Ai­dan Turner:

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.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

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.

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