We knew Olivia would be a star... she had 17 calls from agents on the bus back from her f irst au­di­tion

Ex­clu­sive: Bri­tain’s screen queen long be­fore she was Os­car favourite

The Mail on Sunday - - News - By Chris Hast­ings and Ben Ellery

THE first pro­fes­sional au­di­tion is a nerve-jan­gling mo­ment of truth for any as­pir­ing ac­tress.

But so ap­par­ent was the star po­ten­tial of a young Olivia Col­man that she had an army of agents clam­our­ing to sign her up the very first time she show­cased her tal­ents to the in­dus­try.

John Har­toch, her tu­tor at Bris­tol Old Vic The­atre School, re­calls how she lit up the stage when she ap­peared at a West End event in the fi­nal year of her course.

‘Her mono­logue lasted a minute,’ he told The Mail on Sun­day. ‘At the be­gin­ning she had ev­ery­one fall­ing about with laugh­ter and by the end she had ev­ery­one moved.

‘You can imag­ine the stu­dents on the bus com­ing back to Bris­tol af­ter that, all hop­ing their phones are go­ing to ring in the next few days. [But] she had some­thing like 17 phone calls on the way back.’

The con­fi­dence the agents had in Ms Col­man was clearly well placed as now – 19 years later – she is tipped to win an Os­car for her por­trayal of Queen Anne in The Favourite, hav­ing last week scooped a Golden Globe for the same role.

But long be­fore she shot to fame via ac­claimed per­for­mances in shows such as Broad­church, The Crown and Les Mis­er­ables, Ms Col­man’s beam­ing per­son­al­ity was firmly ev­i­dent – as The Mail on Sun­day’s ex­clu­sive set of pic­tures prove.

She first dis­cov­ered her love of act­ing in a pro­duc­tion of The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie at fee- pay­ing Nor­wich High School for Girls, where she went from 1982 to 1990. But it was af­ter go­ing up to Cam­bridge to train as a teacher at Homer­ton Col­lege that she truly blos­somed as a mem­ber of the fa­mous Foot­lights com­edy troupe, along­side her fu­ture Peep Show co-stars David Mitchell and Robert Webb, com­edy writer Dan Mazer, and Tristram Hunt, who would go on to be a Labour MP and sub­se­quently di­rec­tor of Lon­don’s V&A Mu­seum. Last night Mr Hunt re­mem­bered her only fail­ing was how she was prone to an at­tack of the gig­gles. He said: ‘She was pitch-per­fect funny, in­cred­i­bly gen­er­ous, lovely and un-di­vaish to work with. ‘But she also found ev­ery­thing in­cred­i­bly funny so there was al­ways a chance she would corpse on stage. ‘The other cast mem­bers, mainly Dan Mazer, would seek to make her laugh.’ Ms Col­man, 44, can be seen on BBC1 tonight in the new adap­ta­tion of Les Mis­er­ables, where she plays against type as the schem­ing Madame Thenardier. Se­ries di­rec­tor Tom Shank­land said: ‘We had a real feel­ing that be­cause Olivia is so warm and lovely it would be in­ter­est­ing to see her play this dark, bit­ter woman. We knew that Olivia would be able to find all the light­ness in t he part – as well as all of t hat aw­ful­ness.’

L A P N E R A / L O H C S E R T A E H T C I V D L O L O T S I R B

BARD AT WORK: In Love’s Labour Lost in 1999 with other Old Vic stu­dents

RE­GAL: As Queen Anne in The Favourite

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