Entertainment Television

Friday 14 December 2018

Move over, Mr Darcy. Poldark has arrived...

Tanya Sweeney on Dubliner Aidan Turner, whose slow and steady pace has certainly won him the acting race

Aidan Turner in Poldark
Aidan Turner in Poldark
Aidan Turner during his time at the Gaiety School of Acting

Tanya Sweeney

For years, Colin Firth's Mr Darcy has had something of a stranglehold on the hearts and affections of female TV audiences.

He's long been shorthand for a sort of windswept, rugged, romantic beefcake.

But last weekend, a Dubliner with similarly damp curls and a brawny physique finally challenged Mr Darcy's long reign.

While the headlines were unanimous in their praise of Aidan Turner's star turn in period drama Poldark, the Twitter verdict was similarly glowing. "The next Downton Abbey" has been uttered more than once.

Make no mistake; Aidan Turner is very much trending… on Twitter and beyond. Chief among viewers' main, often feverish observations is the bounty of shirtless scenes in Poldark:

"There's some semi-nakedness in the show, there are a couple of bedroom scenes, but it isn't gratuitous," asserts Turner. Yet with candour, he adds: "I hate the gym. Working all day and then doing 90 minutes in the gym is a pain, but it's part of the job."

The BBC are seemingly banking on Turner's freshly anointed heartthrob status, but the man himself appears to be taking on the mantle with some reluctance. He has been asked plenty recently how he feels about being a sex symbol: reporters have observed how much the question makes him visibly squirm.

Referring to that topless photo currently causing a Twitter storm, he has said: "I don't know why the BBC are releasing photos of it. It's a bit strange. It's not a stripper show."

When the original Poldark series, adapted from Winston Graham's historical novels, first aired in the 1970s, it was one of the most successful costume dramas of all time.

Attracting around 15 million viewers each week, its video sales were second only to 1995's Pride & Prejudice.

When Turner told his parents he was about to reprise the role, he admitted that his parents "nearly had a fit".

"The previous 1970s series was popular in Ireland, I guess because people could relate to it… the farming, the scenery, the horses," he said during production.

Certainly, Poldark, described as a "gentleman who is also a rebel" looks to be the part Turner was born to play.

And to the casual observer, it may look as though Turner has arrived on the scene, pretty much ready for his close-up.

"If it had happened five, six years ago, I might not have been ready," the 31-year-old concedes. "It's been a slow build-up, but I feel like it's my time."

As Turner finally stands on the periphery of the big leagues as a leading man in his own right, it's fair to say the Dubliner has put the hard yards in first.

Born in 1983 in the south Dublin enclave of Clondalkin, Turner grew up in Tallaght with an accountant mother and electrician father and led a perfectly normal life in the suburbs.

As fate would have it, he worked part-time, aged 16, at the UCI Cinema in the Square Shopping Centre in Tallaght.

Aidan Turner gets shirtless on set for 'sexier' update of original Poldark series 

"I remember my mum getting called up a lot," he says, referring to his teenage years when he got into the occasional scuffle at Mac Dara's Community College.

Yet he was no-one's idea of a teenage lout: he had represented Ireland in ballroom and Latin American dancing for almost 10 years ("So I did have a flair for the creative").

After he left school, he briefly worked as an electrical apprentice with his dad. He briefly considered joining a band as a guitarist or becoming a professional snooker player. In a word, he was stuck for direction.

"I filled out a CAO form for potential colleges like everybody else but I knew I was never going to go to any of them or get accepted for that matter," he recalls.

It wasn't until he saw a notice advertising the Gaiety School of Acting in 2001 that his interest in acting was piqued.

"I didn't know anything about this world at all," Turner told the Irish Independent recently. "I felt intimidated from the get-go and thought: that's just right for me. The sense of potential failure is a buzz."

Patrick Sutton, director of the Gaiety School Of Acting, first noticed that, when Turner did a part-time Acting For Camera class, that he was a "good-looking guy with great manners"'.

"It was when he auditioned for the full-time acting course that I absolutely saw the germ of talent there," he recalls.

"To get into this acting school, there has to be a degree of humility there, and he was quite humble. He'd have been as nervous in those first few weeks of the course as anyone else.

Poldark, TV review: Never mind the moaners, it's great fun 

Sutton recalls how on the two-year course, Turner was focused and conscientious.

"Also, he's an exceptional dancer, and has one of those super flexible, sexy, sassy, Argentinean tango bodies," he adds. "But when he started acting to camera, we really noticed his charisma. He realised pretty early on that acting on camera wasn't about being loud and big and strong… he implicitly understood the stillness and silence and simplicity needed to act.

Director Gerry Stembridge, who worked with Turner on the 2008 short film Alarm, has been equally effusive about Turner, noting that he cast him as Mal because the character was "really charming, but there's something of a wolf about him."

After graduating in 2004, a couple of years of honing his stagecraft at the Abbey followed. For a while however, the screen proved evasive.

A bit part in The Tudors here, a low-budget short there, and finally Turner landed a recurring on-screen role in RTE's The Clinic.

In 2009, a bigger break finally materialised when he starred opposite Leonora Critchlow and Russell Tovey in BBC Three's Being Human; a wry take on the supernatural vampire series.

It was a charmed time for Turner: "Even at the time, I had a sense that it wasn't always going to be like this," he told the Independent recently. "It was too good to be true, just a bunch of mates hanging out."

After a glut of vampire movies storming the cineplexes at the time, Being Human turned out to be the perfect palate cleanser, and most importantly, it brought Turner to the attention of Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson. Turner's first taste of the big time came courtesy of the Kiwi director, when Turner was cast as Kili in The Hobbit.

"Aidan is a wonderfully gifted young actor who hails from Ireland. I'm sure he will bring enormous heart and humour to the role of Kili," said Jackson at the time.

Another wallet-busting movie franchise followed in quick succession: The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones. This time around, Turner played werewolf Luke Garroway.

'Being a sex symbol is a little awkward' - Aidan Turner on his rise to fame, and redefining Poldark

Of this spate of supernatural roles, Turner has observed in the past: "There's a certain sort of stereotype that people have about a vampire. I guess I kinda have that look. I have big moveable eyebrows. My hair was already long, so they could slick it back."

Yet the typecasting appears to be no more. With Turner signing on for five more years of Poldark production, he faces another fresh challenge: keeping his private life just that. London-based Turner has been dating actress Sarah Greene (last seen in Noble), but the two studiously evade mentions of the other in promotional interviews.

Poldark aside, Turner has also just put a winning performance as The Secret Scriptures' Jack McNulty in the can. Slow and steady, in other words, has indeed won the race.

"His trajectory has been a slow burn and a gradual build, and it's great to see things happen for him," surmises Sutton. "By God, the pride I felt while watching the BBC last weekend, it was a really lovely feeling."

'Poldark' continues on BBC1, Sundays at 9pm

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