The naked truth about Lara Pulver

After excelling in a number of cool series – and that scene in Sherlock – Lara Pulver's star is most certainly rising. Alice Jones meets the British actress causing a stir in Hollywood

Just to be clear, Lara Pulver was not completely naked in that Sherlock scene. "No. I was wearing Louboutin shoes. Earrings. Make-up. And this weird kind of…" She cups her hand and stares at it, baffled. "I don't even know how you'd describe it. Cup? A cup thingy." She hoots.

It took a "skeleton crew" of eight people six hours to shoot the moment when Irene Adler greets Holmes and Watson without a stitch on. The instant that filming was over – "such a relief" – Pulver wolfed down a Snickers. A Snickers! The dominatrix who steals Sherlock's heart is just like us! "But it was one of those Celebrations mini Snickers and I had to share it with the wardrobe girl." Oh.

As she sat there in a robe, scoffing her tiny treat, Pulver had no idea that the 111-second scene – which would be watched by nine million people on New Year's Day 2012, and a further 2.5 million online thereafter, making it BBC iPlayer's most watched of the year – was about to change her life. Over the previous decade, she had starred in everything from Miss Saigon and Sondheim to True Blood and Spooks, but it took a flick of Irene's whip to send her stellar.

"The only way I could describe it is that it's like that bit in The Wizard of Oz where everything goes from black and white to Technicolor. Everything was OK beforehand – it was great – but all of a sudden, the lights had come on," she says. "The last year has been extraordinary."

Now, at 32, Hollywood is "opening up" to her. In the meantime, she is starring in BBC Worldwide's new transatlantic blockbuster Da Vinci's Demons, written by David S Goyer, who wrote the Dark Knight trilogy. She plays Clarice Orsini, muse to the young artist and inventor, wife of Lorenzo de' Medici, and "the rock behind the throne – the Kate Middleton, the Hillary Clinton, the Jackie O…" And she is currently filming Fleming, a "wonderful, twisted love story" for Sky Atlantic in which she plays the author's wife, opposite Dominic Cooper. The original Bond girl? "There's a quote: Ann O'Neill was the only woman Ian Fleming ever went to bed with – and woke up next to."

Both roles offer more raunch. The Flemings had a penchant for whips, Da Vinci's Demons is a historical romp in the mould of Rome and The Borgias. Does she worry about being typecast as a vamp? In the flesh, she is almost absurdly glamorous – an alpha mix of cheekbones and dark curls and dressed today in violet lace-up boots and a tweed riding jacket. "Initially after Sherlock I got offered a lot of swinger movies," she admits. "There is that thing of keeping your mystique, and not taking your clothes off in every job. Sometimes as an actor you have this overwhelming sense of wanting to please… If it feels right, there's no problem doing it. But I'm looking at the long term and that's not my focus."

But first, back to that scene. Did she really, as Sherlock's creator Steven Moffat claimed, send in a naked audition tape? "No! Well, I was wearing a maxi dress, so you could see décolletage, shoulders… I emailed Steven about that and said, 'Now every actress in the world is going to think she has to send in a naked tape to get a job' – horrible." Did she find stripping on screen "empowering", as she said at the time? "Not empowering to take my clothes off in front of other men, or for the character… I meant that I went on set and didn't crumble. I, Lara, was still able to do my job. I didn't forget my lines or become flustered. All of a sudden the body, the vehicle I've been given to be in on this planet, just became inconsequential." How did she feel about the 100 complaints to the BBC? "That was ludicrous," she says. "You saw more of Benedict [Cumberbatch] when his sheet fell down than you did of me."

All of the excitement was tempered by heartbreak, as her divorce from the American actor Josh Dallas came through at the same time. They met on The Boy Friend at Theatre Royal, Windsor 10 years ago, married in 2007 and moved to LA in 2009.n "Professionally, it was this ultimate high, and personally, the carpet had just come out beneath my feet. I didn't know where I lived, I didn't have a job and I didn't have my partner in crime, with whom I so wanted to share this moment. I chose to look in the mirror and say, 'What do you want, Lara?' My eyes opened. So I'm actually grateful for the most painful time in my life."

She decided to stay in LA, post-divorce. It suits her and she has soaked up a little of California's can-do attitude. She talks about "Lara" quite a lot and says things like, "Hollywood execs that I've met post-Sherlock have all said that there are only a handful of people they feel have the talent, the skill and the strength to play that kind of powerful, sexy woman who can also turn vulnerable within seconds." It's quite refreshing to meet a British actor who doesn't even pretend to be self-deprecating. "It's lovely to be excelling in life and in my work and be around that mentality of anything being possible," she agrees.

It's quite a different Lara from the geeky little girl who was packed off to audition for a local am-dram Annie one summer. Her father, an insurance salesman, and mother, who worked at Barclays, were splitting up at the time and wanted to keep her busy. She won the lead but at Dartford Grammar School for Girls she was more interested in sport until she joined the National Youth Music Theatre. By the time she was 16, she had toured to the Far East and Broadway and was weighing up drama schools. Going to West End shows as often as her mother could afford it, she would comb the programmes, tallying up who trained where. "I literally had a chart."

She settled on the Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts and embarked on a decade of musicals. In 2007, she was Olivier-nominated for Parade at the Donmar Warehouse. When the show transferred to LA, she went too and was spotted by Alan Ball, who signed her up to play Claudine in True Blood. From there she joined Spooks, as section head Erin. "I was the ultimate action girl, leaning out of reversing cars with a Walther PPK." Did she do her own stunts? "Yeah! It was brilliant. Chris Fry, the producer, said, 'The wonderful thing about casting you is that you're so physically capable. We can have a real kick-arse girl in MI5.'" She didn't know until three-quarters of the way through that it would be the final series. "That was… bittersweet."

She is now dating Raza Jaffrey, who played Zaf in series three to six of Spooks. They were friends in LA for three years before she asked him out. Having just divorced another Spook, Miranda Raison, he told her politely that he didn't date actresses but a year ago, that went out of the window. "We're a very normal couple but there's an element of our job that involves a bit of sparkle and glamour," she says. "But we're also paying our electricity bill and doing the food shop."

They live in the Hollywood Hills – though they are rarely at home. "There's a standing joke: how many cities are we going to wake up looking at?" Fleming has her shuttling between Budapest and London. Has it given her a taste for being a Bond girl? "Gosh, I'd never say never to dipping my toe in that water." She has already been touted as the first female Time Lord. "I would definitely talk to Steven [Moffat] about it. A female Doctor Who… who knows?" She won't, though, return for the third series of Sherlock. "But you just never know with those guys. They said they hope to continue doing it for another 20 years. If that happens, it would just be wonderful."

She has a lot to thank Irene Adler for, after all. "You work for 10, 15 years, then one job just…" she beams. "And you know it's not one job, it's the 10 years of work you've done prior to that. But Sherlock really changed the game."

'Da Vinci's Demons' is on Fridays at 10pm on Fox

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent