On screen, she’s seduced Sherlock Holmes, served as a Renaissance patron of Leonardo Da Vinci, and played fairy godmother to Sookie Stackhouse, but on Wednesday night, Lara Pulver takes on a new role as Ann O’Neill in BBC America’s “Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond.”
In the dramatized story behind the story, Dominic Cooper is a young Ian Fleming, who goes from party boy to spy to war hero and James Bond author, all the while romancing the married Ann O’Neill. Their relationship is a troubled one — an adulterous cat and mouse game, which is at times steamy and at others sadistic..
At first, while preparing for the role, Lara questioned what drew high society Ann to wealthy playboy Ian.
“I remember just writing, ‘Why?’… Why is she interested in this man? What is her fascination? What’s so magnetic for her? Because actually he was harsh,” Lara told AccessHollywood.com. “He was a bit of a brute. He treated women really disrespectfully at times. And then, Mat Whitecross, the director, sent me a whole Dropbox file of Ann O’Neil’s diaries.”
Reading Ann’s own words helped Lara put together the pieces of why the two had such a connection.
“I literally sat on my couch for four days non-stop, just writing down notes because it was really fascinating,” she said. “If I’d been a psychoanalyst or something — it was all there. It was like, textbook. Lost her mum when she was young; raised by an abusive nanny; she vomited the first time she was kissed by her childhood sweetheart… because she’d never really been shown physical affection. And then all of a sudden you go, ‘Oh! No wonder you’re, on some level, getting really confused with this sadistic relationship as being affection, and why you’ve been caught up with this very twisted, dysfunctional man.’”
On one side of the primetime drama, “Fleming” follows Ian as he attempts to step out of the shadow of his older brother, Peter, and become someone of value in Britain’s World War II effort. On the other side, the four-part series looks at Ian and Ann’s affair and what continued to draw them to each other.
“With the backdrop of the eve of the war, I think it was a really dark, depressing time in London and she was a very spirited woman who was throwing lavish parties with the likes of Churchill and Lucian Freud as her friends. And her family motto was, ‘It’s no longer fashionable to be dull.’ So when everyone’s mortality is in question, she was bringing life to every party and I think that was magnetic for him,” Lara said of what she believes brought the two together. “And then, I think they found likeminded souls in each other and this idea of this game and this chase and this challenge. And something they were not afraid of was the challenge of one another.”
Portions of the show (which is inspired by real event, but dramatized) portray a dark side of Ian and Ann’s relationship, and Lara credits Dominic for allowing her to be free to express the highs and lows of her character.
“We met at the table read and he came over and gave me a big hug and we did the table read opposite each other and it was like an unspoken thing where I just thought, ‘I’m gonna be safe here. I can be as vulnerable as I like, I can play her as aggressive and as volatile as I like and I know he’s got my back,’” she said.
The actress said at least one scene left her in tears when director Mat called cut.
“Because I’m just not used to, as Lara, working on such extremes, where you’re a little child one moment and then you’re an aggressive animal the next moment,” she said. “It’s like pfffft! Like either end of the spectrum and jumping so erratically.”
To decompress when she wasn’t filming, Lara said she found comfort in the biography of a famous screen legend and the fictionalized lives of twenty-something Brooklynites.
“Don’t ask me why, but during this period I was reading Catherine Hepburn’s memoir, ‘Me’, because even though it was a different period, there were a lot of parallels in her life, in her lifestyle, with the people that she chose to befriend, so I was reading that on set ‘cause I found that kind of very helpful and fascinating. And then at night, I started ‘Girls,’ [the] HBO, Lena Dunham series, because everyone was going on about it and I’d not watched it,” Lara laughed. “So I was decompressing at night.”
It turns out it isn’t one of the “Girls,” but rather one of their guys that became Lara’s favorite.
“It’s the guy I love. It’s her boyfriend! Oh my God,” Lara laughed, referring to Adam Driver, who plays Adam Sackler, Hannah Horvath’s boyfriend on the series. “And I just saw him in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’. … There’s something about him that’s so goofy and so charming, like he’s probably everyone’s idol right now.”
“Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond” premieres January 29 at 10 ET/PT on BBC America.
-- Jolie Lash