Aidan Turner can rattle off a long list of Ross Poldark’s likable traits, but none of them convinced Turner to play the title role in PBS’ Poldark.
“Ross is a flawed character,” the Irish actor said. “That’s what always attracted me to him.”
Turner gets to show Ross’s flaws when “Poldark” gallops back onto U.S. TV screens at 8/7c Sept. 25 with a two-hour Season 2 premiere on“Masterpiece.” Debbie Horsfield adapted the show from Winston Graham’s series of novels set in 18th Century Cornwall, England.
The new season picks up right where Season 1 left off with the odds stacked against Ross and his wife, Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson). Ross faces possible execution after being arrested. His Carnmore Copper Company is in ruins and the couple is flat broke. The death of their daughter has utterly crushed Demelza, leading Ross into the arms of his first love, Elizabeth (Heida Reed).
Currently filming the third season, Turner phoned from Cornwall last week to talk about Season 2, getting back on a horse for Season 3, and what exactly makes almost everyone love Ross—flaws and all.
How are you?
I’m really good. We’ve just started shooting the third series. We’re just coming close to the second week. We’re in Cornwall on location and the long busy days … I was galloping a horse all day today around the beaches of Cornwall so it’s quite the exhausting day, but fun. These are some of the better days. When you’re on the horse galloping around you’re thinking, “God, this is my job. I love it.”
Are you keeping control of that horse?
Yeah, I’m getting a lot better. I was pretty competent when I started and then I did a lot of training. I had about four months before I started shooting so we got to train a lot. From Day 1, actually, the very first scene I shot in the very first episode was me galloping on a horse. Ross is very confident, very adept on this horse so I had to look like I knew what I was doing from the get-go. I had to be pretty decent to start with, but I feel it again already. When you’re back in the saddle you feel like you’ve never left it really.
Do you get to do all Ross’s riding yourself?
I don’t like to use stunt doubles, but some shots it’s just impossible not to use doubles. I see all the producers shaking in their boots, just going, “Oh, please don’t do this one.” Galloping two or three meters to the side of a sheer drop on a cliff in Cornwall, those kind of shots they just won’t let me do for obvious reasons. But the rest of it I do.
I remember you saying that when you initially met with the producers you kind of stretched the truth about your riding abilities. Are you pretty good now?
[Laughs.] I’m getting a lot better. It’s great. I love it. These are the really fun days. You get to feel like you’re really in that world.
You’re filming Season 3 now. Season 2 recently premiered over there and it’s starting here in a week. Is it weird having to jump back to talk about Season 2?
You know, it is. I’m glad you asked that question. That’s a question that never gets asked. People just assume that that’s what you do. During the summer, we went to the TCAs and we were doing tons of press both in the UK and America and different places. You’re in that zone. But now that I’ve started Season 3, in my head it’s all Season 3 and I’m right now staring at nine scripts that look quite terrifying.
It is a bit strange to jump back, but then I haven’t watched any of the [Season 2] episodes. I’ll watch them as they come out on TV, but I’ve seen very little of them this season. I am sort of watching with the audience this year just to see how that feels.
You’ve said before you don’t really like watching yourself.
It is quite strange still. The first year I just couldn’t do it. I was too petrified. It was really had to sit down and watch while everyone else was. Now the fact that the show has been quite successful in the UK and it’s done pretty good over where you guys are, too, I’m a bit more relaxed about it. I’m a little bit more willing to share the experience with the audience this time.
But I’m not great at [watching myself]. I’m very good on the day. I’m a bit of a tech head when it comes to cameras and lenses and lighting. I like what goes on on the set. I like watching the DPs and seeing how these guys put together the scenes and how they light them and what camera moves are going on. I’m interested in that part of it. I like, on the day, watching playback and seeing how the scene’s forming and what it looks like on-screen. I’m good in the ADR suite, when we do the dubbing and different things like that.
I think it’s just knowing that I’m watching it with potentially millions of people and they’re watching it for the first time—that’s just too much for me. I kind of have to watch it from behind the couch, but I’m getting better.
Are we going to see “Directed by Aidan Turner” some time soon?
[Laughs.] I’m not really a lazy person most of the time, but it seems like too much hard work. These directors that we have, there’s just so much going on. You’ve got to cover so many bases all the time. It’s not that the work is ever compromised. We’re trying to shoot feature film quality in the TV world, which is just quite difficult with our budget and with our time constraints.
And, of course, Cornwall is very unforgiving terrain. Some days we have to stand down because the wind just picks up too much. Or the sun might come out and you think it’s the most glorious day you’ve ever seen and then, less than five minutes later, it’s just torrential rain and clouds. It’s almost pitch dark at 3 p.m. and you think, “Where did this come from?” It’s difficult. You have to make a lot of allowances for different things.
I don’t know about directing [TV]. Theater is something I’d be quite interested in directing, because I like to work with actors. I’d like to direct actors, but so much else goes on in this world. And, of course, I’m still learning. Maybe I’d be a cameraman. I’d like to operate a camera for a while. [Laughs.]
It must have been nice coming back for Season 2 knowing the show was a success.
Yeah, it’s great. It gives everyone a little lift and a boost. When you have more difficult days and things maybe don’t go so well—like they do in any shoot—the fact that this show has an audience and people really like it gets us through. You kind of think, “We’re doing it for those guys [fans],” on those difficult days.
Season 2, I hear, is darker than Season 1. I don’t even know how that’s possible. Season 1 ended especially dark with his arrest. What’s coming for Ross and Demelza?
It’s as bad as it’s ever been for them. We pick up right where we left off and they are dealing with the loss of Julia, having trouble with the mine and he’s facing trial. They have to sell the furniture, which is humiliating for Ross. Ross likes to be in control and everything happening to them is out of his control.
Ross doesn’t seem to ever want to accept help from anyone. Why is that?
No, he’s not great at accepting help. That’s what first attracted me to Ross. That’s something I read in the first couple of episodes of the first season even. This is an interesting guy. He’s not just this heroic, legendary character who rides on a horse for every scene and saves the day and picks up Demelza and goes riding into the sunset. He didn’t seem that cliché to me. He’s a real guy. He’s quite complex and he’s quite layered.
He’s not great at delegating power. He wants the responsibility. He kind of wants to take away everyone’s burden and load it on himself. … We might even call him a control freak in many ways. He takes on almost too much sometimes and he can’t quite deal with everything. Then you see the house of cards can fall down sometimes. Other times he rallies through and he’s the hero, but a lot of the time it doesn’t always work out for him.
He doesn’t want to bend his morals even to save his own life. But would he do it to save Demelza if he had to?
I have no doubt he’d do anything to save Demelza. That is a real relationship for him. It’s real love. He’s not just phoning that one in.
Is he sort of heroic to a fault? With his high morals, fans would consider Ross the perfect man.
You say he has morals, but then again he enlisted to go away to war as a soldier because he was in a whole lot of trouble. He was heading for jail or for the noose. He was heavily involved in smuggling and he was well known to Reverend Halse and different people for rioting and different things like that. There is a lawlessness with Ross as well. He’s not just your boring sort of benevolent hero. There are still flaws to this guy and he sort of can’t get away from trouble. Trouble seems to follow him around.
He’s a gambler by nature, through his job and through other things, not just on the card table. His job, by definition, is a gamble. He’s chasing a vein of copper. He’s spending a lot of money and putting a lot of bodies down into a mine to see what’s behind a couple of meters of granite. It could be a huge windfall or he might find absolutely nothing. Their lives depend on finding copper.
There is a lawlessness to him that attracts me to his character, as well. He makes mistakes, too, and you’ll see it later on in Series 2 where he doesn’t always make the right moves. He can be quite selfish. He would do anything for Demelza. And he listens to her, but at the end of the day it’s Ross’ way or no way. He’ll say one thing but then he’ll go and do what he wants to do anyway. I think that’s why people love him. He’s a reckless hero.
I think I know the mistake you’re talking about. Why would he do something to jeopardize his marriage by being with Elizabeth?
It feels like he has unfinished business with Elizabeth. He’s idealized her for so long and thought about her every day on the battlefields of Virginia. He can’t turn those feelings off. But as I said he’s absolutely in love with Demelza, too. The question is, is it possible to be in love with more than one person?
What have you learned about yourself from playing Ross?
It’s quite a difficult question. I might not have an answer for that until this show is all packed up. When I depart from it and move onto something else, I might look back and go, “Wow, that’s what I learned from this character and that’’s what I picked up.”
As an actor, I can tell you there’s quite a lot I’ve learned just being at the helm of this show. This show is on in one of the biggest [time] slots of the week on BBC One and it gets a huge viewership. Just being at the forefront of that, leading that show as an actor, is quite a thing. There’s a big responsibility in that, I guess, on set and off set as well. It’s been a big journey for me to take that leading role. As regards to things I’ve learned about myself, I don’t know.
Ross mines copper, but have you struck gold getting to play him?
[Laughs.] I feel lucky. It’s different from anything I’ve done before. To go to set every day and play somebody who’s so strong and so grounded is refreshing.
He’s a very strong guy. I guess he’s confident. Morally, I like the way Ross doesn’t compromise, for better or for worse. … He doesn’t waiver when he could easily capitulate to the likes of the fat cats and the bankers and the merchants and the George Warleggans of Cornwall. He doesn’t do it. He could easily do it.
He’s loved and adored. And he’s got this insane charisma. Everyone loves Ross but he doesn’t love everyone else. He could make life a lot easier. He could be a very rich man if he just said the right things to the right people, but he doesn’t do it because it doesn’t feel right to him. That unyielding confidence and charisma is something that I like to play.