Loneliness of city life strikes a chord with actress Indira
As an actress, wearing outlandish costumes and unfamiliar make-up is par for the course, but Indira Varma's physical transformation for new four-part thriller series What Remains was pretty immense.
The Bath-born actress, best-known for playing DCI John's wife Zoe in hit drama Luther and sassy solicitor George Duggan in Silk, is almost unrecognisable as no-nonsense graphic designer Elaine, as the role required her to shave off her flowing dark curls.
"Cutting my hair was great fun," says the 40-year-old mother-of-one. "It's quite rare to have the chance to play something that's so far removed from yourself and I found that exciting.
"You always draw on yourself and what you know, but it was liberating to enter into someone else's psyche and attempt to make her as real as possible."
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Getting the styling just right was crucial for bringing Elaine to life, who, in the programme, is in a relationship with vulnerable Peggy, played by Lark Rise To Candleford actress Victoria Hamilton.
"I went on the website Pinterest to look at trendy and sexy lesbians and saw all these brilliant rockabilly styles that I imagined a graphic designer might be into," recalls Indira.
"We had fake 'his and hers' tattoos done on our necks, chopped my hair off and styled it. Cutting my hair off moved me away from me. It was definitely Elaine."
What Remains charts the story of a group of neighbours – one of whom is Elaine – who all become suspects when one neighbour, Melissa, is found dead in her South London flat.
Over the course of the series, it transpires that Melissa hadn't been seen for two years, and nobody had noticed she disappeared.
Leading the cast is David Threlfall as the quiet detective Len Harper (in his first role since Shameless), while Being Human's Russell Tovey plays a hapless dad-to-be.
As the drama evolves, it becomes evident that Peggy had a closer relationship with Melissa than was first believed, which in turn ignites Elaine's jealousy.
The actresses are more at ease with each other off-screen than on, having previously trodden the boards together.
"Victoria and I have worked together before in a stage production of Twelfth Night," explains Indira . "She was Viola and I was Olivia, so I've already played being in love with her, although it was a totally different relationship."
Home life for the actress, with her daughter Evelyn and fellow actor and other half Colin Tierney, is happy, but she admits that the loneliness of city life explored in What Remains struck a chord.
"In my experience, I think people who live in big cities don't have that sense of community that you have in a village," she says.
"Some people complain that everyone knows your business but actually, in a city, you don't even know who your neighbours are.
"People are always on the move, it's more transient. They don't put down roots so they make less effort. Everyone's very defensive and I think that's really sad."
The actress, who kicked off her career in the film Kama Sutra: A Tale Of Love, and recently scored a part as Ellaria Sand in sci-fi hit Game Of Thrones, thinks London, where the series is set, can be especially hostile.
"London can be really isolating. I know I feel that sometimes," she admits. "On the Tube, no one looks at each other or talks to one another. In small villages, people make small talk and you can have amazing chats."
Indira thinks we can learn a lot from our Mediterranean cousins, too.
"I've got friends in Spain who live in a block of flats where there's a central quadrant. They all know one another and look after each other's children," she says.
"My friend says that if one day you're not in the mood to see people, you just tell them. They're much more direct. We've all become too scared to say, 'I want to be on my own for a bit' over here."
And being direct is something Indira's keen to see more of, even if it's just exchanging pleasantries.
"I do think it's important to chat to people and say 'Hello'," she says. "I'm sure the world would be a nicer place if we said 'Thank you' when we got on the bus, and 'Good morning' to people we pass."
What Remains starts on BBC One tomorrow at 9pm.