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They were friends first. Now Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley want a franchise

NEW YORK - MARCH 20, 2024: Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman, the co-stars of "Wicked Little Letters" at The Crosby Hotel in New York on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. (Evelyn Freja / For The Times)
Jessie Buckley, left, and Olivia Colman, photographed at the Crosby Hotel in New York City in March. (Evelyn Freja / For The Times)

Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley have an idea for a podcast. Actually, they have a lot of ideas, not all of them podcasts. But Colman recently learned that podcasts are a big moneymaker for celebrities and she wants in because it sounds easier than being on a movie set all day.

“We can be at home wearing our pajamas or driving around in my filthy family van,” Colman, 50, says, speaking over Zoom from her home in London a few days before jetting off to Australia to start production on “Jimpa” with filmmaker Sophie Hyde. “We have a lovely little electric car, but the roads where we live are so covered in sharp stones, we’ve ended up with constant flat tires. So we’re going to have to do it with the family van.”

Or, maybe they could have a cooking podcast, which Buckley learned about from Frances McDormand while working on “Women Talking.”

“That’s what we’re going to do!” Colman says. “You’re going to do cooking and I’m going to ask you what you’re cooking. And I can do pottery.” She adds, in an affected voice, “I can do a rather good radio accent.”

“We sound like a bunch of old ladies,” says Buckley, 34, joining the Zoom from New York City, where she’s preparing to shoot Chloé Zhao’s “Hamnet” alongside Paul Mescal. The pair are reuniting to discuss their new movie, “Wicked Little Letters” (in limited release today) but it’s clear they’ll take any excuse to chat. They’ve been pals since before they co-starred in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s 2021 adaptation of novelist Elena Ferrante's “The Lost Daughter,” which earned them both Oscar nominations.

Two actor friends enjoy each other's company.
Jessie Buckley, left, and Olivia Colman, photographed at the Crosby Hotel in New York City in March. (Evelyn Freja / For The Times)

Their initial encounter, six or seven years ago, has all the trappings of a rom-com meet-cute.

“We met at a festival before we even filmed anything together, at 6 o'clock in the morning, singing Adele into Olivia’s karaoke machine that she had brought,” Buckley says.

Colman, when asked why she brought a karaoke machine to a music festival (they think it was Wilderness, outside of Oxford), simply says, “Why wouldn't you? You've got to pack your body glitter, karaoke machine [and] wet wipes.”

The pair connected immediately.

“We've recognized something in each other,” Colman says. Their husbands, too, struck up a bromance. “It sounds like we're a bunch of swingers,” Colman adds, laughing. “We're not. It's just so much easier when you all like each other and muck about.”

Since then, they’ve spent summer holidays together, partied on New Year’s Eve and texted endlessly. It was Colman who recommended to Gyllenhaal that she cast Buckley as her character’s younger self in “The Lost Daughter.”

“Other people might have suggested Jessie too, but I do like to think that I said it first,” Colman says.

Colman also takes credit for Buckley’s casting in “Wicked Little Letters,” a charmingly quirky British indie produced by Colman and her husband Ed Sinclair. Written by Jonny Sweet and directed by Thea Sharrock, the movie is a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale set in the 1920s in the seaside town of Littlehampton. Colman plays Edith, an uptight spinster who lives with her elderly parents, and Buckley plays her rowdy Irish neighbor, Rose. When Edith begins to receive shockingly profane anonymous letters, she accuses Rose — but local police officer Gladys (Anjana Vasan) suspects there may be more to the story.

Sweet’s script is based on real correspondence, most of which is re-created word for word. Colman liked the screenplay and “thought it sounded fun,” but says there wasn’t much else to her motivation to produce and star in it.

“[Filming] does take up a big part of your life and you can do some really hard, difficult, torturous, crying-type jobs,” she says. “And every now and then you go, ‘Gosh, I’d love to go to work with one of my best friends.’ There's never too much thought attached to anything I do. It's always a slightly gut feeling.”

Buckley needed no convincing when Colman texted her asking if she could send over the script. In fact, she said yes before she even read it.

“We didn’t get to work together on ‘The Lost Daughter,’” Buckley says, owing to their characters occupying different decades. “We just got to drink rosé together every night [on location in Greece], which was a lot of work — we worked very hard at that part. We've been in love ever since.”

Colman still seems perplexed that Buckley agreed to take on “Wicked Little Letters” as her follow-up to “Women Talking” and Alex Garland's 2022 folk-horror psychodrama “Men.”

“You’re very discerning,” she says to Buckley. “You've chosen such beautiful things. I was thrilled that you decided to come and muck about with me.”

Two actors pose for the camera.
Olivia Colman, left, and Jessie Buckley, photographed at the Crosby Hotel in New York City in March. (Evelyn Freja / For The Times)

“Well, it was you,” Buckley says, her face lighting up. She quickly shifts back into interview mode. “When you get to stand opposite Olivia, who not only is full of mischief but has so much feeling in her and is one of the kindest people to have on set, let alone in your life, then it’s so easy. I’ve watched all of her stuff and then to be able to stand opposite her — that was all the convincing I needed.”

Not to be outdone, Colman chimes in, “Jessie is the kindest, most generous person in the world, which is why she is saying these lovely things. I felt exactly the same about her. We fell in love while we were all in Greece. It was like, ‘God, I'm so jealous everyone gets to do scenes with Jessie.’”

“Wicked Little Letters” represents Buckley’s first time doing a full-on comedy, which she loved. “There’s a real heart in this as well,” she offers. “It’s so moving at moments. You see these two women trying to be free and full and disobedient.”

Director Sharrock says Buckley has an instinct for what’s funny. In one scene, Rose lifts her skirt to flash her underwear at Edith, but Buckley shocked the crew by going commando because her costume had gotten dirty. That was the take that made the final cut.

“None of us were anticipating that,” Sharrock says. “And that was the spirit of our shoot. It was glorious.”

Sharrock was attracted to the “difficult complexity” of the characters, especially Edith, but also to the prospect of watching Colman and Buckley collaborate onscreen.

“Their love for each other is very clear, but their respect for one another as actors is on a whole other level and that's so amazing to see,” Sharrock says. “It was a perfect mixture of extraordinary discipline coupled with the safety of letting someone else go wherever they want to go. It was really dreamy, but it was also really naughty. Boy, did we have fun.”

Read more: Jessie Buckley says go ahead and judge her 'Lost Daughter' character if you must

Although Colman has been lauded for her dramatic performances, including her Oscar-winning work in “The Favourite,” she’s not interested in hierarchies on sets. Serving as a producer on “Wicked Little Letters,” she set the tone by handing out cake and, as she puts it, “doing fart jokes.”

“Life's too short, isn't it?” Colman says. “There’s so much awful stuff around and people having a terrible time of it. We’re so f— lucky to do what we do. To have an egalitarian kind of existence like we had on the film is so nice and must not be underappreciated.”

Sharrock adds that an effort was made to hire female department heads behind the scenes, which made a difference in the atmosphere. But mostly she credits Colman and Buckley with establishing the set's high spirits. “If they are your leads, people follow,” she says.

Colman drove herself from London to and from the Sussex set a couple of hours away in the aforementioned filthy family van, with Buckley often jumping in for the ride. They’ve already talked about their next project together — barring any potential podcast — and both have some thoughts on what it could be.

“We’ve got one idea: pirates,” Buckley says. Colman’s enthusiasm is hard to contain. “This is a winner,” she says. “Basically, we’re going to be pirates. I’m Smee.”

“And you want to wear pajamas,” Buckley continues. “I just like the idea of you in one of those little hats with the long tail.”

“And you’re going to be cool and strong and swing off the ropes while I look worried,” Colman says. They even have a director in mind. “We’re going to get Yorgos [Lanthimos] to direct it,” Colman says. “Like a series of 14 films.”

The kinship is palpable. “Wicked Little Letters” is a joyous comedy, but it also emphasizes the importance of female friendship — a topic that is clearly meaningful to its stars.

“There's something beautiful about women who help each other and like each other, and that's in there,” Colman says.

“And they’re so full and individual and they’re bursting at the seams as people,” Buckley adds. “If you try to squish anybody into a box it's only going to bite you in the ass. It’s gorgeous to see that sisterhood and these brilliant women who are just trying to be themselves and be badly behaved.”

They eventually have to be pried off our Zoom call — an unusual circumstance for an interview. “You probably have no material,” Buckley says. “We just talked about love.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.