Could you tell us a bit about Captain Ross Poldark, and Cornwall in 1783, when Ross arrived back from the US War of Independence?
The Cornwall of that time was a very different place. Living was a lot harder, you have no idea until you start researching and see how difficult life was. Even small chores like washing clothes and getting fresh water was so hard. There is a scene where Ross is building a stone wall, but your hands are destroyed immediately, the stones are so heavy and that’s before you even start getting into the mining! It’s so dark, there’s no air and if your candle goes out it’s impossible to light it again. If you don’t know any different, that is what life is. Travelling and eating was so hard too. If the pilchards didn’t come in, no one ate and that did happen a lot. Cornwall really was the wild South West and a million times different to London at the time
Tell us about Cornwall, the people and the places that you found interesting here?
The Botallack Mines (Wheal Leisure in the TV series) were amazing to see, and that’s where they shot the original Poldark in the 1970s. To see the mines and scale of them, what they entailed up close was really insightful. They’re quite bare now and run down, but it was great insight into how this area worked.
Porthgwarra, near St Just is where the beach, Nampara Cove was set, and the people who ran the coffee shop there would open up and sell us Cornish pasties until 4 in the morning! Every location was stunning and we were welcomed so much.
Kyle Soller (who plays Francis Poldark) said he went sea swimming, did you get to do anything like that?
He had time to do that?! I wasn’t allowed to anything! Fair enough if I injured myself the show stops but still. I remember the crew looking really scared and nervous on my first day, and soon realised that was because it was my first time on my horse, Seamus and with us only just getting to know each other, he was quite nervous too. Only moments later, Seamus stepped back onto Ben’s (the trainer) toe and split it – he was my stand-in so I can understand why they were being extra cautious. You realise how delicate the situation is and how fragile you are when that happens. I always feel in control, but without a Ross Poldark there’s not much to the show!
So no, I didn’t get to do any sea swimming, apart from when I had to run into the sea with Demelza watching me during filming.
When I was training with Mark and Ben the trainers from Action Horse Riding who handled all the horses and riding training for the series, they were always at me to sit up straight, however saying that, there is a very unorthodox style to Ross that I wanted to introduce. Using the reigns as the whip which Mark (the trainer) wasn’t too keen on, but Ross is an Army guy, and there are ways of doing things that he didn’t think would be right for the time. Not sitting up poker straight and relaxing into it – these guys are on the horse all day and you realise you can’t maintain this posture all the time. When you’re riding you loosen up and just go with the horse, not against it. The more I got into it, the more you try and maintain as much technique as you can. I think for Ross he needs to be as natural and relaxed as possible, although the trainers didn’t always think that was right.
Can you tell us about Seamus? What is his temperament like?
He’s quite skittish, but he’s a real actor’s horse as you can rehearse something it once and he knows where he’s at, the direction he’s going in, when he has to stop and reset. We had to change words as he would just set off when we shouted ‘Action’! He was so sharp. He was always moving at the beginning and you’d hit a mark but he would want to turn around which was frustrating. That proved amazing eventually when I learnt his personality, he would hit a mark and I could keep him still. I could feel where he’s at and manipulate him in every which way. It’s more interesting for the shot not to have him standing still as he was always moving and on the go. Him and Ross are well suited!
What was the most challenging thing you had to do?
Even if you thought something was scary, the great thing about playing Ross is that you can never chicken out of doing anything! What was terrifying and what I do find quite nervy is when I have to make speeches. Anything on the horse was always fun – Seamus the Irish tinker horse. I miss Seamus!