TV interview: Indira sacrifices her hair for role in new BBC thriller

Indira Varma stars in new BBC thriller What Remains.
Indira Varma stars in new BBC thriller What Remains.
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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.

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 Varma.

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 Varma. “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.”

* What Remains starts on BBC One on Sunday, August 25.