Perhaps Obi-Wan Kenobi didn’t expect his knight in shining armor to wear the uniform of an Imperial officer. Then again, he didn’t anticipate getting dragged through fire by his robotized former BFF either, so how much does old Ben Kenobi really know? On Wednesday, Star Wars fans were treated to a number of reveals courtesy of the latest Obi-Wan Kenobi episode on Disney+, not the least of which was Hayden Christian’s return as Anakin Skywalker-turned-Darth Vader, voiced—delightfully—by James Earl Jones. But the series has made a point not to rely too heavily on the nostalgia pleasure button, opting when possible to push new characters to the forefront, in the hopes they might lure their own mighty fan bases. Exhibit A: the introduction of Indira Varma’s Tala Durith.
Fans who recognized Varma from her turn as Ellaria Sand in Game of Thrones—lover of Pedro Pascal’s Prince Oberyn Martell—were quick to spot her in the Obi-Wan trailer when it first dropped, this time dressed as an Imperial officer and architect of the nefarious Empire. But Star Wars loves a red herring. In episode 3, Tala appeared in her slick uniform only to shoot her accompanying Stormtroopers and lead Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and young Princess Leia (Vivian Lyra Blair) to safety on the mining planet Mapuzo. The big reveal was what some fans had already deduced: She’s a defector, helping to maintain an underground railroad of sorts for runaway Jedi and their allies, known as The Path.
By the end of episode 3, Tala’s saved old Ben Kenobi’s life not once but twice—first from Stormtroopers and second from a vengeful Vader himself. But given the nasty burn along his right side, Obi-Wan’s unlikely to survive long without additional help from Tala, so we can expect her to become a major supporting character throughout the rest of the series—and if Varma’s willingness is any indication, perhaps into spin-offs as well.
Ahead of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s premiere night, Varma gave ELLE.com an exclusive inside look at what went into her character, how she’s handling her entrance to the Star Wars universe, and how she assembled the perfect premiere-night look to honor Tala’s introduction.
Who is Tala Durith?
During our Zoom interview, Varma grins and bites her lip. There’s only so much she can say about Tala without wading into spoiler territory, but she can tell us this: That Tala Durith would defend Obi-Wan Kenobi is, in the character’s book, a given. It doesn’t matter that she was once a genuine Imperial soldier, one who admits she “made mistakes” before defecting. “It’s just a given that this is who she is and how she maneuvers and navigates her world,” Varma says. “And so she’s quite adept to it. [Her rescuing Obi-Wan] was quite offhand.”
As someone who openly admits she still hasn’t watched all the Star Wars films—“Ewan was taking the mickey out for me all the time, going, ‘You haven’t bloody watched it, have you?’ He was a little bit appalled at my lack of knowledge,” Varma jokes—she believes she didn’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of starfighters or Clone War battle tactics to understand Tala’s motivations. “It’s not like I’m reprising a character that has been seen before,” she says. “So it’s not like I had to copy anyone or do anything like that.”
In fact, it’s the relative uniqueness of a character like Tala that finally made Varma feel welcome in the world of Star Wars. Now in her late 40s, Varma says a substantial part of why she didn’t watch the films as a child was because they didn’t seem made for her: “I’m slightly embarrassed because I feel like [not watching the films] could come across as an insult to the fandom and the legacy of Star Wars,” she says. “But it’s really not that. Because I feel like when I was a kid and Star Wars first came out, it felt like it was for the boys. And we were represented by Princess Leia. There wasn’t that much for someone like me in there.”
But when she watched her good friend Pascal in The Mandalorian, Varma was entranced by the wit, the humanity, and the serialized feel of what was otherwise part of a sweeping canon. That small-screen coziness translated to a conversation Varma eventually shared with Deborah Chow, who directed several episodes of The Mandalorian and would direct Obi-Wan Kenobi. Varma felt she could trust the director’s sensibilities, both to value emotion over action and to uplift female voices within the series. “When I spoke to Deborah, I sort of fell in love with her because she was very much like, I want [the show] to be character-driven,” Varma says. “I want your input. It’s about relationships and the emotional connections between people and their journeys. And to me, that’s what I love about acting. I’m not really interested in being in a massive action thing where you are a cog and you are sort of just a body doing amazing things.” She adds, “I feel like this is a really exciting time to sort of change the landscape of the way women are perceived. And it’s really exciting to have a female director leading this and trusting that it will be… We will be represented in the right way, because she’s on it.”
Will Tala become a main character in Obi-Wan Kenobi?
It’s unlikely Tala will become a true lead, but it seems she’ll remain an important side character throughout the remaining episodes of Obi-Wan. Says Varma, “Tala has a lovely arc,” which seems a strong indication that her story will unfold over multiple chapters.
Regardless, Varma isn’t complaining about any lack of screen time. As part of two of the world’s biggest sci-fi and fantasy franchises, Game of Thrones and now Star Wars, she still gets to enjoy relative anonymity among a voracious fanbase. “I have the freedom of traveling on public transport without people necessarily recognizing me. I can navigate the world like a normal person, and that is precious for me,” Varma says. “When people appreciate what you’ve done within a giant body of a project, it’s really lovely. It’s lovely because sometimes you forget, because you’re not recognized all the time, like, ‘Oh, wow, it did have an impact.’ I forget. I forget that people do identify with Ellaria. So yeah. It’s nice.”
Will Tala appear in other Star Wars shows and spin-offs?
Since Varma is still close with her old Game of Thrones co-star Pascal, now universally adored for his depiction of bounty hunter-turned-father figure Mando in The Mandalorian, I ask if she’d be willing to bring Tala along for a cameo—or even a supporting role—in the show’s upcoming season 3.
“Oh my God,” Varma says, laughing. “Oh, you know what? I’d work with anyone who’s a talented, lovely person who I worked with before, but yes. Yes, I would. Of course I would. You want to work with the people you love and you respect and who you have enjoyed working with.”
In other words: There’s always hope.
What was premiere night like?
Ahead of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s first two episodes dropping on Disney+ last week, the actors attended a surprise premiere event at Star Wars Celebration, a fan convention hosted in Anaheim, California. Varma attended in a beige Roksanda suit cut with a neon green sash and black-and-brown boots—a clever nod to her Imperial uniform and an action-ready red-carpet look. (“It’s always a bonus to have a shoe you can run in,” Varma jokes in a follow-up interview over email.) Dreamed up by British stylist Rose Forde, the look was accented by makeup from artist Lilly Keys and hair by Sera Sloane.
To Varma, the night represented her first real step into the Star Wars fandom—one that, for better or worse, has earned a reputation for passion. “It’s really cool to be part of something that loves its fan base—and includes its fan base,” she says. “It shows trust and love and it’s paying back for the loyalty, I think.”
In the meantime, she’s got a bevy of other characters lined up to explore: She’s in the upcoming star-studded Apple TV project Extrapolations alongside Meryl Streep, Gemma Chan, Kit Harington, Marion Cotillard, Tobey Maguire, Ed Norton, Forest Whitaker, and more; she’s rehearsing for a West End production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull with her Game of Thrones co-star Emilia Clarke; and she just wrapped the Netflix erotic thriller series Damage. All three are vastly different projects, and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s sci-fi extravaganza is a fourth. Is juggling such wildly different stories a dissonant act? Not exactly, Varma explains. It’s part of playing humans who are…y’know, human.
“I want to have the courage to fail,” she says. “And try characters out that, you know what? It didn’t quite work. The problem is, there’s so much type casting that goes on. I think as human beings, we are very emotionally complex. So why are we always playing the same, kind of, three notes?” She adds, “I’m excited about getting older. I think there’s less pressure in having to be beautiful. And I think the older you get, the more experiences you’ve had, therefore the more colors you have in your palette. And I want to use them more.”
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