I am happy to give my support to an organization that is pioneering this effort," she said in a statement after being named a patron of Tender in 2014. Her work with the organization started after a screening of her film, "Tyrannosaur," the previous year. The movie, as recapped by The Guardian, follows a physically abused woman played by Colman.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

How much is Olivia Colman worth?

In an interview with Harper's Bazaar, Olivia Colman revealed that her sudden rise to fame didn't necessarily mean a huge bank account. She discredited "the idea is that you get an Oscar and suddenly — boom! You're a multimillionaire!" But Colman admitted of her status, "I definitely can't complain, but I'm nowhere near the realm of paying everything off yet." 

Colman instead worked her way up from being a house cleaner to becoming one of the best actors in Hollywood. She showed her range in comedic roles like on "Peep Show" and "Hot Fuzz" — the middle film in the "Cornetto" trilogy – plus her dramatic roles, like ITV's "Broadchurch" and playing Meryl Streep's daughter in "The Iron Lady," per Forbes. As she picked up more accolades — winning at the BAFTAs, Golden Globes, Emmys, and Oscars — Colman also picked up more paychecks. As of 2021, she was worth an estimated $6 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

Still, Colman prefers a quieter life with her family, so in lieu of some of the glitzier purchases we've come to expect from celebs, some of her earnings have gone toward a more comfortable home life. As Vogue described, her house with husband Ed Sinclair has "scooters in the newly converted, glass-fronted kitchen and a tree house, built from scratch by Ed, at the bottom of the garden." The article noted that Colman's residence was a "happy, light-filled place, decorated beautifully in neutral colors."