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?"