By Curt Wagner, @ShowPatrol
8:16 PM CDT, May 10, 2013
Lara Pulver wowed Americans a year ago when, as Irene Adler in "Sherlock" on PBS, she walked into our living rooms wearing nothing but a pair of Louboutin heels and a don't-[bleep]-with-me attitude. The whip-cracking dominatrix Irene knew who she was and what she wanted. She was just fine with parading buck naked in front of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to get it.
Although we don't see that much of the 32-year-old British actress in Starz' "Da Vinci's Demons," her character is just as strong--if not as brazen. The Renaissance-era drama follows 25-year-old Leonardo da Vinci (Tom Riley) as he tries to uncover more about his mother and to unravel the mystery of the mythical "Book of Leaves." Along the way he paints, invents, drinks, fights, beds women and champions his home of Florence, Italy.
Pulver plays Clarice Orsini, the Roman-born wife of Lorenzo de Medici (Elliot Cowan), head of the Medici Bank and the de-facto leader of Florence. Despite her husband's philandering, Clarice loves Lorenzo. A woman far ahead of her time, she provides her husband with valuable counsel and will do pretty much anything to protect him, their children and her adopted city.
"She's very, very sure who she is," Pulver said recently from her new home in Los Angeles. "She's completely, 100 percent comfortable with the woman that she is, and that's what enables her to be such a wonderful ally and confidant to her husband. She has such a clear-thinking mind in the world of 'Da Vinci's Demons,' which is kind of clouded and fogged by so many geniuses and complex minds. There's a very strong clarity with who Clarice is."
With that description, Clarice sounds a lot like Irene Adler, but Pulver pointed out a big difference in the two strong women. Clarice, Pulver said, is not "manipulative or selfish in any sense."
"What I love about Clarice is that she doesn't really do that," Pulver said, adding that Clarice might not say much, but her words are wisely chosen. "She hits the nail on the head instantly. She goes, 'There we go. I know what's going on. Thank you very much.' And she leaves the scene.
"What that means is that she always keeps her power. That's what's so brilliant about her."
Clarice wielded that power wisely in the show's third episode (see videos) when she confronted her husband's lover, Lucrezia Donati (Laura Haddock), and also her husband. Clarice calmly spelled out to Lucrezia her place in the pecking order of Lorenzo's life, and later let her husband know that his dalliance with Lucrezia was continuing mostly because Clarice allows it.
Clarice's laser-sharp focus also keeps Leonardo da Vinci in line. She's one of few women who don't fall for his charms, but Pulver says that doesn't mean she's not interested--in his invention of weapons to help Florence.
"I think she's fascinated by him, but she has an agenda. She needs her city and her family to be protected so therefore we need him as that war engineer. And anything else needs to be put to one side. It's quite clinical in that sense for her," she said. "But I think there's definitely mileage in these two minds coming together to really learn more about each other."
Clarice is another juicy role for Pulver, whose credits before "Da Vinci's Demons" and "Sherlock" included her first TV job in 2009's "Robin Hood," the 2010 season of "True Blood" and "MI-5" in 2011. Unlike those roles, Clarice was written with her in mind. "Demons" writer/producer/director David S. Goyer, whose credits include "The Dark Knight" trilogy, approached her before he had even written the character.
"It's a huge compliment," Pulver said. "I went over to Los Angeles to meet with David. He's so full of integrity and artistry, and he's such an exciting man to be around. His energy and his passion for this project was kind of infectious. He asked me if I could kind of take a risk and be a part of a job where I didn't really know who this woman was. And he had nothing really to show me either.
"I'd seen the writing for the other characters in the first two episodes that they gave me. And it was really exciting and different and wonderful to be working with such an iconic moviemaker within cable television."
Pulver has had fleeting but effective screen time early in the series, but as eight-episode first season moves closer to the finale Clarice becomes more of a player, she said. Starz already has renewed the series for a second season, and Pulver says Clarice really comes into her own then.
"By the end of Season 1 it's kind of fight or flight for the majority of the characters," she said. "And Season 2 requires very much for her to show how capable she really is, without giving too much away."
Pulver will return to Swansea, Wales, to shoot another season of "Demons," but will she be back as Irene Adler in an upcoming season of "Sherlock?"
"She's definitely not dead, but who knows," said Pulver, who would love to return to Baker Street. "It's a wonderful show to be a part of and I think they definitely have ideas to delve back into that story. But for now I think they're very much looking at delving into other stories from the canon and theories. We shall see. But I think ideally they would love to have Martin [Freeman] and Benedict [Cumberbatch] still doing the show in 10 years time. And I'm sure that would then involve a few Irene Adler appearances."
Starz airs new episodes of "Da Vinci's Demons" at 8 p.m. CT Fridays. Below, Pulver talks more about Clarice's ability to keep a cool head, and how the actress probably wouldn't fare as well. (If you aren't caught up with the season so far, spoilers!)
Do you think Clarice is somewhat of a genius herself in her own ways?
I say she’s certainly a woman ahead of her time. I would liken her to a modern day Jackie O in that sense, or a Hillary Clinton.
Clarice confronts Lucrezia, her husband’s lover. What I love about that scene is that you could just be the jealous wife and start screaming. But she stays calm and tells Lucrezia that her function is to be the dalliance or the distraction. Tell me how does she stay so calm about that?
I think somehow she’s able to compartmentalize her feelings in that way. And she doesn’t approve it; she doesn’t like it. But, like you say, she understands this woman’s function. And if it means the protection and the love and the safety of her family and her city for a time, she’s willing to allow it. But what’s so wonderful is you or I or any other woman would handle it so differently. [Laughs.] And this is why I say she just has that self-belief and that strength within her. Her words are few and yet there so chosen.
How would, Lara, handle that situation?
Gosh. Oh gosh, what a question. Hopefully with dignity and yet allow yourself to feel the hurt and the pain. And I think that’s definitely what you see in later episodes with Clarice. I don’t think it serves anyone to bottle emotions. I don’t think that’s what Clarice is doing, but I think with Lara there would certainly be more [hysterics].
In another scene from that episode, she has a rose, which is what he uses to signal Lucrezia to meet. I love that she sends him that message.
Absolutely. [Laughs.] As she says, “There are others who wouldn’t stick by you,” and she hands him the rose. This is what I say is so wonderful about her. She says so little and yet she says so much. And it’s wonderful to play, but it also can be really tricky because sometimes as an actor you want to emote and you want to kind of have tears and joy. And yet there’s something about being kind of that reserved and ... authentic and honest, but it’s actually really beautiful to play and see.
She ends up tipping off the very conspirator everyone wants to find. And I'm wondering if she will be the one to catch her?
Dunh dunh dunh dunh! Now that would be telling. [Laughs.] There are lots of twists and turns. We were just in Europe for the premiere and David let us have a sneak peek at the final 15 minutes of the season. And all I can say is that it was a page-turner when we did it, but to watch it, it kind of blew my mind. It’s relentless and hugely exciting.
She’s an Orsini and she married a Medici. Does she not like her family? In Episode 4 she makes a comment to Leo about, "I didn't come to Florence..."
"Come to Florence to live under Roman rule." Yeah.
It seems surprising in a time when it was all about family she’s more about her new family as opposed to her original family.
Yeah. The character of my brother gets introduced into Season 1 and you see the conflict, the sibling kind of conflict between the two very much. But I think also she’s a woman slightly ahead of her time.
And I think she realized that the religious belief and political and cultural climate of Rome wasn’t necessarily for the better of the people. And I think that’s why she is very compassionate for and identifies very much with the people of Florence, which I think is why they’ve taken her under their wing in a sense because she is as much a forward thinking woman as what Da Vinci is. But she’s unable to express in the same way.
Did you know a lot about that time period before hand?
No. My knowledge of Renaissance Italy was small really. And I knew Leonardo Da Vinci as that old guy with the beard who’d painted the Mona Lisa. So to be able to kind of delve back into that time and having just now been to Florence as well was hugely informative. And I’ve slightly fallen in love with the Italian culture.
And also really it also feels so relevant. With having it just gone on with the pope and the Vatican it’s happening today. It’s still all so relevant.
Did you know a lot about Da Vinci besides artists, painter, inventor?
It’s more the inventor side I didn’t know about. I didn’t know about the submarine and the bicycle and all this stuff. It’s amazing what he did. And often end up becoming reality for like hundreds of years later. And that’s why I guess he’s the ultimate Renaissance man.
Did you find all the fascinating?
Absolutely. And David is a complete Italian Renaissance geek now. So he’ll chew your ear off about anything to do with that.
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