Olivia Colman says sex scenes with younger co-star left her feeling 'embarrassed'

In her new film, Academy Award-winning actor Olivia Colman plays a lonely movie theater worker in an affair with two different men

Olivia Colman
(Image credit: Dave J Hogan / Contributor)

Academy Award-winning actor Olivia Colman is already the subject of Oscar buzz in connection to her latest film, Empire of Light, a British romantic drama written and directed by Sam Mendes in which Olivia stars as Hilary Small, a depressed duty manager at Empire Cinema in the English south coast in 1980 who is having two extramarital affairs: one with her boss Donald Ellis (Colin Firth) and another with her younger co-worker, Stephen (Micheal Ward).

Olivia, who most recently starred in new drama Landscapers, an addictive retelling of the 1998 Mansfield murders, spoke to the Mirror about her role, specifically addressing the portion of the film that made her most nervous despite her decades-long career.

"This was something I found a little bit scary, which was exciting to me," the 49-year-old actor said to the outlet about the intimate scenes she filmed with Micheal, who is 25 years old. "Playing a woman of my age who's having a love affair with a younger man, that's the most terrifying part of the whole film for me. But then I met Micheal and he made me feel much more at ease. [He] was much more mature about it than I was!"

Sam also went on the record about the topic while appearing on the BBC's Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg show. 

"[Olivia] was very embarrassed about performing the sex scenes, as is often the case," he said. "You're seeing people at their rawest, at their most emotionally vulnerable. You're trying to push a little further into the places that you're not normally allowed to go into, you’re going behind the curtain as it were and I wanted to see their physical desire."

The hard work clearly paid off as Olivia, who is actually related to a member of the royal family, has already been nominated for a Golden Globe for best performance by an actress in a motion picture in connection to Empire of Light.

As she explains in her latest interview, Olivia's decision to take on the part was a no brainer. "I said yes before I'd even seen the script," she said to the Mirror. "I can't imagine many actors, when they speak to Sam Mendes on a Zoom in their kitchen, going, 'Ah, nah. I'm not that interested.' So I said yes."


(Image credit: Getty)

Her excitement was clearly not dampened by the fact that Hilary is a troubled character, joining a roster of similar personalities that Olivia has been known to take on throughout her years in Hollywood. Her ability to be unaffected by the depth of the source material is obviously a unique gift.

"I'm not one that takes things home with me, so I was fine," says the actor. "I like to throw myself in, I like to be as truthful and honest as possible – but then, I don’t have that problem [switching off], which I’m very grateful for. It can leave a residue, but I don’t have that."

When asked about what she likes to do on her time off to disconnect from work, Olivia is quick to surprise by sharing her love for a pretty unlikely movie pick. "I could watch Paddington all day, every day," she notes to the outlet. "I need a happy ending. With kids' films, they always break your heart at some point. Toy Story 3? Heartbreaking!"

In addition to Empire of Light, Olivia has recently voiced the character of Mama Bear on Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and will star in the upcoming musical fantasy Wonka sometime this year. On the television front, she'll reprise her role on Netflix's Heartstopper and then be part of the upcoming miniseries Great Expectations, based on the eponymous novel by Charles Dickens.

Anna Rahmanan

Anna Rahmanan is a New York-based writer and editor who covers culture, entertainment, food, fashion and travel news. Anna’s words have appeared on Time Out New York, the Huffington Post, Fortune, Forbes, Us Weekly, Bon Appetit and Brooklyn Magazine, among other outlets.