The second season of the fantastically witty and fabulously acted series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson, returns to PBS on May 6th with three more 90-minute installments – “A Scandal in Belgravia,” “The Hounds of Baskerville” and “The Reichenbach Fall.” Set in 21st-century London, the updated duo battle the worst that modern criminality has to offer, including the unassuming mastermind of evil, James Moriarity (Andrew Scott), who wants to rule the world.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actress Lara Pulver (who plays dominatrix Irene Adler) talked about how she came to be a part of the show, what attracted her to the role, the research she did to play a dominatrix, how anxious she was to be something of a love interest for Sherlock Holmes, filming the scene in which she is completely naked, working with her brilliantly talented co-stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and how she would love to return for another episode, if they find something great for the character to do. She also talked about her brief time on Season 4 of the HBO vampire series True Blood, what attracts her to specific projects, and how she would love to do a Broadway musical someday. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
LARA PULVER: It came about while I was doing a TV show back in the UK, called Spooks. I had just wrapped on it and they gave me the script for Sherlock, to have a little read on the plane. I was reading it on the plane, and I literally wanted to turn the plane back around. On the page, it was such a good script. So, I arrived back in L.A. and put myself down on tape, reading the scenes, sent them over and they responded. A few days later, I flew back to London to meet the producer and read with Benedict [Cumberbatch]. I got the job the next day, and started rehearsals a few days later.
Were there any aspects of the character that you identified with, or was there more of an interest because she’s so different from who you are?
PULVER: Both. I’m not a dominatrix by night. It was really interesting to look all across the board, from porn to burlesque. That whole aspect was really, really interesting. I looked at how women, like Dita Von Teese, market themselves. Some use it completely as a power play, and others just try to make money. It was a really interesting world to look into. There’s the physical versus the mental, that I think is quite me. The mental stimulation or attraction sometimes overtakes the physical side, and sometimes you can be so immersed in the sensual side. There must be huge aspects of me in it because you’re acting from personal experience just as much as what you’re layering the character with, from what’s in the script.
Did you do any specific research into what it’s like to be a dominatrix?
PULVER: I looked at a lot of websites. Also, with just putting the whole look of her together, I very much voiced my opinion and collaborated with the designer. We went around places in SoHo in London, and I was educated on gadgets and gizmos and whips and corsets, and everything like that. We went in these little holes in SoHo and found this whole cavern for this sexual world. It’s a whole control thing as well. In her job, she’s putting on these masks to fulfill people’s fantasies. With Sherlock, he sees straight through those masks, as she does with him. The mask is off, and that’s when the fun really starts.
PULVER: I had read some Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when I was in high school. And then, the next time it crossed my path was when I was watching Season 1 here, on PBS. I just loved this modern interpretation that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss had put together because it just doesn’t underestimate its audience, which I love. It’s intelligent and witty and mischievous, and I love what Benedict [Cumberbatch] and Martin [Freeman] have brought to the show, as their Sherlock and Watson. I think it’s integral, and I think they’ll go down as a very highly rated television duo.
Is it more nerve-wracking or exciting to join something that you know is already so successful with such a rabid fan base?
PULVER: I was slightly anxious about being any sort of love interest, when people were already so attached to the fact that Benedict’s Sherlock was asexual or gay, or whatever they wanted to project onto his performance. I was like, “Oh, my god, all the female fans are probably going to hate me!” But, what was lovely was that, the day I turned up to do the table read, they had just come off the back of a huge, roaring success of a first season with Emmy nominations and BAFTA awards, and there was such a lovely, quiet confidence in that room. Not only were these people working at the top of their game, but they were also being recognized for it and celebrating what they collaboratively had put together. So, I walked in and it was just such a comfortable place to go to work, where egos were left at the door. It was just all about the work, from every angle.
How would you describe the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler?
PULVER: They’re just constantly pushing each other’s buttons, and they make choices about how to handle that, and whether it’s to shock or to control. I decided that a lot of it, for her, was from a place of fear of lack of control. I don’t think you really see that until the very final scene, where he goes to caress her arm. At one point, I felt like he was going to kiss me, and then he just comes back with, “And I know exactly what you’ve been doing,” and completely unmasks her. Then, I suddenly realized that she’s always been this flawed, vulnerable person who has come to be who she is to cover up that aspect of her. I think he’s the same, to a certain degree. He’s highly intelligent and highly analytical to mask a certain aspect of his personality. But, they see each other for who they really are. It’s a constant game. It’s like the best game of tennis that you could ever wish for, with two characters.
How was it to film that scene when your characters first meet and you’ve completely naked? Was it difficult to do that without laughing?
PULVER: To be honest, laughter didn’t really come into it. It was more delirium that came into it. I think I was extremely nervous and adrenaline was running. It was the first time I’ve ever had to be completely naked, in anything. And then, after the first couple of takes, I found the power in being a woman without hiding behind a dress or spanx, or trying to give off any illusion of being thinner or fatter or more beautiful, because I was actually completely vulnerable and stripped of any of that. And then, I found a different power that came from a very honest place, and we just played from there. By the end of it, I wouldn’t move from a certain aspect of dialogue until Martin Freeman had looked me up and down, or looked at my breasts. It was a play fest.
PULVER: We were lucky with our D.P. and our first camera operator. We spent eight hours doing the scene. It was a situation where I could have worn a thong and nipple covers, but we probably would have been there for three days, trying to shoot around that stuff. The director said, “Lara, if you trust me, I’ll ask you to take that stuff off and know that we can’t use anything of that nature, anyway. We’ll get a lot more done in a lot less time, and we’ll all be more comfortable.” And he was totally right, so I’m glad I trusted him on that judgement. It’s brilliant, how literally a head turn covers a nipple. It’s pretty well placed. I was thrilled with the outcome. I was happy.
Did you ever have moments where you forgot you were completely naked?
PULVER: Absolutely! I was so busy analyzing and listening to him, the fact that I was naked went out the window. It wasn’t an issue for her, so it wasn’t an issue for me.
Were you surprised that people got so outraged by it, then?
PULVER: It was literally one newspaper in the UK, and a few viewers. With nine and a half million viewers, a few people were upset. I think there’s something to embrace about flesh. It’s human. We came into this world naked. It’s literally a couple of minutes in a 90-minute episode, and it’s not about, “Oh, there’s a naked scene in Sherlock.” It’s totally a device. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have done it.
What was it like to work with both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman?
PULVER: They’re naughty little boys! They’re very funny, and they are very different. Martin is very naughty. Just the nature of the lines that Benedict has to deliver, it’s a big task for him. It’s not easy, having to scroll off all of that stuff, at such a place. Playing clever isn’t always that easy. But, it was thrilling to work with them both. They’re both very playful and responsive. Martin, especially, will throw you completely different interpretations of scenes, all the time. It brings so many different colors to the scene, which makes it really interesting to go to work.
Having been a fan of the first season, did you have any moments where you had to pinch yourself?
PULVER: When I walked into 221B and I thought, “This is really small!” I know it’s a set, but it felt much bigger when I had watched it, just from the camera angles. I thought it was quite vast, but when I walked in, I was like, “Oh, this is a pokey little flat!” I remember one day, when we were shooting in London on location and I had to pull back the curtain on the window, and all I saw on the opposite side of the street was about 150 fans, out of shot. I thought, “Wow, that’s their dedication to three episodes of this show!” That shows what an impact this show is having.
PULVER: If there’s more to say and more to do than absolutely, yeah. That would be a great challenge.
What was your experience on True Blood like? Could you ever have imagined you would be able to add Fairy Godmother to your resume?
PULVER: It was lovely to make my American TV debut on such a wonderful show. I loved working with Anna [Paquin]. We formed a really lovely, close relationship on set. But, I think they had this whole fairyland aspect to it that got to the point where they were either going to have to invest a full season in it, or they needed to wrap it up and move on from it. The more they tried to invest in fairyland, the more they found it was limiting. So, my experience on True Blood was short-lived, but it was a lovely introduction to being part of an American TV show.
Had you been familiar with the success of that show and the fan following that it has?
PULVER: Yeah, it has a massive cult following. Bless Anna because she goes to Comic-Con every year, on her birthday. Her birthday is in July. They have very loyal fans on that show.
PULVER: The writing. If it’s a theater job, I’m happy to regenerate that, for eight shows a week. If it’s not something I’m hugely passionate about, then I shouldn’t be doing it. It’s the same thing with TV and film. Sometimes it can just be the smallest thing, like wanting to portray something along that line or really wanting to work with a director, but if it’s not in the writing, it doesn’t matter who the director is. It’s just not something that I would necessarily want to pursue. So, it starts for me, first and foremost, on the page.
Would you like to do a long-term television series?
PULVER: Yeah, it would totally interest me to develop a character over a longer period of time, and to have an audience invest in the show. I’d love to have my own TV show, in the way that Julianna Margulies has The Good Wife, or a lovely ensemble show, like Six Feet Under. I love my job, and I’m a lucky girl. I thoroughly enjoy going to work.
Are you hoping to do more American work?
Do you have a dream role, or a genre you would love to work in?
PULVER: I want to do a big Broadway musical, at some point. I would love to do that. To do something there would be super-cool. But, I would feel just as naked, as if I were doing the nude scene, I’m sure.
What initially drew you to acting?
PULVER: From a very young age, music was very much in my house. I would sit with my mom, with the old LPs, listening to The Beatles and Carly Simon and Lionel Richie. The old LPs used to have the lyrics. From there, I would put on dance and music displays for my family, just to entertain them and make people laugh and smile. Then, I got a bit obsessed with the whole English language and was writing journals and poetry. I’ve always been intrigued about psychology and philosophy and how people’s minds work. The whole thing married together, trying to then become someone else and understanding their psyche, and the whole escapism element, was just really appealing. I love the collaboration as well, and the element of a team working together to create this gift of a project.
Sherlock II airs on PBS on May 6th, 13th and 20th.