Poldark is set to be one of the BBC’s big dramas of the year when it begins soon, here Aidan Turner tells all about the new series.
Aidan Turner was amazed by the breadth of the role of Ross Poldark in the new adaptation of Winston Graham’s novels.
“It’s fantastic as an actor to have the chance to play such a wide range in one series. Every step of the way there is something new. When I first read Debbie Horsfield’s script I knew there was a huge scope there with Ross.”
Aidan recalls: “I had never heard of Poldark but when I told my parents I was going to play Ross they nearly had a fit! The previous 1970s series was popular in Ireland, I guess because people could relate to it – the farming, the scenery, the horses…it is continually surprising meeting people who are so excited to hear we are making a new adaptation.
“Debbie’s scripts are brilliant and she creates such a vivid and coherent Cornish world, just as Winston Graham does. The dynamic between the characters is ever changing which feels very exciting for an actor – all the different roles are so very distinctive; each of us has a different energy and agenda going on.”
So what kind of a man is Ross Poldark?
“When we first meet Ross he is in turmoil. He went away to war a young, cocky, confident character with a carefree attitude, who was running away from a lot of things. In America he was faced with death on a daily basis and then when he returns to England he doesn’t really know who he is anymore.
“When he arrives back in Cornwall everything’s changed for him: his father has died, his land is barren, the local tin mines are going through a hard time and laying off workers, leaving the region on its knees, and he’s lost Elizabeth, his childhood sweetheart who he expected to marry on his return.
“Ross knows he needs to pick himself up and try and find who he is and where he lies in this new world. He’s strong – that’s what I love about him – he’s someone who can get on with things; he doesn’t wallow in self-pity or despair. He sees a situation for what it is and drags himself through it. He admires hard working people and treats people with respect if they earn it – no matter what their position in life. He is an original class warrior!”
So what changes do we see in Ross throughout the series?
“Ross is 23 when he comes home and you can see changes quite fast. When he realises that Elizabeth is out of the picture, he changes his frame of mind and concentrates more on getting his land back together, looking after his tenants, and resolves to revive the ruined mine on his estate.”
And soon after Ross meets a woman who will change the course of his life, an urchin who he first takes to be a young boy. She is Demelza Carne.
“Taking on Demelza as his kitchen maid and understanding how that whole relationship develops is a huge moment for Ross. He doesn’t care what people think, but he’s taken a huge punt bringing her into the house and having her as a kitchen maid. Eventually he takes charge, doesn’t quite know what he’s got himself in for but very quickly he realises he’s got to do something about it. Ross just grabs everything by the horns and runs with it!
“He is continually facing something new; his changing relationship with his cousin Francis, his Uncle Charles who he has looked up to all his life and who is a rock for him, even though he might not admit it, the feud with George Warleggan.”
Did Aidan delve into the history of the time in Cornwall?
“You can always learn more about what is going on at the time, whether it is pertinent to the story or not. The research is the fun part that helps you play the character– to polish up on historical facts and understand what it was like living there at the time. Life was a lot harder, you have no idea until you start researching and see how difficult things were. Even small chores like washing clothes and getting fresh water was so hard.
” The differences between Cornwall and London, the population, what people were living on, what the industries were. Even little things like travel time – nowadays London to Cornwall isn’t a big feat but in those days it would take you over a week to travel there so people just didn’t do it. It was a Duchy, like its own country with its own legislation. I didn’t know much about Cornwall at all before, I had never been, hadn’t heard much about it so to find out so much about it was great.”
And Aidan relished his time filming in Cornwall.
“It was simply stunning, we had the best weather there over the Summer. We filmed at so many gorgeous locations but the weather really made it work. People know Poldark so well down there and are proud of it so we were welcomed all the time. It was surprising getting fans turning up to set and people travel to show their support and see what was going on. It reminded me of home in Ireland, and it was great to be able to film there so much.”
A distinct lack of underwear…
So what were the hardest scenes for Aidan to film?
“Even if you thought something was scary, the great thing about playing Ross is that you can never chicken out of doing anything!
“I was going to the gym a lot the first couple of months as I had a couple of topless scenes. One of the things I did find out is that they didn’t actually wear underwear at the time so it made it quite difficult to shoot some of the stuff we did. They would just wear the shirt and then tuck it in and around.”
And the highlight for Aidan?
“Has to be Seamus the horse. You can’t do bad acting on a horse, you look too cool. There’s an energy when you deliver dialogue on a horse, its empowering especially for Ross, he thrives on these kinds of situations, so anytime I could get on the horse I would do it.
“Seamus is quite skittish, but he’s a real actor’s horse as you can rehearse something once and he knows where he’s at, the direction he’s going in, when he has to stop and reset. We had to change words as he would just set off when we shouted ‘Action’. He was so sharp and was always moving and on the go. Him and Ross are well suited!
“Luckily I did a lot of riding in New Zealand when we were there filming The Hobbit. I trained a lot and thought I’d leave a pretty good rider – thank god I did as there was a lot of riding in Poldark. It’s very much a part of who Ross is so it’s immediately getting you into character.”
And while Aidan wasn’t allowed to do all his own riding stunts, he did do as much as possible.
“They wouldn’t let me gallop along the cliff top, for obvious reasons, but I did as much as possible. There were some great moment when Eleanor (Tomlinson – Demelza) and I ride double together on Seamus. It can be tricky, it all depends who is on the back as it’s always a rocky ride for them! Eleanor was great because she’s such a good rider herself. She’s confident so if the horse did anything strange she wouldn’t freak out. There’s something really romantic about it and it’s a lovely image to watch. We’d always whisper stuff and crack each other up which was fun.
“Eleanor and I work very well together. I don’t think you can create that chemistry – you either have it or you don’t. It was just right from the very beginning, and even off screen that energy was still there. We had the same respect for each other as the characters did. Sometimes you just click; that’s the joy of good casting. We knew we had something quite special together and didn’t need to work on that, we just trusted Debbie’s writing. We could read each other, and guide each other through a scene and we never panicked.”
But did Aidan feel any pressure tackling such a beloved role?
“Not really. I don’t want to let people down, especially fans of the character , but I don’t think it’s productive to think about how you can disappoint people. We took our inspiration from the original novels by Winston Graham and Debbie Horsfield’s scripts.
“The fan base of the 1970s adaptation of Poldark is very supportive, they have been very generous and kind and genuinely excited to see what we have done with this. It’s like breathing new life into it. But we need to remember that a lot of people haven’t seen the previous adaptation as it was 40 years ago, and there’s a lot of people that won’t have heard of it either!
“Having scenes with Robin Ellis, who played Ross in the seventies series, was brilliant. He is such a lovely guy and still receives fan mail! You can only imagine what it was like – that show was just absolutely huge.”