Aidan Turner is best known for other-worldly roles in The Hobbit and Being Human. He tells us why he was ready to come down to earth for new drama Poldark
In recent years, Aidan Turner has been the go-to guy for fantasy roles, lending his dark and brooding good looks to the supernatural TV series Being Human, and movies The Hobbit and The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones.
I wasn’t allowed to eat Cornish pasties because I’d get fat and I had to take my top off so much, trying to maintain what six-pack I had
“If it wasn’t a werewolf, a dwarf or a vampire, it wasn’t for me,” the Dublin-born actor says.
But his latest role – playing the lead in BBC One’s upcoming Poldark adaptation – sees him bid farewell to the fanged teeth and funny ears.
Based on the first two novels of Winston Graham’s 18th century saga, the action follows British Army officer Ross Poldark, who returns from the American War of Independence to his beloved Cornwall, to find his father dead, his estate in tatters and his childhood sweetheart Elizabeth engaged to his cousin.
“Playing a real person was great! That was a challenge in itself,” 31-year-old Turner says. “It just resounded more with me, this character.
“He’s strong, he’s rebellious, he’s resilient, an outsider. He has this insane sort of mental fortitude.”
Before landing the part, Turner hadn’t heard of Poldark.
His parents, however, had been fans of the 1970s BBC adaptation starring Robin Ellis – and “nearly had a fit” when they heard that their son would be heading up the cast.
“It was all a mystery to me, which was good in some ways, because I was starting from the ground up,” says Turner.
“The more people I’m meeting now, it’s not just the older generation that know it.
“A lot of the younger generation do, too, so I’m presuming the VHS tape has been in the family for years, or the books have been knocking around.”
Filming on location in Cornwall during “the best summer ever” was a particular highlight for Turner, who earned himself legions of fans after his stint as vampire Mitchell in BBC Three’s Being Human.
“Visitors and fans would show up every day. I don’t know how they knew where the locations were, but they’d find us on the side of a cliff on Bodmin Moor.”
The eight-part drama features stunning shots of the area, as Poldark navigates it by horseback and works to resolve his situation.
“Ross is 23 when he comes home and you can see changes quite fast,” says Turner.
“When he realises that Elizabeth (played by Silent Witness actress Heida Reed) is out of the picture, he changes his frame of mind and concentrates more on getting his land back together, looking after his tenants, and resolves to revive the ruined mine on his estate.”
In episode one – after learning he has lost Elizabeth – Poldark meets street urchin Demelza Carne, who he takes in as a housemaid.
The flame-haired beauty is played by Eleanor Tomlinson, who has previously appeared in period dramas The White Queen and Death Comes To Pemberley.
“We met when Eleanor was auditioning with some other girls. She’s amazing, you can’t fake that sort of chemistry,” says Turner, who is rumoured to be dating Irish actress Sarah Greene.
“I think we brought a lot of ourselves to the characters... and she’s beautiful, it’s simple to fall in love with her.”
Poldark “gets naked a couple of times” – including a nude swimming scene, meaning Turner was forbidden from indulging in the local delicacy.
“I wasn’t allowed to eat Cornish pasties because I’d get fat and I had to take my top off so much, trying to maintain whatever six-pack I had,” he sighs.
Appearing in the three Hobbit films “changed a lot of things” for Turner, who studied at the Gaiety School Of Acting in Dublin and cut his teeth in theatre before joining Being Human in 2009.
“Of course [The Hobbit] puts you on the map. Meetings are just easier to get now, and offers come in for projects a lot quicker, and more of them.”
But Turner admits he was lucky to bag such a high-profile gig as Poldark – particularly without an audition.
“They took a punt really, but it all worked out. It was great to anchor a show like this and I was ready for it,” he says. “It’s what I was looking for.”
When we meet, Turner has just returned from New York (he was in the city for just two hours, to attend a meeting), and has also been spending time at home with his family.
“Mum has this huge garage out the back, it fits about 10 cars in it, so over the last six months, I took it over and I built a pool hall,” he grins.
“I have a couple of pool tables, a bar, a big sound system and a big screen, and I play a lot of pool, that’s what I’m doing when I should be focusing on my career!”
After the rigorous filming schedule on Poldark, he’s enjoying having time off: “I’m making it my thing to be free and see what’s out there, test the waters a bit. It’s exciting.”