SHE was spurned by Rada and suffered years of rejection from casting directors, but Olivia Cooke’s acting future is now set fair.
Olivia plays anti-heroine Becky Sharp in a lavish ITV adaptation of classic novel Vanity Fair starting tomorrow — and it is a performance critics are falling over themselves to rave about.
Rex Features Meet Olivia Cooke – the working-class star of ITV’s new £11million costume blockbuster Vanity FairHer Becky is straight out of real life, a recognisably modern, ambitious young woman who even slouches about instead of standing around primly — possibly a first for a costume drama.
And it seems Olivia was born to play the character from William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1847 satire, who by sheer determination climbs from poverty-stricken beginnings to high society — horrifying snobs along the way.
Olivia’s own beginnings were also humble — and she has done her share of upsetting acting snobs, with moves like starring in a One Direction video.
The actress, 24, and younger sister Eleanor were brought up by mum Lindsy in Oldham, Greater Manchester. Sales rep Lindsy had split from their policeman dad John when the girls were young.
Olivia got rave reviews as Maria in West Side Story while in sixth form at OldhamOlivia has recalled: “My mum had to be both parents. She’s the person I call at 1am.”
At eight, she first got the acting bug when she joined an after-school club at Oldham Theatre Workshop.
But it was not until she was 17 that she landed her first lead role — and her first rave reviews.
Her old drama teacher Elizabeth Ramsay, 41, still remembers watching that performance, when Olivia took to the stage as Maria in West Side Story.
The actress won her first professional role in One Direction’s video for Autumn Term – by doing the splitsElizabeth told The Sun: “We knew at that point there was just something about her.”
From there Olivia won her first professional role — in One Direction’s video for Autumn Term, where she was given a piggyback by Harry Styles.
The actress remembered of the audition: “I was with these Amazonian, gorgeous models and thinking ‘I’m never going to get this.’
“They’re like ‘Show us your parlour tricks’ and I’m like, ‘When I’m drunk I can do this split’. So I did the splits and something popped and I couldn’t get back up. I got the job.”
The hopeful then applied for Rada and auditioned for EastEnders and Hollyoaks – but was rejected by allRobert Viglasky The 24-year-old will portray in a lavish ITV adaptation of classic novel Vanity FairSoon afterwards she won a role in 2012 BBC1 series Blackout as Christopher Eccleston’s daughter and faced the crunch decision of whether to quit A-Levels or take the role.
Olivia went for acting — but the work dried up. She later admitted: “My mum was panicking.” During this time she auditioned and was turned down from both EastEnders and Hollyoaks, but later said: “Thank God, thank God, thank God — I’d still be there now, years later.”
The hopeful then applied for London drama school Rada. She said: “It was a horrible auditioning process.
“There was a voice teacher who singled out me and this girl from Wigan because we had northern accents. He told me to run on the spot while I was reading a monologue, and he was thumping me on the back really hard.
Getty Images – Getty Instead, Olivia moved to New York where she got a role in TV’s Bates Motel but struggled with loneliness Olivia admitted to have gained a ‘really painful back and shoulders after wearing a corset for six months’ for the role“I knew then that I hadn’t got in.”
Instead, she moved to New York and soon landed a role on TV’s Bates Motel, a prequel to Psycho.
Professionally she was on a high, but personally she was struggling with loneliness. She explained: “I have a tough time doing things on my own. I get really miserable. I hate my own company. I came to New York with a seven-year-old’s mentality, thinking that if I just smiled at people, they’d be my friend, like at Kids’ Club in Majorca, and I’d have a whole gang by the end of the week.“People were talking about all these cult classic films, or staples of cinema history, and I was lying through my teeth that I’d seen all of them, because for all my life I’d grown up with The Sound Of Music and The Lizzie McGuire Movie.”
The ITV star played a teenage prostitute in Katie Says Goodbye statesideHowever, she did meet her boyfriend stateside, actor Christopher Abbott, 32, star of hit show Girls. She has noted: “I’m helping friendly relations between Britain and America.” Low-budget roles followed, including one as a teenage prostitute in Katie Says Goodbye, when she stripped naked on screen.
The actress said: “It was wonderful. I had no inhibitions, and by the end of the film I was like, ‘Everyone should be naked, all the time’.”
Finally in 2015 she landed her breakthrough role. It was as a cancer-hit teen in Me And Earl And the Dying Girl. She told the director: “Bald caps look so s**t; let’s just shave my head.”
The actress later said it was important to her that she did not rely on looks, explaining: “I hope that my acting has more volume than the way I look, and I think there’s a lot of actors and actresses that get by just purely on physicality rather than substance.
Vanity Fair’s Becky Sharp insists she’s neither a sex symbol nor a role model Olivia celebrated getting the role by being drunk all the time on a beach in Mexico“I don’t want to be known as a sex symbol. I don’t want to be a role model. If I wanted to be a role model, I’d be a politician. I just want to be known as a good actor.”
Then came her biggest test — an audition in front of Steven Spielberg for a role in Ready Player One.
She said of that day: “I was having a panic attack. He’s been an idol of mine since I was a child. Then he comes in and he’s so lovely. You’re so disarmed by how charming and kind he is.”
The actress found out she’d got the part while heading off for a break in Mexico. She later recalled: “It was the best holiday. I was drunk the entire time, on the beach just celebrating.”
She says it is down to Spielberg that UK casting directors took her seriously and gave her the lead in Vanity Fair — a role she suspects would not have otherwise gone to a working-class actress.
�2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Village Roadshow Films North America Inc. and RatPa Olivia’s biggest test before ITV’s costume blockbuster was an audition in front of Steven Spielberg for Ready Player OneWithout him, Olivia believes that in the UK she would have been stuck playing “maid number three”.
But she continued: “Just because you have a famous dad or your mum was a director, or you went to Eton and then to Rada and then Hollywood, it doesn’t mean that makes you a better actor.
“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t have Steven. I had a bit of a break and I leaped on it.”
But that great leap — and the new role at the head of an all-star cast including Martin Clunes, Michael Palin, Suranne Jones and Simon Russell Beale — did cause her one problem.
Olivia said: “I’ve had a really painful back and shoulders after wearing a corset for six months.
“No wonder women desperately wanted to be liberated. You’re sucked in within an inch of your life.
Pricey of 19th century
By Caroline Iggulden, Associate Editor
VANITY Fair was written in 1847 but in many ways mirrors today’s celebrity-obsessed, fame-loving, selfie culture.
Little wonder the TV drama has been dubbed “Love Island with bonnets”. Writer Gwyneth Hughes used the reality show as inspiration when adapting the tale of six young couples looking for love in Victorian high society.
Splash News Like a 19th-century Katie Price, Becky Sharp is known for a ‘famous frontal development’ and knack for self- promotionWilliam Makepeace Thackeray’s classic novel foreshadows reality TV. The writer (played by Michael Palin) sets the action up like a puppet show, becoming a kind of Simon Cowell Svengali controlling the action.
The story follows Becky Sharp, who schemes and seduces her way out of poverty. Like a 19th-century Katie Price, she is known for a “famous frontal development” and knack for self-promotion. Today she would be a selfie-loving “social influencer” with a huge Instagram following and botox habit.
Becky weighs up every man for his usefulness. She marries aristocrat’s son Rawdon Crawley (Tom Bateman) believing she will be in line for a fortune. But when his dad’s wife dies she realises she could have wed him instead.
Hulton Archive – Getty William Makepeace Thackeray’s classic novel foreshadows reality TVMuch like Peter Andre, the long-suffering Rawdon steps up as the responsible dad when Becky faces financial ruin and retreats into partying.
Key to the action is her friendship with kind-hearted but simple Amelia Sedley (Claudia Jessie), the Dani Dyer of her day. Amelia has her own version of Love’s Island’s Jack Fincham, devoted admirer and military hero William Dobbin (Johnny Flynn).
His bff is caddish George Osbourne (Charlie Rowe) a swaggering, Danny Cipriani-esque heartbreaker who parties his way around Europe.
MECKING IT UP Ryan Thomas’ beau Lucy Mecklenburgh calls Roxanne Pallett a ‘lying b****’ BOOBYGUARD Keeley Hawes and Bodyguard co-star were in X-rated film together when he was 13 BIG BOOT Rodrigo Alves to break silence about shock CBB exit on This Morning this week STRICT SECURITY Strictly bosses vow to keep Katie Piper safe as acid thug set to be freed JACKING IT IN Jack Whitehall to quit a League Of Their Own in bid to kickstart career in US ‘MY MATE IS BACK’ Simon Cowell is delighted as host Ant McPartlin plans to return to BGT
And lascivious aristocrat the Marquis of Steyne (Anthony Head) is a Victorian Harvey Weinstein.
Vanity Fair was published as a 19-part serial, like a modern-day soap opera. Its title is from 17th-century religious text Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.
“Vanity Fair” is a stop on the pilgrim’s route – a never-ending fair in a town called Vanity, representing man’s sinful attachment to worldly things. More than 170 years later, Thackery’s merry-go-round is still very much turning…
Behind-the-scenes with Love Island star Olivia Attwood on her In The Style photoshoot