The sweeping drama Poldark is back for Season 2 on Masterpiece on PBS, with ex-officer, class warrior, lover and mining entrepreneur Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) back for nine new episodes. To kick things off, Ross is accused of murder and luring a cargo ship to the rocks for plunder, and appears to be headed for the gallows. And that is not the end of the drama, as he finds himself unsure of where he stands with both his current love Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) and his first love Elizabeth (Heida Reed).
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Aidan Turner talked about how nice it is to have already been renewed for Season 3, how much he’s enjoying exploring this character over such a large span of time, the fun of getting to explore all of the character dynamics, playing such a flawed and layered man, whether viewers’ opinions of him might change this season, the challenge of doing all of the physical aspects of this role, and how he plans to stick with the series, as long as it stays successful and of the same quality level. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: How did it feel to be renewed for Season 3, before Season 2 even aired?
AIDAN TURNER: It’s quite nice. It’s a relief and it makes you chill out an awful lot. It’s quite rare when that happens. I knew about it for a few months, but it’s great. There’s nothing like stepping into a second season or third season of something, knowing you have another one already greenlit. You can just chill out a bit and enjoy it, and focus a little bit more. You can burn the calories in the right place, instead of going, “Oh, my god, is this going to go again? Do I need to book another job? Do I need to go to America and start auditioning again?” There’s no stress and no hassle. So, it’s a great relief. We’ve just been so lucky. The British public has been behind our show and they’ve championed us, from the start. The same thing happened with Being Human. Almost when we finished shooting it, the feedback form the producers and editors was, “You guys block off another four months because you’re going to go again.” Walking onto set on the second season, knowing the first season is a hit, is huge relief. Actors love that.
What’s it like exploring a character over such a large span of time?
TURNER: It’s great! You do a feature film and you usually have a couple of hours, in real terms, to explore the character and get involved. With Ross, already, I’ve had 18 hours with him, getting involved in what he’s about, exploring his character, and experimenting and playing. There’s nothing like it, really. I find it hard now, in some ways, to go do a feature film where you might have maybe eight or nine key scenes. It’s the way things are going now. TV has taken over, a little bit. Even with The Hobbit, I had so much time with the character. I can’t imagine what it’s like to jump in and out of a movie. I did it with Jim Sheridan’s movie (The Secret Scripture) and a couple of things last year, where you have a few scenes in something and you only get one crack at the whip. You’re in and you’re out. That’s it. And you don’t know what you’ve done until it’s all over. So, it’s great to be at the helm of Poldark and explore the character of Ross.
Are you reading this books as they correspond to the season you’re shooting?
TURNER: Yeah. I attempted to read ahead the first year. I jumped into Book 3, and then I started to get a bit confused and I wasn’t gaining what I thought. It’s great to have perspective and it’s great to know they’re there, but I just cover what’s in the [season]. I like to keep it present.
Ross Poldark seems like a role that’s transformative and life-changing. Has it felt that way for you, or do you think you’ll need to step back to get that perspective?
TURNER: When you’re in the driver’s seat, it just feels gradual. I know it’s a really big show and I haven’t really been at the helm of something like this before, but it just felt like it was time, as well. Had it happened five years ago with something, I probably would have been quite terrified of it and would have felt pressure in certain ways that wouldn’t have been useful. But when this came around, I was like, “Yeah, I’m ready for this. This feels right. I’m ready for the #1 on the call sheet thing. I’m ready to play this guy and to fill these boots.” It’s just always felt right, and when you’re there, it doesn’t feel stratospheric. I’ve been around awhile. Certainly with the BBC, I’ve done a few jobs. I graduated drama school 12 years ago, so I’ve been cashing the actor check for about a decade. It just felt right, and I’m glad about that. Every job I’ve ever done since the first play – ‘cause I was strictly doing theater for about five years after drama school – has just been another rung on the ladder. It’s been a little step up, every time. This just felt like a natural progression, really, which is great. I’d hate to be thrown into the ring unprepared for it ‘cause you can make some huge mistakes. When you’re out there with a show like this, it’s unforgivable. If it goes down, you’re going down with that ship. You’ve gotta start swimming fast ‘cause it’s ruthless out there.
There are so many different relationship dynamics on this series. As an actor, is that the fun part of jumping into something like this?
TURNER: Yeah. There’s so much going on in this show, and I found that in the second [season], too. With Ross, there’s the rivalry with George, the relationship with Elizabeth, there’s Demelza and there’s Francis, and they’re all so different. There’s so much going on, all the time. It’s a busy show. It’s great, just as an actor. You show up every day and it’s such much fun to explore that. We usually shoot by location, so you might be a week in Ross’ kitchen in Paris, so a lot of it is with Jud and Prudie and Demelza. It’s fun. And then, it changes and you’re tackling something else. It feels like ten different shows sometimes, or like there’s six different films going on, at the same time. But, it’s fun to explore. It never gets repetitive. There’s always a lot going on, certainly for me, anyway.
You’ve talked about how this is a very flawed character with a bit of a nasty side. Will the opinion that people had of him after Season 1 change a lot with Season 2?
TURNER: I don’t know. I kind of hope so. It would be nice to piss people off. It’s funny ‘cause I never saw him as a do-gooder, but a lot of people have brought it up, almost slightly aggravated. They’ve said, “When are we going to see the other side?” The lines are what they are and you’ve gotta play them, but feeling something is different, and I always saw him as a really layered character. He is quite selfish, I think, but I don’t think he knows it. He’s not vindictive. It’s not a conscious thought. But I think he’d be a modern-day control freak, and I think he needs to be the center of attention. I don’t think he likes to be left out. It’s so petty, this rivalry with George. I could never get into something like that, as an adult. It’s crazy, having fist fights in bars. He’s a man. He needs to grow up. It’s interesting to play. He’s emotionally quite immature, in a lot of ways, but that’s what makes him fun. He is a loose canon. You feel like he can kick off, at any time. If you catch him on a bad day and he’s slightly hung over, he can just flip. He can be quite nasty to Jud and Prudie. I don’t think he’s ever smiled at them, and he avoids eye contact. It’s almost a bully mentality. So, will people be surprised? Possibly a little bit. Maybe there’s more of it in the second [season]. I always thought there was more of it in the first [season], but maybe people just don’t agree with me.
Where is the relationship between Ross and Demelza at now, and how is his relationship with Elizabeth, in comparison?
TURNER: They are very different. I think the relationship with Demelza has changed. It seems to go through this meandering journey with their relationship, all the time. By the end of [Season] 2, they’ve been together for years. It’s probably been six years, or something. I do think he genuinely loves Demelza, if he can even contemplate or begin to understand what love is, for himself. It’s such a tricky one. When he first met her, he didn’t even know he was a girl, and then he offered her a job. What’s that impulse? Is it that benevolent thing, where he wants to help? Is it the people’s hero thing, where he wants to reach out to somebody who can do with a hand up? Does he fancy her? Does he know? What does he know about it? That’s what was always interesting to play ‘cause a lot of times in life, you don’t know. It’s just instinct. There’s inherently something there. There’s a draw, but where does that come from? I don’t think we always need answers for that. So, I do think he loves her, but it’s also difficult for him. He doesn’t quite understand it. And then, when you lose a child, I can’t imagine what that’s like. When the relationship gets difficult, he misreads those signs and thinks, “We’re losing this. This isn’t what it used to be. Maybe she’s not into it anymore. Maybe we can go back to something more platonic.” So, he takes comfort and consolation in Elizabeth, who maybe radiates something more obviously beautiful or feminine. There’s a lot of love there, but it’s confusing. It isn’t straightforward, and I don’t think it should be. There’s huge amounts of grey there.
You have to do a lot of physical things on this show while you’re acting and making it all seamlessly blend. Has it gotten any easier, the more that you do it, or is it equally as challenging?
TURNER: It’s challenging. Even on The Hobbit, you show up with a sword and go fight some guy. It’s not natural, at all. As kids, I was running around with pistols, but it’s hard. I’m not a naturally trained fighter. You go at it pretending that you’re a pro, every time. As an actor, you’re living this character for real. It’s not a test run. It’s not a rehearsal. You know all the choreography, but you have to hit those beats because, if you muck it up, you’ll brake somebody’s nose. And then, there’s the performance aspect. The camera is reading a story, you’re just going through the dance moves, and there is no room for error, all while it’s Monday morning. It can be quite challenging, but that’s the rush. You get addicted to that rush. It is thrilling, when you feel like you’ve achieved something and it’s worth it. You always want to do a good job, and you don’t get that many opportunities, especially with BBC budgets. There are breakables. If you crash into a cabinet and three wine bottles fall when the rehearsal is happening, the props guys come over and go, “Just so you know, we only had six of those, so you only get two shots at this.” And that is going through your head when you crash into it. Sometimes you’re half-way through a fight scene and you stop to go for another one because you didn’t get a bit right.
For me, anyway, every time we do anything physical like that, your heart is racing. It’s the same with the horse-riding stuff. You’re really that far from the side of a cliff. I remember when I started doing the horse-riding stuff and I was talking to the stunt guys and trainers, and I said, “Is he going to jump of the side of the cliff?” And they said, “No, he doesn’t want to die either, mate. He doesn’t want to go there either. If he slips, we might have a roll.” You just have to hope something like that doesn’t happen. But if you’re a thrill-seeker, it can be quite exciting.
At the start of this, you knew you could be playing Ross Poldark for awhile. Now that you’re going into Season 3, are you in it until however long that may be?
TURNER: I suppose so, as long as it’s successful and we keep the standard where it is and the bar stays where it is. If it starts to slip off, in any way, it maybe wouldn’t be so much fun to be a part of it. But as long as people like the show, we’re successful, we’re all having a good time and it still works, I’d like to be in it. I’m really proud of it, and it’s a fan show to be a part of. It’s hard work, but it’s nice to be in something a bit different. There’s not many shows like it, at the moment. Love it or hate it, it’s nice to do something slightly different. That’s the element I enjoy. So, yeah, I suppose I’m in it for the long run.
Are you also itching to explore something contemporary again, outside of this series?
TURNER: When you’re in the world, it doesn’t feel dated. It feels present for me. It feels real. It doesn’t feel like we’re doing some dusty costume thing for BBC. It feels like this is our world. It does feel very modern and very present. When you start wearing those clothes every day, it just feels natural to stick on a tricorn hat, a waistcoat and these boots. Until I’m on Skype or Facetime or something, I forget how ridiculous the whole set-up is. For me, it’s very much real life and it’s modern. I’m quite happy in this world, for the moment. I love it.
Poldark airs on Sunday nights on Masterpiece on PBS.