Wednesday 13 December 2017

Reed: Where is the fun in being moral?

About to return as Elizabeth in 'Poldark', Heida Reed talks to Eleanor Steafel about notorious sex scenes and her new series

PERIOD STAR: Heida Reed with Aidan Turner in ‘Poldark’
PERIOD STAR: Heida Reed with Aidan Turner in ‘Poldark’

Eleanor Steafel

Heida Reed has spent the past year being forced to defend Poldark. In 2014, the Icelandic actress took on the role of Cornish lady Elizabeth Poldark in the BBC's update of its 1970s period drama series based on Winston Graham's novels, having no idea whether it would be a hit or just another misguided remake. It proved the former, of course - but the downside was that controversy, when it came, resounded loudly through the headlines.

Towards the end of the last series, a scene which may or may not have portrayed our notional hero Ross, played by Dubliner Aidan Turner, raping his former flame Elizabeth outraged critics and fans alike - so much so that many called for the show to be taken off the air entirely.

For those who may have forgotten what all the fuss was about, the scene saw Ross confront Elizabeth after learning she had agreed to wed the evil George Warleggan, kicking in her front door, entering her bedroom against her will and refusing to leave, before insisting on having sex with her.

The uproar arose from the fact that it showed Elizabeth resisting her former lover before apparently enjoying being overpowered by him. Producer Karen Thrussell described the portrayal as a "fiery encounter that concludes with a consensual act". Sarah Green, co-director of the campaign group End Violence Against Women, said the depiction was "worse than a straightforward rape", adding that it sent an "irresponsible" message about the issue of consent.

I meet Reed ahead of the third series, which begins next Sunday, and expect her to be utterly fed up with being asked whether or not the scene was justified. On the contrary, I find she is ready for a fight, prepared to defend till the end the show that made her name. "I think it's interesting how much people feel like we have a responsibility to carry some sort of a moral journey," she says. "I don't think that we necessarily have any particular responsibility to tell a story that's morally correct all the time. What's fun about that? Where's the entertainment in that? I know that Ross sort of broke a lot of people's hearts, but I think it's so much more interesting than being this superhero kind of hero that never takes a false step or does anything wrong. I might end up playing a serial killer one day

"I don't condone that. What's interesting if you only take moral roles?"

Reed also thinks the fact that the scene is ambiguous is a reflection of the way that situation might have played out in the 18th century. "Things that are very serious now weren't even looked at that way back then," she says.

She wholeheartedly resents how blurry the lines still are when it comes to consent in real life, she says, but that doesn't mean that drama should be compromised by letting modern interpretations cloud what is supposed to be a fictional, vaguely historical piece of TV. "There's no debate that Ross was the one who was violent in the beginning and who charged towards her, regardless of whether she brought him to that place," she says. "[But] she, as a woman of that time, wouldn't have looked at it the way we look at it now. Being sexually violent towards anyone was probably always an issue, but they probably also accepted a lot more [when it came to] sexual advancements towards them."

PERIOD STAR: Heida Reed in civvies. Picture: PA
PERIOD STAR: Heida Reed in civvies. Picture: PA

Reed - who, when we meet, looks almost preposterously cool, dressed in black skinny jeans, a cream frilly shirt and black leather jacket, her thick dark hair cropped short for her new role - is refreshingly upfront with her views, which possibly has something to do with her Scandinavian heritage, she says. "In Iceland, people are very direct and blunt and brazen and I still have those qualities, but I'm able to be a little bit more flexible with them now. I quite like that I've taken on so many British mannerisms."

The 29-year-old has been in London for a decade, having moved here to pursue a career in acting. "It's home," she says. "It's where I grew up." But for the past few weeks she has been back in Iceland, working in her native language, filming Stella Blomkvist, the latest Scandi-noir, in which she plays the titular lead, a black leather-clad lawyer who takes on mysterious and often dangerous murder cases. She loved being back - of all the pleasures of her home country, she misses the "pure, fresh, geothermal water" most, she says - and enjoyed living on her own in Reykjavik for the first time. "One of the requirements of me coming over was that I could live on my own in the centre of Reykjavik. I never did that because when I left I was so young - I never got to experience that, being a grown up."

But when filming for Stella Blomkvist is over, her plan is not to go back to London but to move to LA, to be with her American film producer boyfriend of two years, Sam Ritzenberg. She met him thanks to Tinder, she explains, though in a roundabout way. "My British friend moved to LA, went on Tinder and swiped once, went on a date and she's now with this guy, moved in, got a dog. My boyfriend is one of his best friends and that's how we met."

While many decry dating apps as the death of romance, Reed doesn't see it that way. "I find something really romantic about the fact that if you hadn't decided to go on to this thing, you would probably never have met. I think that's fate."

Digitally comfortable as she is, Reed has an Instagram feed peppered with adorable pictures of the pair taking walks on the beach in matching beanie hats, or cuddled up on the sofa together. But does she ever hesitate before posting something personal on social media? "I didn't actually want to [go on it] to be honest, I was advised to. And I think everyone in our industry is today. Often I wish I was an actress in the 1990s so that we didn't have to deal with any of this. It's like extra work for everyone.

"I just try to give glimpses into my life and not make it look ridiculous. I don't want to take glamorous selfies or bikini photos because I don't see the point in it. I want to put out positive, encouraging vibes rather than showing off."

But she accepts that social media has a lot to answer for when it comes to the pressure young women feel to look a certain way. It's something she tries to cut through with her own Instagram feed. Just this week, alongside a picture of Winnie the Pooh, Reed posted: "My summer body is ready and it's exactly the same as my winter body. Sometimes it's bigger and sometimes it's smaller. Sometimes softer, sometimes firmer. It changes depending on my circumstances and I am fine with that! I refuse to let society put seasonal pressure on me to look different in the months of less clothing. My summer body is ready cause I say it is. Hope yours is as well!"

Body image is something she has been thinking about a lot lately, as she has had to do a lot of nudity in Stella Blomkvist. Poldark is lightly bodice ripping, but in a rather tamer, BBC-One way. "It's been a really liberating experience. I had to do a whole day of sex scenes the day before yesterday.

"I'd just had two pieces of cake because I wasn't sure we were going so nude. I'm so sick of not eating anything before I take my top off. People eat! I thought: 'I want to get to a place where I can take my clothes off at work and not worry about what the audience thinks, what they're going to say and what they're going to write.'"

Note to the Poldark producers, then: they might want to consider getting the next series moved a little further past the watershed...

The third series of 'Poldark' starts on June 11 on BBC One

Sunday Independent

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