Having won our hearts as the dashing Ross Poldark, Aidan Turner – who stars in the BBC’s upcoming adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None – is turning nasty
By Bryony Gordon 6:33PM GMT 27 Nov 2015
Aidan Turner is the man who single-handedly made scything sexy and, at long last, has given the nation a viable alternative to Mr Darcy.
He galloped on to our screens and into our hearts as the dashing Ross Poldark 10 months ago, and has had an avalanche of attention heaped on him ever since.
When we meet for lunch in a dimly lit underground restaurant in Bristol, it seems that he is trying to hide from all that scrutiny. He arrives with no entourage or airs and graces, and is wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a beanie hat pulled low over his forehead, as if to conceal himself.
At first, the 32-year-old Turner seems nervous, verging on diffident. The spotlight has shone hard on him this year, and I am not entirely sure he has enjoyed it – though of course he is too polite to say this out loud.
When did he realise he had the lead role in a hit? “I guess not until the ratings came out and suddenly there was a lot of press around it. It was weird for me. I’d never been at the helm of a BBC prime-time show, so I didn’t know how things worked.”
He is still getting used to the attention both from the public and the press and is obviously unsure of how best to proceed with journalists – should he be himself or a version of himself that is befitting of a BBC prime-time star?
He mentions that he wears hair extensions for the role of Poldark, then worries that this will become a frivolous distraction from the actual programme.
Ditto our discussion about his training regime for the job (he orders a fillet steak with no sauce or sides; he jokes that he can’t just turn up for filming – he’s currently making the show’s second series – with a beer belly).
Turner wonders if it’s too early for a glass of red wine. “It’s not morning, is it?” I say it is one in the afternoon, and he should relax. “OK,” he says, smiling devilishly. “It’s time for a pinot noir.”
Devilish is how you might describe his next role, in the BBC’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None – to be shown over Christmas. Turner plays a soldier who, in the actor’s own words, “is heinous and horrible and nasty.
He’s amoral and selfish and he gets a thrill out of being amoral and selfish.” Judging by the smile on his face, Turner obviously gets a thrill out of it too.
In Christie’s most famous thriller, Turner stars, alongside Charles Dance, Sam Neill and Miranda Richardson, as Philip Lombard, one of 10 criminals who have escaped justice and are lured to a remote island off the Devon coast to face grizzly punishments for their sins.
It is, says Turner, “really very dark. But it was a lot of fun to do. My character is great because he just doesn’t care. He’s exposed for killing a tribe, 21 people in Africa, and he’s done way worse and loads more, all for diamonds. He sees himself as a mercenary, a gun-for-hire kind of guy.” Turner’s eyes light up as he speaks. “He’s like the anti-Poldark. He’s everything that Ross isn’t.”
Does he worry that his fans will be upset about him playing the tribe-killing Lombard? “I don’t care!” he says, laughing. “I mean, it’s only a character. I’m not Ross Poldark, either.”
So what did he make of the excitement over the sexy scything? He starts laughing. Didn’t he find it… well, odd? “I did! But it’s kind of common to see that photograph when you open a paper now.” He has disconnected from it entirely. “When the press stuff came out I was away. I wasn’t kind of keeping in touch with things. I was out of the loop a bit. But…” He shrugs. “Oh I don’t know. I don’t think about it much at all. It wasn’t a gratuitous scene at all. It was in keeping with the vibe of the show.”
But hasn’t some of the media’s use of it been gratuitous? “Maybe. I mean, it doesn’t really bother me either way. I don’t feel violated.”
Turner claims his day-to-day life hasn’t changed, but I’m not sure I believe him. “On the street I walk fast, so I don’t get stopped much. I don’t have a tricorne hat or wear knee-high boots or anything, so people don’t [recognise me so much].”
He admits that the odd fan has turned up on a Cornish cliff while filming Poldark, but he claims that he feels impressed by their tenacity rather than weirded out by it. “When people do approach, they tend to be the diehard fans who are really respectful and sweet and nice and not barking at you for a selfie. They just want to say hi. They understand that when you’re on the move you can’t stick around for a selfie or a photocall.”
Naturally, this suggests to me that everyone does want a selfie and a photocall. Is he often aware of people taking pictures of him?
“Sometimes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s a bit rude. I don’t really like it. If you’re trying to do a sneaky one, then fair game. But it’s when they are right in your face with it. And when you say, ‘Do you mind?’ or turn the other way, they feel shunned. I will always pose if I’m asked, if it’s the right time and place, I don’t mind. It’s just when the phone comes out right away. And I have to be the bad guy and say, ‘Do you mind not doing that?’ when someone’s got a phone in your face as you’re walking around the Tate. And then I feel s—, because these people are supporters of the show.”
He looks rueful, like a wounded dog. It’s OK, I say. You need to have a life. “Yeah,” he nods. “But I don’t want to embarrass people. It’s a balance.” The tightrope walked by the accidental 21st-century celebrity has rarely been trickier.
Aidan Turner was born 32 years ago in the living room of the family home in Dublin, the son of a shop worker and an electrician. His beginnings could scarcely have been more different from those of his public-school-educated peers Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne; he has said in the past that he was a bit of a tearaway who possibly had ADHD.
“Did I say that?” He looks embarrassed. “You have to be careful saying things like that, don’t you?” Anyway, he loved sport, and dreamt of being a snooker player. “I went to a community school. I really enjoyed it. I wasn’t very academic. It wasn’t a very privileged upbringing.”
But he was happy, with a supportive family. For a while he worked with his dad as an electrician, but then, at the relatively late age of 17, he was bitten by the acting bug.
After working in a local cinema and realising that this was perhaps something he was interested in, he enrolled at The Gaiety School of Acting.
“I know so many people who were really in the zone by the age of 12, youth theatre and everything, but I didn’t have that at all. I was doing very different things up until I was 16 or 17. So everything happened a lot faster. I had to decide quite quickly if this was a career thing rather than just a hobby.”
Upon graduating in 2004, it became clear that it definitely was a career thing. He landed his first television role in the Irish soap The Clinic (“It was a rite of passage for every Irish actor”), then came cult success as vampire Mitchell in drama Being Human, followed by a portrayal of Dante Gabriel Rossetti in Desperate Romantics – both for the BBC.
In the midst of it all, he was cast as the dwarf Kili in the Hobbit films (he won the Empire award for best male newcomer for his role in The Desolation of Smaug, the second film in the franchise), and as a werewolf in The Mortal Instruments.
He seems to find his success surprising. I tell him that it’s obviously because he’s… well, you know, talented. He bats away the compliment. “I don’t know if it’s been talent based or if it was a look or things like that. It just kind of happened. I’ve been lucky.
“I’m quite a lazy person. And feckless,” he says, laughing. He says he is in a “nice” place now because he is being offered lots of work, but that “these things tend to not last for too long”. He doesn’t like booking himself up too far in advance. “As great as it is as an actor, it kind of freaks me out.” He would like to do more theatre and has a small indie movie coming out, Look Away, in which he stars with Chloë Sevigny and Matthew Broderick, which he loved doing after the experience of working with a large studio for The Hobbit.
“It’s a very different beast going on to a little movie where you’re helping the camera crew with their bags. It’s just fun. There’s no ego involved, everyone’s at the same level, and there’s a nice sense of why we’re all there. Nobody is doing it for the money.”
I get the sense that the idea of Hollywood freaks Turner out a bit. He is intensely private and when I ask him about his love life he visibly squirms – he is single, having recently broken up with a long-term girlfriend, the actress Sarah Greene, but they are still good friends and he would rather not talk about it while the tape recorder is playing.
“I like to keep my private life private for my own head. It’s important to me that people don’t know too much about me because I’m trying to play characters. Sometimes you see actors who are really good, but you have trouble separating that actor from the celebrity profile. I don’t want to be one of those guys. It helps that people don’t know a lot about me, I guess.”
Turner tells me that his personal life is “so bland. It’s like anybody else’s. There’s nothing there.” I am not entirely convinced, but am charmed by his efforts to appear normal.
He’s living in Bristol at the moment, which is the base for the Poldark shoot, and has a place in Dublin, but says that he doesn’t really have a base – I get the impression that he is a bloke in his early 30s having a good time, and why ever not.
But despite his claim of fecklessness, I think he’s a thoughtful and considered man who loves the creative world he finds himself in, a man who has no interest in being cast as a tabloid hunk. He collects art in his spare time, which lives in crates, and enjoys painting.
In the meantime, there is Poldark. “There’s probably five or six series in it if we go that far, if it stays good and people continue to watch it. In between, the desire to play different characters is obviously there.” He stops to order another glass of pinot noir and the wicked smile returns. “You don’t want to play it safe.”