I had a great conversation with new “Human Target” co-star Indira Varma on the FOX action-drama’s Vancouver set back in August, but somehow I mostly remember how cold she seemed.
It was one of those days that starts off chilly and cloudy and ends up in the ’80s by noon, but she sat down across from me in one thick jacket and half-way through the interview, she replaced it with an even thicker coat, one that might almost count as a parka.
Even as she was rubbing her hands together, Varma put on a good show of not being frigid, showing exactly the composure and confidence American audiences would expect from the British actress best known for her turn as Niobe on HBO’s “Rome” or her appearance on the London episodes of “Bones.”
Varma joins the cast of “Human Target” for its premiere on Wednesday (Nov. 17) night, part of the show’s minor Season Two tinkering.
Click through for our full conversation, transcribed minus the shivering…
HitFix: Let’s start with the basics. Who is Ilsa Pucci?
Indira Varma: Ilsa Pucci is the wife of a billionaire philanthropist and for whatever reason, her husband is killed. She’s a widow and, as a consequence, she is then targeted herself by the people who killed her husband, so she’s forced to surround herself with security guards and those kinds of things. She hates living like that, because she’s a very controlled and controlling woman, and a spoiled one, who likes things just the way they are, or rather as she wants them to be. So she goes in search of a slightly more lawless way of going after the people who are trying to kill her, basically by putting herself in the line of fire. She has heard of Christopher Chance by reputation, but he’s gone AWOL. She goes to find him in Nepal in an ashram finding his chi or whatever. And she basically convinces him to help her out and save her life.
So that little drama goes on and, in the meantime, she watches this team of people and how they do what they do, they’re modern day Robin Hoods. So she thinks, “You know, I’ve got a lot of money…” She’s a philanthropist and she’s got charities. She’s a good woman. And so she decides that she’s going to help them out and have an Ilsa Pucci Foundation to basically run their company. She becomes their boss. But inevitably, a boss likes things to be done the way they like them to done and she’s not really used to their method of work. So she has conflicting views about the ways things should be done, without having any experience in that world at all, which means that there’s an amount of friction that comes from that. She’s a very bright woman, so it doesn’t comes across as pig-headedness.
HitFix: What is her methodology? What’s her point of view on what they should be doing and how?
IV: Well, she thinks things should be done systematically and in a lawful way. In fact, the notion of torturing someone to get an answer would be anathema to her. So she doesn’t like to bend the rules. She doesn’t like to be compromised in that way. But actually she ends up seeing that they get what they want.
HitFix: And what does that mean in terms of her dynamic with the three established characters?
IV: We’ve only finished one episode at the moment, but initially she says, “Oh, I’m not going to get involved. Don’t worry. I’ll just give you the money to do the good and I’ll keep out of the way.” But actually she can’t quite resist it, because it’s exciting. And also, she’s curious. Most intelligent people are curious, aren’t they? So she’s curious about how they work and their methodology, so she gets involved, but of course has to put her tuppence-worth in.
HitFix: Does that mean she’ll be getting to go into the field with them?
IV: It certainly does. And get myself into trouble and bite off more than I can chew. And hopefully, there’ll be a bit of room for the comic aspect of somebody who’s not really in their comfort zone mucking in.
HitFix: Was that what drew you to the role?
IV: Definitely! One of the things I like about acting is variety. I do radio, theater, film, everything, so the idea of being in a long-running series is slightly scary, but I love doing different genres and I’ve never done the action genre before. And it’s kind of silly and fun, isn’t it? That’s why we watch it.
HitFix: How clear did they have to make it to you that you weren’t just going to become the Charlie to their Angels? Just popping up on the intercom or the phone and sitting behind a desk?
IV: I don’t think that would be interesting enough for *them*.
HitFix: But you didn’t have any concerns?
IV: Oh no.
HitFix: Have you gotten to do any stunt-work yet?
IV: Well, I jump out of a building into the ocean. That was fun. What else? I think I get to do something that I’m not allowed to tell you yet. One of those. There’s a bit of running around and diving to avoid bullets and playing with guns.
HitFix: I know you haven’t done action, per se, before, but have you had the chance to do any of this death-defying stunt stuff before?
IV: Well, I’ve been shot a few times. I’ve died. I’ve done a bit. But not like this! Not looking cool like this!
HitFix: Is that enough of a draw? What is it that would make you want to sign on for a full American TV series run?
IV: The money. [She laughs.] Obviously that is an aspect of it. You’re being PAID. My God! Let’s not beat about the bush here. It’s quite nice to be paid decently for what you do. But I act because I really love acting and playing. It’s basically play, isn’t it? Let’s be honest. Playing. Having fun. And they’re all going to be different. Everything they do in each episode will be different.
HitFix: Acting may be having fun, but this seems like it would be very different from something like BBC America’s “Luther,” where it’s a more intense, miserable sort of fun?
IV: Well, I love that show. I thought it was really well written. It was good dialogue. And of course it’s totally different from this. The fun to be had in this is from the heightened acting aspect and the extremes that people go to, the comic book aspect of it. That’s great fun. The stuff I enjoy in “Luther” is the more psychological and emotion dramas that were going on.
HitFix: And you get to do a smaller scale. Lots of intimate scenes with Idris Elba, who’s fantastic.
IV: Yeah. No acting required there. It was just *being*. It was great fun. I loved that job.
HitFix: Have you shared scenes yet with your three main co-stars?
IV: No, not yet. Me and Mark have done a lot together. That’s been really fun. You get to know someone when you’ve done 15-hour days and it’s four in the morning and you still have to dodge bullets and dance and look interested. You get to know each other pretty quick — banter, jokes. It’s good.
HitFix: But no time yet for Chi or Jackie?
IV: We haven’t. We’ve met and they’re gorgeous people. I get to do some fun stuff with Chi in the next episode. I think we’ll all get to work together at some point.
HitFix: When you get a new female cast member added to a show like this, I’m almost forced to ask…
IV: [She puts on a voice.] “Is there going to be sexual tension?” Of course there is! You know the answer to that. Ask yourself that question.
HitFix: But your answer carries so much more authority than my answer.
IV: Yes. There *will* be some sexual tension. I suspect. [She laughs.] It’s television, isn’t it?
HitFix: But we’re all probably thinking it’ll be with you and Mark, but why can’t it be with you and Jackie or you and…
IV: Well, I’m suggesting me and Chi, to be honest. If it was up to me, I’d have a little dalliance with all of them. Come on! She’s a widow. The world’s her oyster.
HitFix: How quickly is she going to be ready to get back into the dating pool?
IV: Pretty quick, I suspect. I think there will be, but I’m hoping that it’s going to be a slow burn, because she’s a pain in the ass. I’m going to make her a pain in the ass. She’s going to be difficult. She’s going to be a fly in the ointment. She’s very strong-willed and she’ll be demanding. And, of course, men hate being told what to do and she’s going to be doing a lot of that. There are going to be a few fights and arguments, but with comedy. I think there’s going to be a battle of wills going on. And while men hate being told what to do, actually I think they secretly enjoy it.
“Human Target” returns to FOX at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, November 17.