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

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links