Indira Varma who plays Torchwood’s ‘number two’ Susie Costello discusses her role in the new BBC Three series.
While Captain Jack may be the undoubted leader of Torchwood, Susie Costello, played by Indira Varma, is his No. 2, the woman the team turns to when Jack isn’t around, writes Jane Dudley. “Susie was the second person to be part of Torchwood. She’s been in it the longest and she is probably the most passionate about it, or intense. She lives for it, quite literally,” says Indira, who has finished filming the drama and moved straight on to another project, a TV series, in New York.
“Torchwood is a group of normal, or relatively normal people who, next to their normal, everyday lives are continuing their subterranean existence, trying to save the world from aliens. What I think makes it special is the fact that they’re very normal and it’s mundane, and they are not superhuman people, they’re just a bunch of people who happen to do extraordinary jobs, like MI5 or something like that. They are particularly intelligent, particularly quick, but they’re really normal people, and they’re a really motley crew shoved together in some very strange situations.
“Everyone else goes home to boyfriends and music and life but Susie doesn’t have anything, apart from a couple of dead flies! You could say that she’s quite sad. But you could also say that she’s incredibly ambitious and cares most about saving the world.”
With such a position of power in the team, it wouldn’t be surprising if Susie’s nose was put out of joint when Gwen (Eve Myles), the newest recruit, joins Torchwood. Gwen is a Cardiff police officer who tries to find out more about Torchwood and ends up joining the team, but, despite her initial concerns, the pair get along just fine. “Susie gets on well with everybody and she really knows her stuff. I think she’s slightly threatened by Gwen, because Captain Jack [John Barrowman] is so passionate about her, but she does also see that she’s probably the most talented of the lot. It’s very strange for Susie.”
But Susie is an essential part of the team � she is the most intense and is super-intelligent and driven and has devoted her life to pursuing the truth behind the strange artefacts under her control. One of those artefacts is a glove with special powers, which has to be seen to be believed: “Susie makes arms � for example, special knives that cut through space � and there’s an amazing glove that she has also been working on. She has a very special relationship with the glove. I’m not sure I’m allowed to say any more!” laughs the actress, who has also appeared in BBC Two’s Attachments, the hit movie Bride & Prejudice and the BBC’s Rome series last year.
A pay-off for Susie being the most intelligent Torchwood member is, perhaps, that she is the most serious � she has a job to do and wants to get it done. “She sees herself as being the one who’s the least frivolous. She hasn’t got time for stupid little jokes and things like that because she is trying to save the world from aliens. The others have fun and go out and I think they’re a little less conscientious in their work and mistakes happen,” says Indira.
The aliens that Susie helps battle are, she says, “phenomenally brilliant. The special effects guys are incredible. Oh my God, you’re literally up close to them!” she laughs. “You know the old worry of shaky sets and all that? Forget it. This guy, this one particular alien, was amazing. You could literally be face to face, smooching with him, and he still looked real.
“What they are brilliant at doing � and I don’t know how they do this � is that even though some of the aliens are vicious, they make them look sympathetic, so you feel a bit for them. It’s really clever. And they’re completely animated from within, electronically � they’ve even got saliva and stuff like that. It’s amazing, brilliant. Also the guys playing the aliens were really physical and were able to bring something slightly unworldly to it.”
While they might sound like creatures you wouldn’t want to bump into down a dark alleyway (“the old Doctor Who scared me,” she admits), Indira confesses that she “just wanted to take the aliens home” at the end of a hard day’s filming.
Indira is no stranger to science fiction, having starred as Judith Carroon in BBC Four’s remake of The Quatermass Experiment last year, and she admits that, while she isn’t particularly a fan of the genre, she has been incredibly lucky to have roles in two such dramas: “I appreciate sci-fi for the nerds out there,” she laughs, “and I do think that it’s incredibly imaginable stuff. I loved doing Quatermass and I love Torchwood. Everybody wants to change the world, in their own special superhuman way. We all think we’re Superman, somewhere, I think, or would like to be, and it’s incredible fun. I’m not really a viewer, though, I get too frightened. I’m a real wuss, I’m afraid!
“I hadn’t worked with Russell [T Davies] before � I can’t believe how prolific that man is, in so many genres as well. He’s just incredible. And he always maintains his humour, and that’s another bonus about Torchwood, it’s very funny. It’s not ha ha ha all the way, it’s not comedy, but there are little moments. That’s what I like about Russell’s writing � if you’re not listening properly you’ll miss the gag, or the double entendre. It’s like a little wink to the audience.”
Indira was much more at home in Wales than she would be in a subterranean Hub, and, she says, it brought back fond childhood memories: “I’m from the South West of England, from Bath, so it was rather lovely, it reminded me of all the times I used to go down there as a kid, with school and things, and to see how much it changed. It’s such a beautiful city. It was really nice to be by the sea as well. It’s stunning.”
Wales is a far cry from Indira’s current location, though � she’s in New York filming a new television series called 3lbs. “It’s not really a hospital drama but it’s a kind of neurological hospital drama, three pounds being the weight of the human brain,” she says. “It’s with Stanley Tucci. It’s really good, I think it’s brilliant, really exciting.”