“I hope I’m not intruding…”
Ross Poldark returns to Cornwall – and our television screens – in a new BBC1 (and PBS) adaptation of Winston Graham’s novels.
Some, like me, will be old enough to remember the iconic 1970s’ Poldark TV series starring Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees.
While younger viewers may have no idea what all the fuss is about.
Aidan Turner, who takes the title role in the 2015 series, admits he initially had to enlist the help of Google to find out what Poldark was.
As a fan of the original series, I can say that you will go a very long way before seeing a better opening hour of television drama.
For my money, the new eight-part series – based on the first two novels – is an instant classic with every chance of becoming a big hit.
What Sunday nights are made for…starting at 9pm on March 8.
Many will know Aidan from Being Human and The Hobbit.
He is perfectly cast as our hero returning from British defeat in the American War of Independence, where there is blood on the cards.
Back to the Cornwall of 1783 and the discovery that his father is dead and his now inherited home, land and mine lie in ruins.
With sweetheart Elizabeth (Heida Reed) engaged to his cousin Francis Poldark (Kyle Soller).
The first episode sees Ross saving a street urchin who he thinks, at first, is a boy.
That ‘boy’ turns out to be Demelza, a raw and earthy young girl played by Eleanor Tomlinson…about to go on quite a journey.
I saw the first episode at a BFI preview in London earlier this week and have since watched it again.
Confirming my original thoughts on what a superb job writer Debbie Horsfield has done in adapting Poldark for the 21st century screen.
Her very first adaptation after writing original dramas of her own like Cutting It, Sex Chips & Rock ‘n Roll and True Dare Kiss.
The latter was originally the second play in a stage trilogy by Debbie, including Red Devils – which I had the pleasure of seeing in a room above a pub in the King’s Road, Chelsea in 1983.
Some 32 years later it’s easy to see why Mammoth Screen wanted her to write Poldark for a modern audience.
It’s futile to try and compare this new adaptation with what has gone before in what are two different television ages.
Yet good to see that Robin Ellis, the original Poldark, appears in two episodes as the Reverend Halse, having given his full blessing to this new production.
And with 12 novels in the Poldark series there’s plenty of scope for this saga – by all accounts more faithful to the books – to continue.
A Q&A with Debbie, Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson and Ed Bazalgette, who directed the first half of the series, followed the BFI screening.
You can read my full transcript below.
The Poldark story is well known to many but there are some spoilers if it’s all new to you.
And in answer to your question Ross…
No, not intruding at all.
Poldark begins on BBC1 at 9pm on Sunday March 8
Before the BFI Poldark screening, BBC Drama boss Ben Stephenson paid tribute to the late Warren Clarke, who plays Ross’s uncle Charles Poldark in the new series:
“There’s one person I especially want to thank. It’s a sad thank you. And it’s to Warren Clarke. This is his last piece of drama. I think he’s a national treasure. A national institution. He’s an extraordinary actor we’ve seen across so many pieces, across so many years.
“I’m really delighted that his final screen role is in something so brilliant, in which he is so brilliant and so in his element. I think the words ‘scenery’ and ‘chewing’ were meant for Warren in this part. He is truly wonderful.
“So we’re blessed to have him in the show. But it’s with great sadness as well. This episode and this show is dedicated to the memory of Warren.”
With his family in the audience, there was then a round of applause for Warren.
Ben also said: “We love the Press. But some of the Press have been talking about this as a re-make. It ain’t a re-make. It’s an adaptation of some truly brilliant books. And certainly when the team behind this first spoke to me, of course they wanted to respect the past version but it was 40 years ago. And, actually, what it’s all about is applying modern dramatic sensibilities to these brilliant books, which really do still absolutely hold their own. So it is an adaptation.
“Debbie Horsfield adapted it absolutely brilliantly. And any of you who are fans of Debbie’s work, as I certainly am, through pieces like Cutting It, will see how she brings all of that energy and wit and sheer love of great storytelling into a classic period piece. It’s a marriage made in Heaven. It really is wonderful. Ably supported by Ed Bazalgette, who’s directed it beautifully. You can see how amazing the locations are. They really are incredible. And the way that he has brought them to life. But also made it feel modern without making it feel contrived and fake.
“Poldark is an incredibly iconic part. They’ve got to be a brilliant actor. Truly brilliant. Because the journey he goes on across eight episodes, and hopefully into many more series, is really unique and really bold. But we also had to get someone gorgeous. Now…we managed to get a brilliant actor. Unfortunately we couldn’t find anyone gorgeous so we just went with Aidan Turner. (laughter)
“We’re incredibly grateful to him for his commitment to this. He has really been so brilliant. Not just what you’ll see but he’s been such an advocate for it and such a joy to work with.”
Q&A with Aidan Turner (Ross Poldark), Eleanor Tomlinson (Demelza Carne), Debbie Horsfield (writer), Ed Bazalgette (director) and hosted by Emma Kennedy.
Q: Debbie and Ed – what was the impetus for the re-boot. And I know that it’s not a re-make of the original. It’s a new adaptation of the existing books. But where did this story start for you?
Debbie Horsfield: “I’d never seen the 70s’ version and I wasn’t even aware of the books, really. It was Karen Thrussell from Mammoth who sent me two books, just as I was about to go on holiday, saying, ‘Would you consider adapting these?’ I didn’t know them and I think if I had heard of them at all I was thinking they’d be just a bit slushy historical novels. And I said, ‘Oh that’ll be great to read on a beach.’ So I took them away and I think I’d read about three pages before I thought, ‘Wow, this is really good writing. These characters just spring off the page. The storytelling is spellbinding. It just keeps you wanting to turn the page. And so I came back having read the two novels and I went out for lunch with Karen and Damien (Timmer) from Mammoth Screen and they were doing a big number of, ‘You’ve really got to do this.’ I let them go on for about 10 minutes and then I went, ‘Yeah, I really want to do it, actually.’”
Ed Bazalgette: “For me, it was slightly later down the line. Of course I was far too young to remember the 70s’ series…”
Q: This was a big departure for you, Debbie, because it is the first time you’ve done an adaptation?
Debbie Horsfield: “Yeah. I thought they’d actually made a mistake. I was just thinking, ‘Why on Earth are the asking me to do an adaptation?’ Everything else I’ve ever done is contemporary. I think the most historical piece I’ve ever done was set in the 60s. (Sex, Chips and Rock ‘n Roll) And I actually didn’t think I would be able to do it. I was thinking, ‘How do I work with somebody else’s characters? Particularly when they’re so wonderfully drawn. How do I put words into the mouths of characters that are not mine?’ And it was really extraordinary. I remember the moment where I had to come to write the first line of dialogue. Because obviously it’s all very carefully plotted out and what happens in each scene. But obviously there comes a moment where you have to write actual dialogue that’s not in the book. A lot of the dialogue from the book is used but there is some that I have to make up. And I’m thinking, ‘I’ll never be able to do this.’ Then suddenly it all seemed to happen. And now I’ve got to the stage where…with no disrespect at all, because I think it’s the process that you have to go through if you’re adapting something…they feel like as much my characters as they are Winston Graham’s characters. I think it’s easy because they are so beautifully drawn and they are so wonderfully articulated by their dialogue that I had such a great starting point. And I’ve now got to the stage where it almost feels like they belong to me. And I have to feel that because otherwise I couldn’t do the process if they didn’t feel like mine.”
Q: When you were starting with your scripts, did you predominantly just use the books or did you reference the 70s’ series?
Debbie Horsfield: “No I didn’t see it at all and I thought it would be sensible not to watch it because I didn’t want to be influenced in any way. I’d written five scripts before I thought, ‘Well I’ll just take a look and see…’ It was really interesting, actually. First of all because I could see exactly why everybody had loved it in the 70s because the stories are just tremendous, the characters…they also just come to life on the screen. And some fantastic performances., So I could see why it had been such a huge hit. But I was also interested in some of the choices that had been made because they had diverged from the books quite considerably, in some areas. So it was just interesting to see what choices they made and the kind of choices I’d have made.”
Q: This first series is based on the first two books. How faithful have you been to the original text?
Debbie Horsfield: “Obviously because there’s a huge amount of material there and masses and masses of characters and, sadly, we don’t have a Hollywood movie budget. So I’ve had to make decisions about which storylines to follow. Obviously Ross is at the heart of the story and therefore Demelza and Elizabeth, that triangle is there at the heart of the story. So some of the smaller story strands that aren’t directly impacted by Ross, I’ve actually had to take those out. Because we simply haven’t got the space. When we first were commissioned to do this it was only going to be six episodes. And I thought, ‘There’s absolutely no way we can tell this story in six episodes.’ So we asked for another two. I wish I’d asked for 12, to be honest, because then we could have told some of those other stories. It was fantastic to be able to do that (get another two episodes).”
Q: Did you do heaps of research outside of the books?
Debbie Horsfield: “I did quite a lot of research, actually. I read all about various things. History of Cornwall, history of the mining industries, pilchards…a lot of background. We have a historical advisor as well who’s fantastic. But a lot of background about – what would be expected of people in various different classes in that era? My degree is in English Literature so I was very familiar with the literature of the 18th century. I did quite a lot of background. You (Ed) did a load of mining research, didn’t you?’
Ed Bazalgette: “I’m sure you all want to hear about that…” (laughter)
Q: Did you two do research as well?
Aidan Turner: “I read some books about on mining in Cornwall, yeah. Rivetting stuff. It really is.” (laughter)
Eleanor Tomlinson: “I read the books. I worked really closely with the historian and we just plotted through exactly what Demelza wouldn’t do that everyone else would.”
Aidan Turner: “When we should have been researching we were horse riding up in Yorkshire.”
Q: The riding is very good?
Aidan Turner: “I’ve done some in the past. We had a couple of weeks in Yorkshire. A lot of it is me…all of it is me…” (laughter) “Obviously Ross is pretty adept on a horse so I had to become pretty good in that regard…”
Q: Was it uncomfy when you were both on the horse?
Aidan Turner: “Awful. If you’re at the back you’re finished, if you’re a lad…done for.” (laughter) “But very romantic to watch.”
Q: Given the way you adaptation of much loved iconic books, there is always that danger when you change anything significantly. It makes some people furious?
Debbie Horsfield: “But if you’re going to be worried…because obviously you’re never going to please everybody. Even if I write something original, it’s never going to please everybody. And when it’s a much loved book, obviously everybody has their own particular view of it. I remember reading Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind and having a really specific image of what Scarlett O’Hara looked like. And then being slightly disappointed that she didn’t match up, as far as I was concerned. In a way the fans of the books will have very specific images in their heads of the key characters and nothing will match up to those. And we accept that. And also there’ll be people who don’t know the books for whom this is a whole new…they’ve never heard of the 70s’ adaptation, they’ve never heard of the books. So they’re coming to it completely fresh. I’d love to think that we would make people go back to the books, having seen it. Because the books are wonderful. So I think in many ways we are starting with a clean slate.”
Q: Aidan – Ross Poldark…he’s a little bit Heathcliff, he’s a little bit Darcy, he’s a little bit Cash In The Attic. (laughter) Where was your starting point when you were considering, ‘Right, how am I going to play him?’
Aidan Turner: “My starting point was kind of the end point and the same point all the time. I just kept going back to the books and to the script. You can find the inspiration from different place and different sources. And they’re all really useful and it’s enjoyable. I had a couple of months before I started shooting. I think maybe three months before we started shooting, to research and to discover this character, find this character and to rehearse and do all sorts of different things. But it just keeps coming back to the script every time.”
Q: Is your Ross and is your Demelza, is it the scripts Ross and Demelza or is it the book’s Ross and Demelza?
Aidan Turner: “I don’t know if there’s a massive divide for me. My reference most of the time would be Debbie’s scripts. But, of course, the book comes into play. I was reading the books as I was reading the scripts, from the beginning. When the offer came in for me to play the role, I think I got six of Debbie’s scripts in the same day. And then I Googled. I thought, ‘What the hell’s Poldark?’ I called my mum and she said, ‘You’d better not mess this up.’ (laughter) But that was it for me every time and the more I’d research and think about him and find out about him…I’d read scenes with friends and different things and then I was always coming back to the script and especially the early episodes. Just to find his voice and through that his physicality. It’s hard to divide. Those 12 weeks or 10 weeks for me are kind of strange. It was kind of all over the place.”
Q: When you talk about his physicality…
Aidan Turner: “Yeah, push ups, press ups and crushes…”
Q: …did you sometimes just think, ‘I’ll just stand and look gorgeous. That’ll do.’ Did you at any point practise in the mirror your Poldark pout?
Aidan Turner: “The Poldark pout? I pout quite a bit, I’ve just realised. This is the first time I’ve watched it since…”
Q: There’s a lot of eyebrows going on?
Aidan Turner: “That’s naturally what I do. Look at the state of these eyebrows. They’re there for frowning. No. You don’t think of those kind of things. They seem to happen and they give themselves their own life, like the hair and everything else. The hair is great.”
Q: Did you watch any of the originals?
Aidan Turner: “I didn’t, no. And obviously that was a conscious decision. Because they’re there. I think they’re on YouTube. They’re pretty accessible. Not that Mammoth wouldn’t give me copies if I asked for them. No, I just decided to find him myself and see what that would come up with. I was afraid more so of subconsciously or unconsciously emulating Robin’s brilliant performance and I was afraid of not seeing the boundaries there. I just wanted to see what I could come up with myself. I felt like I had enough material. Winston’s given so much in the novels and Debbie’s adapted them so well, I just didn’t feel the desire to go anywhere else. If I did, I would have done. But I didn’t feel like I needed it.”
Q: He (Robin Ellis) makes an appearance in two episodes?
Aidan Turner: “Yeah, the Reverend Halse. He’s great. He’s brilliant in it.”
Debbie Horsfield: “When we first got the go ahead he actually got in touch with Mammoth, just to say, ‘This is fantastic. Really wish you well.’ And we thought straight away, ‘I wonder if we could persuade him.’ And he’s been so supportive all along. He’s been absolutely brilliant. And, of course, he is fantastic. Those scenes are amazing. aren’t they?”
Aidan Turner: “They’re fantastic. They’re great.”
Q: So what can we expect from your version of Poldark? What sort of man is he going to become?
Aidan Turner: “He’s a contradiction of a lot of things. I think he’s quite conflicted. In this first episode…it’s a great place to start for a character. It’s a dream for an actor when you start off in that position where the character comes back to town with the place completely changed in his eyes. His dad has died when he’s been away. The land that he’s inherited is completly desolate and the cottages he owns have fallen apart and people are leaving, people are starving. His family industry, the mines, are diminishing. The one thing bringing him back was Elizabeth, was his beloved. This promise, this wish he had. But then it’s ruined. She thought he was dead. But he’s strong. I think many weaker men would have galloped to London. There’s nothing to hang around for, it seems. But I think Ross knows his roots are in Cornwall and I think he believes that he’s like a parent. The only person who can really save it. There’s a lot of people dying and need work and impoverished and he’s in a position to do something about it and I think he feels that responsibility. So it’s one of the reasons he sticks around. But he’s not just this benevolent, saintly character. He’s also a bit of a rebel.”
Q: Eleanor – let’s talk about Demelza. In terms of the characters who go on a journey, my goodness. You’ve got the biggest one to go on, haven’t you?
Eleanor Tomlinson: “Yeah, absolutely. What a part. Boy, episode one. Married with child, episode five. An amazing role. I’ve always said and repeating myself amazingly with this quote, but it’s the Scarlett O’Hara of roles. They just don’t really come along for actresses and I leapt on it.”
Q: She’s the emotional heart of the show? There’s something of the Eliza Doolittle about her?
Eleanor Tomlinson: “Yeah. Definitely, I think. Yeah.”
Q: Did you feel any weight of expectation playing her, given that she’s such an iconic character?
Eleanor Tomlinson: “Yeah, massively. When I first heard they were making it, I may have spoken to my parents and they went, ‘Oh my God!’ But I didn’t want to watch the original series too much but at the same time you’d be stupid to ignore Angharad Rees’s performance and how she managed to capture the heart of the public in the way that she did. And so I watched bits of it in order to try and capture that with my own portrayal of Demelza. But it’s a lot of pressure. It was a tremendously successful previous adaptation and I’m really nervous about it coming out.”
Q: I heard that you pulled out all the stops to get the part in the auditions?
Eleanor Tomlinson: “Yeah. I wore my brother’s clothes.”
Aidan Turner: (Inaudible)
Eleanor Tomlinson: “Yeah. You were there, yeah. I hadn’t got a clue who you were either.” (laughter) “Originally I was asked to audition for Elizabeth and I read the scripts and I was like, ‘But I really like Demelza. She’s amazing. Please can I audition?’ So I begged the casting director and eventually she went, ‘Fine, yes.’ And so in I came in my brother’s clothes. I wore his Christmas present, which was a very baggy jumper and I remember him being so ****** off. He was about to wear his own Christmas present and, in fact, I was going to an audition with it. But I just refused to speak to anyone for the entire audition and kept this gormless expression on my face. I’ve never really done that before, either. I don’t know what came over me.”
Ed Bazalgette: “I mean, the moment I saw that jumper…” (laughter) “It was a wonderful moment. We had this endless procession of emails and phone calls and messages from Susie Parriss, our wonderful casting director, that she had had some heat on her from Eleanor. I guess it flagged up Eleanor’s enthusiasm for the part. And she really did come in…I get told I look like a tramp but she came into the room and it was an extraordinarily large jumper. I do remember that. But what really came out of it was…she just walked into the room and she was Demelza. It was just a real joyous experience working with the two of them. They are so giving. And fearless.”
Q: Let’s talk about what it looks like because you’ve made it look incredible. It’s incredibly cinematic. And part of that, obviously, will be down to Cornwall, which is very much a character in its own right in the show. One of the things I kept wondering about was, obviously lots of action is happening on the cliff edges. What was the logistics of getting a film crew up coastal paths. I’ve walked the coastal path of Cornwall and they’re not easily accessible?
Ed Bazalgette: “Well you just ask nicely. I think you’re absolutely right. Cornwall as a character in Poldark is so important. Going back to your first question, which I never finished answering, that was one of the things that really excited me about it because it’s been part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s wild, it’s unpredictable, it’s beautiful, just like Aidan, and there’s a wonderful energy and beauty to the landscape. So, as you say, you used exactly the right word, it’s incredibly cinematic. And having that kind of team, I guess, and that sort of backdrop, it was extraordinary. We started off doing interiors and then we went to do exteriors and just the whole project, for me, just absolutely burst into life. It was wonderful up to that point and it just stepped up a gear from then on.
“In terms of health and safety, that’s all fine. One of the really striking things, it’s not hanging people off cliffs, although I will get to that, Aidan…we did a day’s filming at Nampara (Ross Poldark’s house) well before the start of the shoot because we wanted to see Nampara in different seasons. So when he’s dry stone walling, that’s a winter scene. The art department gave him bits of polystyrene and he was saying, ‘I don’t want that.’ And he was picking up all these great big rocks. You’re thinking in terms of health, safety and the shoot all proceeding nicely. I was standing there and he’s hefting these great big bits of rock up and I was scared as he chucked them on – and they’re massive great thuds – and you’re thinking, ‘There’s a 20-week shoot coming up and he’s going to have a hernia.’ (laughter)
“And you saw the first shot, day one, shot one, Aidan Turner gallops towards Trentwith (the home of Ross Poldark’s uncle Charles Poldark) at breakneck speed. Aidan did say, ‘Is that a good way to start a shoot?’ And then right at the end before we handed over to Will McGregor and his wonderful team for the second half of the series, obviously it’s not the end of the relationship between the two of them. They do get to know each other quite well. That’s not so much of a spoiler. And there’s this scene in episode two where Ross comes back from a night on the town and he’s naked in the sea and she’s leaning over the clifftop. So it’s at moments like that when you’re just about to hand the whole project over to someone else and you’re thinking, ‘So he’s naked in the sea, she’s hanging off a cliff top. Is this good?’ But it’s a beautiful scene.”
Debbie Horsfield: “It is a beautiful scene but the thing is, when I had written it I was imagining it was going to be rough Cornish weather. That it would be a cold, grey morning and the waves splashing in his face. And it looks more like a Greek island. It was flat calm that day.”
Q: When you’re doing a period drama, as the director, is your first inclination to always be absolutely be 100 per cent true to the period? Or are you looking at ways to make it relevant for a modern audience?
Ed Bazalgette: “Yeah, I think in terms of a style and approach that’s important. First of all it has to be informed by the story as a natural starting point. And then you take it from there, really. When I first the read the scripts the first thing I thought was, ‘Is this more of a foreign land? This guy comes back, there’s this unrest at home.’ Winston Graham chose a very specific point in time to set the story, which is key to what’s going on. Also you’ve got the rise of the banks through the character of George Warleggan, played by Jack Farthing. So you’ve got this contemporary resonance which is there in the script. And I think it’s just a case of taking that forward. And as you saw from the trail at the end and also through episode one, there’s so much energy, there’s so much life that Aidan and Eleanor and the rest of the cast bring to it that it just is a case of representing that. And also there’s something about Cornwall, there’s something about Poldark, there’s something about Debbie’s scripts that just says, ‘No formality, please.’ So I think you’ve got to stick to that.”
Emma then opened up questions to the audience:
Q: Your drama genre has a lot of important movies and series. What do you think sets Poldark apart?
Debbie Horsfield: “For me what sets it apart, because I’m a great fan of things like Jane Austen, for instance…what sets Poldark apart for me is that you get all of the delicate nuances of the relationships and the traditions and those balls and the tea parties, all of those small domestic scenes and relationships. But you also get massive big set pieces like riots or the fight that you see in episode one. So there’s a huge scale to it as well as the very precise small domestic details of ordinary family life. It’s just packed with…you get the best of everything, really.”
Eleanor Tomlinson: “And wonderful characters.”
Ed Bazalgette: “I would just say a time and place. Cornwall at that time, it’s an untold story, it’s a fascinating history. But it’s not a history lesson. This is a wonderful drama and it’s articulated through the characters beautifully. There’s always that depth there that was in the novels and it comes through in Debbie’s scripts. The other thing that sets it apart is in the depth of that detail, where it is about balls, it’s about society on one level, and on another level it is about poaching as a necessity. And I think all that interacts beautifully. Also also, maybe it doesn’t set it apart but I think the romance is quite important too.”
Q: Question for Eleanor, what was it like to be with child and to have a baby in this drama?
Eleanor Tomlinson: “It was amazingly challenging working with children. We had about three, four babies – one got fired…” (laughter)
Q: Why did one get fired?:
Aidan Turner: “It wasn’t with the union.” (laughter)
Eleanor Tomlinson: “…so it was really interesting for me just working with the different age groups and baby that came in to play Julia. It was lovely creating that family for Demelza when you’ve travelled with her that far. When you’re not shooting in sequence, as well, that’s quite challenging. Because you go from baby bump to urchin in the same day. It’s a bit like, ‘Thanks guys!’ But it’s always challenging working with children and animals.”
Q: What do you most admire about Ross Poldark and what would you change?
Aidan Turner: “What do I most admire? His strength. He’s strong. His resilience. I guess his default position is to help people, which I quite like. He suffers in spite of himself. Him wanting to help people. Him being strong. He doesn’t feel sorry for himself if he feels down about something. He’s got a lot of grit. I think he can pull himself up by his boot straps and get on with something. He doesn’t wallow. I like that. He’s like a real muscular kind of hero that way. He’s not a New Age man in that respect.
“Would I change anything about him? For the second episode give him some clothes. Would I change anything? I don’t know if I would. I’d think about that.”
Q: Debbie – this is sort of tied in together with Cornwall as a character. A place is more than the land it is sitting on. So what customs and qualities of Cornish people, both positive and negative, did you want to export to a global audience?
Debbie Horsfield: “Obviously I wanted to do justice to all the things that were described in the books. But I realised there are a lot of customs there and traditions that we don’t really, in the present day, know very much about. So we basically had to do quite a lot of research and take a lot of advice about how we would stage things. There were lots of things…I don’t want to really spoil too many things but there were various big set pieces, which are customs, traditions which are specific to Cornwall and we wanted to really make sure that we got the detail right as much as possible. Although there’s a lot of customs and traditions which are specifically out of Cornwall, in a way there’s a kind of universal quality to them. There’s a lot about the community and people pulling together and doing stuff together which isn’t just specific to Cornwall. It’s why, I think, as a story it will have universal appeal. Because those values are universal and they will resonate, hopefully, with a global audience.”
Q: Do you ever feel stress before a first day of filming?
Eleanor Tomlinson: “Yes.”
Aidan Turner: “Before we start shooting the whole thing or, like, every day? No. I don’t think I feel stressed, ever. Before we started shooting you have those days, before anything. The read through is terrifying and always is. But every actor finds those things a bit weird. A lot of actors give a lot to read throughs and some just read. You find your own place. Everyone’s listening. The producer’s there and everyone is hearing the voice for the first time. That was particularly scary for me because I’d been cast on the back on no auditions. It was the first time my employers had heard Ross Poldark. I was going, ‘Oh **** they’re going to fire me.’ But…before we started shooting, yeah, a little bit. I remember in Bristol thinking, ‘God, it’s all about to kick off.’ More anxious for the whole shoot, hoping everything went well. There was a proper realisation I had just a day before we started shooting, or two days before, I remember thinking, ‘I can’t get sick or I can’t injure myself. If I come off the horse, if I jump off, if I do anything, if I roll an ankle, if I sprain a hand, it might shut the production down. It would really mess things up.’”
Debbie Horsfield: “Well it would because you had, like, no days off at all. Every day.”
Aidan Turner: “No. It would have messed things up a little bit. So I was quite fearful of that because that was out of my control. And anything I couldn’t control I get quite nervous about. Because things like that can just happen. But in regards to playing the part or playing the role? Not really. Just hoping everything goes OK. The smallest thing can happen on set to slow up a day. It might take two hours if a flame thing doesn’t work for a camera. Anything can happen that makes you lose scenes for a day. And that weighs on everybody.”
Ed Bazalgette: “Never happened.” (laughter)
Aidan Turner: “Those things I get a little bit stressy about. But playing the role, no. The clapperboard comes on and they do the action thing and you’re doing it. No, that’s fun. I like it, I enjoy it.”
Q: Aidan, have you heard anything about going back to The Mortal Instruments (2013 film) as they’ve decided to make it into a TV series?
Aidan Turner: “That’s hilarious. That’s really weird. It was only a couple of days ago. And I don’t look up stuff, I don’t read things…but I saw an article somewhere and it was to do with something else but Jamie Campbell Bower was on it. It was a little bit about him. And it said he was going back to shoot the sequel of Mortal Instruments and I hadn’t heard a bloody thing. (laughter) I was really surprised. I haven’t heard anything. I haven’t heard a thing. Unfortunately. It was good fun and the cast all got on and all that kind of thing.”
Q: A few of you agreed that you thought Ross was similar to Heathcliff. I’d like to see you defend that claim because as an English Lit student and a feminist, I don’t think that’s such a positive connection.
Debbie Horsfield: “I didn’t think we said that he was just like Heathcliff. What I’ve always said is he combines some elements of Heathcliff, Mr Darcy, Rhett Butler, Robin Hood, Rochester – a whole selection of what are thought of as iconic male characters from literature. I wasn’t making any value judgement on his personality. I was actually saying that he has elements of all of those different characters.”
Q: A general question, particularly for the actors. You’re in the lucky position of being able to go from film and television. And it seems to me that television is a much better format now to really tell stories properly and develop character. How do you feel about that, going back into films? Do you feel a difference as an actor being able to develop characters over a long period, like six episodes, eight episodes?
Eleanor Tomlinson: “I think they’re making some fantastic television series now. It is the age of television at the minute. I think a lot of the film scripts aren’t as strong as the television scripts. I think there’s a luxury when you’re working on film of time and budget. With TV series you don’t have that. It’s very much quick and you have to trust in your cast and your director. It’s pretty stressful. But I think it’s the way forward, personally.”
Aidan Turner: “It’s hard to make the comparison. Certainly if you’re maybe a lead character in a feature film…I’ve just finished a film in Ireland where I was on for 10 days, it was weird. You step on set every day to a crew that I know but haven’t clicked with properly because you don’t really get the time. You might do one day on and three days off and maybe a half day on. It’s so sporadic and all over the place it’s hard to really get into it. This is eight hours and a six month shoot and it’s so long and there’s so much of it, it’s hard to compare the two. And to invest in a character over eight scripts is wildly different to something that might only be 90 minutes long, regardless of the size of the role. It’s a huge difference. And as Eleanor said, when you’re shooting something the TV world is quite different to feature film, which tends to be a lot slower.”
Q: You got to rehearse?
Aidan Turner: “For this? Yeah. It was a massive privilege. You never get that luxury of rehearsal. I think it was only a week, which isn’t a lot anyway. But even just to work with Ed and Debbie and to hang out and to read and different things. And that’s all it really is in the early days, in the first few days, is reading. But it’s great to have when usually you just rock up to set and just start doing it in costume. It’s a bit odd. But we had that luxury.”
Debbie Horsfield: “We all felt that we really needed to have that week because we needed a bedrock of the kind of common knowledge of where the characters started out and where they were heading. Because, actually, it is pretty rushed, even in TV. You still just turn up on the set sometimes and rehearse once before it goes on camera. And so…when I started out in TV, which is a long time ago, we used to have two weeks’ rehearsal. We used to actually rehearse the scenes, not just talk about them. And, of course, there isn’t that luxury anymore. Lots of programmes don’t have rehearsals at all. And we consider that we were very fortunate to get what we did get, actually.”
Q: A question for Eleanor and Aidan – you both mentioned reading the books, how far ahead did you read? And if you read beyond the scope of this series, did it influence how you portrayed the characters at the beginning knowing their trajectory?
Aidan Turner: “It’s interesting. How far do you go with something like that? I read the first four. I guess you could keep going and it’s probably right that you should. Again, I just felt with me, ‘Where can I get my head around things?’ I’m not that smart. I didn’t want to take too much on. I just wanted to focus on a particular time and story. So, for me, the benefit was not going further than that.”
Q: (From me, as it happens). A question for Aidan and Eleanor, I know it’s difficult over all those months of filming but is there a particular scene or set piece that you’ll take to your grave as particularly memorable during that shoot?
Aidan Turner: “There’s loads. There is a scene when Demelza has been searching through one of Ross’s trunks and finds a dress that used to belong to his mother. And tries to wear it to clean up the house…and Ross is quite surprised and doesn’t take too kindly to that gesture. That scene I quite like because it’s the first time they really get quite intimate. It’s quite an emotional thing.”
Eleanor Tomlinson: “That scene, I hated it. It was the audition scene. I had so many favourite scenes, so I couldn’t pin one down.”
Aidan Turner: “It was always fun on location and doing the (inaudible)…”
Eleanor Tomlinson: “Yeah, that was really good fun. Watching Aidan get spray tanned was…”(laughter).
Aidan Turner: “That simply didn’t happen.” (laughter)
Q: You’ve actually touched on this question a bit but – did you find it daunting to re-invent Ross after Robin Ellis’s performance?
Aidan Turner: “Not daunting because I didn’t see it. That’s why. That’s half the reason. I would have been really scared, I would have been petrified had I seen his performance, going, ‘How am I going to do this?’ But not so much. People say that to you – playing such an iconic role, are you scared, do you worry about what people will think and if they’ll like it and stuff? And I guess as an actor you just have to focus on the job at hand and trust that what you’re doing is right and that people will trust your choices as the actor in portraying this character and that you’ve been cast for the right reasons and that everything is in the right place and it just works. There is a lot of negative things you can approach or concentrate on. But they just don’t pay any dividends. So don’t bother.”