Ingrid Oliver is half of the Watson & Oliver comedy duo that lit up our screens a few years back on BBC Two. Ingrid also starred next to Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman in Doctor Who and tells Andrew Peters how she’d like to be cast in more detective roles.
Photo copyright: Ed Miller
Q Ingrid, did your varied upbringing in Germany, Kuwait and then living and completing your studies in England help decide your career path?
A Yes. My life has been deﬁned by change. I went to seven different schools, lived in about ten different houses, had several sets of step parents; I’d seen a lot and experienced a lot at a young age and as such I think I grew up quite quickly. I had a real understanding of what makes humans tick and that’s vital to being an actor. Also, if I ever felt discombobulated, I’d watch a ﬁlm or read a book and be comforted by those stories, which I think is why I wanted to work in the industry, to be able to create those stories for other people.
Q Who inspired you to start your career in entertaining?
A It was actually a friend of mine from university. I had pretended to myself for a long time that I didn’t want to be an actor, that it wasn’t a proper job, that I wouldn’t be able to make a living out of it. After uni, I got a job in television production on Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast, when my friend said: “You’ve always wanted to act, why don’t you give it a go?” So I applied for drama school that year and got in, and that was it.
Q In 2005 you paired up with your Tiffin Girls’ School friend Lorna Watson to form the comedy due Watson & Oliver. Was there a catalyst for doing this?
A After drama school, I spent several years in temp jobs whilst doing small theatre jobs, but I didn’t have an agent, I wasn’t earning any money and was starting to get disillusioned by the whole thing. Lorna was having a similar time of it, doing a bit of stand-up and presenting. Then one year, I went to the Edinburgh Festival and saw a young female double act performing a live show and thought: “Me and Lorna could do that!” We’d written stuff together before and had been making each other laugh for years, so we decided to book a pub theatre in London and gave ourselves two months to write our ﬁrst show.
Q Following sell out success at Edinburgh Fringe Festivals, BBC Two commissioned Watson & Oliver. Was that out of the blue?
A These things are never entirely out of the blue because they involve several steps to get there. We’d done three Edinburgh Festivals and had meetings with several production companies off the back of them and eventually signed a development deal with the BBC. Then there was a year of developing before we ﬁnally pitched for a series. But the day we got the call saying we’d got the series was one of the happiest of my life.
Q You personally returned to the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe in a very well received solo show Speech! Any thoughts about another solo show in the near future?
A I love Edinburgh and would deﬁnitely do a show again. My last show was a sort of political character show – a bit of a departure for me. It was a response to the result of the EU Referendum and the election of Donald Trump – I suddenly had something I wanted to say.
Q Any highs and lows of your early career you’d care to mention?
A When people you’ve grown up with and admire tell you they enjoy your work, it’s such a huge, surreal thing. Victoria Wood said she’d watched our show in hospital and it had cheered her up. We had a bit of a cry at that. A low in my early career would have to be my ﬁrst job after drama school. I was hired to perform Shakespeare monologues at the Tower of London for tourists that couldn’t have been less interested and would interrupt my Lady Macbeth to ask where the toilets were.
Q You’re very well known for playing Petronella Osgood in Doctor Who and starred in the 50th anniversary episode. Did you find moving from sketch comedy and comic roles to more dramatic roles challenging?
A There is a certain weight of expectation that comedy actors feel when they take on a dramatic role. Or at least I certainly do. The lovely thing about Osgood though is that there was room for a bit of comedy, so I felt very comfortable playing her.
Q That was your 3D debut – any difficulties filming in that format?
A When you ﬁlm in 3D everything takes three times longer to ﬁlm because of the extra equipment and lighting involved. If you forget your lines and ruin a take, it’s much more of a big deal to re-set everything, so it really makes you focus.
Dog or cat? Cat. 100%
Funniest TV show? The Thick Of It
Guilty pleasure? TOWIE
Main inspiration? Tina Fey
Glass half full or half empty? Half full
Q Did you enjoy working with Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman?
A I absolutely loved it. They are lovely people and incredible actors. I learnt a lot from being around them.
Q Playing Petronella, you hold the distinction of being one of the few characters who have been resurrected – you were no doubt pleased about that?
A I was resurrected not once, but twice! I was thrilled when I was asked to go back and ﬁlm more episodes after the 50th because I’d enjoyed it so much and I’m a fan of Doctor Who, so it was a bit of a dream to be honest.
Q Last year you wrote and directed a short film, The Story of Ken. Can you tell us a little about this?
A I call it a feminist horror story. It’s about a man’s reaction to the rise of feminism. It’s pretty dark, but also funny.
Q You’re an extremely versatile talent, can you describe a typical day? Is there such a thing for you?
A At the moment I’m obsessed with Brexit, so I spend a lot of time on Twitter reading the latest news. I’m a panellist on a Brexit podcast called Remainiacs, so I have to keep up with what’s going on. When I’m not doing that, I go to auditions, do voiceovers and am currently writing a play.
Photo copyright: Idil Sukan | Draw HQ
Born in Germany, Ingrid Oliver spent her early childhood in Kuwait before attending Tiffin Girls’ School in Kingston-upon-Thames and then reading Modern Languages at New College, Oxford.
Following sell-out shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2006 and 2007, she and her comedy partner Lorna Watson were commissioned for their own television sketch show (Watson & Oliver) on BBC Two in 2012 which ran for two series.
In 2013 Ingrid was cast as scientist Petronella Osgood in the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who – a role she reprised in subsequent series starring alongside Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman.
Ingrid returned to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017 with a new solo show entitled Speech!
In 2019 she is starring alongside Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson in The Hustle – a female-led remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels directed by Chris Addison in which she plays French cop Inspector Brigitte Desjardins. Ingrid will also be seen in guest roles in BBC Two’s Defending the Guilty and long-running BBC crime drama Silent Witness. In late 2019 she stars alongside Emilia Clarke and Emma Thompson in Last Christmas, a romantic comedy directed by Paul Feig.
Q Have you noticed a change in attitude towards women and minorities from when you began your career?
A Absolutely. People are much more engaged with the subject of diversity now. Producers are more likely to say: “Couldn’t that be played by a woman?” or “Why does this person have to be white?” and I think it makes for much more interesting choices.
Q This year is an exciting one for you. This month you play Inspector Brigette Desjardins in The Hustle with Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson, an all-female remake of the 1988 Dirty Rotten Scoundrels film – excited about this?
A Very. It’s such a funny ﬁlm. Anne and Rebel are hilarious in it and I get to dust off my French accent.
Q Later this year you are in Last Christmas with Emma Thompson and Emilia Clarke. Can you tell us more about this film?
A It’s a romantic comedy written by Emma Thompson and directed by Paul Feig who directed Bridesmaids. Those were probably the two people that I’ve wanted to work with the most and I got to work with them both on the same ﬁlm so I can retire now.
Q What would be the ideal drama/film and part for you?
A I’ve always wanted to play a TV detective.
Q Your Twitter feed has been pretty much all about the B word over the past two years – can you sum up your feelings in one word?
A No. It’d be unprintable. If I were to sum my feelings up in a sound it’d be “Ufffggnnhf”.
Q What are your future ambitions?
A To play more detectives.
The Hustle is out in cinemas from 17 May.Twitter: @ingridoliver100Instagram: ingrid_oliver