Lara Pulver interview: 'I will never be sick of Sherlock'
I’m being quite cruel to Lara Pulver. The Sherlock and Spooks star is in London for just two weeks, so I’m filling her in on all the theatre she’s missing out on. “This is why I miss London!” she cries. “These conversations, going: we should go to that, let’s book tickets, come on!”
Pulver now resides in the US with her husband, the actor Raza Jaffrey , and their one-year-old son but her flying visit is for a good reason: three nights at the Royal Albert Hall, performing in an all-star live concert version of Guys and Dolls. Pulver will play the Christian missionary Sarah Brown to Adrian Lester’s Sky Masterson, with Sharon D Clarke, Jason Manford and Stephen Mangan also featuring among the cast.
When she picked up an Olivier in 2016 for her performance in Gypsy alongside Imelda Staunton, a starry-eyed Pulver told the audience how she used to save up her pocket money to buy cast recordings. As we chat over her lunch break from rehearsals, I ask Pulver — who is pint-sized and extremely agreeable in person — if Guys and Dolls was one of them. It turns out she wanted to do it for a different reason.
“After I did Gypsy with Imelda, I said to her, ‘Gosh, what musical do you do after this?’ Because we’d had such a wonderful time,” she explains. “And Imelda, who was in the really iconic National Theatre production of Guys and Dolls, said how much she loved it and that it was her favourite musical.”
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She thought she had missed the boat (Pulver gets full credit for that pun) because a production starring Jamie Parker and Sophie Thompson had just transferred from Chichester. When the concert version was proposed, she leapt at the chance. But how does it feel to know she will only get to do it three times? “I’ll tell you in two weeks,” she laughs.
It was New Year’s Eve in 2009 when Kent-born Pulver first made the move to the US; she and her family recently relocated to New York for one of Jaffrey’s jobs, after several years in LA. Earlier this year she tweeted that she was proud to be part of March for Our Lives , a nationwide demonstration for greater gun control. Has living there made her more political? She speaks slowly, carefully. “I was pregnant when the election was happening. And when Donald Trump was elected, I just cried,” she says. “I think it awakened that I was in a bubble without knowing it, because I guess you naturally surround yourself with like-minded people. So I was very fearful about bringing a child into this world with this exposure of hate.”
It’s clear that Pulver is having the time of her life as a parent — “I’d love to have a tribe of mini-Jaffreys,” she grins — and spending time with her son is her priority. The short run for Guys and Dolls was a major plus point for her in taking the job, and now she always weighs up if a project is worth the time away. “It’s been a total 180-degree change for me because I used to be like: work, work, work. And I still love it — but now there’s a cost for me to leave and go and do it.”
Her experiences as a new mother in the industry have been positive thus far. While working on the BBC series The City & the City last year, she says the BBC “couldn’t have done more” to accommodate her. She and Jaffrey are conscientious parents; they haven’t exposed their son to screens yet. “They actually have some scientific research on these very HD screens, and from the research we did, we made the choice to keep him away from anything that was stimulating until he was at least two.”
There’s one topic Pulver can’t get away from: the now-legendary scene in which her character Irene Adler bamboozled Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock by appearing completely naked (well almost, she was wearing heels). Does she get sick of talking about it? “Not at all,” she says straightaway. “I’m extremely proud of my work on Sherlock and I had such a good time on that show.” She’s thoughtful for a while. “It’s a career and I’m in it for the long haul. Moments like Sherlock will come and go, and there are peaks and troughs — some days everyone’s talking about you, and then the next day it’s someone else. But would I love something that creatively interesting and challenging to come along again? You bet. Another 10, 12 times please!” She tells me an endearing story about the woman who showed her around the house she’s staying in, who aloofly turned the TV on to a quiz show in which the answer to one of the Sherlock-themed questions was Pulver herself. “Someone went, ‘What about the naked girl?’ Inside, I was like, ‘I’m the naked girl! That was me! Wait, no, I’m not just the naked girl!’”
Pulver suspects it was her link to Steven Moffat, the Sherlock writer and former Doctor Who producer, that saw her named as the original bookie’s favourite to be the next Doctor — the role that eventually went to Jodie Whittaker. “I was never in contention, as far as I know. It was put to Jodie — and she’s a good mate — and she’s bloody brilliant.” (So who’s she betting on for James Bond? “I reckon it’s gonna be Aidan Turner ,” she ponders.)
Finally, I wonder how an actress like Pulver, interminably asked about the 110 seconds she was once naked on screen, is finding her industry in a post-#MeToo world. Are things improving for her? “For me personally, it’s changed because I now have no problem saying no. There are a gazillion ways of telling stories that are more interesting,” she says. “Do I think it’s changed? I can’t tell if we’re at the beginning of something or in the middle of something. I think it’s something we’ll only know in hindsight.”
Guys and Dolls is at the Albert Hall, SW7 (royalalberthall.com), on Friday and Saturday