Poldark: It's the lone star life for swashbuckling hero Aidan Turner
Poldark actor Aidan Turner has been turning heads ever since those famous photos were published of his toned torso, but, as Patricia Danaher finds out, he prefers ballroom dancing and painting to the celebrity culture
It will no doubt further inflame the already searing passions of Poldark fans to hear that nothing makes Aidan Turner happier than going for long walks by the sea when he’s at home in Dublin. Or, failing that, the star of the BBC’s hit period drama spends his time alone in his studio where he loves to lose himself in painting. An artistic soul beneath the rugged exterior? Ladies, start your swooning!
There is, however, no one more surprised than the 33-year-old actor by the idea that he might cause anyone — lady or otherwise — to swoon.
“It all kicked off when the show came out and I was really surprised,” he tells me, over tea at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. “It wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened us in the UK. Once it hit the tabloids, more people started to tune in, and, I have to tell you, I was taken aback.”
The ‘it’ that hit the tabloids was, of course, the now famous photo of a shirtless Turner laughing as a make-up artist covers up the tattoo on his bulging bicep. That photo, coupled with plentiful scenes of his very toned torso in Poldark, turned him into an international heart-throb.
It’s a label that, it seems, Turner is not overly keen to embrace. “I was in Monte Carlo recently and there was a bit of a buzz on the street there and when I walked down Carnaby Street in London it was similar, but to be honest with you, it doesn’t feel healthy to me and it doesn’t do me any favours to allow myself into that realm,” he says.
“It’s helped the work offers to pick up. If I allowed myself to let it change my life, it could. Where there’s celebrity, it’s easy to slip into that — being followed in nightclubs, or dating famous people or getting adverts. I’m just not interested in that stuff. I want to do good work with good actors and film-makers, read interesting scripts. I didn’t get into this business for celebrity. I got into it for my love of film and stories and theatre.”
Growing up in Clondalkin, Turner nurtured this love at the Gaiety School of Acting, where his classmates included Colin Farrell and Stuart Townsend. Since then, he has worked consistently on stage and in television, first coming to public prominence with his role as receptionist Ruairi McGowan in RTÉ’s The Clinic, and in the UK through cult fantasy series Being Human. It was that role, as a brooding vampire, that got him noticed by director Peter Jackson, who cast Turner as dwarf Kili in his Hobbit movies.
But it was his starring role in the remake of Poldark, which begins its second season next month, that has made Aidan Turner a household name — and stirred up no small amount of interest in his romantic life.
Turner dated Ripper Street actress Charlene McKenna from 2007 to 2009, and last year saw the end of his five-year relationship with Sarah Greene, one of the stars of RTÉ’s Rebellion. Now, he seems adamant that he doesn’t want to date anyone in showbusiness for the foreseeable future.
“I don’t have a type, I just know when I connect with someone. I don’t connect with someone and then when I go home think, ‘It must have been the black hair that did it’ or ‘It’s because I quoted EE Cummings’ or whatever it might be. I don’t think it’s down to physical aesthetics or appearance.
“I’ve dated people who’re in the same world as me and it can be quite difficult where you go home and you talk about casting directors, or the press, or the next job you’re doing, and frankly it can become quite dull and taxing. There’s nothing like going out with somebody who just doesn’t care what you’re doing, let alone has anything to say about it. That’s what turns me on.
“Then it boils down to, ‘what are the real things?’ If you lose all the celebrity and fame stuff, it just boils down to me and you’re left with the crux of it, the epicentre of what the relationship is. I don’t know that I believe in that soul-mate stuff. I think you can find someone that you can love your entire life.”
Single these days, when he’s not filming, his studio in Dublin is where he can be found, happiest with paint, canvas, music and solitude.
“There’s no real talent there. There’s just me going at it. I started painting in New Zealand. I collect art. Painting is something I thought would be fun to do. It’s not easy. I’m not as good as anyone I buy or admire. I just like the form of it all.
“I like getting into the studio, putting on the clothes, hitting the radio and just going after these big canvases and just doing it all day. Some days you feel like you’ve achieved something, other days you’re heartbroken. I like that dichotomy.
“I like that I’m not in a world where I have to please the director or work with anyone else. It’s just all me, all day in my head. I work with colour and I like the differences in the viscosity of the acrylic and the oil. It makes me happy and it chills me out.”
Painting is not his only hidden talent — Turner began ballroom and Latin dancing at age six and represented Ireland at international competitions for 10 years.
“What mother gets her son into dancing?” he laughs. “I asked her that recently and she said: ‘I felt it would serve you in whatever you do, regardless, and you would never regret it. You could play soccer or football.’ Where we grew up was a bit rough and my mum wanted to get me off the streets, so she got me into dancing!”
The youngest of two boys, he is close to his family. “My mother taught me to be a good respectful man to women and I hope I am that. I have a great relationship with both my parents and they’ve always been so supportive. My dad’s an electrician, still working. My mum is an accountant, still working too. She’s my accountant too, which is great — means everything is above board! I can’t screw that one up — the taxman won’t be knocking at my door.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to hustle a bit and get things done and work and they’ve always been a great inspiration. They were never restless. I admire them greatly. My older brother is a taxman. He works for the Revenue.”
Turner himself has been tipped for a job that’s about as far from the civil service as possible — playing James Bond. Following on from his roles in Poldark and the BBC thriller And Then There Were None, his name has been thrown into the pot as a potential replacement for Daniel Craig in the spy franchise. While he’s flattered at the consideration, he doesn’t want to jinx it by saying whether he really wants it — but it seems clear to me he wouldn’t say no if he were to be asked.
“I’d rather not say anything. It seems like a Judas Kiss — once you comment on it, it disappears. It’s a hugely coveted role. Maybe they’ll ask me. Let’s see how it goes,” he says quietly but firmly closing down the topic.
Of course, Turner already enjoys the real-life magnetism of Bond — has he had any weird encounters with his many admiring female fans?
“Does it matter that it’s just female? The whole thing with celebrity can be quite strange — the fact that someone you’ve never met can walk right up to you and know all about your life from Wikipedia or from interviews you’ve done, is quite strange. I get a lot of fan mail and I get a lot of things sent to me, a lot of music that I used to like when it first came out. I must have said at some point that I was into sweets because I get a lot of chocolate and sweets from Japan.
“I was shooting in Cornwall in a place which is quite remote and difficult to find and we were at the side of a cliff somewhere in a spot that was actually quite dangerous. One day, there was a fan there, who I’d seen around. She was in New Zealand at The Hobbit premiere and she followed me around on that tour. And there she was, down one of these cliffs. I said, ‘What are you doing?’ and she said, ‘I flew over from Switzerland today. I had a feeling you might be in Cornwall and I found out you were by going on the internet and tweeting and now I’m here!’”
Does the intensity of the fans make him uneasy?
“It’s strange but it’s also quite endearing. It doesn’t freak me out. I actually think it’s quite sweet. I don’t know if my adoration for anybody could compel me to find them at the side of a cliff in the remotest part of the UK — but, you know, whatever floats your boat.
“I’ve never been rattled except by this book that someone wrote, supposedly about me called Stalking Aidan. I thought that was strange, but again, it didn’t scare me. From what I can gather, it usually comes from a good place. I do have a really loyal fan base who’ve been with me since the beginning, since the Being Human days, and they’re always kind and generous with the compliments and with their discourse. So I don’t get freaked out about it.”
An artist and a gentleman. Ladies, resume your swooning…
- ‘Poldark’ returns to BBC One on September 4