Reverend Osborne Whitworth is a name that will conjure strong emotions in Poldark fans. Cornwall’s new villain is a big presence – in more ways than one – in series three of the hit BBC1 drama and he makes he debut in this Sunday’s episode four.
The fat lecher is about as far from a Man of God as it is possible to imagine. He has recently become a widow and he has his eyes on amiable governess Morwenna – both as a sexual object (yes, he really is like that) and someone to look after his brood. To describe him as loathsome is an injustice – he is so much worse than that.
When he was played by Christopher Biggins in the 1970s version (below) he was described as ‘the most hated man on television’. Now Christian Brassington, the latest actor to play “Ossie” as he is also known to many of the show’s characters, does not disappoint. He fills Biggins’ ample breeches with aplomb.
Preparing for the role also required Brassington to put on a lot of weight – he explains how he consumed up to 3,500 calories a day to add a good two stone (taking his peak weight to just under 15 stone).
“I started off trying to do it healthily – lots of eggs and protein shakes – but there was a morning when I had a six-egg omelette with a packet of spinach and a packet of mozzarella and with that a protein shake with powdered oats in it. I sat there at 9 o’clock in the morning thinking: ‘I am not going to be able to do the show feeling sick’.
“I have to admit I moved away from that and lagers, burgers and ice cream came into it. It was pretty good. Lots of red meat!” he laughs. “Going to the gym and doing the weights I felt pretty good, but when I got to the top weight I have to say I didn’t feel so fantastic.
“The Poldark producers didn’t demand that I put on the weight, but this character, when you read the description of him, he’s a big guy and he needs to be like that and I love that side of things. I like losing the weight, putting on the weight, and transforming the body for the part. I hope it works; I hope it looks good.”
Was he ever worried about the health impact of this dedicated scoffing?
“I feel I am just on the edge of being young enough. I haven’t got to the stage where I’ll never be able to lose it again. I’m 33.”
“Though,” he adds, referring to newcomers like Harry Richards (Drake Carne) and Tom York (Sam Carne), “compared to some of the new cast I’m a bit like their Dad’s wondering around with them.”
Brassington also visited various galleries including the V&A and National Portrait Gallery to examines the paintings of upper class figures from the period, how they stand and hold themselves – something he found immensely useful.
“Fortunately there are a lot of pictures of high ranking people from the period,” he says.
Talking of high-ranking people, Brassington may be familiar to TV viewers for his role playing Boris Johnson in the More4 drama-documentary When Boris Met Dave (below).
But is there any Boris in Ossie?
“I suppose they probably quite enjoy the sound of their own voice, can I put it that way?” Brassington says diplomatically. “Maybe they are impressed with the style of their oration.”
What about Osborne’s fondness for the ladies? Any similarity there?
“It has been rumoured that [Boris] likes the ladies. I have read a book about him before I played him and I get the impression that he wanted to be Churchill so I tried to play him playing Churchil. That’s the image that Boris Johnson projects to the world.
“When I hear my Ossie back I think he’s a cross between Prince Charles with a touch of Terry Thomas – but that wasn’t the intention when I started out.”
He won’t discuss his future plans – to say whether Osborne Whitworth will be back in the next series would be one spoiler too far. And he is not sure if he will get shouted at in public, as Biggins reportedly was when he played the role.
“I don’t know if I’m ready for it. You have to try and take it as compliment, I guess. In a way of people are believing it. But I am now a bit lighter than I am in the TV show and I have grown my beard back so hopefully I’m disguised enough so people won’t be hurling abuse at me in the street.”
You never know, he could become an unlikely heartthrob, knocking Aidan Turner off his perch.
“Yeah,” he laughs. “I am going to do some topless modelling at my top weight… you wish!”
What’s going to happen in the dramatic Poldark series finale? Listen to our podcast for our spoiler-free preview…
Poldark airs on Sundays, 9/8c, PBS Masterpiece