O BRAVE NEW WORLD

Town & Country (UK) - - CONTENTS — WINTER 2018 - BY CATRI­ONA GRAY

Eleanor Tom­lin­son on Poldark, the power of red hair and play­ing Keira Knight­ley’s lover

As ‘Poldark’ nears its fi­nal chap­ter, its heroine Eleanor Tom­lin­son may be bid­ding farewell to Demelza, the role that brought her to fame, but she is al­ready look­ing ahead to her next ad­ven­ture, star­ring op­po­site Keira Knight­ley in the forth­com­ing film, ‘Co­lette’

In Corn­wall, Eleanor Tom­lin­son has be­come a house­hold name. The tremen­dous suc­cess of Poldark over the past three years has bol­stered the for­tunes of the county as tourists flock to visit the dra­matic coast­line and wild land­scapes seen in the tele­vi­sion se­ries. From greet­ings cards that read ‘Be the Demelza of what­ever you do’ to Visit Corn­wall’s ‘Ex­pe­ri­ence Poldark’ app, it’s in­cred­i­ble to see first-hand how much a pe­riod drama about a 17th-cen­tury min­ing com­mu­nity has cap­tured the col­lec­tive imag­i­na­tion.

At the beat­ing heart of the show is Tom­lin­son’s char­ac­ter, Demelza Poldark, a fiery-tem­pered flame-haired heroine, who de­buted on our screens as a ragged urchin, dressed in boys’ clothes. Over the five sea­sons she grad­u­ally trans­forms into the pro­gramme’s most mes­meris­ing fig­ure, win­ning over Ross Poldark and in­deed ev­ery­one she en­coun­ters, her im­pul­sive na­ture as com­pelling as her beauty.

I meet Tom­lin­son at Godol­phin House, an an­cient manor sev­eral miles north of Hel­ston, where the sur­round­ing coun­try­side is dot­ted with the ru­ins of soar­ing chim­neys, relics of the many cop­per and tin mines that once made the area a hive of in­dus­try. Godol­phin was one of the most fash­ion­able houses in Corn­wall, and served both as an in­spi­ra­tion to Poldark’s au­thor Win­ston Gra­ham and as the lo­ca­tion for Tren­with in the BBC’S orig­i­nal 1970s adap­ta­tion.

In the es­tate’s crowded tea shop, the atmosphere among the day-trip­pers and lo­cals seems oddly an­i­mated. The cause of the ex­cite­ment turns out to be Tom­lin­son her­self, who had been spot­ted by many of the vis­i­tors ear­lier that day, pos­ing in the grounds for the Town & Coun­try shoot. Aban­don­ing all thoughts of con­duct­ing the in­ter­view in the café, I in­stead wait for her in the ad­ja­cent manor, where she even­tu­ally re­turns, chilled af­ter a long day of traips­ing about cliff-tops and gal­lop­ing along beaches.

Tom­lin­son is tall and slen­der, with al­abaster skin and tum­bling auburn curls that make her look like a PreRaphaelite muse. She has wrapped her­self in a thick dress­ing gown and clasps a cup of steam­ing green tea for warmth. With the room’s mul­lioned win­dows, oak beams and huge stone fire­place, it feels as if we’ve strayed onto a set. It’s a Sun­day, the one day when she isn’t film­ing the fi­nal se­ries, yet she seems re­mark­ably san­guine at giv­ing up her only chance to rest.

‘I see it as such a priv­i­lege to be part of Poldark,’ she says. ‘I still feel ex­tremely lucky to be work­ing, and it has opened up so many doors for me. With­out sound­ing too corny, it’s taught me about the kind of ac­tress I want to be; and play­ing Demelza has shown me how to be fear­less and fol­low my heart.’

From an early age, Tom­lin­son knew she wanted to be an ac­tor – both her par­ents are in the in­dus­try – and although much of her child­hood in York­shire was spent rid­ing horses and run­ning around out­doors, she still man­aged to land her first job when she was 11. ‘My dad’s agent came round and I bul­lied her into rep­re­sent­ing me,’ she jokes. ‘I just fell in love with act­ing. I couldn’t be­lieve that peo­ple could ac­tu­ally make a liv­ing do­ing some­thing that was so fun.’ Her par­ents cau­tioned her about how tough the pro­fes­sion could be, but she was al­ready hooked. At 14, she played the younger ver­sion of Jes­sica Biel’s char­ac­ter in the 2006 film The Il­lu­sion­ist, and two years later she had a lead role in the British com­ing-of-age com­edy An­gus, Thongs and Per­fect Snog­ging. Since then she has ap­peared in ma­jor films in­clud­ing Alice in Won­der­land, and sev­eral pe­riod tele­vi­sion dra­mas, in­clud­ing The White Queen and Death Comes to Pem­ber­ley.

Tom­lin­son first heard about Poldark when she was asked to au­di­tion for the part of the lady-like El­iz­a­beth Chenoweth, Ross Poldark’s orig­i­nal love in­ter­est; but she re­fused, as she was de­ter­mined to try for Demelza in­stead, know­ing that she had a much more in­ter­est­ing sto­ry­line. De­spite be­ing told that she was wrong for the part – in the books, the char­ac­ter is a dark-skinned, greeneyed brunette – Tom­lin­son in­sisted, and ar­rived at the au­di­tion look­ing de­lib­er­ately scruffy, with no make-up, un­brushed hair and wear­ing her brother’s old coat.

From the start, she threw her­self into the role – it was she who in­sisted that her nat­u­rally blonde hair was dyed red, as the colour seemed so fit­ting for Demelza’s tem­pes­tu­ous per­son­al­ity. ‘I feel very pas­sion­ately about her,’ she says. ‘The great thing about work­ing with the se­ries writer Deb­bie Hors­field is that she’s de­vel­oped Demelza so much – in the nov­els, her char­ac­ter dis­ap­pears for long pe­ri­ods af­ter the sec­ond ti­tle. But she comes across as a very mod­ern woman – that’s some­thing that has been brought out in this ver­sion, and it’s cer­tainly what en­dears her to the view­ers, and to me.’

Tom­lin­son’s en­tire year is shaped by the pro­gramme – which en­tails six months of film­ing, mostly in Bris­tol and Corn­wall, then sev­eral months of post-pro­duc­tion, fol­lowed

‘THE BRITISH ARE AMAZ­ING AT MAK­ING PE­RIOD DRAMA. WE DO IT BRIL­LIANTLY WHAT­EVER THE ERA. AS A GENRE IT HAS A VERY SA­CRED PLACE ON TELE­VI­SION’

by pro­mo­tion closer to the re­lease date. Amaz­ingly, she has man­aged to fit in an im­pres­sive num­ber of other projects too – ear­lier this year she ap­peared in a new adap­ta­tion of the Agatha Christie mur­der mys­tery Or­deal by In­no­cence and also re­leased an al­bum of folk songs en­ti­tled Tales from Home. Although she doesn’t see her­self as a singer, she was en­cour­aged to record it af­ter hav­ing sung on Poldark, and many of the bal­lads are those she heard as a child in York­shire.

She’s soon to ap­pear in the three-part BBC drama The War of the Worlds, based closely on the 1897 sci­ence-fic­tion clas­sic by HG Wells. Set in an Ed­war­dian Lon­don that’s be­sieged by a Mar­tian in­va­sion, it is def­i­nitely a de­par­ture from her other work. ‘The British are amaz­ing at mak­ing pe­riod drama – we do it bril­liantly, what­ever the sub­ject or era,’ she says. ‘As a genre, I think it has a very sa­cred place in tele­vi­sion. And for me it has been fas­ci­nat­ing to work on projects across dif­fer­ent epochs, as I get to see the way that women’s lives – and fash­ions – have changed over the years.’

This win­ter, she also ap­pears in the much-an­tic­i­pated new film Co­lette, where she stars as the Amer­i­can heiress Ge­orgie Raoul-du­val, who has an af­fair with the French writer, played by Keira Knight­ley. ‘Work­ing with Keira was quite ex­tra­or­di­nary,’ re­calls Tom­lin­son. ‘I’ve been a long-term fan of hers and she’s one of the most strik­ing, strong women I’ve ever ob­served. She took great care of me, and I was very grate­ful to her for that.’ On set, Tom­lin­son also met Denise Gough, who was cast as Co­lette’s long-term lover Mathilde de Morny. ‘Within five sec­onds of talk­ing to her, I knew we were go­ing to get on,’ she says. ‘We flew back to Lon­don to­gether at one point, and that same day I booked flights and tick­ets to see her in Peo­ple, Places & Things in New York be­cause I’d missed it in Lon­don. I went to the US just to see it, in the mid­dle of film­ing Poldark. But if you don’t do things like that, how are you sup­posed to learn your craft? She’s phe­nom­e­nally tal­ented – if I could be half the ac­tress she is, I’d be happy.’

It’s clear to see how se­ri­ously Tom­lin­son takes her pro­fes­sion, which is why she makes a point of forc­ing her­self to watch ev­ery­thing she has ap­peared in, even though she hates view­ing her­self on screen. ‘It’s tough, but I make my­self look at it all once, as it’s the best way to fig­ure out what works and what doesn’t. But af­ter I’ve done that, then never again!’

Un­like some of her peers, she does not court fame or ex­po­sure, and she prefers not to talk about her per­sonal life, although she sparked a flurry of in­ter­est among the show’s fans last year when she was pho­tographed with Harry Richard­son, who plays her brother Drake Carne in Poldark. ‘If you’re an ac­tress, there’s some­thing to be said for peo­ple not know­ing ev­ery­thing about you,’ she says. ‘It makes you more in­ter­est­ing. When peo­ple can Google you and find out ev­ery­thing, it ru­ins the mys­tique.’

Although she now has an In­sta­gram ac­count, for many years she re­sisted join­ing so­cial me­dia or fol­low­ing what was writ­ten about her on­line. How­ever, her die-hard sup­port­ers may know that she has been post­ing reg­u­lar up­dates for sev­eral years on be­half of her beloved dog Bert. Any­one who fol­lows Bert the Foxy Col­lie will see a more un­guarded side to Tom­lin­son, whether she’s dress­ing her pet as a rein­deer or read­ing him a bed­time story. ‘The only rea­son I joined In­sta­gram was to pro­mote my dog,’ she says, laugh­ing. ‘I thought, if he gets a Pedi­gree Chum ad­vert, I can just sit back and re­lax, and not worry about what the next job is. Ex­ploit him, make money out of him, that’s my plan.’

Bert has come down to Corn­wall for the week­end to take part in the shoot, and Tom­lin­son does oc­ca­sion­ally have him to stay while she is film­ing, although his size and en­er­getic dis­po­si­tion mean that it’s hard to re­strict him to the con­fines of a trailer. Ai­dan Turner is par­tic­u­larly fond of him, tak­ing him for walks and play­ing with him dur­ing breaks from be­ing a smoul­der­ing hero. Oth­er­wise, Bert stays with her mother in York­shire. Dur­ing Tom­lin­son’s rare time off, she is to be found in Lon­don, although per­haps not for much longer.

‘As you travel around and see so many beau­ti­ful parts of the world, it makes you think, “Why am I in Lon­don, not see­ing any­one?” I don’t even know my neigh­bours. I want some­thing more homely. There was a time when if you were in act­ing, you had to be in the cap­i­tal, but that’s def­i­nitely chang­ing. You can live any­where.’

As the fi­nal se­ries of Poldark ap­proaches, Tom­lin­son is al­ready look­ing to the fu­ture. The past five years have seen her char­ac­ter de­velop from an awk­ward, im­ma­ture girl into a so­phis­ti­cated, pas­sion­ate woman, and she has spent the first half of her twen­ties im­mersed in her al­ter ego’s on­go­ing meta­mor­pho­sis. Although she will soon be say­ing good­bye to Demelza, she is de­ter­mined to keep her glow­ing locks. ‘I re­ally love be­ing a red­head,’ she says. ‘Even though it’s not my nat­u­ral colour, it makes me feel more like my­self.’ Just as Tom­lin­son brought her own per­son­al­ity to Poldark, it seems as though it has also left its mark on her, a fire and spirit that seem to have leapt from the pages of a Win­ston Gra­ham novel and are burn­ing brightly within this thor­oughly con­tem­po­rary heroine. Se­ries five of ‘Poldark’ and ‘The War of The Worlds’ will both air on BBC One this win­ter. ‘Co­lette’ is re­leased on 11 Jan­uary 2019.

‘THERE WAS A TIME WHEN IF YOU WERE IN ACT­ING, YOU HAD TO BE IN THE CAP­I­TAL, BUT THAT’S DEF­I­NITELY CHANG­ING. YOU CAN LIVE ANY­WHERE’

PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY RICHARD PHIBBS STYLED BY MI­RANDA AL­MOND

Eleanor Tom­lin­son wears tulle dress, £4,887, Elie Saab. Rid­ing jacket, £1,520; calf-skin rid­ing boots, £990; match­ing chaps, £830, all Her­mès

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