Poldark's Aidan Turner: It's a good time to be me

He set hearts aflutter with 'that' topless scything scene, but as the second series of BBC One's Poldark approaches, Aidan Turner tells Gemma Dunn why looking buff is a crucial part of the drama

Dublin actor Aidan Turner in a scene from the BBC's Poldark, which returns on Sunday
Gemma Dunn

WHEN Aidan Turner put in another head-turning performance in BBC One's chilling TV adaptation of Agatha Christie's classic And Then Were None late last year, the Irish actor did little to quash the 'Bond' rumour mill.

But while he's keeping strictly schtum on the soap opera of who will play 007, he will gladly talk about the impressive body of work that has, in the past year, catapulted him to new heights.

"It's the Poldark effect," 33-year-old Turner teases, flashing a grin. "Somebody did say that to me on the red carpet once. They said, 'So you Poldark'd And Then There Were None?' I said, 'What do you mean?' And they said, 'You Poldark'd! You smashed it first time'."

The phrase is certainly justified.

With audience numbers for the series – a revamp of the 1970s show based on novelist Winston Graham's acclaimed sweeping saga set in 18th-century Cornwall, and which sees Turner take centre stage as brooding hero Ross Poldark – peaking at 9.4 million across TV and iPlayer, alongside scooping the Radio Times Audience Award at this year's Baftas, Poldark made light work of its 2015 debut.

But its leading man anticipated no less.

"It's so strange; its success didn't feel that odd," he says, admitting he buried his head during the pandemonium that ensued.

"It does now – Jesus," he adds. "We did really well on the show, and this is going to sound awful, but I didn't expect any different. I was like, 'Oh yeah, course it wasn't going to sink, we weren't going to fail it'. That would have been shocking.

"But looking back now, how lucky are we that we found an audience? You can go out on Sunday night at 9pm and have no one watch it. We just struck a chord; it was the right place, right time."

It's little wonder, then, that the prime-time epic is back for a second instalment this autumn, with a third already announced for 2017.

Discussing the ease of falling back into character, Dublin-born Turner – also known for his work on The Hobbit trilogy and Being Human – quips: "That's what you're looking for every time, isn't it? Especially when the first series has been a hit. It's nice to walk back in and go, 'We did something right'."

When we meet, the playful star is in high spirits, having been on a fun photo shoot with his male co-stars, but even dressed down in a casual grey tee, skinny jeans and trainers, Turner, with his long dark locks scraped up in a 'man bun' and sporting a spectacular full beard, looks every inch the hunky leading man.

Engaging and funny, he's excited for this somewhat "more tempestuous" leg of the journey – which recently hit the headlines for allegedly toning down a controversial rape scene, in order to keep Poldark's heroism intact.

But with an impending court case – last season left viewers on a cliffhanger after Ross was caught stealing the contents of a shipwreck and inciting a riot, both crimes punishable by death – the protagonist's luck may just be about to run out.

"Ross and Demelza [Eleanor Tomlinson] are not in a great place when we start off, and it doesn't really get better," reveals Turner of the troubled couple, who lost their daughter Julia to 'putrid throat' at the end of last series.

"Ross is living under this veil of, 'Everything is going to be fine'. He has one line where he says something like, 'Why would they lock me up? I'm too busy, I have too much to do' – and he fully believes that. He just doesn't grasp the situation he is in and the consequences of it."

The dark storylines haven't stopped fans flocking to Cornwall, in a bid to catch a glimpse of the cast and crew in action.

"There were a lot [of fans]," Turner recalls, chuckling. "We were expecting it because people were talking about security in Charlestown, and we were like, 'What are you talking about – security?' But we needed eight people.

"Yet people are lovely and so kind and generous," he quickly adds. "They're showing their support, and I totally respect that and appreciate it."

And thanks to Turner's iconic topless scything scene in the first season (named the public's top TV moment of 2015 by Radio Times), he has a whole legion to greet.

"I see where you're going," he says coyly, puffing his cheeks out at the question of any more semi-clad scenes. "Who says I am going topless this year?" (Well, if the trailer's anything to go by then, yes, the chest certainly will be getting another airing.)

"I just do what's there. If it's in the books and it makes sense. The funny thing was, I am convinced it was my idea," Turner adds. "It was just really hot, and I was like, 'Why is he wearing a shirt for this? It's ridiculous, who would do that?'

"So we played the scene and we just got on with it; I had no idea what it was going to turn into..."

Turner's efforts to keep in shape go beyond the voyeuristic tag, however.

"I need to, or I won't fit the costumes. Literally, I can't put on a pound," he insists, sighing. "Seven months of that is boring. It's not fun – there are no pasties and loads of press-ups. I hate it, but it's got to be done.

"Physically, I want [the character] to look a certain way. Considering the diet he was on and how physical he is – he's down the mines a lot, he's on his horse and he's a farmer – it makes no sense to look any other way."

Yet while there's no denying Poldark has accelerated his career ("The interest is there"), the in-demand talent confesses it's difficult finding time to scour scripts amid exhausting shoots.

"Not to be the whinging actor," he muses, before pausing and adding: "What's the plural of a group of actors? A whinge. Jimmy Nesbitt told me that!

Laughing, he finishes: "Last year I fitted some work in and burnt myself out a bit, and this year I've chosen not to. Next year, we'll see...

"It's a good time to be me."

:: Poldark returns to BBC One on Sunday September 4


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