The Baker Street Babes Podcast
Transcript, Episode 26: Lara Pulver & Irene Adler
Released 11/05/12, Transcribed by Ardy
Curly: Welcome to the Baker Street Babes Podcast Episode number 26. I know you’re expecting Amanda Abbington, but she’s quite busy but instead we have another fabulous Sherlock lady here: the always delightful, very domineering Lara Pulver, aka who fabulously played Irene Adler in BBC Sherlock, which is airing right now… well, maybe not at this moment. Depends on when you’re listening. It’s airing on PBS.
Lyndsay: Stream it from PBS if you missed it. Do what’s proper.
Curly: Yes, from our good friends at PBS Masterpiece. BELG aired last Sunday. You get Hounds next, be very excited. So we wanted to chat with Lara about Irene and feminism and wordgames and all sorts of fun stuff.
Lyndsay: And about how fabulous it is to wear Alexander McQueen and Louboutins at the same damn time. Let’s be real here. That is cray-cray!
Curly: I think everyone coveted her wardrobe. It’s just fricking beautiful.
Lyndsay: The black dress that she wears in the airplane scene and in the scene with Mycroft is actually made out of black silk cellophane organza. That’s why it’s so reflective.
Curly: Is it like plastic?
Lyndsay: It’s a combination of silk and some sort of plastic that’s woven into it. I don’t understand it but that’s why it looks stupid cool.
Curly: Oh. I really do love the white dress. Also the green kimono-y…
Lyndsay: That’s vintage.
Curly: Ugh, it’s beautiful.
Lyndsay: French vintage. Ah, that lingerie. She looks cute Sherlock’s dressing-gown, they’re for real.
Curly: I loved it when those first set pictures came out and everyone was freaking out when she was in Sherlock’s dressing-gown. That was funny.
Lyndsay: “HOW DARE THEY! Oh, okay. I guess it’s okay.”
Curly: It’s fine.
Lyndsay: You can still get Sherlock’s dressing-gowns I believe, according to Sherlockology and wearsherlock. The tartan one is out, that’s discontinued, but the other ones are available. They’re all by Derek Rose, I think. And you can get the blue one and the maroon one.
Curly: I always love how all the Holmeses have a wide variety of dressing-gowns.
Lyndsay: They do! And I tweeted about this when I did the Masterpiece PBS mod (livetweeting) thing, which the Baker Street Babes are also mods for. I love the shout-out in A Game of Shadows, where Watson’s wife has knitted him that fugly scarf.
Curly: It’s not fugly! It’s BEAUTIFUL!
Lyndsay: Exactly: It’s all the colours of the dressing-gowns Holmes had in the Canon and those are the official colours of the BSI and they are sort of questionable. But it’s such a cute nod I thought. Just a little Warner Brothers shout out there. But yeah, the dressing-gowns are always grounds for excellent speculation.
Curly: Lara was very delightful, currently in rehearsals now in NYC.
Lyndsay: She’s doing Uncle Vanya, yes?
Curly: Yeah, it transferred to Broadway.
Lyndsay: Good for her.
Curly: Yeah! I’m not a huge Chekhov fan, but I hear it’s fantastic. Roger Allam is in it as well and I love Roger Allam to pieces.
Lyndsay: That’s gonna be awesome. You kind of either become a Chekhov fan or not depending on the first one you see. Because there’s nothing worse than bad Chekhov and there’s nothing better than good Chekhov. So whatever happened, it’s not your fault.
Curly: I saw one of the previews of The Cherry Orchard at the National with Zoe Wanamaker, and I just didn’t care. Like, “I don’t care about your problems with your damn cherry orchard. You’re annoying me.”
Lyndsay: Yeah, the problems less visceral than they could be… I like Chekhov very much, I did some Chekhov in college but it’s kind of navel-gazing. I have no doubt that Lara will be fantastic in Uncle Vanya, which is one of the more visceral Chekhovs to my mind. A lot of emotions get thrown around.
Curly: EMOTIONS! That’s good, because in the one I saw, there weren’t that many emotions.
Lyndsay: Gotcha. I’m sure she’ll ensure that they’re invested emotionally. She’s brilliant. In fact, the fact that she was doing True Blood at the time she first became aware of Sherlock and sent in the audition recording is interesting to me because they’ve all, at this point, played sort of supernatural characters. Martin Freeman is doing the Hobbit at the moment, Lara played a goblin… was it a goblin?
Curly: She was a fairy godmother, I think.
Lyndsay: That’s right, in True Blood. There’s all sorts of supernatural overtones going on with these actors. Cumberbatch playing Khan in Star Trek, obviously…
Curly: Or is it?
Lyndsay: Maybe we shouldn’t say that.
Curly: Well all the news is out there and everyone is saying Khan, Khan, Khan. I’m not invested enough in Star Trek to really care who he’s playing. I loved the movie, I’m excited for the sequel and I’m excited that he’s going to be in it.
Lyndsay: Yeah, it’s going to be awesome. If I had ever seen Star Trek or if I had grown up watching it as a child and had watched every episode of Star Trek: Next Generation, then I would be able to tell you that Khan is a very important figure and that Khan is one of the classic villains of the Star Trek Universe, but I have never seen Star Trek. Only geeky people have seen Star Trek. I probably haven’t seen a lot of Star Trek.
Curly: That’s unfortunate because you could have given me some information.
Lyndsay: Sure. I could have told you that there is this crazy-ass thing, where Khan put a worm in Chekhov’s ear, which is insane in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But I don’t know anything about it, so I can’t talk about it.
Curly: Nope. Sorry listeners that was just a bunch of useless information. She has no idea what she’s talking about. She’s not a geek.
Lyndsay: I mean, it’s not like, when I first speculated what species Benedict Cumberbatch was, I didn’t speculate that he was a Romulan because I don’t know what those are. I didn’t think it would be cool if he was a Q because that would be crazy and then he could just sort of control the world and have everything at his fingertips… I don’t know what those words mean. So this is just irrelevant rambling.
Curly: So let’s have some Lara Pulver! If you’re in New York, go see Uncle Vanya. Not sure when it’s going to be on stage, but sometime soon.
Lyndsay: I haven’t seen notices for it yet, but she’s been tweeting a lot. If you want to follow her, she’s been posting pictures and updates about New York and what she’s doing, and about friends of hers that are on Broadway. It’s just @larapulver, and she’s delightful.
Curly: She is quite delightful. You shall enjoy this interview. We talk fashion, feminism and how to beat Benedict Cumberbatch at wordgames. It’s not easy.
Lyndsay: There’s a trick to it.
Curly: So it you ever find yourself in that position, then after this episode you’ll know how.
Lyndsay: Inside track!
Curly: Yes! So watch Sherlock on PBS if you’re in America. If you’re somewhere else, if it’s airing at the moment, watch it. If you’ve already seen it, watch it again!
Lyndsay: Buy the DVD, watch it with the commentary.
Curly: The commentary is hysterical. I wish I could have told her how funny her commentary was.
Lyndsay: It’s not available in my region yet, but I look forward to it like a crazy person. So pre-order that stuff from the internets, if you choose to use the internets. They’re all such charming people who shoot this series, I love the commentary that they generally do on the DVDs. So pick that up and enjoy yourselves. PBS is streaming the episode currently; they might bump it when they start streaming Hounds. So get to it.
Curly: Get to it, chop chop! And now for some Lara Pulver.
THE ACTUAL INTERVIEW
Curly: Good morning!
Lara: Good morning, good morning. How are you?
Curly: Good, how are you?
Lara: I’m very well, thank you. I wasn’t sure… where are you guys?
Curly: We’re all over. I’m in London, but the other girls are in New York, actually.
Lara: ME TOO! New York party!
Curly: Party! Everyone’s here now.
Curly: Lara & I were just saying we’re having a New York party.
Lyndsay: Oh absolutely!
Lara: It’s a beautiful morning in New York.
Jenn: It’s gorgeous.
Curly: I think we can run through the BSB questions really quickly and then we can talk to you about Irene and Sherlock and being a badass woman
Lara: That sounds okay for a morning’s work!
Curly: So basically, everyone that’s on this show becomes an honorary Baker Street Babe and you have to answer these questions. Not too hard.
Lara: No pressure!
Curly: You can go off on tangents and everything, it’s fine.
Lara: You’re going to regret saying that.
Curly: How did you hear about Sherlock Holmes? Did you grow up with it, or was it really Sherlock that brought you into contact with the whole Canon and everything?
Lara: I remember studying a bit of Conan Doyle very briefly in high school, and then this specific adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. I saw the first series when I was in LA filming True Blood. I was hopping channels and flicked to PBS, and I just sat down with a cup of tea to watch it. I was totally glued and fixated to the television. I remember turning around to my partner at the time at the end and saying “That was brilliant!” It was classy, and witty, and just the best piece of television that I’ve seen in a long time.
Curly: All of our stories, right there. So, when you started tuning into it, were you immediately drawn to the story, or the characters, or was it all just one big… thing?
Lara: I think Benedict and Martin have created this dynamic duo that will go down in history. I think they bounce so well off each other. So that was fun to watch. And then on top of that, Paul McGuigan’s vision, his cinematography is so stylish and classy and interesting. And then you throw Steven Moffat’s writing into the mix and you’ve just got the most delicious cake. I think this is what happens when you get people working at the top of their game, or they’ve been given opportunities to work at the top of their game, to really show what they can do, and everyone has flown with it. That’s how it felt.
Curly: Have you seen any of the other adaptations, like the Robert Downey Jr. film or Jeremy Brett? Or is it just Sherlock that you’ve seen?
Lara: I’ve only seen Sherlock. I haven’t seen the Guy Ritchie movies.
Curly: So your Irene was basically from the text and what Steven gave you, it wasn’t anything else; you didn’t take inspiration from anything else?
Lara: Not visually. I did my research on who she was and her background, and then, a part of you has to filter all that through and then let it go because what you’ve got to be true to is what Steven’s written on the page. Fortunately, he is such a great writer that you don’t have to get huge amounts of polyfilla out to make it work or sustain. It’s there.
Lyndsay: I think the adaptation of Irene in the BBC series is amazing because originally, she’s an adventuress and that ethos comes through. It works brilliantly.
Lara: It’s very different to make her a dominatrix. But I think there is also something where they really wanted to test putting Benedict’s Sherlock up against love and sex. They really wanted to see how that would culminate.
Curly: That answers one of the questions one of our friends, Mazarin, had: The character of Irene Adler has been admired and reviled by turns over the history of the Sherlock Holmes fandom and she has been interpreted and re-interpreted for over 100 years. What was the most important thing about her character that you wanted to get across when it was your turn to play her?
Lara: There were two things for me, based on what Steven had written. There was the mischief and the game aspect, and the match between the two of them psychologically. That really intrigued me because I think in 2012, we get very caught up in the physical aspect of the thing. You know, “did you get to third base with someone”, that sort of thing. It was really interesting to know that that wasn’t going to work. The other aspect that I was really intrigued with was allowing her to have some vulnerability. To see that mask slip, even if you saw it just for a glimmer.
Curly: I think that’s really important because she’s obviously a very strong woman, but every person has their weaknesses and their vulnerabilities. I think that makes it more human.
Lara: I think we all know that when people wear such strong masks, there’s a lot of fear normally bubbling underneath the surface to make that mask so strong and foolproof. I think just to have that moment on the show where her heart has literally been cracked open. I think it was really important for people to go “ah, okay…”. Like you said, it humanises her. I think it makes her a lot more accessible.
Lyndsay: She’s beautifully vulnerable I think in the show. I was wondering: in the first episode of Season 1, there’s a line from Sherlock to John in which he says that the tricky thing about genius is that it needs an audience. I was curious to know if, since Irene and Sherlock mirror each other so perfectly and since that’s so beautifully written in Series 2, do you think that Irene is a slightly more lonely figure than Sherlock ultimately? She seems not to have that person in her life, at least as far as the episode goes. She seems not to have a John Watson to be not only the sounding board but the person who is the dissenting vote and is watching her be amazing.
Lara: I think she has a confidante and a kind of soulmate in Kate. But I think she operates on such a level that she’s never really… like, impressing people bores her, in a sense, I think. The act of being a dominatrix and playing those games with people, I think, in the same way it bores Sherlock when people are not of her intellect. I think she finds, for the first time, her audience in Sherlock, really.
Babes: Good answer to that question.
Lara: Great question.
Maria: I wanted to know if you were very nervous in joining a show that is so popular and that impressed everyone who watches television. Were you nervous to join or just really excited?
Lara: I’m sure I was nervous, but what I really recall is walking into the first rehearsal when we did a table-read of the episode. And there was just something chemically going on where the show had just obviously been praised and won BAFTAs and been nominated for Emmys… There was just this quiet confidence and a huge playfulness in that room of people just having the best time doing things that they loved. It felt very freeing and very safe rather. It wasn’t like I put the whole show on a pedestal that I felt I could never reach. It was more like “this is a really safe environment for me to take some risks and maybe fail and maybe succeed”. It felt like a really safe place to play and you don’t get that often. You don’t often get the time to do that when you’re shooting television. You don’t get that security. I think it comes from the top, where Sue Vertue and Beryl Vertue are just incredibly generous and good human beings and that filters down in the people they choose to work with and the people they choose to cast. They’re very caring and very hands-on. It’s their baby, in that sense, but they’re not suffocating it by trying to control, or at least it doesn’t feel like that when you’re working with them. I’m sure they’re puppeteers. It never felt like they were trying to control or suffocate any aspect of the show.
Jenn: That’s the sign of a good producer.
Lara: Yeah. They were actually opening the doors to creativity.
Jenn: Did that make it easier for you to play Irene’s vulnerability? Specifically, I’m asking about the scene where you appear in front of Sherlock for the first time.
Maria: Battle dress!
Lara: Yeah. It definitely made it easier. What also made it easier was that Paul, the director, was very honest with me. He said: “You can wear these nipple covers and you can wear all this stuff, and that’s fine, but I’m telling you now: we’re going to shoot this for hours because if we’re a millimetre off the mark, we’re going to see that stuff.” And he said, “It’s absolutely up to you.” He wasn’t putting any pressure on me to do either/or. He said, “If you take it all off, there is nothing we can use, we have to discard the material because of the rights and the BBC, there is nothing that will expose you in any way.” So again it felt like a very safe space, and the same with Benedict and Martin. Benedict had just been naked on stage in Frankenstein, so he knew what I was going through and was very sympathetic and encouraging. It gets to that point where you go “you know what? We’re all naked, actually. We’re all naked.” You know, in our essence, this is what we are. I guess it was brave, but because it was necessary for the character, I didn’t bat an eyelid. If it was just nudity for nudity’s sake, I wouldn’t have done the job.
Maria: It gives the character such power, to not be wearing anything and still not be vulnerable.
Lyndsay: Apart from it being an amazing scene and you looking amazing in it and apart from it being fantastically played, did you geek out about the clothes at all? There’s a point where you’re wearing Alexander McQueen and Louboutins at the same time.
Lara: I know!
Lyndsay: Costuming is just amazing. Are you thinking of putting anything in your future contracts like Sarah Jessica Parker has, you know, so you get to keep the clothes if you wear them?
Lara: It’s one of those things because the Alexander McQueen dress was completely tailored for my figure. So I was like, how could I not want that? So I took it. I bought it.
Lara: And then I thought, “When am I ever going to get away with wearing this?” Because it’s blatantly Irene Adler’s dress from Sherlock! There’ll be an occasion I’m sure, like a lovely afternoon tea, where I could get away with wearing it because it is beautiful. Also, if the project’s right, I would work with Sarah Arthur again in a heartbeat. Because I think she is so brilliant and detailed and so not predictable. We had many discussions about Irene Adler’s wardrobe and we both came down to that whole, yes, we’re not doing the whole PVC, thigh-high boots type idea. There’s something about her being really high-brow and really classy. We both felt that femininity of lace and the green kimono and stuff…
Lyndsay: The Peignoir! It’s amazing. It’s the most fabulous wardrobe I’ve ever seen. I’m really gratified to know that you have that Alexander McQueen dress. That makes me personally happy.
Lara: She deserves every bit of credit that she gets. She is very extraordinary.
Curly: Were there any moments on set that were really fun? For example, what was your favourite scene to shoot? I think at one point you tweeted you were playing some sort of game on a night shoot with Benedict and Martin…
Lara: What were we doing… Oh yes! There was this stupid TV show on UK television when I was growing up called Mallet’s Mallet. It had been after we’d shot that famous nude scene, so I think the adrenaline was completely buzzing and we were trying to push through until something like three or four in the morning. And so for some reason I had an empty plastic water bottle in my hand and we were just doing word association games. NEVER play a word association game with Benedict Cumberbatch! The man is the living Oxford Dictionary. However, get him at two in the morning and needing a sugar fix and you can beat him.
Curly: Alright everyone, take note.
Jenn: If you find yourself in a word game with Benedict Cumberbatch…
Curly: There was a lot of controversy about the ending of the episode and whether Irene being “rescued” is making her seem like a weak character because she needed a man to save her. I know after it aired in the UK, blogs went crazy about it and there were these two camps, with one side saying “no, she is not weak, she was ready to die and Sherlock came to rescue her when she didn’t ask for it” and the other side saying that she is a weak character and Moffat had written her as this great woman but ultimately she wasn’t because she needed to be rescued by a man, etc.
Lara: I didn’t know that.
Curly: Yeas, it was severe. What are your thoughts on that?
Lara: I don’t know how on Earth anyone could interpret Irene Adler as a weak character when she risks everything and is that kind of brave and authentic. I never felt like she needed to be rescued by Sherlock. I think it was more a testament to the effect that she’d had on him that he risked everything to go and save her. I think it says more about his character and the journey he went on from meeting her than it says about her, because actually, she was saying “Goodbye Sherlock Holmes”, she was sitting there ready to die, it was the end of the road for her. I think it says a lot more about what he was willing to risk than her strength or her weakness. In my opinion.
Curly: You just articulated exactly what I said way way way back. I’m so happy.
Lyndsay: If sentiment is what the losing side looks like, then what are you doing infiltrating a terrorist cell?
Lara: I think also that’s underlined by what he says at the end: “The woman. The woman.”
Lyndsay: That’s lovely.
Lara: That’s the effect that she has had on him. Yeah, I definitely think it says more about him than it says about her.
Curly: Great. I can jump on this one because it makes a great segway. What do you think Irene is doing now that she’s living sort off under the radar? What’s she bumming around doing at the moment?
Lara: She’ll have something brewing, I have no doubt. Who knows? I’ve seen the final episode of Season 2 and there’s so much to play with. I’m not quite sure which Conan Doyle stories the gents are interpreting next, in Season 3. I know there’s been a few ideas thrown around. But whether she returns or not: for once, I don’t mind either way. Either it will be that one episode that was really strong and meant a lot, or they will manipulate it and do something very unexpected, and I completely trust Mark’s and Steven’s integrity about what they’ll do with the character.
Curly: I kind of fancy the idea that, since Sherlock now has to go around trying to clear his name, he and Irene partner up, living under the radar. I think that would be fun. Little side quests.
Lara: That would be interesting. I’m sure she’s morphed herself into another persona. She’s a comedian in that way, I think.
Maria: She could just walk through the background at one point. Show up in a café.
Curly: I have a question from one of our friends, Kristen. Obviously, Irene is gay in BELG, so did you view her as an icon of feminist sexual agency and empowerment or a representative of the LGBT community?
Lara: It’s so weird because I didn’t like to label her. Yes, she says, “I’m gay.” But what is she actually saying? “I meet people and I fall in love with them and they happen to be of the same sex?” I don’t know. I’ve literally just seen the interview with Barack Obama backing gay marriage and I’m thinking, we’re in 2012, what’s the big deal? People fall in love and I think more harm is done from suppressing your true identity than being given the freedom to just be. So I never felt like I was hugely flying the flag for gay rights or trying to be this iconic gay figure in any way because what’s being gay? It’s just a label, isn’t it? Because, at the end of the day, I think she had feelings for Sherlock. So then people say, “Well, so she’s obviously not gay. She must be bisexual.” But actually, let’s not label this. Let’s just know that human beings fall for other human beings. I think I’m a bit of an anti-labellist, if there’s such a phrase.
Lyndsay: I think that was very well played in the series in the fact that Irene, as written, was against self-identifying as someone who was completely committed to one sexuality or another. It was not only well-written but really well played. So cheers to that.
Lara: Thank you.
Maria: It becomes really obvious in the scene in Battersea Power Station with Martin Freeman, where it’s that exact thing. Everybody’s kind of confused but it’s not a problem, it’s not the issue. The issue is that everybody cares about Sherlock, in a sense, so that is the issue to focus on, not what exactly those feelings are.
Lyndsay: I found that the most riveting, honestly. Not that your scenes with Benedict aren’t amazing, because they are. But it’s riveting to watch because a more callow screenwriter would not have written that scene where Irene and John have a conversation. And Irene and John having a conversation that is a really raw conversation is just so fascinating to watch.
Lara: Yes, because what they have in common is their complete infatuation with Sherlock Holmes. I thought it just completely connected that kind of trio—hence why therefore John then suggests the idea of Hamish as a baby name. I just love it, I think it’s wonderful. Let’s all just be in awe of Steven Moffat for that.
Babes: Yes! Absolutely!
Curly: I think that is my favourite scene, that scene between Irene and John. I was just watching it, it was just beautiful because you’re both suddenly acting opposite one another. Gorgeous.
Lyndsay: And it means so much to both characters. Remarkably written and remarkably played.
Lara: I have to say that Martin is brilliant at just giving you every colour of the rainbow in different takes. He just throws it around. It was a huge acting lesson for me to watch him work.
Curly: Now I have to ask, who are you rooting for, for the Supporting Actor BAFTA, Andrew or Martin?
Lara: Oh gosh. Well, Martin won it last year, so part of me goes, maybe we should just… can’t we do just “Sherlock men are the best” and give it to them both? I will be thrilled for either one of them. I will be there rooting for them both on May 27th, and that’s for sure.
Curly: Are you going to the BAFTAs?
Lara: I hope so. We’ve got Spooks Series 10 nominated for Best Drama Series, and obviously Sherlock for the YouTube award. It’s slightly controversial but there’s been no miniseries nomination when—biasedly—I think it’s the best piece of British television, but… there’s politics going on obviously.
Curly: Yeah. We’re not going to open that can of worms.
Lara: Okay. I have to go to work in about three minutes, is there anything else you want to round up with?
Curly: Just good luck and I know America’s completely Sherlocked—had to put that pun out there, it had to be done.
Lara: I think we got 3.5 million on the initial ratings, which is really incredible.
Curly: For PBS, yes. That’s double the normal audience. People are obviously paying attention to it!
Lara: It was so lovely to talk to you!
Babes: Thank you!
Lara: And bring on Season Three!