Eleanor Tomlinson: “Time to push boundaries”The Red Bulletin met the Poldark star at this year’s TV Festival in Monte Carlo to talk about the role that changed her life, parental advice and sharing a household with a sex symbol
THE RED BULLETIN: You compared your role to Scarlet O’Hara. Winston Graham, who wrote the Poldark novels, loosely based Demelza on his own wife. Did that influence your performance?
ELEANOR TOMLINSON: Yes, I did look into that. We worked quite closely with Winston’s son, Andrew Graham, which was great because I was able to ask him a lot of questions about his mother. It is lovely that my character is based on her. She was such a strong woman.
People say Poldark is the next Downton Abbey. Did you expect it to be such a success?
Yes, I guess. But it is very different to Downton Abbey. I think you can never really know if something is going to be successful. You kind of go with it and see what happens. And if you are lucky and stay true to your heart, then it can be successful. But I don’t think you can ever really know. You could make a massive multi-million movie and it could be a massive flop.
Has your life changed a lot? Do people recognise you in the street?
Yes, but not too much. My life as an actress has changed a lot more then my private life. There are more opportunities being offered to me these days, meaning I can now go in to new territories.
Why do you think they chose you for a historical character?
I love watching period dramas and I grew up watching these kind of old movies. I am fascinated by history. But it is not something that I kind of actively decided I wanted to do. It is just something that has come along. And I guess they really liked my audition as well!
What was the most challenging thing about the shoot?
It is very very long. We shoot for about six months.
How many hours a day?
I get up at half four in the morning. I get home at half ten at night. So I am tired a lot of the time. But that is part of the challenge. We don’t film anything in sequence, so you have to be across all of the script at the same time. So if you are filming something from episode 2 and episode 10 on the same day, you have to know exactly what has happened, where your character is and how they are feeling.
There is a lot of work that goes into it: a lot of reading and preparation. Your social life goes out the window. But that is just Poldark. Which is great, I love that.
What is your take on Demelza’s relationship with Elizabeth?
It is interesting. That relationship gains momentum in the second series. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the viewers will respond to that. But I think they come to an understanding in the first series, because Demelza realises that Ross will always have that thing for Elizabeth. But she knows he loves her, and it is through that love that she has the confidence to appear in social situations with people like Elizabeth. If she didn’t believe in that love, then there is no way she could possibly face that.
How has your character evolved in season 2?
Well, the great thing about our writer Debbie Horsfield is that despite Winston Graham’s books moving on to different characters, she keeps Ross’s and Demelza’s story in focus. Their marriage and whole relationship is tested, as you would expect in life. The relationship with Elizabeth is also tested. She also has to deal with the loss of her baby in the first series and the fact that her husband has been sent to prison. So life is very uncertain for Demelza when you see her again. She’s going through a journey, becoming braver and stronger every day. Demelza is also very much her own person and refuses to be ruled by Ross in the way women were in those days. She’s definitely not afraid to put her foot down.
How much of the etiquette of the time period did you have to learn for the show?
Luckily, I already had pretty decent knowledge of period ways due to previous roles. But what I love about Demelza is that she doesn’t conform to it. So whereas Elizabeth (played by Heida Reid) has to do lots of research on how to sit correctly and had a historical adviser, Demelza can kind of do what she wants. She tries to become a lady, and then realises that she is so much better just how she is.
Have you seen a shift in the kind of roles that are being created for women?
Yes, definitely. Now is the time to push boundaries. Strong female roles don’t come along that often, but we’re starting to get these amazing opportunities. Elizabeth is another very strong female role in my opinion. I get really excited when I read the scripts and I see it is more of a double act as opposed to women being this kind of sidekick or damsel in distress to men. It is good, exciting times!
You come of from an acting family, was it clear that you wanted to follow in their footsteps?
Yes, always. It was great growing up in that atmosphere. I used to go to work with my dad and see my mum on stage. I grew up watching Gone with the Wind. I saw these fantastic roles and these fantastic actresses, I always thought: “Yes, that is what I want to do. That is amazing.”
Did you get any advice from your parents?
Yes, don’t do it! It is a hard and competitive business and they didn’t want me to suffer. They were right to say that. If you go into this industry thinking that it owes you something, then you are going to fail. It can be a very disheartening industry. The amount of times that you get a call saying you haven’t got this job or that one, it literally pulls the world from under your feet. It is a very difficult existence. Sometimes you put all this effort into a project and it doesn’t go anywhere. It can also be really difficult to get projects made or even get into projects at all. It is a tough industry.
Your fellow actress Heida Reed got quite a backlash for treating Aidan the way she did in the series. It seems people are taking Poldark very seriously…
I don’t do social media, it doesn’t interest me at all. But I appreciate that it is the way the world is going. I want people to know me for my work and I personally don’t like to comment on myself on social media. But with regards to how popular the show has been, I think it is fantastic and it is always lovely to see the dedication people have for the show.
Can this dedication be a little scary sometimes?
Yes, it can. I am from a very tiny village in East Yorkshire. Arriving somewhere and there are all these fans outside and they know who I am can be kind of bizarre. It is really nice but at the same time very surreal.
What was it like working with Aidan Turner (who plays Ross Poldark)?
We are great friends. It is a very difficult shoot and we spent a lot of time rehearsing, talking through scenes before we shoot. What is great about Aidan and I, is that we are totally relaxed with each other. We actually have quite a realistic married relationship. We are a bit like an old married couple. We just kind of get on with it.
But you are married to a sex symbol.
(Laughs.) Yes! Which is hilarious. Have you seen those Youtube videos of us? They make me laugh. It is fun with him. He is great to work with. Every take is different.