With a new season of BBC thriller The Capture plus ITV’s The Suspect starring Aidan Turner, there’s already plenty of drama to sink our teeth into this autumn – and now there’s a new series to add to the watchlist. Launching on ITV this weekend is Karen Pirie, a new show based on the first novel from celebrated crime writer Val McDermid, The Distant Echo. Set in the university town of St Andrews, the drama will follow the reopening of a murder case of a barmaid, spearheaded by young, female detective Karen Pirie. Taking on the titular role is Scottish actress Lauren Lyle, best known for starring in Starz drama Outlander. She’s here to tell us all about it.
Lauren Lyle on Becoming Karen Pirie
What can you tell us about Karen Pirie?
It’s the first time we are seeing a crime drama about a very young underestimated female detective in her 20s, paired with the fact that she’s both hopeful and driven to solve the crime. The show holds no worn tropes or stereotypes, in fact it makes fun of them and we see the conservative, male dominated world of the police through a passionate, fresh lens of this realistic young woman. And it’s a cast full of bright shiny newcomers. Karen Pirie is a brand new take on some very dark material with humour, relatability and plenty of terrifying moments. And an incredible bum bag.
How did you feel taking on the lead role?
I’ve worked a lot but it’s a whole new world leading a show and taking on all the extra responsibilities of being number one on the call sheet. I’ve never done that before. I felt like I was hosting a party and just wanted everyone to have a good time, it was the best. I also felt immense responsibility to keep the tone on set inspiring while also honouring the intensity of the part and really allowing myself to immerse into playing Karen Pirie and becoming enveloped in the case. I was exhausted the entire time whilst parading a big grin. As a team we really couldn’t believe what we were being allowed to make which gave me loads of energy.
Any funny stories from filming?
So many. One of my favourite moments was when Chris Jenks and I were both handed our police badges on our first week. Having never played detectives before we both looked at each other with a silent scream at having no idea what to do with them. We ended up secretly taking ourselves away during set ups to seriously practice our badge flipping at each other – you have to look so slick and cool doing it. After a number of hours of work and support for each other I think we nailed it.
Favourite person you’ve worked with on Karen Pirie?
Zach (Wyatt) and Chris were my unit, we really laughed constantly to the point where we couldn’t look at each other during some scenes to stop us corpsing. A huge one is Emer Kenny, our writer who we described as being the Clooney to my Pitt. As exec/writer and the lead we were in constant contact and formed a really close bond. We have agreed to work together for the rest of our lives.
Favourite role to date and why?
Karen Pirie really was a gift. An iconic female detective in her 20s just doesn’t come up. I also adored playing the lead of Diane in the play Consensual on the West End, it opened a lot of doors for me. A favourite will always be my first big job The Crucible at The Old Vic on the West End. I had my own part as well as also understudying the lead’s Abigail and Elizabeth. Getting to perform one night as Abigail was electric and mind-blowing. A classic I’ll remember forever. I’m keen to get back to the theatre soon.
Role you’d cut your right arm off to get?
I can never answer this question but I recently decided, after being at festivals all summer, that I’d like to play the front woman of a band in a film. Stand on stage and smash a guitar or the drums. I joke to my friends that I was secretly born to drum. I interviewed Ellie Rowsell, the lead singer of Wolf Alice, on my podcast She’s a Rec’, and hearing what it’s like, I’d do her job for a bit. She’s so effortlessly extraordinary on stage. Give me a job playing Blondie or Stevie Nicks and have Wes Anderson direct it. Perfect.
What demands do you have during rehearsals?
Each job is different but ideally the dream rehearsal day looks like music and coffee as everyone arrives. A game of hide and seek round some West End theatre to warm up. Then run riot with the script letting everyone improvise and play. After all that we eat some home baking that a cast member has made then go to the pub.
What qualities do you think have made you successful?
I think however blind, I’ve always believed I could do it, even if I haven’t known how to. So when I’ve (often) been rejected I’ve tried to keep the mindset of pushing on to the next. I’ve got incredibly supportive family and friends who always remind me of the bigger picture. Having perspective keeps you in a fresh and positive mindset. I have begun to add many strings to my bow from my podcast to directing, so I’m often working on a number of different projects keeping me inspired and excited, which makes the ups and downs of being an actor more manageable.
Film you think everyone in the world should see?
Incendies is an incredible film and the first non-English one I saw when I was young. It was a formative moment in my life with regards to cinema. It’s never left me.
What’s your relationship with social media like?
At the moment I would rather be off it but I keep it quite work focused. I keep finding myself ‘hiding’ and going through periods of not posting. I feel a lot lighter when not on it but I do love connecting with fans and all those who are so supportive of my work. It’s a really brilliant way to connect with the world and I love being able to use it positively to build community. So it’s fun to keep checked in and see what’s going on.
What did you want to be when you were a little girl?
A gymnast one day, and then to swim in as many swimming pools as possible the next. I almost went to art school to study fine art and painting. I didn’t know I wanted to, or could, pursue acting until I was older.
If you could give advice to your 15-year-old self, what would it be?
Your braces are much cooler than you realise and that boy that broke your heart will be one of your best friends in 10 years and you’ll laugh that you guys went out. And please stop worrying about what you can’t control. For there to be good times there must be bad! I’m still working on that one.
Three books you’d take to a desert island and why?
The recipe book my mum has created since she was a teenager. Then Milk and Honey by poet Rupi Kaur – my best friend Shajal sent it to me when I was going through a hard time and it helped me immensely. And obviously a guide on how to survive on a desert island.
The most challenging moment of your life?
I moved to live in New Zealand for years when I was 15. Being away from my brothers and friends at such a formative time was surreal. In the end it was the best thing I’ve ever done and enhanced my life hugely, opening me up to a very different way of life, people and culture. I learned a lot and NZ is my second home, I can’t wait to get back to its beaches and see everyone now lockdown has lifted.
How can we all live a little bit better?
Taking breaks from work when we can to do the things we enjoy. Even if that’s a cup of tea and a wee biscuit.
What’s your interior design style?
Mid-century clean and bold. I recently renovated my house and kept it very fresh but filled with a mix of lots of old and new furniture. From my grandpas chaise lounge reupholstered with vegan cow print to slick modern archway mirrors to elevate and open up the space. I’m still searching for the perfect artworks and quite fancy a big Slim Aarons.
What is your current beauty regime?
Trying to get more sleep – I’m told more water and only one coffee a day. And plenty of moisturiser. I’m loving 111 Skin’s Celestial Black Diamond and Agent Nateur Holi Oil Ageless Face Serum. My secret weapon is drinking some very bitter but very effective Chinese herbal tea to help keep my skin clear. It’s amazing, and it tastes so bad it must be working.
What are your indulgences?
Kinder Happy Hippos, drinking a natty (natural) wine in a sun spot, cult doc’s, champagne whenever possible, TikTok (sorry, I love my TikTok – I’ve somehow managed to make my algorithm something I’m horribly proud of).
What would your best friend say about you?
I think it would be something like: I throw a good party and hold very good company. I just texted my best friend to ask and she said: ‘Lauren loves the party, brings the party, IS the party. She is sparkly and golden and when she turns her focus on you, you feel like the most golden you can be’ – which is hilarious and I’d say the same about her.
How do you relax?
This summer it’s been going on holiday to remote places where I’m forced to switch off. Cooking big dinners with my nearest and dearest. The pub in London at golden hour with a pack of cards and my best pals.
If we’re coming to your area for a visit, what should we do?
I’ve been in East London for years and it’s got everything. I love Broadway Market and cycling around London Fields. There’s some of the best Japanese in London. Get a coffee from Pophams then go for a wander along Regents Canal. I’ll regularly make dinner at home and take the plates down to sit along the canal with a picnic blanket as it gets gorgeous sunsets and all the locals sit hanging out at the locks with music and vibes. Ridley Road Market Bar for a dance and Hackney Picturehouse for a movie.
Are you a rule breaker or a rule taker?
Karen Pirie is on ITV, Sunday 25th September at 8pm
- Photographer: Joseph Sinclair
- Makeup: Maria Asadi
- Hair: Joe Pickering-Taylor
- Styling: Emily Tighe