Aidan Turner doesn’t want to talk about his love life. But there comes a point in our conversation when he simply can’t help himself. He has, he admits, grown very close to a Poldark co-star.
The two of them have just finished filming three series together and have developed an intimate bond. “Our relationship certainly has matured,” Turner says, before paying tribute to his co-star’s “sensitivity”. Truly, he can’t imagine his life without Seamus the horse.
Like the 33-year-old Turner, Seamus the horse hails from Ireland. The two of them have been together since filming their very first scene. “I talk to him all the time,” says Turner. “I rarely use any other horses unless Seamus isn’t around for some reason, [because] I understand how he works and I guess he understands how I work.”
In fact, Turner has a lot to thank Seamus for: he had never really ridden before auditioning for the role of the brooding, swarthy Ross Poldark. He blagged his way through with the producers in order to get the gig.
He did so with such aplomb that, these days, it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else in the part. As Poldark, the handsome captain who returned to his native Cornwall after fighting in the American War of Independence, Turner is moody and magnetic and has turned furrowing his brow into an art form.
He’s tricky to read and yet we root for him, even when he acts in unlikeable ways. The second series stoked controversy with a scene between Poldark and former fiancée Elizabeth Warleggan (Heida Reed) that some critics claimed was “legitimising rape”.
But by the end of the run, Poldark was happily reunited with his wife Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson), while the newly remarried Elizabeth discovered she was pregnant with a baby that might or might not be her husband’s. “He has ups and downs,” agrees Turner, “He’s difficult to be around.”
Turner is understandably sick of talking about his pectorals. When he stripped to the waist to do a spot of scything in the first series, a Radio Times readers’ poll voted it the best TV moment of 2015.
But he insists that he doesn’t think of himself as a sex symbol, and neither does his family, back in Dublin. “It’s never mentioned, strangely enough,” he says drily.
He speaks with a pronounced Irish accent and is charming, jokey company. “They don’t say anything. We don’t keep photographs or posters of my jobs in the house… I mean, we watch the shows. My mum’s obviously a big fan, but there’s no shrines to Aidan Turner around the house.”
Has it been difficult acclimatising to this level of celebrity? “If I go to an event or a screening or something, yeah, you’re naturally going to attract a load of fans and then it can be more intense. But walking around, I get the odd thing. You keep the head down and you walk fast. I don’t tend to loiter.” Besides, he thinks he might have “a leave-me-alone kind of face”.
Turner has grown a dense beard and has pronounced eyebrows and a positively Heathcliffian stare. Today he’s wearing a black T-shirt, black jeans, black trainers and a black beanie cap despite warm sunshine outside. “I think people are just a little bit scared [to approach me],” he says, “and I’m happy enough with that.”
He describes Ross Poldark as “a control freak… you know, it’s quite stressful for him and he feels he has the weight of the world on his shoulders.” Does Turner feel that too? “I don’t know. I guess we all go through bouts of different emotions from time to time… When you play any character, you can only get it from yourself; you can’t just pick it out of thin air. So, much of it is me. Some parts are exaggerated, obviously, and you push boundaries and other emotions and other attributes and characteristics, but the vast majority of it is my instinct, you know, it is me.”
So, has he fathered any illegitimate children? Turner breaks into a grin. “To my knowledge, I have not.”
The third series of Poldark is about to air, moved from last year’s autumn slot where it clashed with ITV’s Victoria. Lots of action is on the cards: tension between Ross and Demelza, a daring prison break and rising political agitation. It takes seven months to film a series, and the schedule is unforgiving.
Poldark is shot on location in Cornwall and there’s a lot of physical action involved (mostly galloping in a picturesque fashion along a beach at sunset).
Last year, Turner took some time off to go travelling because “I was a little bit burnt out”. He went to Odessa in Ukraine (“pretty cool”) and Helsinki to visit friends. When he returned to the set, “I showed up a few pounds too heavy and I think they had to split the back of the waistcoat… It was too tight around here,” he says, gesturing to his stomach, “and not tight enough up here,” he points to his upper body.
“His physicality is very much a part of who he is,” he says. “It’s something I can’t get too lazy about. It’s boring but I have to do it.”
Being a sex symbol was never really part of the plan for Turner. He grew up in Dublin, where his mother was an accountant and his father an electrician. At home they told stories and sang songs, and the young Aidan was encouraged to develop a party piece for family gatherings. If he didn’t perform, his grandmother wouldn’t let him into the room. “I love that, you know? Irish people do like to tell a yarn. It’s part of our make-up.”
He refuses to tell me what his party piece was, except to say that it wasn’t anything to do with singing because “I have a terrible voice.” Was it Irish dancing? “It wasn’t, no.”
In fact, Turner took up ballroom and Latin American dancing at the age of six and represented his country for ten years.
Does he watch Strictly Come Dancing? “No. I hate it. God, I hate watching it now, I can’t stand it really.” He says the reality series is “not about dancing… the dancing is rubbish”.
But they must have asked you to be on it? “I don’t know if I’m eligible because I used to compete at an amateur level. I think you need to be, like, a raw beginner. They haven’t asked me, no. And just for the record, I wouldn’t do it.”
After school, he worked for a bit as an apprentice electrician for his dad. “My dad is one of the old stock. He can do anything – fix a vintage car, do plumbing, lay flooring. He’s one of those real men, you know? They’re a dying breed.”
Turner then got a job as a cinema usher, which sparked his interest in acting. He attended a Dublin theatre school, and went on to win roles in the vampire drama, Being Human and Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy before Poldark came his way.
Turner as Kíli in The Hobbit
After five years of working professionally, he found himself thinking, “I guess I’m an actor now. This is what I’m doing. Can’t back out now,” and he’s still incredibly grateful for the lucky breaks. “It’s nice to be working,” he says, sheepishly, and his parents are “relieved that I manage to get paid for it”.
But he still finds it difficult to look at himself on screen. This is not something the majority of his fans struggle with, it must be said. He hasn’t seen the final three episodes of the last Poldark because he hates watching himself so much.
“Straightaway you’re thinking of better ways you could have played it or different takes they may have used,” he says. “It’s a bit distracting, and I think, ‘Jesus no, take two was better than take three, why didn’t they use that?’”
I don’t think Turner means to sound unnecessarily gloomy. I think it’s simply that he finds it excruciating being the focus of so much attention. In conversation, he’s witty, quick and self-deprecating and as soon as the tape is turned off, he visibly relaxes.
He apologises if it sounded like he was dodging the odd question. “I’d tell you any day of the week,” he says, “but it’s just when it’s going to get printed it’s a bit weird.”
I get it: he’s basically a lovely lad from Dublin who once fitted light sockets and fell into acting just because he liked it. Now he’s panted over by fans and asked about naked scything and his supposed love interests are splashed across the media every week. It must be surreal.
But I still want to know what his childhood party piece was. Go on, I say, trying one more time. What was it? “No, I’ll just have people hounding me to do it all the time now!” he joshes. “Skip that, I’ll come back to it later.”
He doesn’t, of course, but it’s hard to begrudge him: Poldark or not, he’s surely allowed to keep some things private.
Poldark Season 3 returns to BBC1 on Sunday 11th June