Aidan Turner is sitting in a London hotel room. In an hour he will attend the GQ Awards at Tate Modern, where he will receive the TV actor of the year trophy for his performance in the BBC’s 18th-century Cornish drama Poldark.
His tuxedo has arrived and he’s surrounded by scripts for series three, which started shooting this week. What? He can memorise lines and get dressed for a big night out? No wonder Demelza and Elizabeth are fighting over him in the series.
That morning he was on location in Gloucestershire in breeches and tricorn giving his beloved Irish steed Seamus a run after four months off. “I had some horse-riding today,” he says cheerfully. “I was galloping around Trenwith [the Poldark family home] this morning.”
Contrary to reports, he performs all his own riding stunts.
Next week the cast and crew of the good ship Poldark move on to Cornwall for a month of filming in their spiritual homeland. This evening’s bash will be Turner’s last jolly until Christmas. Until then it’s hot, heavy work in the tin mine.
The following day newspapers and websites show pictures of Turner smouldering on the red carpet in his Dunhill suit, period tresses tamed in a natty man-bun. Of course he has been touted as the next Bond: he is the part. During the scrum he proves to showbiz reporters that he’s a sweetie, too. Even tonight he can’t smoke, he says, because his mam would be upset.
It’s not terribly 007 but it appeals to women, who are watching Poldark in their droves. Daniel puffing Craig eat your heart out.
The first episode in the second series of Poldark was broadcast last Sunday in a schedule clash with the new ITV royal drama Victoria: both are made by Mammoth Screen. It’s been the battle of the breeches, with Turner’s Ross Poldark and Rufus Sewell’s Lord Melbourne in an alpha standoff.
In real time Poldark just won out, contrary to some initial reports. The show opened with an average audience of 5.1 million — a 22.7 per cent share of those watching during the 9pm to 10pm slot — compared with 4.8 million (22.4 per cent) for episode three of Victoria (including HD but not ITV+1).
The catch-up figures are not yet in. It’s very, very close.
With the launch of the new series, attention has returned to the 33-year-old Irish actor. Captain Ross Poldark is a darker proposition this time around. In the first episode of the new series he was arrested for murder and inciting a riot. His marriage to the beautiful redhead Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) is, if not on the rocks after the death of their daughter Julia from putrid throat (best not to ask), then walking close to the edge of those cliffs the cameras love. Ross still has feelings for Elizabeth, his old flame. On Sunday her husband shot himself, making her available again.
Ross will not behave well and reports of an aggressive sexual liaison with Elizabeth later in the series are true, although insinuations that a rape scene was shot and then edited out are not.
Turner says that he enjoyed interpreting Ross’s nastier side: “You are in the depths of this torment and the only way is up.”
There are no scything scenes in this series (it was shot in autumn and winter), but there was a moment down the mine in which a shirtless Turner smashed a rock with a mallet. The nation gawped (well, those of us who weren’t ogling Lord Melbourne). Turner’s hair has its own Twitter handle. A colleague saw him be mobbed by admirers last week after he slipped out of Groundhog Day at the Old Vic. He was also papped kissing a “mystery brunette” (no, not his horse).
The actor wears the attention lightly. “It doesn’t really bother me,” he says in his unsettlingly lovely Dublin accent. “Right now it’s dialled right up because my hair is a particular length and the disguises don’t work so well.”
He’s had to shave off a helpful summer beard for the shooting of series three. “I am on TV so walking the streets is a bit trickier. People are generally quite nice . . . ”
Despite the awards, I can imagine his frustration at being portrayed by some as a torso for hire. Last year he starred in two yet-to-be-released films in which he flexed his acting muscles, and the BBC’s classy version of the Agatha Christie story And Then There Were None. Before Poldark he was in the excellent vampire drama Being Human and those blockbuster Hobbit movies. The reaction to his role in Poldark has created debate about male objectification that has set feminists against politicos against aesthetes — and that’s just in The Times office. Does he feel put out? A sigh turns into a chuckle. “I have always felt these semi-naked scenes, or ‘Ross with his top off’, work. If he is down the mine, he is hammering away — on Sunday night we saw it — so it wouldn’t make sense with a shirt on. It would look odd. In those days as well!”
The reaction to the scene, says Turner, “is out of my hands. It’s hilarious, is what it is. It’s hard for me because it makes sense for the story so after that my job is done.”
Do his friends give him a hard time? “On Sunday I think I am 25 minutes in and there is a scene down the mine and a couple of people texted me.
“I don’t feel objectified, it’s funny! It’s just a couple of people admiring your body. It’s like doing any other scene. It’s the same as me galloping on a horse on a beach.”
Turner admits that he doesn’t always agree with his character’s actions. “But I don’t ever dislike him. Sometimes you think, ‘Wow! that’s a crazy judgment! That move is dangerous and bold and inconsiderate and I don’t see the logic behind it.’ ”
He is referring to the controversial sex scene with Elizabeth. “That’s a crazy move. If it was a friend in real life you would pick up the phone and say, ‘What are you playing at?’”
Turner says that series three will be the best yet. He gives a hint of what’s to come. “It’s seven years since Ross and Demelza met.
“There is a real climax story-wise, the characters are getting older and the rivalry between Ross and George reaches new heights.”
That’s George Warleggan (Jack Farthing), Ross’s rich nemesis who, at the start of series two, has eyes for Elizabeth. “There is quite a lot of tension there and we don’t know where it will go. George is becoming powerful and rich and more dangerous. Everyone is disposable to George. He isn’t just this cloak-and-dagger arch villain. His character becomes very scary. It’s a big series for Demelza, for Eleanor [who plays her] too — she grows a lot.”
I remind him that he was absolutely knackered when we last met, at the tail end of shooting series two. Did he get a holiday? “I did,” he says, brightly. He took four months off, went home to Dublin, then to Los Angeles for a month, Tokyo, Amsterdam, France and “a bunch of other places too”.
He adds: “As much as everyone enjoys shooting Poldark, and it’s a great bunch of people, it is exhausting for myself and Eleanor. We both worked more than 100 days this year, we are on almost all the time.”
Do you all hang out together, in the holidays? “Heida [Reed, who plays Elizabeth] stayed with me for a week, more than a week, in LA.”
Woo — Ross and Elizabeth in California! “That was nice.”
And Demelza? I mean, Eleanor? “We didn’t really hang out. We work so closely on set, especially me and Eleanor, we are close friends but it’s not the worst thing in the world to take time off.”
When he isn’t working he says he likes to paint in his studio in Dublin. “Just rubbish abstracts,” he says. “I thought I had some sort of talent when it comes to painting but it turns out I don’t. I realised that this summer.” So no exhibition round the corner? “Nah. I am not into showing off really, I mean,” he laughs. “Er, would you believe it?”
He rewatches a lot of old telly: Louis Theroux documentaries (“I am a huge fan”), old Woody Allen movies (“I don’t know why”) and he likes the Netflix series Narcos and the crime drama The People v. O.J. Simpson.
Turner says that he hasn’t made a conscious decision to abandon film for television but he does think “you can really invest in TV: with a feature film the limit is usually three hours; with series two of Poldark the box set is ten hours. There is more story and you get to see the characters grow, so it does make sense that TV has become the main form of entertainment.”
That’s good because there is talk of at least five series of Poldark.
He will hang up his tricorn for six months after series three wraps. He says that it would be “amazing” to get back on the stage. “If I could get a shorter run or work with a new writer, a new play, something contemporary maybe. Every actor starts to panic around the end of the job. I have agents and good representatives and management looking after me, so they won’t let me be too lazy this time around.”
Then, we can only hope, it’s back down the mine for Ross.
Born 1983 in Dublin
Education Gaiety School of Acting, 2004
Career Stage actor at The Abbey, Ireland’s national theatre, from 2004. In 2008-09 worked on Irish arthouse films before being cast as the pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rosetti in the BBC Two costume drama Desperate Romantics and in the BBC’s Being Human for three seasons. In 2011 he played a dwarf in JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson, and a werewolf in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. In 2014 he was cast as the lead in the BBC remake of Poldark, which has been shown in the US, Europe and Australia. Appeared in BBC adaption of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.
Family Single after splitting with Sarah Greene, his girlfriend of five years, last year.
Pasty or ice cream? Pasty
Period drama or modern art house? Modern art house.
Clean shaven or beard? Beard. This is a lot easier than I thought.
The Hobbit or Game of Thrones? Oh, The Hobbit!
Agatha Christie or Winston Graham? That is tough, I think Agatha Christie.
Demelza or Elizabeth? Oooh, can I have them both?
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