Olivia Williams: ‘I have unattractive knees. They have taken offence at my scathing remarks and decided to stop functioning’

Born in London, Olivia Williams, 53, studied at Cambridge University and Bristol Old Vic Theatre school before joining the RSC. Her movies include The Postman, The Sixth Sense, Rushmore and The Father, and her TV work includes Friends, the British remake of Call My Agent! and The Crown. She is in Marys Seacole at the Donmar Warehouse in London until 4 June. She has two daughters with her husband, the actor Rhashan Stone, and lives in London.

When were you happiest?
People are often traumatised by the sleeplessness in the first years of their children’s lives, but I was insanely happy to be married and have two children. The only dark cloud was how much we were loathed for having babies who slept through the night.

What is your greatest fear?
Complacency.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Complacency.

What was your most embarrassing moment?
For complicated reasons involving a door that was supposed to be locked being unlocked, my emerging unexpectedly on to the stage, bare-arse first, in the closing scene of The Changeling.

Aside from a property, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought?
An electric car.

What makes you unhappy?
Rubbish left out on the street on the wrong day.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I have very unattractive knees. They have clearly taken offence at my scathing remarks and have decided to stop functioning, as well as being ugly. I should have been nicer about them while they still worked.

What is your most treasured possession?
My husband gave me a ring that is the only thing he owns that belonged to his mother. She died when he was 11.

What would your superpower be?
Making people laugh.

If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose?
The Ecnomiohyla rabborum or Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog – relatively recently lost – has a couple of pleasing eccentricities. It fed its young on its own skin, and had a slight ability to hang-glide from tree to tree, thanks to its disproportionately large, webbed feet.

Who is your celebrity crush?
I’ve always had a thing for dancers: Nureyev as a child. Baryshnikov as a teenager. Akram Khan.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?
My mother says I had a plan to be a farmer’s wife and a violinist, going to concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in my tractor.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Winceyette.

When did you last cry, and why?
In rehearsals. The play is very funny about mothers and daughters, but one of the gags hit a raw nerve.

What would you like to leave your children?
No clutter.

What is the closest you’ve come to death?
Undiagnosed VIPoma in 2018.

What has been your closest brush with the law?
Emerging from the womb of a barrister.

What keeps you awake at night?
All the things I ought to have done.

Tell us a joke
A man walks into a gym and says: “I want to learn to do the splits.” The instructor asks: “How flexible are you?” He says: “I can’t do Tuesdays.”

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