Olivia Cooke has been receiving great acclaim for her starring role as Becky Sharp in ITV’s lavish adaption of classic novel ‘Vanity Fair’.
The seven-part, prime time Sunday evening series is the former Royton and Crompton School pupil’s first leading role on British television.
Olivia, now based in America, is supported by a cast of stars including Michael Palin as Thackeray, Martin Clunes (Men Behaving Badly/Doc Martin) and Frances de la Tour (Rising Damp).
But she has revealed how another member of her family also joined her on set of the period drama that is going toe-to-toe in the ratings with the BBC’s ‘The Bodyguard’.
“I was going to get my mum Lindsy in to be an extra in one of the ball scenes,” revealed Olivia who celebrates her 25th birthday on December 27.
“But I think she would have died of embarrassment! So, I thought better of that. But she’s really proud.
“She says ‘Everyone keeps asking on the street about Vanity Fair and what you are like. You’re just my Olivia’.
“She’s proud but only as proud as any mum would be if her daughter’s successful in any field.
“I’m based in New York now so it was good to be back here. My mum came down for weekends in London.
“I didn’t go back home to Manchester too much because work on Vanity Fair was pretty full on. My mum lives in Oldham.
“And wherever you’re from, when you go back to your mum’s house after two days you feel like a 15-year-old again.”
Vanity Fair is the latest in a growing list of major credits for a former member of Oldham Theatre Workshop whose first lead role was as Maria in a school production of ‘West Side Story’ at 17.
Olivia also appeared in several adverts and even featured in a One Direction tour video, receiving a piggy back from Harry Styles.
She received early acclaim for her role as a teenager diagnosed with cancer in ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,’ before later parts in ‘Ouija’,‘Bates Motel’ and this year in Steven Spielberg’s futuristic tale, ‘Ready Player One.’
Gwyneth Hughes’ adaptation of this literary classic is set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars and follows modern heroine Becky Sharp as she attempts to claw her way out of poverty and scale the heights of English Society.
Her story of “villainy, crime, merriment, lovemaking, jilting, laughing, cheating, fighting and dancing” takes her all the way to the court of King George IV, via the Battle of Waterloo, breaking hearts and losing fortunes as she goes.
“I felt an overwhelming sense of gratefulness and excitement to do the job,” Olivia explained.
“But also ‘Oh, now I’ve got to do it. They’ve cast the wrong person. I don’t have it in me to play this part. She is so iconic’. The pressure of all of that.
“Everyone has their version of Becky Sharp in their head. She is so beloved. So, after the joy of getting the role I felt an impending dread of actually having to play her.
“You want to get it right. But you also don’t want to repeat versions of Becky that have been done before.
“When I turned up for the first day of filming I was really nervous.
“I was convinced I couldn’t act and that I didn’t know the character well enough.
“And then – as is the way with filming – we had to start in the middle of Becky’s journey through society.
“The first week of filming was in Budapest. We started on episode four and then went to episode seven. So, it was a real jump.”
And what about working alongside the likes of Palin, Clunes and de la Tour?
“Being born in 1993 I feel as if I have grown up watching them,” Olivia said.
“Martin is very kind and generous. Very easy going and a tremendous actor.
“He takes things as they come and nothing is a huge deal. But he is very good. We’ve had a ball together.
“Frances absolutely is brilliant too. I’ve been very lucky.
“Michael Palin was such a gentleman. I don’t know what I was expecting but by the way he acted you wouldn’t have thought he was THE Michael Palin because he was just so sweet and kind.
“There was no ego to him at all. Everyone was a little bit star-struck. He’s a massive part of British TV and film history.”
“It is also a massive achievement to do seven hours of cinematic television in six months. There’s a lot of me in this one.
“I don’t know how I’ll feel when it comes to watching it myself.
“Maybe after it’s all been screened on ITV I’ll be able to revisit it. But I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch it in real time as people are digesting it.”
“I will miss Becky. I’ll miss her mischievousness and her sense of joy. She’s never down for long. There’s always the next plan.
“She makes light of any situation which is a lovely quality.”
James Strong directed Vanity Fair and said of Olivia: “She is a rising international talent, so it was a great coup to work with her.
“She was utterly committed to the role of Becky Sharp, who is one of the most iconic female characters in literary history.
“She is amazing in the role; it will cement her in the minds of the nation.”