My mum would leave me in Bath’s public library on Saturday mornings so she could go and do the shopping. I was three or four. You wouldn’t do that these days, but I remember it as a safe place. Thrilling, too. It felt like freedom, all the books and endless possibilities. My mum’s nickname for me was “Muni” – if she couldn’t find me, she’d call it really loudly. In a library. Mortifying.
Be unafraid. That’s what I try to teach my daughter. Be brave in your choices, don’t worry so much about what other people think.
My mixed heritage has pulled, pushed and pummelled me. But it opened my eyes into how other people live. My mum is Swiss, so I’d enjoy the luxury of her parents’ house: views over Lake Geneva, delicious chocolates, deep bubble baths. Then we’d visit my dad’s family in India, where there was no water after midday and rats running around the house. It’s not like that any more, but it taught me to be tolerant and non-judgmental.
I do the voice of Priti Patel for Spitting Image. I mean, it’s not very good. I’m not an impersonator, I just do this slightly sibilant Watford accent. I’d be curious to know what she thought.
You can’t fart above your arsehole. That’s what my mother used to tell me. It sounds better in French, but means we’re all the same, so don’t think you’re better.
Awards don’t matter until you get given one. I didn’t realise I was the first person of Asian origin to win the Olivier Award until someone told me afterwards. I was like, “What about Ben Kingsley, surely?”
I’ve got a lightsaber candlestick. One of the prop guys had the hilt of one and I said, “That would make a great candlestick!” Last week, I got a parcel – he’d sent me two lightsaber candlesticks with a box of long blue candles. That gives me joy.
I strive for contentment and believe in the world of small things. There’s something divine about watching the tiny daily changes in a garden and being awake to the cycle of life. Even if you’re in a bad place, the world keeps turning and the flowers keep blooming. Walk down a shitty street and between the paving cracks there’s this little piece of hope growing.
Growing up, I wanted to be a clown. Or a mime artist. Or David Attenborough.
There’s a Lego figure of me coming out. It’s incredibly surreal being part of the Star Wars franchise [Varma plays an Imperial officer in the new series Obi-Wan Kenobi]. It’s the backdrop to my life. I was pretending to be Princess Leia in my infant school playground. On my first day on set, there were Stormtroopers in the desert. It’s like being inside your childhood dreams.
The closest I’ve come to death was on a plane recently. My daughter and I were flying back from a holiday in Switzerland during Storm Franklin. It was a small aircraft and we were being tossed about. I held on to her hand. People were praying. Valium was being taken. But there were two young kids in front of us going, “Wahey!” with their arms in the air. They thought they were at Alton Towers.
Talent without discipline is a bad habit. A drama teacher told me that. You might think your vitality will shine through, but don’t piss in the wind. You have to graft hard to succeed.
I love to swear. I’m liberal with the C-word and F-word. Sometimes it’s deeply inappropriate. In America, they think I’m very together and quite posh, then a stream of swearing comes out and shocks them. It’s quite joyful.
The kindness of strangers is real. It’s a pity we become mistrustful of people. The minute you engage with someone honestly, they open up.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is streaming on Disney+