Bustle Booth

Lauren Lyle Is Keeping The Contents Of Karen Pirie’s Bum Bag A Mystery

“It feels like her uniform.”

Lauren Lyle On 'Karen Pirie', Her Love Of Music, Podcasting, & What Is In Her Bum Bag
Courtesy of Lauren Lyle

Taking up her seat in the Bustle Booth, Lauren Lyle admits she’s a bit knackered. Last night, she and a bunch of mates got in a round of pizzas and watched the first episode of thorny new crime drama Karen Pirie together. “They were screaming and shouting the whole time: they just kept saying ‘Lauren, you're actually quite a good actor!’” she laughs. “That's good to know.”

After previously featuring in gloomy police drama Vigil and historical romance Outlander, the show marks Lyle’s first leading role. An adaptation of Val McDermid's 2003 detective novel The Distant Echo, the show centres on the horrific murder of 19-year-old barmaid Rosie Duff, and a true crime podcaster’s fight to finally get to the bottom of a now-forgotten crime that took place in the ‘90s. When Edinburgh’s police force realise that – in the words of one especially jaded police officer – “some woke millennial’s found a microphone” they reluctantly reopen the case, and put a young female officer in charge to help with the “optics”. Enter, Lyle’s character Karen Pirie, a fresh-faced cop with a healthy sense of scepticism towards the force and its rampant misogyny. The first time we see her on screen, she makes a sardonic comment about her male colleagues’ constant victim blaming in cases involving violence against women: it’s both sharply witty, and painfully true.

“It's about coming from the perspective of another young woman,” Lyle says. “Karen also knows what it feels like to be afraid walking home at night. It feels really good to be part of something that is seeing it, and isn't shying away from it,” she adds of the challenging subject matter. “The police is a very controversial topic. [We’re] not painting them in the most perfect, heroic light.”

In Vigil, Lyle portrayed an anti-nuclear weapons activist called Jade who falls victim to a shady plot surrounding a Ballistic missile submarine. Early in the show she’s questioned by police after trespassing onto a naval base. “I guess [with Karen Pirie] it was just really cool to get to do the opposite,” Lyle laughs, “and watch someone else sweat for a change. When I was doing Jade and Vigil, she was very antsy, nervous, worried, anxious… a very dangerous and hidden woman. Whereas Karen's got to be a lot more calculated and a lot cooler, and a lot smarter. She can't give away how she feels. She can't give away what she's thinking. She can't trust anyone.”

It was important to Lyle that Karen Pirie herself didn’t feel glamorous or improbably chic, and the actor was heavily involved in picking out her character’s high concentration of sweater-vests and bum bags. “I kind of wanted her to be accidentally fashionable,” she reasons. “She sort of isolates herself into this sort of strange dress code, and it feels like her uniform.”

And as for that infamous bum bag – which Pirie wears properly, of course, around her waist – Lyle says you’ll have to watch the show to find out what’s stashed inside. “My mic pack was in there, but there are other things. That is the mystery.”

Born and raised on the South Side of Glasgow, Lyle’s family relocated to New Zealand when she was 15. The actor has always been hugely interested in people’s hidden motivations, and weighed up the idea of studying psychology at university, before ultimately moving to London to pursue acting. The gamble paid off, and Lyle later got her first big break in a West End run of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible.

When she’s not tackling complex, thorny roles on stage or screen, Lyle loves a good gig – her most recent stand-out was rising electric producer Fred Again..’s set at Barcelona music festival Primavera. Various different musicians have also guested on her podcast She's A Rec', with indie singer-songwriter Matt Maltese, pop icon Self Esteem, and Wolf Alice vocalist Ellie Rowsell all stopping by for a chat.

“Me and Ellie were both sitting next to each other in the front row at [London] Fashion Week last week, and I was telling her that actually, if I had to play any part, I would want to play her. Or, like, any rock band’s front-woman at Glastonbury in front of those people! She just looks so cool doing it!”

Get to know Lauren Lyle better in the Bustle Booth, below.

In The Bustle Booth

What's your coffee order?

Black in the morning, oat flat white at the weekends, espresso every day in Italy this summer.

What are the saved weather locations on your phone?

Ok wow, well in order it’s: Edinburgh, London, Glasgow, LA, Paris, Barcelona, Somerset, Florence, Como, Boston, Dalaman, Orkney. Which tells you a lot about my year so far.

What’s your sign?

Cancer. I wish I knew more but every time I ask my mum my exact birth time she says around 1 p.m. which I know the stars won’t find helpful!

Favourite overused movie quote?

“Shit that’s fresh” Bridesmaids or “don’t make me sing” – also the SNL Queen Kristin Wiig

What was your favourite cartoon as a kid?

Tom & Jerry, The Rugrats and does the Spy Kids moment when they are turned into clay figures by Alan Cummings count? Quite iconic.

What’s one movie or TV show you're currently obsessed with?

Always Succession. Currently Severance and Dopesick.

Who is your celeb idol?

I’m doing some design on my apartment at the moment and loving everything by David Hockney. I’m also really into particular directors’ work. I love the way Wes Anderson makes a film with hilarity, intensity, and colour. As well as Bong Joon-ho; again [he’s] using very relevant unsettling subject matter and injecting dark humour and incredible angles and taste.

If you had to be on a reality TV show, what would it be?

Masterchef, or Ghost Hunters for the thrills.

Go-to karaoke song?

Anastacia’s “Left Outside Alone.”

What’s something that’s inspiring you lately?

Getting out to the countryside as often as possible. I live in the heart of London and I often miss the sea. I’ve been working away on a new film by the water so going cold water swimming a lot with a sunrise early in the morning has been amazing.

What is something you would want people to say about you?

That I’m very loyal and protective over my friends and family. That I’m a great auntie to my nieces and nephews, [and someone] that tells the best stories with the best voices. And that I throw a good party, work hard, and am good and unique at my job.