Olivia Colman knows her new movie is a great f**king time.

The Oscar-winning actress stars in director Thea Sharrock's delightfully profane comedy Wicked Little Letters, which puts on a spotlight on the true scandal that rocked the seaside town of Littlehampton in the 1920s. The film centers on neighbors Edith Swan and Rose Gooding, whose unlikely friendship is put to an end when Edith, a pious woman still living with her parents, begins receiving expletive-filled letters. The suspicion immediately falls on Rose, a free-spirited Irish migrant trying to make a new life with with her daughter.

Colman stars as Edith opposite her The Lost Daughter co-star Jessie Buckley, who plays Rose. "Obviously, we'd worked together on the same film but never on set together. We'd met before The Lost Daughter, so we've been friends for quite a long time but had never, ever looked into each other's eyes at work," says Colman. In that film, the duo shared a role — playing the same character at different periods of her life — for which they both received Oscar nominations. In Wicked Little Letters, they finally share the screen.

"I was super nervous on my first day with Jessie," Colman tells A.frame. "I was worried I wouldn't be able to keep it together, because it's my friend Jessie, we love each other, and look at us in work mode! Now, I could happily just do every job with Jessie."

In conversation with A.frame, Colman and Sharrock discuss friendship, foul language, and the fun they had making Wicked Little Letters: "We wanted to make a movie that you were going to love!"


A.frame: What most excited you about the prospect of coming onboard and making this film?

Olivia Colman: I read it and really liked it. I thought it was funny and wanted to play Edith. Occasionally, I have a little litmus test where my lovely agent always says, "Pick someone else and if you see them playing it, are you cross? Are you a bit jealous?" And I thought if someone else was playing Edith that I would be a bit jealous, because she is such a lovely character. There's so much to her, and I did just think it would be fun.

Thea Sharrock: For me, it was very similar. I laughed out loud when I first read the script. I didn't know it was based on a true story, so I couldn't believe it, and then to learn how much of it was true was a fabulous part of the process. And the complexity of the characters, I just thought, "It's going to be really, really fun for actors to get under the hood of who these people are." I was lucky enough that Olivia was already on it, so that was a real pull for me. Then we had an amazing time casting the rest of the team, starting with Jessie, which was literally the most thrilling and brilliant piece of work we did, because, boy, did we get that one right.

Colman: Oh god, Jessie!

Sharrock: She's so wonderful and her energy is so amazing and everything that she brings to that character and to the set. She's such a joy — such a complete ray of sunshine — so it was really a lot of fun.

Thea, there are obviously so many challenges when working on a film, but when you walk onto set on day one and know that you have actors like Olivia and Jessie, is there a sense of relief? Like, "At least I know I don't have to worry about that part of this whole thing"?

Sharrock: Absolutely.

Colman: Or that might be the biggest worry!

Sharrock: That's where the real work is. [Laughs] I mean, this is going to sound so gushy, but the fact that they not only knew each other but that they get on as well as they do and they genuinely really care about each other meant that they brought a level of respect that I would love to say comes with every job. These two really came with such respect that it quickly filtered through to the whole campus. You could see how much you wanted to do your absolute best for Jessie. Of course, you want to do what I want and all of that, but I could feel how much you wanted to give to her — and she was doing the same. And if you have that, where the priority is the other person and giving as good a performance as you possibly can so that they can then give [it] back to you, my job is done.

It was almost like when you wind up a toy and just let the two of them go. And it was really special to watch that on set. There's one scene, and I've never been able to do this before but we shot it in a way where I had cameras on both of them at the same time for their singles. We had a camera on you and a camera on Jessie at exactly the same time, and that was amazing, because it means that I have absolutely the true reaction to the other in that instant. Normally, you have to do one, and then the other. And you hope that it will match. So, it was incredible. I could watch both of them on my monitor, and it was like I could see the scene happening right there and I could edit it as we were going. That was really brilliant.

Olivia, I would say you have some experience with this — I'm again thinking of The Lost Daughter — but how do you approach playing a character who is keeping everything in, knowing you are building to an eventual moment of all that exploding out?

Colman: That's so much fun. All humans have a thousand sides to them, and in Edith, I got to play everything. I love the pressure-cooker element of it. One of the reasons why I wanted to play Edith was that there was so much to do there; so much to hide, and so much to try and show, and all those lovely things.


I loved that this cast feels like the British TV all-stars. Like, there's Malachi Kirby from Black Mirror! And there's Anjana Vasan from We Are Lady Parts! Once you knew you had Olivia and Jessie, was your goal to round out the ensemble with people who you were just a fan of?

Colman: Anjana has just been nominated for a BAFTA for Black Mirror!

Sharrock: We are very, very proud of her! To state the obvious, it makes a huge difference to be able to go to somebody and say, "We're doing this, please read this part. And, by the way, these two people are already attached." I'll be honest, what was difficult — but not painful-difficult, more like head-scratching difficult — was to make sure that the ensemble all fit together in the way that I wanted it to. I wanted it to be as varied as possible but also as true as possible. But if I'm honest, I got all my first choices.

Colman: Wow.

Sharrock: Because [points to Colman]. It makes a huge difference. And also, let's not take away from the script; it was really, really brilliant. I knew it was a good package, and I could really feel it with the caliber of actors that were interested. I have to say, it was a lovely process.

Olivia, you've been paired with some legendary actors as your on-screen father, most famously with Sir Anthony Hopkins in The Father. Here you are with the great Timothy Spall. What was it like working so closely and intimately with him on this complicated and often terse father-daughter relationship?

Colman: Oh my god, he's divine! He could not be further away from the character that he was playing. He's the sweetest, gentlest, most thoughtful, lovely, generous man. And there was no discussion to be had, because he's a proper legend. He walked in, read it, and nailed it. I love playing opposite him.

Sharrock: He loves to delve very, very deep into a character, and he did it with me a lot, just so he felt really secure that he and I were in the same place in terms of who this man is and why it is that he behaves the way he does. He didn't want him to just be an a*****e from start to finish. He wanted to find some kind of softness somewhere to make it more interesting, to make it more complex, because nobody is just one shade of a color. So, that was something that Tim was really good about, and it was lovely working with him to find those little moments — and then absolutely terrifying sometimes!

Colman: So brilliant. Our old acting guru at drama school would say, "Acting is reacting," and you just have to look into his eyes and go, "I will do anything to not enrage him." So, it's a give-give thing and he gave so much that it was easy.

It’s not often that we get this many different genres put together in one film. To me, this is a period piece, a dark comedy, a mystery, a revenge thriller, a buddy movie — all in one! Knowing that you probably have talked about Wicked Little Letters more than any two humans, how have you been describing it?

Colman: [Laughs] Honestly, I wish I'd described it like that! I love that, because it is a multi-genre piece.

Sharrock: It is. I find it really hard to pigeonhole. I always go with comedy — I think that's really important — and it's really interesting how quickly you can forget that once you start talking about some of the bigger themes. Actually, if somebody hasn't seen it, you could get completely the wrong idea of what this movie is, because it is a comedy. It's a piece of entertainment, it's brilliantly edited, and it's an easy watch. But then there are also lots of layers and much more to it than you might realize, because the writing is so clever and the performances are so fantastic. I think of it now almost like a love story between two women. Not a romantic love story but a story of friendship and how we have to look after these friendships. And when you do, what you get back from it is everything. Those moments when you feel so low, if you have people in your life that you can go to for help, somebody who you trust and you know that you would be there for them in the same way, and they're there and they give it back to you, oh my gosh! It's the most important thing. It's also so devastating when you have a friendship that goes wrong. That feeling is so painful. I don't know if it's the same for men; I can only observe it from the outside.

Colman: I think it's got to be the same.

Sharrock: All I know is that my female friendships mean everything to me. They define who I am, and that's to say nothing of motherhood and all of those most important things. And the pain when one goes wrong, I just know that it really can hurt, and that feeling of hurt is really profound from somebody who you thought you meant something to. That's one strand of this movie. But I think they make an amazing recovery, and, for me, there's a really positive life after the film. What was there, although it was lost, they found it again, and they've given each other the space to find it, and I think that's never going to go. 

Colman: They'll be okay in the long run. They're going to start a nice lovely commune!

Olivia Colman and director Thea Sharrock behind the scenes of 'Wicked Little Letters.'

It seems like a lot of the conversation regarding the film has been about the use of explicit language, and Olivia, you've said that there were even some walkouts over it. Has that type of reaction surprised you?

Colman: It was a couple of older women in an early screening, which I was surprised about! Because I think older women really love it. My mum did.

Sharrock: I think it was the very first public screening that we did. I don't actually know if they walked out, but two people had a problem with the language, which is completely fair enough. They were in their 70s and they just didn't want to hear it; that's not what they came in for. What's interesting now is that people know much more about the movie, so I think they have a very clear sense of what it is that they're coming into.

Colman: It's not that bad!

Sharrock: No, it's not. What's funny is that there are so many movies that are ten thousand times worse.

Colman: And people will happily sit and watch violence, but if they've got a couple of women in period frocks saying, "Sack of p**s," sphincters tighten and they have to leave. I mean, good luck to them! [Laughs]

The film ends with the text, "Their story was largely lost to history, until now." When audiences are leaving the theater, is there something that you'd hope they would be thinking or talking about? 

Colman: I hope they have a really fun night at the cinema. And do go to the cinema, because the cinema is great! I've had lots of people come out and just want to have a good swear. I hope they come away with a feeling of general goodwill, and also think, "I should try to never say anything unkind to anyone, particularly anonymously, because that's mean." Imagine if this film changed the world! Everyone goes, "I'm not going to say anything mean about anybody ever again!"

Sharrock: "And if I do, I'm going to go do it behind closed doors and not let anybody hear. I'll get it out of my system and then I'll just be nice." We could change the world! Come on, let's aim big!

Thea, I have to wrap up by congratulating you on pulling off your own personal Barbenheimer, since Wicked Little Letters opens in theaters on the same day as another film you've directed, The Beautiful Game, premieres on Netflix. The latter also happens to star Olivia's Empire of Light pal Micheal Ward!

Colman: Are you double pressing at the moment? Oh, babes.

Sharrock: Yeah, in America, they are actually coming out on the same day, which is wild. I'm really happy that they're very different movies, and I'm really proud of both of them and really proud of the performances.

Colman: You've got the lovely Micheal.

Sharrock: Yeah, I've got Micheal and Bill Nighy.

Colman: Oh, wow, I can't wait to see it.

Sharrock: So yeah, my very own Barbenheimer. That's really funny. Although, what would be The Beautiful Game meets Wicked Little Letters? The Wicked Game?

Or The Beautiful Letters?

Sharrock: The Beautiful Letters! Thank you so much. Take a bow, that's excellent. You can have a whole Sharrock day, right? And do it whichever way you want. Stay home and watch the first one on Netflix, and then go out in the evening. Or, if you want to go and see a movie in the middle of the afternoon, go and see Wicked Little Letters, and then have a little bit of Micheal Ward and Bill Nighy at home.

Colman: Who doesn't want a bit of Micheal Ward at home? I'm sorry!

By Derek Lawrence


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