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The Light from the TV Shows: Chatting with Lara Pulver about ‘Fleming,’ ‘Da Vinci’s Demons,’ and more

Lara Pulver made her first TV appearance in 2009, but she’s quickly racked up a list of credits that’d impress just about any TV viewer, including roles on Robin Hood, True Blood, MI-5, Sherlock, Skins, and Da Vinci’s Demons. In addition to popping up briefly in the current run of Sherlock and returning to Da Vinci’s Demons for its upcoming sophomore season, Pulver can also be found in BBC America’s new limited-series event, Fleming, playing Ann Charteris, the woman who – 62-year-old spoiler alert! – eventually went on to be Mrs. Ian Fleming. Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to chat with Pulver at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, and we asked her about all of the aforementioned small-screen roles while also touching on her film work with Idris Elba, Michael Sheen, and Tom Cruise.


Bullz-Eye: So how much did you know about Ian Fleming’s life before you signed on to this project?

Lara Pulver: As a Brit, I knew his novels, I knew he was behind the Bond franchise, but I knew nothing about the man.

BE: How surprised were you to learn about him?

LP: I found him fascinating. Like, from a psychoanalytic point of view. His relationship with his mom, the depressive arrogance, his ego when it came to women, his failure as a man when it came to finding an occupation, finding his niche in life… And yet he never really lived long enough to find out the true success of what we now celebrate as 50 years of Bond as a franchise. So I found it fascinating.

BE: Were you a Bond fan going in?

LP: It’s definitely in British arts and culture history. It’s on TV at Christmas. There’s always a Bond movie. And it’s quite fascinating how they’ve been able to reinvent to make it so current 50 years on.

BE: Were you familiar enough with the franchise to recognize the bits and pieces of it that turned up in his real life?

LP: Yeah, and it’s also so interesting, having done Fleming, to see a Bond movie now. That’s even more interesting.

BE: How did you find your way onto the project in the first place? Did they come looking for you specifically?

LP: Yeah, Mat Whitecross approached me and said, “Please, can you read this script and let me know what you think? We’d really love you to come on board with this project.” And I read it, and I loved the writing. And we had a few phone conversations about it, and about…their bedroom antics and all that would be involved in that stuff. [Laughs.] And how they were looking to depict this man, and the style of it, whether it was hinting at the Bond franchise, whether it stood on its own. We just had so many lovely conversations, and it became a real collaborative process, which was really lovely.

BE: Did you do any research on your own, or did you just let the script provide you with the insight?

LP: No, they provided me not only with John Pearson’s (book, The Life of Ian Fleming), which it was based on, but also Ann Fleming’s diaries, which meant I could piece together a lot and answer a lot of questions. Because when I initially read it, as a woman, I was, like, “Why on earth would she be interested in this man? Why? Why would she be infatuated with this arrogant brute of a man?” [Laughs.] And it wasn’t until I read the diaries and could kind of piece together her back story that I saw her vulnerability, her insecurity, her want and her desperation for love and to feel alive. And then you can kind of justify anyone’s actions and choices.


BE: Had you known Dominic at all before this?

LP: I didn’t know Dom, no. We’d never met before.

BE: Well, that must’ve been nice, to say “hello” and then just pop right on in and do those rather erotically charged scenes.

LP: Yeah, but, you know, I’ve been so fortunate with the guys I’ve played opposite in the last couple of years, that not only are they very talented actors in their own right, but they’re such team players. I felt like Dom always had my back. It was kind of like an unspoken thing, really, of just trusting each other from the get-go with that stuff. When you’re having to be so intimate with someone, and then so explosive and aggressive and volatile, and you’re trying to depict a very volatile, dysfunctional relationship, it means kind of really…going there! [Laughs.]

BE: What was the most enjoyable aspect about doing this particular period piece?

LP: Oh, the costume. The costume, the hair and the makeup. I had 30 hours of costume fitting, which is kind of unheard of. It’s a lot. And it’s because Caroline Harris, our costume designer, wanted to build this real authentic wardrobe that was not only depicting the period in the piece but also that stood out. Ann was such a Bohemian woman, very much ahead of her time, very spirited, and I think Caroline really wanted her to be, like, a beacon of light within the show when it came to style and glamour.


BE: Having worked on True Blood, is there any intrinsic difference between American television and British television as far as the production goes?

LP: Everything’s just bigger in the States. Budgets are bigger. Craft services? Way bigger. [Laughs.] Like, we have a cup of tea and a biscuit on our tea break, and that’s it. Yeah, I’d say crews are bigger. The involvement of everything feels like it’s on a larger scale. Although saying that, there’s so many co-productions happening now, so many productions shooting in the UK now have a US co-producer, that everything’s bigger in the UK now, too.

BE: How did you enjoy the True Blood experience overall?

LP: I loved it. American Beauty was, like, my teenage movie, so to work with Alan Ball was… He was God to me. [Laughs.] And it was so fun to join that world. It was just so fun. Anything went. And I loved working with Anna (Paquin) as well. She’s a hoot.

BE: What was your favorite part of your character, Claudine?

LP: This wacky world that we ended up inventing. It got to the point where it was, like, “Do we explore this world further, or do we need to move back to the True Blood that everybody knows?” And I think that was a choice that they needed to make from a writing point of view. I wish she’d lived longer and been crazier. [Laughs.] But who knows on True Blood?

BE: Had you been a fan of the show prior to that?

LP: I hadn’t seen a hell of a lot of the show. I knew of the show. But it’d just started airing in the UK – on Channel Four, I think it was – so it wasn’t until I came to the US that I was more aware of the show.

Da Vinci's Demons 2013

BE: I spoke with David S. Goyer recently about the upcoming second season of Da Vinci’s Demons, another period piece from your filmography. Have you enjoyed doing that one as well?

LP: The second season on Da Vinci’s Demons for me has been brilliant. I’ve had such wonderful scenes, lovely writing, lovely arcs, my character’s been tested and challenged to the max, and what’s been so lovely is that you’ve seen her succeed and then you’ve seen her epically fail as well. [Laughs.] And that’s always wonderful, because it humanizes the character. Working with all these guys – David Goyer, Alan Ball – you’re working with moviemakers for the small screen, so it feels so epic and stylized and…exciting.

BE: Your initial appearance on Sherlock made headlines, whether you’d intended them or not, as a result of your, uh, lack of attire. Were you taken aback when that became such a publicized thing?

LP: Yeah, because – naively – when I read that scene, it was a scene where she took Sherlock off-guard, and then the story went on. It didn’t feel like a standout moment in that sense. But I think also because his sexuality after Season One had been so in question. Was he asexual? Who was this man? To see Sherlock deal with love and deal with a woman I think was what was so interesting and so fun…really fun…to play with.


BE: Had they forewarned you that they’d be bringing Irene back? Given your workload, it seems like a case where they’d really have to work out the scheduling in advance to do so.

LP: Well, I think it’s also depending on what stories they choose to write. They’re big Conan Doyle fans, Mark (Gatiss) and Steven (Moffat), and I don’t think they want to steer away from that. So will she back? Who knows? But she’s always present in his mind. She’s the woman.

BE: Have you watched Elementary at all?

LP: I’ve not seen Elementary, actually. No, I’ve not.

BE: Well, I don’t want to give away the spoiler about Irene Adler, then.

LP: Oh? Why? Is she… [Hesitates.] She’s obviously not a dominatrix in this one, I’m guessing.

BE: No, she’s…

[Even though it’s not like the information hasn’t been available for quite some time now, we’re not going to give away the spoiler, because it just feels uncool. But given that Lara actually leaned forward in her chair, we figured it was safe to tell her, so we did.]

LP: Oh! Okay, well, there we go. She’s… [Hesitates, then shakes her head and smiles.] Okay!

BE: I have to say, I didn’t see that coming.

LP: I don’t think Conan Doyle saw that coming, either! [Laughs.]

BE: You haven’t done a huge number of feature films, but you did appear in Legacy with Idris Elba.

LP: I did. And that was my very first movie! It was extraordinary, because I went in for the small role of a journalist, and that role was written for, like, a 45-year-old woman. But they obviously saw something in me. I think it was something Jodie Foster-esque, they said to me. And they said, “If we tweak this, how do you feel?” And I was, like, “Great!” So I got two weeks of working opposite Idris Elba, which was such a learning curve. And then from there it was a small part (in HBO’s The Special Relationship) with Michael Sheen, and then just recently – last year – I played a scene opposite Tom Cruise in his new movie, Edge of Tomorrow. So it’s just… [Giggles.] I get great leading men!


BE: And your first TV role was on (BBC America’s) Robin Hood, which – again – not a bad first gig. It was pretty high profile.

LP: Yes!

BE: And another period piece as well. Do you particular enjoy period pieces, or has it just been luck of the draw?

LP: I think the UK produces a lot of period pieces. And I think my look’s quite versatile. I think I can look that English rose, and I can be quite contemporary. So it’s kind of worked in my favor. But it’s also just interesting. The storytelling of those different eras, it’s just very interesting, and I’m intrigued by it. I like history, and I like discovering women in those times, the politics and everything. So it’s been really interesting for me playing period pieces…but, having said that, Edge of Tomorrow is set in the future! [Laughs.]

BE: So what are you watching on TV at the moment?

LP: You know, I saw Parenthood the other night on NBC, and, oh my God, I just burst into tears!

BE: Seriously, you should just start at the beginning and binge on it. It’s great.

LP: It’s so real, it’s so accessible, the writing’s great, it’s such a great ensemble cast… Breaking Bad, I’m only on the second episode of Season One, so I’m really late to the party…but at least I’m at the party! [Laughs.] What else have I been watching? Lots of movies, recently, with it being award season. Lots of screeners and stuff. So that’s been great, too.

BE: What’s the best film you’ve seen recently?

LP: 12 Years a Slave has definitely had an effect on me. [Laughs.] I felt like I needed a cold shower after watching that. It was just so dark and horrific. August: Osage County there’s some brilliant performances in. I thought Julia Roberts was extraordinary. There’s so many! I’ve seen American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street… It’s so diverse! But it’s just so lovely to see… [Hesitates.] Well, to be honest, for me right now, it’s a time for television. It really does feel like that’s where the most exciting stuff is happening.


BE: Lastly, some of the shows you’ve done have had light moments, but you haven’t really done a balls-out comedy.  Is that something you’d like to take a shot at?

LP: Definitely! It’s one of these things, isn’t it, where what people see you do, they then want more of it. So if it’s, like, playing a very strong woman, they want that. But I’m sure if I were to go and film a comedy with…gosh, who can I think of off the top of my head? If I was to do a season on Modern Family, for example, all of a sudden maybe I’d get my own comedy show or something! [Laughs.] So who knows where the wind will take me, but all I can say is that good writing is where I like to go, whether it’s stage, screen, TV, whatever it is. Someone once said to me, “You can’t polish a turd,” so if the writing’s a turd, you can put glitter on it, but you can’t polish it. It’s so true. And I’ve been very lucky, with Peter Morgan and Steven Moffat and David Goyer and Alan Ball… [Sighs.] I just need a good female writer now!