Words: Alison James Pic: Jason Alden, REX
She may be a three times BAFTA winner – the most sought after actress of her generation who currently has the nation gripped playing policewoman Ellie Miller in the second series of Broadchurch – but there’s nothing remotely diva-like, lovey-ish or actressy about Olivia.
She’s quietly spoken, self-deprecatingly jolly and would never dream of playing the ‘Do You Know Who I Am?’ card if she couldn’t get a good table in a restaurant. Despite her success, Olivia doesn’t ‘do’ celebrity and finds the whole fame thing bewildering and decidedly unsettling at times.
“There is a misconception that actors love it, but imagine going into a room where everybody knows your face and you don’t know theirs,” she said recently. “It’s not a comfortable feeling. Invariably everybody is lovely but I’m not sure it’s something you should get used to. It’s not what you think about when you join up.”
Sometimes, though, not everyone is lovely – and Olivia, in spite of her kind words, has experienced this herself. “There has been the odd occasion when things have got a bit weird,” she admits. “I have been followed by a photographer and then another time we were driving home and noticed a car was definitely following us.
“I got into a bit of a rage about that. We stopped and I went up to them with my camera phone to see how they liked being hounded. Someone was crouching in the back with a camera! They started their car, crashed into a fence and drove off.
"I must say, though, that people generally are rather sweet. You can see what they’re thinking – 'Oh, she’s from that Broadchurch thing.' It’s nice to be at the stage I’m at now. I appreciate it very much. I feel very lucky.”
Olivia (40) enjoys a happy family life in south London with her writer husband, Ed Sinclair, and their sons, Finn, nine, and Hal, seven.
“My sons are too young to get wrapped up in the fame side of things and I keep reminding them that being an actor is nice but it’s not impressive – saving lives is impressive,” she insists.
Coming from some actresses this would sound pretentious, but Olivia is so genuine her words ring totally true. This no-frills honesty is one of the reasons she’s so likeable. As Downton Abbey actor Hugh Bonneville has said (he co-starred with Olivia in the BBC2 comedy 2012), "Olivia has a phenomenal ability to be utterly spontaneous in every role she plays."
It’s certainly true Olivia has no need of a tear stick when she’s required to cry on camera. The tears we see on screen are very real.
“I don’t think you can cry if the script is rubbish. I have to feel it – it’s as simple as that. It’s just like if you’re watching something moving and you feel yourself welling up. You’re carried along with the story.”
And she’s loved working with the Broadchurch scripts, although she does admit she was surprised by its success when the first series aired last year. “I can’t believe how well it took off. I knew the script was great but I think that about a lot of things. You never know what people are going to like but the British viewing public are an intelligent bunch and Broadchurch didn’t patronise anybody, which I think programme makers sometimes forget about.”
Like all the other Broadchurch actors, she has been sworn to secrecy over the outcome of the current series. Rumours abound that different endings have been filmed so no one actually knows the final outcome. And she’s truly thankful for the kind of role Broadchurch offers. Though undeniably attractive she has never traded on her looks. “It took me a long time to get used to it but I think, ‘If I’m allowed to play parts where I don’t look good, I’ll get more’.
“For some reason people imagine that dramatic things happen to people who don’t look beautiful. So I feel fortunate that I’ve managed to get into that market and I’ve loved every part I’ve played.”
And we’ve loved every part too. It will be interesting to see if there’s a Broadchurch Three – surely there are no more twists to be had? But whatever Olivia turns her talents to next, we look forward to it.
- Broadchurch is on ITV, on Mondays.
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