British actress Olivia Colman received an Oscar for Best Actress at the 91st Academy Awards over the weekend. She was honored for her performance as the frail, sensitive, and needy Queen Anne in the Yorgos Lanthimos-directed historical comedy-drama The Favourite. Acting alongside Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in a setting of 18th-century England, Colman’s royal character exhibited just about every emotion in the book, showcasing the actress’ remarkable range.

While accepting her prestigious award, viewers in the United States caught a glimpse of Colman’s genuine, charming, humble, if not wacky, personality. The 45 year old admitted she hadn’t prepared to win, and so upon hearing her name, struggled to compose herself. Many people, in fact, predicted distinguished actress Glenn Close was due to take home the trophy for best actress this year for her celebrated performance in The Wife, and so Colman’s winning was perceived as a big upset by many. But really, it can be argued that the esteemed superstar Meryl Streep saw this day coming. Indeed, while accepting her Bafta award for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady in 2012, the legendary actress described her acting colleague Colman as “divinely gifted” before the world audience.

But Colman should be getting more comfortable with the idea of winning awards. After all, just recently she took home a Golden Globe statue for her performance in The Favourite. It was her second Globe nomination and second Globe win. She’d won one previously for the best supporting role of intelligence officer Angela Burr in the British thriller miniseries The Night Manager.

Although it may seem like Colman’s rise has come out of nowhere, she’s actually been in the industry for two decades, albeit mostly across the pond. She’s been bringing effortless humanity to her roles, both comedic and dramatic, from her breakthrough performance as Sophie Chapman in the long-running English sitcom Peep Show to her somber role as Ellie Miller in the British serial crime drama Broadchurch. Coleman wears her heart on her sleeve, and when asked how she cries—or sobs—on cue with such ease, she answered because the material “is sad.”

As a child Colman yearned to become an actress, saying it was “a secret dream—like talking to animals.” She was drawn to the field because she wanted to move people with honest performances and be able to make them cry. But not only that; she believed she had no other choice. Colman was not a good student and even had to repeat a year in school due to her poor study habits. In turn, the aspiring actress felt acting was the only skill in which she really excelled. She was determined to dedicate ten years of her life to acting—whereas, her mother suggested she give it one year.

She attended the Laurence Olivier-founded Bristol Old Vic Theatre School for a couple of years and eventually was recommended for a job in TV. In those beginning years, acting gigs proved to be on-and-off again, and Colman worked for long periods as a temp and a cleaner. She calls it a “slow start,” but she never questioned if she should give up on her dreams because she believed it was all she could do.

Colman’s advice for aspiring talents? “You’ve got to know you want to do it. And you’ve got to be really honest about whether you think you can … And don’t be badly behaved because there are so many people who want to do it; you’re lucky if you are.”

You can see more of Coleman in her upcoming role in the Netflix series The Crown in which she will portray Queen Elizabeth II.

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