His role in Poldark has set fans swooning and even given his hair its own Twitter account, but could swarthy Aidan Turner be about to swap the rugged Cornish coast for the cocktail world of fiction’s most famous spy? Sophie Heawood attempts to find out.
could the sexy star of Poldark be the next Bond?
If there is one bit of entertainment gossip that never goes away, it is the question of who will play the next James Bond. Even when a new Bond is announced, there is always the question of who’ll take over when that one gets too old for all the shooting and shagging. Will it be Idris Elba, Michael Fassbender or Tom Hiddleston? Rather suddenly, the smart money is now on Aidan Turner, who stars in the hit television period drama Poldark.
It’s such a hot topic that I am told, before interviewing Aidan, he will not speak a word about it, which sort of suggests that it is true. Or that he’s trying not to put a foot wrong and say anything that might ruin his chances. Fortunately, our photographer has not been given this warning, and happily asks Aidan if he’s going to be the next James Bond. A fixed grin takes over Aidan’s face, and he chuckles awkwardly. “I didn’t ask that,” I point out cheerily, my dictaphone sitting between us. “And I’m not going to answer it,” he replies.
We are in the photographer’s sunny flat in West London, where Aidan’s chatting to the assistants about how he was a ballroom dancer when he was a kid. But when I ask him about the dancing, he says he doesn’t want to talk about that stuff, doesn’t want people digging up his past. He seems to find it embarrassing that, long before he was a TV star in London, he was a dancer in Dublin. I’m slightly surprised, but, given that he’s still grinning, we proceed to other subjects.
Aidan’s screen career began with a couple of uncredited lines in The Tudors in 2007, followed by various Irish arthouse films and a bigger role in costume drama Desperate Romantics. He then stopped being a human being for some time, casting off his earthly shackles to play a vampire in Being Human, a dwarf in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit film trilogy, and a werewolf in the action film Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. His return to our DNA saw him make Poldark – a conflicted 18th-century Cornish posho, who has lost his family wealth in the tin-mining recession – into an unlikely heart-throb.
One particular scene – where he is topless in the fields, hacking away with a scythe, rugged hair falling about his muscular shoulders – sent the swoonometers racing. Twitter went crazy. “He single-handedly made scything sexy,” says a Turner fan website, run by people clearly besotted with him.
Soon after, he appeared in a BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. At one point he appeared in just a towel, adding to the hype. So who are all these fans? “Poldark is one of those shows,” Aidan says in his soft Irish accent, “that people my age might say, ‘Oh, yeah, my mum loves the show,’ or ‘My auntie loves the show, but I’ve never seen it. But then they seem to know quite a bit about it, all the same,” he laughs.
He sits on the sofa, always moving, a bit like a puppy waiting to get off its lead. Today, the flowing Poldark locks are scraped back into a man-bun and he looks like any young fashionable guy you’d see in Soho, where he is living.
The cast are about to start filming the third series, while we are about to start watching the second. Adapted from Winston Graham’s novels, the action follows the ruggedly handsome Captain Ross Poldark returning to his native Cornwall after fighting in the American War of Independence, to take over his father’s mine. His family’s fortunes have plummeted because tin is now cheaper elsewhere: this is the start of globalisation. The people of Cornwall are starving, and Poldark is caught between them and his wealthy cousins. He is also caught between two surprising love affairs, again straddling the class divide. The man is compelling viewing because he doesn’t give a damn about the things he is supposed to.
I ask Aidan if he intentionally makes his character so hard to read. “Well, it struck me that Ross is a real man – not a heroic, legendary guy who comes into town and is the people’s hero, like Robin Hood. There’s a lot wrong with Ross, which is what I love about him. And I don’t think he knows where he’s at half the time.” Poldark begins in love with Elizabeth, his childhood sweetheart, but she marries his cousin and (spoiler alert, if you haven’t caught up with season one) he begins a relationship with his mysterious maid, Demelza.
“Emotionally, he’s more comfortable being a soldier and being with the lads than he is with Demelza and his baby, Julia. Love is a complete mystery to him. He can’t quite figure that out – does he still fancy Elizabeth, is he still in love with Elizabeth? Does he feel betrayed? Was it her fault? All these questions are still there in the second series. And they’re real questions.”
It has recently been revealed that, in the novels, Ross rapes Elizabeth, but the television programme has turned that moment into consensual sex. Aidan suggests that this might have been overblown. “There’s very little in the book, just two lines. I think he just picks up Elizabeth and sort of frogmarches her up the stairs. We don’t do it that way at all, really. I mean Ross kind of – well, you’ll see. I think it’s well-measured. I think if we had taken it literally from the book, it wouldn’t have seemed like Ross.”
If this causes any kind of public outcry, there’s a chance that Aidan won’t even know about it, as he claims not to read anything written about the programme. “When a show that I’m in goes out, I don’t really watch it. I don’t google it or tune into any of the press. My friends and family know not to send me stuff.
The agents won’t send me the ratings, either. None of that matters a great deal to me.”
He thinks about this. “Mind you, they’ll send me funny stuff now and again.” Like what? “Like, ‘Poldark’s hair has its own Twitter account.’” Head hair or chest hair? “Probably both. I mean, I was talking about the head hair, but the chest hair had something else going on over the summer, so God knows these days.”
He’s laughing a lot, but he does seem rather appalled. “Social media isn’t really my bag. I don’t do it.” He doesn’t even have a secret Facebook account? “I don’t! It’s just not for me. I email people, I text people, and even
Social media isn’t really my bag. I don’t do it.
that I have trouble keeping up with. I was an hour and a half late to this interview today! What would I be like if I was on Facebook?”
I get the strong impression that he doesn’t want to discuss being a heart-throb, or the debate around objectifying men that opened up in the wake of Poldark’s topless imagery. I bring it up and a half smile/half grimace appears across his face. He doesn’t speak. I say, “Do you just want to say that you’re sick of it, then we can move on?”
“I’m sick of it,” he says. “Let’s move on.”
Aidan Turner grew up in Dublin.
His mother, Eileen, is an accountant and his father, Pearse, is an electrician. In his early teens, Aidan sometimes accompanied his dad to work. “He used to call me the Little Apprentice. But that kind of manual labour… I don’t have it in me.
“After that I worked in a cinema for two years, while I was at school. I was an usher for a while, then I worked selling popcorn. Never got allowed in the projection room – that would have been asking for trouble. But maybe that was where it started – I used to sneak around and check out all these films. You’re only supposed to go in for five minutes to check the screen is right and everyone’s okay. I totally took advantage.”
Aged six, Aidan took up dancing, didn’t like it until he got good and then his competitive streak kicked in; he actually represented Ireland in ballroom and Latin American dancing for 10 years.
He didn’t ever ride horses, but when auditioning for Poldark he lied and said he had, then quickly took lessons. “Horse riding is a confidence game, like everything,” he says. “It’s just blagging.”
He tells me about Poldark’s steed. “He’s an Irish horse! He was picked up at Smithfield market in Dublin, weirdly enough. Seamus is about as Irish as you can get, for a horse’s name. He doesn’t stand still. He’s so smart, when he sees the clapperboard and hears it he wants to take off. So they can’t say ‘action’ on set. I think he may have been Tom Cruise’s horse
on The Last Samurai.”
Did he not tell him for definite? “Seamus? No, he just mentioned something.”
At the age of 17, Aidan took his first drama class and realised he was more than happy to give up other academic pursuits. Had he hated education? “It was more that the acting thing just happened. In my last eight months of school, I realised that this was what I wanted to do.”
I ask if acting was a normal activity among his friends. “Well, it wasn’t really normal for me. I think everyone was quite surprised because I wasn’t a theatre kid, I never went to see plays. I was never an attention-seeker – I’d rather people didn’t look at me.” Well, apart from the dancing that he doesn’t want to talk about.
After school he went to one of Dublin’s two drama schools. He went straight from graduation to a job at the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s national theatre, and remained there as a stage actor for five years because he was always in demand. Not that he didn’t still have the fear. “You freak yourself out sometimes, thinking: ‘I don’t know this well enough. What if I go dry? What if I forget my lines in the middle of that monologue?’ But when you walk on stage, that’s how you know if it’s for you. There is clarity. Your body is good at kicking into gear and knowing why you are there, what part of your brain to use.”
He says the filming schedule for Poldark is intense, “but you wait for months and months to work, and then you get given the shooting schedule and you go straight through it, circling your days off. I mean, I don’t know what it is about actors but some of us are inherently lazy.”
He clearly isn’t lazy at all these days, though it’s hard to get to the bottom of who he really is. On the one hand, he keeps joking about being a layabout, on the other, he’s desperate to be taken seriously as an actor, and only that. When I try to ask about other areas of his life, he puts up wall after wall. He will talk about Brexit and the possibility of Irish reunification off the record, but has to “steer clear of politics” when the tape is running “so I don’t get shot when I get home”.
He doesn’t want to give me anecdotes from his life, because that is “trivial”, and says he is worried that “you just slip into that celebrity bullshit and people don’t give a toss about what you’re doing with the show. And I’ve noticed it’s happened – you stick on a tuxedo at an awards ceremony and people then start saying things, there are rumours of other things, you take a top off, and then it’s madness. I’d like to be casual about it, but I just can’t. Things blow up, you know? It’s interesting what people care about.”
A couple of weeks later I speak to him again. He is back home in Dublin, recovering from a stag do with old school friends he hadn’t seen for 15 years. They leased a boat and sailed down the river Shannon for two days. Fifteen years seems like a really long time. “I know. I don’t know what kept us,” he says, “it was only an old email address that sort of reignited it. One of the boys, in a last-ditch effort, said, ‘Hey dude, I’m getting married, if you’re around.’ I just went, ‘Holy shit, that’s James.’ It was just one of those occasions of serendipity, where everything comes together.”
So they sailed a boat down an enormous river, got quite lost, “and there wasn’t a phone charger between 10 of us; it was desperate times,” he laughs. “At one stage we were floating around and we didn’t know where we were. It was brilliant.” Did he take a turn at being captain? “Oh, I certainly didn’t take the helm. I had way more important things to do than that,” he says. “Like boozing, and the general craic.”
He has a few Irish friends in London – including three women who live on a houseboat, where he often stays. When he first moved to London, he lived in a flat above Mornington Crescent tube station, he says. What, I say, over that little minicab office?
“That’s right!” he says, with the greatest enthusiasm I’ve ever heard from him. “The one with the yellow sign!” But that is basically a traffic island on a big London junction, with a massive nightclub across the road and a tube station rumbling underneath. “I know! It was right before Being Human. I shared with a friend and it was my first experience of London. Living in Camden, at 24. It was a madhole! It was crazy, but I loved it and that was my vibe back then.”
I rather wish it was his vibe now.
But I suspect it still is, when the journalists aren’t watching. AWW
Poldark season two screens on Prime this month. Go to primetv.co.nz for more details.
I wasn’t a theatre kid, I never went to see plays.
Aidan receiving a make-up touch-up for the Poldark scything scene that set fans’ hearts aflutter. FAR LEFT: Aidan (right) with The Hobbit co-star Dean O’Gorman. ABOVE: In the 2013 movie, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.
Seeing him in a sharp suit, his shaggy locks pulled back, it’s not hard to imagine Aidan Turner making the transition from Ross Poldark to James Bond.
LEFT: Aidan Turner with actress Eleanor Tomlinson, who plays the part of Demelza in Poldark.