'Demelza's opened so many doors for me ... I'm so flattered'
Eleanor Tomlinson vowed to try anything not to be typecast, so how is sci-fi measuring up after Poldark? Gemma Dunn gets the lowdown
When Eleanor Tomlinson signed up to star in a brooding drama set in 18th-century Cornwall, she had no idea the impact it would have on her life. Rewind to 2015 and the-then 21-year-old unknown would play heroine Demelza in the TV adaptation of Winston Graham's novels, Poldark, the servant-turned-wife of Aidan Turner's Captain Ross Poldark.
It was a career-igniting role - and duet - that wooed the nation for five seasons, winning Baftas and culminating with a series finale this August that drew in an average of 4.1 million-plus viewers.
Now aged 27, and having stepped out of her alter-ego's shadow, Tomlinson is keen to forge her own path. One she hopes is free from typecasting.
"I'm trying my best to force it to change," Tomlinson explains. "I'm trying to get as many different roles as I can under my belt, different characters, different periods - I don't want to be pigeonholed.
"But I'm so flattered to be known as Demelza. I love the fact I have that behind me and I can walk into a room and people may have seen it. It's opened so many doors in terms of what's available now."
Her latest outing is in the BBC's highly anticipated The War Of The Worlds adaptation, a three-part TV reworking written by Doctor Who's Peter Harness and directed by the notable Craig Viveiros.
Tomlinson joins Rafe Spall, Robert Carlyle and Rupert Graves in recreating HG Wells' iconic sci-fi story about the battle to save Earth from a martian invasion. Remarkably, it's the first revision that's true to its intended Edwardian era.
"It does seem crazy that it's never been set in its time," quips Tomlinson. "Ours feels particularly current, in terms of taking the writing and adapting it to a modern audience. You now have a female leading it, whereas she's not particularly present in the book."
Tomlinson plays Amy, a fierce twenty-something, who faces the prejudices of society as she attempts to start a life with George (Spall).
The "refreshing" decision to put Amy front and centre of the narrative was a huge appeal.
"She's a really strong female character that's breaking the mould of her time," says the star. "She's strong, she's independent. She has this scientific brain and she wants to study, but she's a single woman living with a married man, at a time in history when women weren't allowed to study.
"To think that women, at one point, weren't allowed to read books is horrifying. Thank God we are where we are now, but we are because of these women that fought against the system."
But it's still relative today, she adds: "In different countries, we're still seeing this control over women. But in terms of this industry, we're seeing many more strong female roles coming out and that's incredibly important.
"It's much more interesting for us, as actresses, when we get a script and go, 'Oh, great, I've got something to do. I don't have to wait for someone to rescue me'.
"Nowadays, even in jobs that I've done, you'd struggle to make the women so helpless. Unless they're historical - that's different. You need women to be able to have a personality other than to just be the damsel in distress."
Other than the period in which they preside, is it fair to say that Demelza and Amy - both progressive and powerful - are not too dissimilar?
"If you play a character for five years, you're bound to leave with bits of her," Tomlinson responds. "When I read scripts, I think, 'Well, where does this go? What kind of character is it? Who is she? Is she independent of a male? Is she strong in her own right?'
"In a lot of historical pieces, it's in the adaptation, it's how you portray the women. You can be beaten down, you can be a woman that's under the thumb of a man, but it doesn't make you the side piece."
Next, Tomlinson will tackle two further sci-fi series. "One is Intergalactic, in which I'm playing a drug mule and addict in space, so it's really different," she says.
"It's amazing, because doing something like Poldark and it being successful gives you the confidence to try something else."
The other one is an HBO series of Joss Whedon's called The Nevers. "It is amazing fun. And then I've got a film called Love. Wedding. Repeat, which is a comedy.
"I was really nervous about doing that, actually, because we have Joel Fry, Aisling Bea - oh my God, I love her so much - and Tim Key, so these incredibly funny people and then me!"
- The War Of The Worlds, BBC One, Sunday, 9pm