"Follow the Good Work": Aidan Turner on <em>Poldark</em>, Acting, and Happiness

I was delighted to have the chance to chat with Aidan earlier this week, just in time for theseason one finale episodes airing on PBS this Sunday. Handsome but humble, gracious and grateful, from all appearances, in the twenty minutes we had together, he's everything you'd hope he would be.
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Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark. Photo: Mammoth Screen Ltd.

I have to say, PBS has a way of bringing us some handsome and talented Irishmen. My proof? A few years back, it was Northern Ireland's fabulous singer and actor Damian McGinty, whom I love (and whose mailing list you should join, so you don't miss out on future news of his tours and CDs, I'm just saying). And now, Masterpiece Theatre and PBS (and the BBC, which, by the way, #savetheBBC and #backtheBBC!) have blessed us again with another talented actor from the Emerald Isle.

This time, it's Dublin's Aidan Turner in Poldark, a 2015 revival of an old PBS favorite: in the 1970s, Masterpiece produced the Winston Graham books into a much beloved series starring Robin Ellis in the title role (see my recent interview with Robin here).

I was delighted to have the chance to chat with Aidan earlier this week, just in time for the Poldark season one finale episodes airing on PBS this Sunday. Handsome but humble, gracious and grateful, from all appearances, in the twenty minutes we had together, he's everything you'd hope he would be.

Here's the transcript of our chat. My heartfelt thanks to Aidan for his time!

Aidan as Poldark with Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza. Photo: BBC.

Q: As an author, I found this assessment in an LA Times article on Poldark interesting: "It's a story in which character, more than chance or fate, drives the narrative." I know that in preparing for the role of Ross Poldark, you studied art, read about iron mines, did online research that led you from interest to interest. Is all that reading studying for character purposes or are you also a curious person who loves learning?

A: It's everything, really. I'm interested in what I do in every capacity and if it's studying for the character or the times, or reading about the author, or other books that maybe Winston has written, or, just everything is, everything helps for me in preparation, do you know. But I think every actor's the same. They tend to put a lot of work in. You tend to take your inspiration from as many places as possible. With preparation for Poldark, it was just trying to absorb as much as I could in as many different ways as I could, like reading the novels, reading the scripts again, even if it's physical stuff like making sure my horse riding technique was really good. It's all the little things that matter, you know, for me, getting in shape was a thing, working on the accent was a thing. Yes, just all those things matter a great deal to me when preparing for the role and then doing it, because you obviously want to do a good job. And when the camera turns over and you start shooting, there isn't time to do those things. You need to have all that homework done. So for me, that's always been a thing.

Aidan as Poldark. Photo: Andy Rose. See end of article for more links to Andy's photography and Poldark-themed products.

Q: What is it about acting that you love? Is it the chance to be someone else?

A: Well, I love it sort of in every capacity. I love going to theater, I love seeing plays, I love storytelling, I love the movies, and I love what I do. I find it challenging, and exciting when you read a script that you have an interest in, you attach yourself to, it's interesting to find out what you come up with, with the character and the role. I don't know, the whole world just kind of excites me a little bit, do you know. It's challenging, you don't always get it right, and you learn, you know, there's a lot of learning, too. You mess things up or you don't hit the mark on certain things, and then six months down the road you realize why that happened, if you review things. I don't know. I just like everything that kind of goes along with it. A lot of stuff I don't like as well, but for right now, I'm enjoying myself.

Q: You have an energy about you that suggests you don't like to be bored, that you like new challenges. With that in mind, is it hard to keep a character fresh and interesting (for yourself) over multiple seasons of a show?

A: I think it's always down to the story and the writing, and it's a testament to Winston Graham; he writes really good characters. Debbie Horsfield is a fantastic writer, and her screenplays are really well constructed, well written, well thought-out. So it's easier with a show like this, because there's just so much there, all the time, you know, you're being challenged and offered new ideas and new journeys to go on with your character all the time. So it doesn't become staid, and it doesn't become boring at all, or any of those things, and you don't feel you have to fight too hard to stay on the journey, you know, and stay true to the show. That's why, as an actor, you try to follow the good work and the good writing all the time, because that tends not to happen that that's the case, where you're in a show that maybe has a weak premise, or doesn't have all those important faculties, all those really important parts behind it, it might be a bit more difficult. But with a show like Poldark, I think we're lucky, because we have a great team in place.

Aidan on the set of Poldark, with his horse, Seamus. Photo: Andy Rose.

Q: Earlier this year you filmed the screen adaptation of Sebastian Barry's novel The Secret Scripture [with director Jim Sheridan, and alongside Rooney Mara (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Theo James (Divergent, Insurgent, Downton Abbey), Eric Bana (The Time Traveler's Wife, Star Trek), Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction), and Vanessa Redgrave (too many films to mention!)]. You've said you would take any job on The Secret Scripture just to work with Jim Sheridan. What was it about Jim that made you want to work with him? Did the reality of it live up to your hopes and expectations?

A: Yeah, he's always been a huge hero of mine. I mean, he's obviously a very acclaimed and very successful Irish director, but he's an international director. I mean, he's been nominated for Oscars, and his movies are, all of them I think, are massive pieces. He's an incredible person. So I think just to witness what he's like on set as a director was something I wanted to do. Even if my friend was in something and I could just tag along for a day I'd be happy enough doing that, but to be offered a part in one of his movies was a huge thing for me. And I was a fan of Sebastian Barry, the playwright and screenwriter who wrote The Secret Scripture also, so it's one of those jobs that just was very very easy to agree to do. And yes, he did, he lived up to all the expectations. He's ... I think he's a genius, to be honest, and one of the greatest directors I've ever worked with. And he's a great man, and he's funny as hell, and the best storyteller I think I've ever met.

Q: How did his directing help you improve as an actor?

A: It's kind of hard to know ... you're put in a place, you know, you meet the director, and you're just inspired differently, sometimes you're forced to think differently about things, and feel things in different ways and ... I don't know. Some people are very talented and know how to work with actors really well and they know what makes them tick, and they know how to bring out great performances. I think Jim is one of those very special directors that just really knows actors, and he knows the game, you know, he's just one of those people who's got it all, you know, he's multi-talented.

Aidan behind the scenes on the set of Poldark. Photo: Andy Rose.

Q: And now you're working on the BBC One three-part series TV adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic, And Then There Were None, in the role of Philip Lombard, a military man and world traveler with a mysterious past. Are you still in progress with that, or is that done?

A: We've only just begun, really. We're about two weeks down, and about six to go. So yeah, it's going very well. It's going really well. Great cast, you know, Sam Neill and Charles Dance, and Miranda Richardson is in it, we have a really strong, strong cast. It's a great story, it's one of Agatha Christie's most famous stories. Yeah, and it's fun to do it. It's fun to work with a big cast, a big ensemble, and there's a lot of talent, a lot of lovely people, and we're having a great time.

Q: How did you get involved with And Then There Were None?

A: It's just one of those things that comes along, you're sent the script, and you're asked if you want to respond, if you want to be in it, and when I read it, I thought, "Yeah, this is great, it's a great adaptation."

Q: So you didn't have to audition for this one?

A: Yeah, I didn't have to audition for this one, but you know, I don't get offered a lot of things. A lot of things, I do have to audition for, and like to audition for, too, you know. It's nice to be offered things. But at the same time, when you audition, it's nice, too, because you show them what you can do, and if they don't want to be a part of that, then you all know where you stand. Whereas sometimes you're offered something and then you go to the first day of shooting and it's like, "Oh, God, now [this is] the first time they're going to see this character; I hope they like it." So it's kind of bittersweet sometimes, being offered something.

Q: You narrated for BBC Radio 4's A History of Ideas series, the podcasts about "How Should We Live Together?" Did any of the ideas in that series particularly resonate with your own views on life?

A: Yeah. There were a lot of interesting ideas. I haven't listened back, it's been a while since I revisited that at all but, again, just so well written and it was a real honor to be asked to do them. Steven Fry had done some, and Gillian Anderson was a part of it too. Yeah, just very interesting, well written, funny, witty pieces of prose that I was delighted to be a part of. They're the fun jobs when they come along, you know, and they happen so fast sometimes. I think it was two days before I got asked to do it, and a day later it's all done, it's one of those kind of things. It's interesting work. All the interesting stuff is fun.

Aidan models a Vivienne Westwood-designed t-shirt for the Save the Arctic collection, shot by celebrity photographer Andy Gotts MBE.

Q: And you're also involved with Greenpeace's Save the Arctic campaign. How did you get involved in that, what's your interest in that particular cause?

A: Yeah, it just sounded really interesting. They approached me in Iceland. Vivienne [Westwood] had written a letter to some people that she wanted to be involved in the campaign, and it made a lot of sense, and it seemed like something that I wanted to be a part of, and represent the cause in any way and help out. It was something I felt like I wanted to do. And I know the photographer, and we just sort of got it done, really. It's a really worthwhile thing. I'm glad I did it.

Q: Is the environment one of your pet causes?

A: I mean, I think everyone should care.

Q: They should.

A: I think so.

Q: You mentioned in your Irishman Abroad interview that it's not going to be like this forever; in a few years you'll settle. What does that mean? What does the future look like?

A: (Laughs.) I don't know. It's so funny when you have these, you do interviews and stuff, and things are said, and then you're questioned on it again. I don't really know. I guess during the course of that interview in particular, it's an Irishman Abroad, is a whole sense of being an Irish man away from home, living and working out of the country. I don't know, maybe everyone's the same, you sort of feel when you're a person who travels a lot and works a lot in different countries and bases yourself in different places that there is always this yearning and this kind of feeling that one day you'll get home and sort of settle, and this will all be fleeting and over. But the fact is, as an actor, by definition, what we do, we're just always around at different places, in different countries, with different people, and that's just the way it is. But, I guess, I don't know, there is that feeling that you'll settle down one day, but probably, it probably may never happen. The funny thing is, it's difficult as it seems like it's probably the end of your career. You know, you have to keep working, you have to keep traveling. I guess what I kind of meant was just missing home is something that I have from time to time. You miss friends, you miss family, you want to get home, and you want to have your roots somewhere. But at the same time, I'm very happy doing what I'm doing, and I feel very privileged to work, and to travel, and to do all those things.

Aidan on the set of Poldark. Photo: Andy Rose.

Q: So at this point in your life, you're 32, what do you think success looks like, what is happiness, what is a well-lived life?

A: I don't know. I mean, it's hard to answer for anybody else. I'm happy with what I'm doing now, I'm happy with where I'm at and where I'm going, and I'm generally quite a happy person. That's a difficult question, really. I don't know what happiness is. I feel I have great friends around me, I have a strong family unit, and I feel very privileged and lucky to have all that. So I don't really question it. I just kind of feel grateful for it all.

Q: An easier question, then: Have you conferred with Martin Freeman about getting yourself on an episode of Sherlock? [Martin was Aidan's co-star in The Hobbit movies, of course, and also stars as Dr. Watson on Sherlock.]

A: (Laughs.) I don't think I've ever asked Martin to get me on Sherlock. Probably should have done because I love the show, but maybe that time has passed now. I might throw him an email.

Q: Yes, tell him Pam said you should be on Sherlock.

A: (Laughs.)

Aidan as Poldark. Photo: Andy Rose.

Q: Do you feel like you're at a point in your career where you can afford to be a little more picky about the roles you take on?

A: I don't know if anything changes that, necessarily, I've said kind of the same thing all the time, it's just about the good work. The scripts come in, and if they're well written and the ideas are good, and the people involved are people I'd like to work with, and all those little things are in place, then I'll consider putting myself up for it, and if not, I won't. You know, every six months, things sort of change, and you do a job, and you feel different about the next job you want to do, whether you want time off, or whatever. So it's kind of too hard to say, really. Nothing has really changed for me. I still meet for jobs, and I still audition for things, like every other actor. I'm just a working actor, that's all.

Q: I'm going to quote you back to you again. You said: "The longer I am away from home, the more proud I am of being Irish." Tell me about that?

A: I guess you think about it more. When you're away from home, it's just something that's more present, because you just have to talk to a stranger in the street, and in seconds they know you're Irish, and it comes back around again, and then you think about stuff like that. So, I don't know. It's just something I am proud of. It's hard to get into, to be honest, over the phone.

Aidan as Poldark. Photo: Mammoth Screen Ltd.

Q: One last question, about Poldark. You're starting filming again in September, is that correct? How long will you film?

A: Yeah, it's going to be longer than it was last year. We're going to start September, I think first week of September, something like that, or second week of September. I think we run until ... I think we go until like the first week in April. We've two extra episodes this season, which is amazing. The shoot is probably seven and a half months or something like that. A bit longer than last year. But looking forward to it, can't wait to get back there. I love shooting the show, I love Cornwall, and adore everyone in the show, so it'll be fun.

... And that was the end of our chat! Thank you again, Aidan, I really enjoyed chatting with you. My best wishes to you for much success -- keep following the good work and the good writing! And when you get that role on Sherlock, give me a call.

Everyone in the U.S., don't forget to watch Poldark episodes 7 and 8, the season finale, this Sunday on PBS! (And send your local PBS station a donation while you're at it, if you're so inclined!)

Aidan mostly eschews social media, but does have an official Twitter account.

Find Poldark on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

My deep thanks to all who supplied photos for this article. Find Andy Rose, photographer, on Facebook and Twitter, and check out his Poldark-themed art at his website and on Etsy.

Also published on my blog at pamstucky.com.

Somewhere between funny and philosophical lies the truth in Pam Stucky's writing. Pam is the author of several books including the Wishing Rock series (Northern Exposure-esque contemporary fiction, with wit, wisdom, and recipes); the Pam on the Map travelogues (wit and wanderlust); and the YA Sci-Fi The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (wonder and wisdom). Pam's driving forces are curiosity, the pursuit of happiness, the desire to thrive, and the joy in seeing others do the same. Pam is currently working on writing a screenplay, because life is short, so why not try?

Find out more about Pam and check out her personal manifesto at pamstucky.com
Follow Pam on Facebook and Twitter.

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