I first met Lara on video, and Mark Gatiss thought she was naked. It sounds worse than it was. This was 2010, we were making the second series of Sherlock, and auditioning for the part of Irene Adler — the icy femme fatale who very nearly (or possibly successfully) turns the Great Detective’s head. We saw a lot of terrific actresses for the part, but from the start Lara was leading the field. My brilliant friend Mr Gatiss summed it up: ‘She’s just such fun!’ And that was the key. Our version of Irene was, by any standards, a fairly awful human being: a blackmailer, a ruthless manipulator, perfectly capable of throwing a man she loved to the dogs if there was a profit in it. What we needed was so much fun it took your mind off all that — we needed to believe this woman would bewitch our cold-hearted Sherlock and reduce him to a bumbling oaf for the greater part of 90 minutes. If you’re going to tell the story of your hero’s least fine hour, you better give him a good reason to stumble.
Lara, as Mark pointed out, looked very much like that reason. ‘Also,’ mused Mark, a little against his nature, ‘Is she naked?’ Well, no, of course she wasn’t. In fact, she’d sent us a self-taped audition from LA, where she was working, and for her pass at the first meeting with Sherlock, where he’s dressed as a vicar and she isn’t dressed at all, Lara had simply bared her shoulders. Enough, it would seem, for my collaborator to question his life choices.
A short while later she was auditioning in person, and when Benedict emailed afterwards ‘Lara is Irene’ we knew we had something special. ‘A Scandal In Belgravia’ probably remains my favourite Sherlock (in close competition with the other eight we’ve made, naturally) and a lot of that is down to the force of nature that is Lara Pulver. Bewitching, seductive and funny — and with the truly awesome ability to emit a tear exactly on cue — she owned the episode and the detective. And iPlayer, for a few weeks.
Benedict was wrong, of course — Lara isn’t Irene at all. She’s much nicer, and hardly ever tries to blackmail the British government or fake her own death to break a detective’s heart. She’s a wonderful, spirited actress with an extraordinary command of the screen, and eyes that could kick a hole through the back of your head with one look. And since I first met her (in person, shoulders covered), I’ve known she will go all the way to the top. Brilliant in interviews, dazzling on the red carpet and, most importantly, sensational on the screen, I doubt anything could stop her. I don’t know if the fiendish Miss Adler will ever make her way back to Baker Street — it would be hard to top that first appearance — but I certainly hope I get to work with Lara again.
Fleming will be on Sky Atlantic HD in January.