Eleanor Tomlinson is set to become a household name thanks to her role as Demelza in the BBC’s highly anticipated new version of Winston Graham’s Poldark. Here she tells us about the series and playing such an iconic character.
For Eleanor playing Demelza in Winston Graham’s Poldark is the Scarlett O’Hara of roles.
“For me Demelza was the character who really stood out as having the most incredible journey in Debbie Horsfield’s script,” says Eleanor.
” For a start she’s completely different from anything I’ve played before. She also has the most fantastic journey; she starts out as an urchin being mistaken for a boy, then becomes Ross’ servant and gradually moves up to become head maid and the best worker that he has and then eventually his wife. The journey for her in only eight episodes is just extraordinary and roles like this just don’t come around that often.”
And Eleanor was prepared to do whatever she could to get the role.
“I was looking for that next really challenging role and wanted to break away from my usual roles in period dramas, the well-educated ones. So I spoke with the casting director and asked to be seen for the part.
“I wanted to really show the director and producers that I could transform myself for this vastly different role. I borrowed by brother’s clothes and went into the audition and tried to just stay in character as much as possible as they’ve never seen that side of me. I’ve never really done it that way before, as when you go in to play the leading lady roles, or the roles like Elizabeth, you’re much more talkative and polite, you dress nicely but with Demelza I think that was the whole point to have that rougher edge.”
So what attracted Eleanor to this urchin?
“She is extremely resilient and has this streetwise edge to her but she never becomes too hard. She has to be vastly different to Elizabeth but you still have to love her, so for me that was really interesting to play. Also not giving away what happens, or creating that relationship too quickly, you have to let her flower and evolve. There’s a vulnerability in the character which I really liked. Female roles as strong as this don’t come around very often.”
And how did she feel taking on such a well loved role?
“When I found out they were making the project I spoke to my parents about it over dinner and they were like ‘Oh my God, Poldark, that’s amazing,’ and it wasn’t until then did I realise how successful the previous adaptation had been. I then read the first two books that our series covers, looked further into it and watched little bits of the old series. I deliberately didn’t watch the whole series as I wanted to do my own thing with the character. But I was fascinated at how Angharad Rees managed to capture the public’s heart the way she did as she was so popular.”
One of the hardest elements of the role for Eleanor was the Cornish accent…
” It was very hard, and being from East Yorkshire I had never really ventured to Cornwall as a kid so that was a continual experience for me as well. I worked very hard with the voice coach who was fantastic and so helpful. With Demelza’s accent, she never loses it but she tames it a little bit – I was anxious that she never totally becomes a lady, she is never like Elizabeth and I wanted to keep that trueness to her roots.
“The accent is hard to master and the Cornish people are so passionate about Poldark, they’re going to be listening for the accent and want it to be perfect.
“I learnt about how their jaws were a lot tighter because of the wind, and living so close to the sea, the salt makes you speak in a different way. They clench their jaw tightly so you get a completely different sound. One of the main things I found hard was that the language is like Old English, they use words we haven’t even heard nowadays.”
And do the costumes and make up help the transition along Demelza’s journey?
“Marianne (Agertoft) the costume designer was fantastic. She is so open to involving the actors on creating that journey, and especially with Demelza who has a massive journey with her clothes – she goes from being a rag-wearing urchin to being Mistress Poldark. It was fantastic to work with Marianne and come up with this look because I particularly wanted Demelza to look practical. Gradually we move on but she still wears the same dress a lot; it’s not that she’s suddenly come to the Nampara and immediately becomes a lady, her transition into a lady is much slower. The costumes were immensely helpful, and the same with make-up; we gradually change her look and make her hair more classic, and as she got grander she wore it down and free.”
So will audiences be drawn into the relationship between Ross and Demelza?
“I think they’re very similar personalities and along the way she will make Ross notice that his relationship with Elizabeth would never have worked as they are not alike. Whereas Ross and Demelza are cut from the same rock; Demelza is equally as fiery as Ross and puts him in his place but at the same time they just understand each other’s moods. It was a really fun dynamic to play with.
“Aidan is a brilliant actor and think he’s done an amazing thing with the character. He was under a lot of pressure, as were we all playing such iconic characters, so that is quite intense but he is a very clever actor and it was nice to work alongside him.”
And what does the Cornish landscape bring to the story?
“I had the greatest time in Cornwall – it is so beautiful, I almost can’t believe I’d never been there before. So much of the piece came alive when we were filming in Cornwall and everyone found their character in the outdoors, particularly with Demelza as she is very connected to the landscape.
“I also love the countryside and just enjoyed exploring all the different coves and beaches and the endless beautiful blue water, it was so gorgeous. It is such a peaceful and relaxing place.”