Ingrid Oliver goes to the movies

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She’s done comedy, she’s done television, she’s done Doctor Who, she writes, she directs – and now Ingrid Oliver is going to the movies.

Simon Brew (@simonbrew

This article originally appeared in issue 5 of Film Stories magazine. We put a small number of articles from the magazine on the website.

“I had to pinch myself,” Ingrid Oliver admits of her time walking onto the set of upcoming comedy The Hustle. The movie, directed by Chris Addison (making his feature directorial debut), features Oliver in the ensemble alongside Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson, and arrived in cinemas at the start of May. And whilst she’s certainly had experience working on high-profile projects before, not least the recurring role of Osgood in Doctor Who, walking onto a studio set and finding that a lavish hotel had been constructed on it was still quite a moment. “I still have a real childlike thing when walking onto sets,” she adds. “I had it on Doctor Who as well. I think I’m the luckiest person in the world. It’s such a dream when you’re a kid and to be doing it is really brilliant”.

Not before time, either. Ingrid Oliver’s very much earned her way to this position. She’s sold out comedy shows with her comedy partner Lorna Watson. She’s built up a strong collection of television acting credits, most recently in Silent Witness. And 2019 is the year she’s heading back to the movies, courtesy of supporting roles in two big Hollywood studio comedies.

The Hustle is first up, a remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (itself a remake of 1964’s Bedtime Story). Originally titled Nasty Women, the film soon settled on its new name, with Addison joining the project – having helmed television episodes previously – mid-2017. It was Addison who invited Oliver to audition for the role of Inspector Desjardins. “He thought of me and brought me in. I knew some of the people they were seeing for it – I’m not naming names – and I thought there’s not a chance in hell I’m going to get it. I think I did something quite different to what others had been doing.” It certainly worked. “He really fought my corner,” Oliver says of Addison.

It may just be a doubled-edged sword, though, that when she initially left drama school, Oliver took work as a casting assistant. “I’m actually quite good at casting,” she laughs. “Whenever I go up for a role, I’m like, ‘you know who would be perfect for this?’, and it’s never me! When I get a job I’m always genuinely surprised!” And yet she’s landed not just one high-profile movie this year, but two. In November, she’s appearing in the ensemble for Paul Feig’s new comedy Last Christmas, written by and co-starring Emma Thompson. “I walked into that room,” she recalls of her audition, “and both Paul Feig and Emma Thompson were there. I thought ‘holy shit’…!”

“I love Paul Feig. I love Emma Thompson. To have them both in the same room, and then I had to improvise with Emma Thompson in front of Paul Feig…. That was quite intimidating!”

So intimidating, in fact, that she walked out of the audition, convinced it had gone terribly. “I wrote it off, almost to the point where I was thinking I don’t know if I can do this anymore. I genuinely thought it had gone badly.” The day after, she got the job. The two roles contrasted a little too. Paul Feig regularly builds improvisational space into his shoots, to the point where actors are occasionally reminded that they need to say the scripted lines too. The Hustle, a far more plot-driven story, inevitably required closer adherence to the screenplay, although Oliver did find herself in a scene or two with Rebel Wilson in full improvisational mode.

Did she enjoy the experience of making the film? “It was amazing,” she instantly responds. But it went beyond what you see on the screen. Oliver had harboured ambitions to direct her own material for some time, and Chris Addison invited her to shadow him on set. “I spent a week observing behind the camera and watching the processes,” she recalled. And then, one of the women who worked on the movie took note. She told Oliver that a film crew was available the following week, she knew she wanted to direct, and is there anything she had she’d like to film? “No, but give me a minute,” was Oliver’s quick response. She went away and penned a short feminist horror movie by the name of The Story Of Ken. She cast it, found locations, polished off the script and shot the movie within a week. “I’m really proud of it,” Oliver told us. The film isn’t online to watch yet, as she’s been entering it into a festival or two. “It’s an imperfect thing, but I’m really proud of it, and I’m just working out where to release it.” “I’m a perfectionist and it was my first attempt at making a film,” she reflects, but her appetite is clearly whetted for more.

But even as she muses what to make next, her two highest profile movie roles to date are edging towards release. “I still can’t quite believe it,” she says. Was it a conscious desire, though, to move into movie work? “Conscious desire and acting doesn’t exist,” she laughs. “Mind you, last year I said and released into the world that I wanted to play a detective, hoping it would manifest itself somewhere. And in the last year, I’ve played three!”

The Hustle is in cinemas now, Last Christmas is in cinemas this November. Ingrid Oliver is on Twitter @ingridoliver100.

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