This interview was originally published in Radio Times magazine.


On a pleasantly warm day in July before the hideous fug of the real heatwave descends, I’m talking to Aidan Turner on some decking by a canal, in a part of east London so achingly fashionable they just assume you won’t want dairy milk in your flat white. He is charm personified. It is utterly idyllic – until anyone else walks along the decking, causing a noisy and vigorous wobble. Frankly, I don’t want to end up in the rather murky water – not even with Aidan Turner. Or to give the man his full title: Poldark’s Aidan Turner. But more of that later. He’s very patient when the subject of Poldark crops up, incidentally, but I do get the impression he’d rather be talking about something else these days.

There are no breeches in his new ITV drama The Suspect, which you mustn’t confuse with the recent Channel 4 crime show Suspect. The latter starred charming Irishman James Nesbitt as a detective looking for his daughter’s killer; The Suspect stars charming Irishman Aidan Turner as a clinical psychologist. Adapted from the novel by Michael Robotham, it’s made by World Productions – the people behind Vigil, Showtrial and Line of Duty – and directed by James Strong, of Broadchurch fame. We’re clearly in safe hands, and the story is satisfyingly creepy.

Turner’s character, Joe O’Loughlin, is called in to help the police solve a murder case. So far, so run-of-the-mill. Except that Joe’s just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. And he may know the victim far better than he’s letting on. For Turner, it was just a relief to find himself in the 21st century. “A lot of the jobs [I’ve had] in recent years have been either fantasy or period or not contemporary. This felt different. And pretty refreshing, actually.”

Turner’s committed fans will already be aware that his character in The Suspect has a full, bushy beard. It’s all his own work: “I had a beard during lockdown, and it was one of those things: do you shave it off or not? I just thought it might be interesting for the character. There’s an element of mystery to this piece – tonally it’s kind of eerie, and one of the lines in the show is ‘Never trust a man with a beard.’ We were talking about how people can hide behind facial hair. Sometimes it’s hard to read his expressions.”

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Indeed. Viewers won’t know what to make of Dr O’Loughlin. We know he’s not telling the police the whole truth, but in the first episode he’s a hero – risking his own life to rescue a suicidal patient. We also see his hand shaking. Turner did his homework on Parkinson’s, a progressive disease of the nervous system the NHS says affects one in 500 people in the UK.

Aidan Turner as Doctor Joe O’Loughlin in ITV's The Suspect
Aidan Turner as Doctor Joe O’Loughlin in ITV's The Suspect ITV

“World Productions were very good and gave me some interesting reading material. But they also put me in touch with Drew Hallam, a young man, 39 now, the same age as me, but he was diagnosed at 35. We met up a few times and he told me it was difficult because there aren’t support groups, really, for younger people. He’d go to support groups, and everyone would be almost twice his age. And it was hard. Drew is a musician, a really accomplished guitarist. And that all went away quite fast. He just talked to me about the medication, how it works, mood swings, how his sleep can be disrupted. I asked him what some of the most difficult things were and he said, ‘I couldn’t trust myself to hold my kids.’”

Turner is fortunate to be in excellent health, but I wonder whether he’s started to think about his own mortality. “I suppose as much as the next person, but I turned 39 last week, so close to 40, so maybe it’s becoming something that I’m thinking more about. But I try not to dwell on it too much…”

At this point, and with immaculate timing, a couple of brawny men stride down the decking at pace, the structure quakes and shudders and it seems we might be contemplating our own mortality rather sooner than we might have hoped. We press on. It’s a good job Turner doesn’t seem to take himself or his calling all that seriously. Although he’s not from a showbiz family, he was clearly blessed with the performing gene. He spent his teenage years as a competitive ballroom and Latin American dancer. This is a man who’s represented his country. He’s tangoed for Ireland in Singapore; he’s salsa’d in Prestatyn. Surely he was ribbed mercilessly as a youngster?

“A lot of them at school didn’t believe me. It was just so outlandish. They just didn’t get it.” So even though he acknowledges he’d be walking through the school gates desperately trying to rub his fake tan off after a waltzing weekend, he got away with it. He only quit when he got to 18 and realised that dancing against polished, experienced adults wasn’t much fun: “You’re dancing against people who’ve been doing it a lot longer. I just wasn’t that good.”

Fortunately for us, ballroom’s loss was acting’s gain. “I walked by the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin, and I signed myself up for evening classes, then applied for the full-time course and immediately went, ‘Yes, this is my home. This is my tribe. I want to do this.’”

Aidan Turner
Aidan Turner as Doctor Joe O’Loughlin in The Suspect World Productions for ITV

He worked in theatre for the first four years of his career, then did an Irish TV show, The Clinic. He got his big break – and started to leave reality behind – playing the vampire John Mitchell in the hit BBC Three series Being Human. Mitchell, says Turner, was “a typical vampire in the sense that he was over a hundred years old”. What were his living arrangements? “He was sharing a flat with a werewolf and a ghost.”

Of course he was. Little wonder the role of Kili the dwarf in The Hobbit trilogy came naturally to him. For those of us who simply can’t invest in gnome-based sagas and the swirling mists of mountainous fantasy worlds, it’s hard to understand just how much these series mean to fans. The day after we meet, Turner is going to a fan event where he knows he’ll meet people who know far more about his characters than he ever did.

“You have to study for it, [otherwise] you look like an idiot. You get that look back from fans sometimes, when they don’t quite believe that you don’t know that thing, and they think you’re joking. It’s so much a part of their life. They do fill in the gaps for you.”

As he’s already said, he’s relieved to be back in what passes for the real world in The Suspect, but is there a figure from Irish history he’d like to portray? He mentions Roger Casement, the Irish nationalist who was executed during the First World War. “I don’t think anyone’s really captured Casement. I think he has an interesting story. And this is getting back into Irish folklore, but Cú Chulainn is a famous Irish figure. We would read these books as kids – he was very much a part of the curriculum in primary school – the stories of him and the Red Branch Knights, and I’ve never seen a fictionalised version.”

Later, I find out more about Cú Chulainn. Put it this way, there’s plenty of epic, bloodthirsty material and opportunities for what we might call romantic interludes, but Turner would have to pop on a tunic. I think he could probably make that work.

Aidan Turner in Poldark.
Aidan Turner in Poldark. BBC/Mammoth Screen/Mike Hogan

So far, I’ve avoided talking about Poldark. Turner seems the most amiable man alive, but I do sense the politest of eyerolls when the subject finally comes up. Not all the novels by Winston Graham have been adapted so far. Will there be more? And could he feature? “There are some books… I need to check what books they are. I think Ross is quite a bit older… I think Jeremy, Ross’s son, he’s 16 or 18 or something. And I think when we left Ross, I think Jeremy might only be 10. I’m not quite sure.”

We get it. You’re simply too young to play Older Ross. But do fans have to give up all hope – are there any plans, at all, for more Poldark?


Sorry, everyone. Still, it wouldn’t be right to be in Aidan Turner’s company and not mention that image. You know, the bare-chested scythe-wielding one… “I do remember the day. The first thing I think of when I see the photograph is that they airbrushed out the make-up artist who was covering a tattoo. I always think of Jacquie Fowler and how she didn’t make that photograph. She was right there, painting out a tattoo.”

A tattoo of..? “Oh! A small, silly symbol I got on holiday about 25 years ago. It’s been lasered off now.”

Turner had the tattoo done on a lads’ holiday in Tenerife. He probably had no idea at the time that this bit of youthful high spirits might, in his case, be a little career-limiting. I hope other would-be thespians learn from this. Still, he certainly looked the part in every other respect. Had he been in training?

“I figured in my preparation that, given Ross Poldark was a very active guy, and the sort of diet he’d be on, it just felt right to get myself into that. He’s a farmer, he’s working, he’s riding a horse all the time, he’s a soldier. So it made sense to be in shape, but it wasn’t something I focused on. And the shot, that was a behind-the-scenes photograph. It wasn’t a publicity photo.”

It did, though, generate a great deal of very useful publicity. And caused a debate about objectification, which Turner reflects on still. “Was it safer to make a big deal of this photograph because it was a young man? Would it have been handled the same way in the press if it was a young woman? I don’t know. Possibly not. But I didn’t feel objectified.”

Rest assured, though, Turner is not perfect. He may be thoughtful and self-aware, but when I ask which TV shows he and his wife (actor Caitlin FitzGerald) are enjoying now, he positively leaps to give me this response…

“Do you know what I’m watching, and I’m really into it, I’ve binge-watched it for the past three weeks. It’s on Netflix – it’s called Formula 1: Drive to Survive.”

Oh. I must look disappointed. He laughs. “It’s an in-depth look behind the scenes at F1 drivers. I’ve been watching that with my wife, she’s in love with it, too.” He pauses. “So she tells me.”

The Suspect began on Monday 29th August at 9pm on ITV, with episodes also available after broadcast on ITV Hub. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.

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Lead image credits – Photographer: Robert Wilson / Stylist: Kenny Ho / Groomer: Bryony Blake / Top by Reiss, trousers by Universal Works, sneakers by Grenson