Indira Varma: ‘It felt too uncool to tell Tom Cruise about my teen crush’


The Soho House member and actor on the cinematic gems that have left an indelible impression

Monday 4 April 2023 By James Conrad Williams

Indira Varma is no stranger to big TV or movie franchises, having scored roles in the Game Of Thrones universe, the Star Wars galaxy and, most recently, the Mission Impossible movie series.

Her new anthology TV show, Extrapolations is streaming now on Apple TV and boasts a stellar cast, including Meryl Streep, Kit Harington, Sienna Miller and Ed Norton. Here, the British actor and Soho House member reveals her love for The Big Lebowski, a classic old school musical, and her teenage crush on current co-star, Tom Cruise.

What’s the first film you remember seeing and what effect did it have on you as a child?

 E.T. I was nine years old, and prided myself on being tough and never crying. I remember standing outside the Odeon in Bath warning my friend, Helen, that she’d better have a tissue “because it’s meant to be a weepy one”. I was the one that needed the tissues. I was a blubbering wreck. A gang of mates having parent-free adventures and making the most incredible discovery – flying bicycles! And ET, possibly the cutest ugly friend ever. I have quite a long neck and would do impersonations of ET, stretching it so the sinews went all stringy, and straining my voice while pointing my finger...“ET phone home”. I watched it again with my daughter a few years ago and sobbed all over again – longing for the innocence and wonder of childhood, and imaginary worlds that just might be true.’

What’s your favourite film from your teens that you still watch to this day? How does it hold up?
‘Jean De Florette and Manon Des Sources. I felt I was experiencing huge and, at that point, unknown emotions such as love, longing and heartache through those films. That first hit was heady and so powerful that I was cautious about rewatching them for fear of being disappointed. But they totally stand up and I can re-experience what the teen me felt.’

Who was your first movie-star crush and why?

‘Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Thirteen years old with my friend Cathy, standing on tip toe trying to look 15 in a homemade stripey tube skirt, batwing cardigan and far too much blue eyeshadow. I was taller than Cathy, so I bought the tickets. Just pretending to be older was exciting and added to the thrill of seeing Tom and his full voltage smile. It was fun to meet him in person while filming my cough and spit in Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One. It felt too uncool to tell him about my teen crush, though, now that I’m taller and the same height as him.’

What’s your ultimate comfort film that immediately makes you feel better if you’re having a bad day?
‘It would be The Big Lebowski. I love the absurdity of it; the loopy characters, the playfulness. I pretty much love everything the Coen brothers have done. Delicious escapism. But The Big Lebowski was a particularly wonderful distraction for me, as I watched it at home during labour; a birthday cake baking in the oven and just before going into the third stage. I figured laughing could only help give my daughter a good start in life.’

If you had to pick a favourite genre of film, what would it be and why?
‘I don’t know what the genre would be called, but I suppose it might be “people being funny while crying in kitchens”. Anything relatable, about humans, their absurdities and their relationships, and with great acting at the heart of it. So, Woody Allen, Paul Thomas Anderson, Satyajit Ray, Bergman, Scorsese…’

What’s your film soundtrack of choice and why?
‘That’s a difficult one, as I love the sing-along musical movie scores, like Grease, Singin’ In The Rain, The Wizard Of Oz, Fame, or the 1988 Bollywood movie Tezaab that was my soundtrack on a trip to India as a teen. However, for creating a haunting world of longing and emotion, it has to be Ry Cooder’s Paris,Texas. 

If you could have played any role in one film in the whole history of movie making, what would it be and why?
‘It would have been breathtaking to be on the set of a Buster Keaton film, like Steamboat Bill, Jr or The General and witness that incredible visual storytelling first hand, when cinema was in its infancy and audiences gasped at its magic.’

Here’s an opportunity to right a cinematic wrong; what film do you feel is criminally underrated? Make your case.

Punch-Drunk Love. There are so many wonderful small films or subtitled films that didn’t get the push they deserve, but hopefully time will bring them back.’ 

Your smart TV is cursed and you can only stream one movie for the rest your life – what is it?
‘Initially I thought Fanny And Alexander to remind me of theatre and childhood. But it’s too melancholic to endure indefinitely. So, I’m choosing Thelma And Louise, as it has female friendship at the core, great characters, and is full of joy, hope and rebellion.

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