The Lost Daughter: Olivia Colman on her 'searingly honest' film on motherhood

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The stars discuss their new film The Lost Daughter, motherhood, and writing to Bon Jovi

Olivia Colman is watching Maggie Gyllenhaal rise from her seat and walk across a hotel room in London's Soho district, to try and pick up what she thinks is an ornament.

"That looks like a trophy. You know all the trophies look like big, tall buildings," Gyllenhaal exclaims. "That looks perfect. Can I get it?"

"I don't think you can steal things from hotel rooms," warns Colman.

The reason for this outbreak of Hollywood kleptomania is that a few days before in New York at the Gotham Awards, Gyllenhaal had, on Colman's behalf, collected her outstanding performance award for the film The Lost Daughter, which Gyllenhaal wrote and directed.

Unfortunately, mid-interview she has realised that not only has she forgotten to bring the trophy to the UK to hand to its rightful owner, she does not even know where it is.

Her response is to try to make up for it by sourcing an instant replacement, but she has not chosen her object well.

"Oh no, it's a light you guys."

"It's attached," chimes in Colman, thoroughly enjoying the mayhem. "Please don't let's steal things from the room," she laughs.

Image source, Getty Images
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Maggie Gyllenhaal attended the Gotham Awards but has since mislaid Olivia Colman's trophy

Gyllenhaal gives up, but the loss of the trophy does not seem to be upsetting them too much, especially as it is likely this won't be the last prize The Lost Daughter wins this awards season.

This week alone the film has received nominations for the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards.

This adaptation of an Elena Ferrante novella is about Leda, a British professor of Italian literature, who is alone on holiday in Greece and starts to watch a family each day on the beach.

The relationship between a young mother and her daughter makes Leda think back to the struggles she had during motherhood, which resulted in her walking out on her husband and two daughters.

"I don't recall seeing a woman like Leda depicted on screen before," says Colman. "It's searingly honest, the depiction of not necessarily being a great mum."

Oscar-winning Colman is a mother of two boys and a girl and knows all about the difficulties of balancing a successful career with motherhood.

"I've always felt that I'm a better mummy when I feel creatively fulfilled, so I'm very lucky, I get to do both things. I love my job and I get to have lots of time with my children.

"But when young Leda doesn't feel like her partner is as appreciative of her brain and her ability as his own, that's where things start to go wrong. I can really understand why she's at the end of her tether. She's not being seen and heard."

Image source, EOne
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Dakota Johnson plays Nina, the young mother with whom Leda becomes fixated

Critics who saw early screenings The Lost Daughter at the autumn film festivals broadly welcomed it, praising the movie for not shying away from the difficulties of being a parent.

"The Lost Daughter is a deconstruction of motherhood and what becomes of the women whose identities become folded into such a role, whether they can ever be free of it, and how society will look down on anyone who deviates from what's expected of them as a maternal figure," wrote ScreenRant's Mae Abdulbaki.

"Gyllenhaal expertly handles these themes, leaving a strong impression as a first-time director."

"The Lost Daughter is certainly ambitious," added The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney, "with a protagonist defined by her murky interiority and the odd, often unreadable nature of the relationships she forms with everyone she encounters. But Gyllenhaal and her impeccably chosen cast make it a mesmerizingly cinematic psychological drama."

A desire to explore this subject is what made Gyllenhaal decide to make her directional debut after almost 30 years in front of the camera, staring in films as varied as The Dark Knight, Secretary, Crazy Heart and Nanny McPhee.

Image source, eOne
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Jessie Buckley plays the young Leda

"When I read the book, I felt Elena Ferrante was being honest about motherhood, but also all sorts of things about a feminine experience in the world," says Gyllenhaal.

"I felt that I had never heard many of the things she wrote about expressed before and I was so comforted by hearing them said out loud, even things that are dark and hard and disturbing. It's comforting to know that other people feel the way you do."

Gyllenhaal, a mother of two young daughters, does clarify though, "I can't imagine walking out on my children. Of course, it's going to bring you to your knees.

"Of course, it's going to make you feel all sorts of things that you couldn't have imagined before and I think that's normal. If we say and everyone feels all these things, then I think it will bring comfort to a lot of people."

The film features flashbacks to the younger Leda, played by Jessie Buckley. Her scenes offer audiences a clue about the character's early struggles with parenting and add a certain depth to her character.

"At the core of The Lost Daughter is a daring and dangerous idea: It's an exploration of what motherhood can drain from a woman - a dramatic switch from the typical glassy-eyed bromides about how rewarding it is to bear and raise children," wrote Time's Stephanie Zacharek.

"Buckley is terrific, her performance meshing so perfectly with Colman's that it's easy to see the older woman within the younger one, and vice-versa," she added.

Colman is no stranger to taking on a role where someone else is playing the earlier version of her character, having followed Claire Foy as the Queen in The Crown.

Image source, eOne

"Jessie and I phoned each other and said, 'What accent shall we do?' and that was our preparation," she explains.

"Maggie gave us so much freedom and said, 'You are clearly two different people, two different actors, so don't try and have the same tics.' And also it's not patronising to the audience. The audience work out pretty quickly it's the same woman."

In one of the film's stand-out scenes, Colman has the chance to relive her own youth, singing along to Bon Jovi's Living On A Prayer at an outdoor party. It was her star power which helped secure the rights to the song.

"We're a little movie. We didn't have a lot of money," explains Gyllenhaal. "The way I got Jon Bon Jovi to give us the song was I wrote him a letter and said, 'Olivia Colman is going to be singing and dancing with abandon to Living On A Prayer,' and he gave it to us."

How does this make Colman feel?

"Pretty cool," she laughs, before adding self-deprecatingly, "He probably just thought that sounds hilarious, rather than cool."

Image source, Getty Images
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Will Olivia Colman take home another Oscar for The Lost Daughter?

All thoughts of lamp stealing have now passed, but Colman may still have to find a place for more trophies.

As well as the nominations for the Globes, the Critics Choice and Independent Spirits, the Gold Derby website, which predicts the Oscars, has Colman as one of the favourites to receive a best actress nomination for The Lost Daughter.

She recently moved house, but decided not to create an area for the Oscar she won for The Favourite in 2019.

"I love it, but I find it a bit embarrassing if anyone comes to the house. It's in a secret place where I do sometimes go, 'Huggggh!' and then close the door again. I love knowing it's there, it makes me very happy, but it's for me."

The lost Gotham award for The Lost Daughter will not be joining her Oscar in the secret place. Thankfully, neither will a lamp from a Soho hotel, but in the coming months The Lost Daughter seems certain to find success.

The Lost Daughter is in cinemas from Friday 17 December and on Netflix from Friday 31 December.

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