Josh Whitehouse plays the dashing Lt. Hugh Armitage with an eye on the opportunity for capital ‘R’ Romance. But his character’s loyalties — and divided affections — heighten the stakes for the young actor, and often leave him searching for new motivations. In a new interview, Whitehouse talks Demelza, sand dunes, and more.
Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
At the end of the third season of Poldark, Demelza gave in to temptation with the handsome young Lieutenant Hugh Armitage. During a brief, tender moment in the sands, Demelza left the bounds of her marriage behind.
Ross: Demelza…may I ask?
Demelza: No, Ross. Ask me nothing.
Jace: But in the fourth season, things are a little less rosy for Hugh. After a lengthy convalescence, Hugh dies, falling victim to an undiagnosed and deadly illness.
Hugh: No one seems able to cure me. And yet…I think there’s someone who could.
Demelza: Well, let them be sent for.
Hugh: She’s here.
Jace: Actor Josh Whitehouse approached his role as the doomed Hugh with caution, giving the proud poet room to founder in his own unfulfilled passions.
Josh Whitehouse: He’s a poet and an artist that falls in and takes as an interest in the artistic world…he’s got a good heart and a good soul and means well. You know, I think he sees a lot of beauty in life.
Jace: We spoke with Whitehouse about his work on Poldark, his career as a musician, and how it felt to go from playing siblings to lovers with Eleanor Tomlinson.
And this week we are joined by Poldark star, Josh Whitehouse. Welcome.
Josh: Hey, how are you?
Jace: When we first met Hugh Armitage last season he was a bearded malnourished prisoner of war in France with Dwight, and is finally freed by the courageous actions of Ross Poldark. What did you make of the character initially when you first read the scripts?
Josh: I loved his journey. I loved, you know, you saw him go from such a perilous situation. And then he kind of flowers and you sort of discover where he’s come from, sort of diamond in the rough of that situation, I suppose. Yeah, I mean that was certainly an appealing beginning to a character for me.
Jace: Now Poldark, because of its period setting, often finds meaning in the unspoken, never more is this true in the scene where Demelza sings and Ross catches her looking at Hugh in season three. What did you make of this sequence and what’s coded in those stolen glances between Demelza and Hugh?
Josh: I mean I suppose Demelza is trying to explain to Hugh that she wants him, but it just can’t happen. ‘Do not ask me for a song…’ And that’s what the lyrics are, very sort of telling of their situation a little bit but I think she’s trying to tell him that she she can’t give him what he wants but she likes him.
Jace: And one of my favorite scenes from season three of Poldark was the ‘grant ourselves to each other’ sequence between Hugh and Demelza in the dunes.
Hugh: It is to the heart which I now appeal that part which dare I say it, has been neglected? Can you allow me this? Shall we grant ourselves to each other, so that I may go into the darkness knowing that I once tasted heaven?
Jace: What was it like filming this pivotal romantic scene, and what does this moment mean to Hugh, specifically?
Josh: This was an interesting scene to shoot because it was actually our first scene that we shot of everything. But it was the pivotal last scene of the series, you know, so it was quite an intense start, you know. Because then we went on to film everything that built up towards that. And it certainly meant a lot to Hugh he would die for that moment. You know, that was everything he ever wanted.
Jace: I mean is that strange, coming in on your first day and having to shoot this very romantic scene in the dunes?
Josh: It is! No real two ways about it, it’s an odd way to start. But you know it’s not like you know Eleanor was a complete stranger or anything, like that. We’d been friends since a previous job and sort of stayed in touch. So it was it was nice to be able to work with somebody that I knew. And at the same time, I’ve said to myself before that there’s no such thing as a difficult scene. There’s just different scenes, you know, so that’s you can’t, I can’t really walk into one and go this is particularly tricky because it’s all supposed to just be a representation of going through a moment in life in a sense isn’t it.
Jace: But weirdly that that your previous job with Eleanor you played siblings.
Jace: So was it strange then coming in knowing this actor that you’re doing this scene with and having a very different context for your sort of dramatic relationship?
Josh: I don’t think so. No, I think you know we’re there is actors and we’re playing. We’re always just playing with whatever it is we’ve got to try and express so it’s just another task at the end of the day.
Jace: Much of Hugh’s motivation to be with Demelza seems to be due to his failing vision. Is there a sense for Hugh that his time is somehow short, or that he needs to seize the day as it were?
Josh: I don’t think he thinks he’s going to die. I personally struggle with this as motivation towards using, you know, a lack of eyesight to to sort of have anything to do with it all. But it’s only towards the very end of Hugh’s sort of existence in the story that he that he has a sort of actual concept in his mind that he might die, or that you know, his time is going to be shortened. I think he’s aware that his eyesight is getting worse by the day, and I think in Demelza being a very beautiful woman perhaps the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen in his life, he’s worried that he may not get to see her again. And I mean perhaps if he could see her again and her be in his arms, you know? That might be that might be a good one to put together.
Jace: Given this is the 18th century, it’s not as though society would allow Demelza to simply leave Ross and her children and run away with Hugh. What does he hope will come of this affair, and does he want something more than just that moment in the dunes?
Josh: I think it’s more a case that he can’t control his feelings, and maybe deep down he’d love it if she was his. Perhaps he wants to some acknowledgement from her, and wonders whether she would love him too, in a different circumstance. But I don’t think he’s genuinely trying to steal her from Ross, because I think he’d know that that wasn’t really right.
Jace: There’s a bit of foreshadowing in the first episode of season four, when Hugh says to Demelza, ‘If I cannot love you again it will be the death of me.’ Is Hugh resigned to die or are these just the dramatic words of a star-crossed lover?
Josh: I think he just feels like he’s got nothing left to live for, if she’s not going to be in his life like he wants. I think he can’t handle the heartbreak and perhaps his heart in its state, getting weaker, you know perhaps something like that would help pull him through and give him something to live for, but he just isso in love with her that he’s just kind of hoping for some something else.
Jace: Dwight says because of his time in France, Hugh might experience conditions such as palpitations or headaches. We know that Hugh is in intense chronic pain. Why doesn’t he tell Dwight about the severity of his condition? What prevents him?
Josh: I think he’s got a lot of pride and he doesn’t want to let on that he’s getting weaker. It’s funny though because he seems to have different pride or senses of pride with different situations, you know. He’ll he’ll tell Demelza he’s weak, but he won’t tell Dwight.
Jace: That’s what’s so strange about him. It’s like he’s willing to tell the woman he loves that basically he’s not dying but in severe agony, but won’t tell his doctor and a person that he went through a P.O.W. camp with.
Josh: It’s more you know his main issue is heartbreak I think but then perhaps he wants to be stronger than the actual things which ail him.
Jace: Which is I think what’s interesting because in this week’s episode we do finally get the sense that his troubles aren’t just psychological, but truly physical, I mean, he’s really gravely ill. What do you make of his fragility and his physical state?
Doctor Choate: Our aim is to bring down the fever, reduce the putrid humors and cause an intermission in the excessive action of the blood vessels. We’ll proceed first with blistering, thereafter with purging, vomiting, poulticing and bleeding.
Josh: I’ve never died before. So it was a bit of a struggle in terms of you know getting my head into that space and kind of hoping I was sort of on the right track but you know on some levels I guess you need to trust those around you and collaborate to make sure everything is as it should be. But yeah, I mean he was, he was really down at the bottom of his luck. By the end of this whole whole ordeal.
Jace: I mean there seems to be no cure for Hugh’s condition. A new doctor is brought in. He prescribes blistering, leaching, purging. And then finally trepanation when Hugh develops a brain fever. did you have any discussions with Debbie Horsfield about what his medical diagnosis actually was, and how his symptoms might present?
Josh: I didn’t actually, no. I didn’t have that conversation with Debbie. I just kind of took the script and went, ‘Okay!’
Jace: At one point in this episode you are covered in leeches, including one that actually does wriggle about on your arm. Was that an actual leech on your arm in that scene?
Josh: It was an actual leech, but it wasn’t on my arm. It was on a piece of rubber that was on my arm. So I had like a piece of skinny, flesh colored piece of rubber wrapped around my forearm and then they put the leech on to that, but the second that they put the leech onto the rubber, you could see it kind of bite into the not flesh and then its tail started sort of whipping around my arm, and then the other end of it would bite in, and then it still couldn’t find flesh. So you could see it working its way very quickly up the rubber towards my flesh, because I think it was quite difficult to trick. So then as soon as the shot was finished someone just ran with a pair of tweezers and sort of plucked it off the rubber before it got me.
Jace: Are you squeamish at all?
Josh: I didn’t want it to go on my arm, if that counts as squeamish. But no, I, you know, I would have, I could handle things, I told them they could put it on my arm if they needed to, but I wasn’t particularly keen on the idea.
Jace: Does Hugh’s desire for Demelza outweigh his feelings of respect and friendship and some might even say duty towards Ross?
Josh: I’d say that definitely outweighs his duty towards Ross even though Ross saved his life. I mean it’s pretty despicable in a way. It’s very difficult isn’t it. I mean I’m sure it’s something that you’ve all experienced when you have feelings for somebody you know. Same reason people have affairs same reason that people kind of you know it’s quite over overpowering in a sense and I think Hugh’s just someone who’s very in touch with his emotions and he sees Demelza and falls in love with her and he just. I mean it’s to be honest at the beginning they don’t even try anything do they. I mean they just get to know each other they’re laughing they’re joking that’s a real spark between them and I think it’s just something that he can’t deny. And it’s something that he wonders whether she also can’t deny. And then as it happens they talk more and then eventually realize that perhaps they both have the same feelings. I mean, if you’re in that position and then the girl that you are supposed to not be betraying your friend over is also telling you that they like you as well and as a very frustrating situation because then you’re sort of both denying yourself something that you want. He’s in a real predicament. I kind of empathize for her through this even though you know he could be seen as a bit of a monster. I can understand how he would get himself into that pickle.
Jace: As the actor playing Hugh, do you see him then as a good man, or as a scoundrel or an opportunist?
Josh: I don’t see him as any of them, just to be honest, I see him just as a human. A guy who you know maybe could do a little bit more self-control in certain situations but he is just a guy going through his biz.
Jace: Ross comes to see Hugh, and he actually says, ‘Courage, my friend,’ and he’s pretty understanding even polite towards Hugh given the circumstances between them. How would you defend Hugh’s actions to Ross. Are they defendable in any way?
Josh: Yeah, maybe not. I don’t know, because it’s not really cool. Although Ross saved him, but he didn’t really become great friends with Ross. He kind of just latched straight on to Demelza. I mean they were friends but he definitely preferred Demelza, didn’t he.
Jace: I mean he and Ross are like Facebook friends right?
Josh: Yeah. Him and Ross are like Facebook friends, maybe not anymore. I think probably he would have blocked him after now.
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Jace: I love the scene where Demelza races to Hugh’s side. And she holds Hugh’s hand and. ‘He says give me hope,’ which he begs of her which she can’t. And he says, ‘Then I must be content with what I had, for it was no small treasure to have once possessed you body and soul.’ In that respect, does he at least die unfulfilled or fulfilled?
Josh: I think he’s fulfilled, in the fact that you know he had his moment with her. So I would say his original purpose was was filled. I think he got his moment with her, but it’s…I think that probably tortured him even more because then he had the memory of it. And you know no matter who says that’s enough, it never really is, and it just made him want her even more, in a sense. I mean she shouldn’t have she shouldn’t have let him only either, in a way. Naughty Demelza! Stick with your husband!
Jace: Well you said the first thing that you’ve done. Hugh’s death scene is a quiet one, as he sort of slips away gracefully from life, his hand clasped to Demelza’s face. What was it like shooting this death scene?
Josh: I found it pretty emotional actually. I mean to go through something that’s quite sort of sad like that and very you know I was kind of lying on a bed all day and just waiting for the next scene to be shot and each scene was going to be me in that bed. So I just kind of having the day of different people coming through different members of the cast coming in sort of giving me their regards and sort of wishing me well before I passed on. So it was you know there was definitely a very somber feel to the day and especially those last scenes with Eleanor. Sometimes as an actor you know you need to cry or have a tear in your eye and it could be quite difficult. But it was definitely easier to summon up a lot of that for these scenes just because it felt pretty emotional.
Jace: How do you feel Hugh’s death will further splinter the relationship between Ross and Demelza moving forward, or do you think that it could heal the fracture between that couple?
Demelza: This thing came on me unaware as I never sought it, I never thought there was a place in my heart for any but you. But somehow…somehow…
Ross: You came to love him?
Demelza: Not love, not love such as we, such as you and I, no love could match that. But yes, he did touch my heart.
Ross: And now?
Demelza: And now I feel as if my heart is broke.
Josh: That’s tricky I mean I think it will do both I think in one on one hand it will you know settle both of their minds that the time has passed, he’s not coming back. He’s not going to be a problem anymore. But at the same time you know there’s going to be a real heartache for Demelza over losing someone that she really cared about.
Jace: You and Hugh are both artists. You both write music and poetry. How much of yourself did you see in this character?
Josh: It was really nice to be able to play somebody who, I mean he’s different from me, but definitely having sort of art and poetry and things like that was nice to connect with him on that level. And I you know I spent a lot of time when I was preparing as the character, drawing as him more or trying to write poetry and things like that as him. So it was nice to have something that felt familiar that I could sort of connect with him on that level where.
Jace: We mentioned Eleanor Tomlinson earlier. As we said you starred opposite her in Alley Cats. Is it true that Eleanor suggested you audition for the role of Hugh Armitage?
Josh: Yes, yes she mentioned it to me actually at the premiere of Alley Cats has said that she’d mentioned me to the casting director as they were looking for a new cast for this season.
Jace: And how would you describe Eleanor as a scene partner?
Josh: Eleanor’s brilliant to work with. She’s very happy, funny, makes me laugh in between scenes, we make each other laugh. Yeah I know she’s she’s great and she’s so good at her job you know. She makes it easy.
Jace: Hugh’s rather intentionally a divisive character. And for better or worse he gets between our romantic leads. How would you as the actor who plays him ultimately describe him as a character overall overall?
Josh: He’s a poet and an artist therefore he takes an interest in the artistic world. He comes from a very wealthy background, but it’s something that he’s keenly aware of and perhaps isn’t entirely proud of it, you know. I think he kind of has a taste for other things in life a little more than just being a part of that. But he’s got a good heart, and a good soul and means well, you know I think he sees a lot of beauty in life.
Jace: Do you see him ultimately as a tragic figure?
Josh: It’s the greatest fuel to an artist. Tragedy. To be honest you know one of pain all of that stuff the heart the soul for it’s mind so often a form of escape to be able to write and and draw and things like that. And I think he probably has been a bit of an overemotional character perhaps in his life maybe taken a few things too many things to heart maybe a bit sensitive here and now. And he probably is quite troubled and even though on the outside you know he holds himself together quite nicely I think perhaps there’s some deeper things going on inside him. And yeah I mean the whole thing with Ross and Demelza and how he kind of gets completely swamped under by his emotions for her to the point of wanting to die. I think that’s all pretty tragic. But I don’t think you know at the same time I find it quite romantic and quite sweet.
Jace: Capital R romantic maybe.
Jace: Did you anticipate that people would be furious at you for getting between Ross and Demelza.
Josh: Yeah, I was. I was told that people probably would you know I’d spoken to Eleanor, I heard there was, that she’d received big backlashes from things, like you know, backlash and I’m not saying, you know I’m not talking about eggs getting thrown at her in the street and it’s just, you know, like a lot of people said they had come off social media because they couldn’t deal with you know having people of go at them about things that happened in the show and telling them off, the things which you know they did it as an act of not necessarily as a character or something I actually made a Twitter account for Hugh so that I could redirect people’s opinions and they could tell him themselves, which I then actually responded from myself, but as Hugh, you know? Don’t talk to me about it, it’s not my problem.
Jace: Do you have a favorite scene from your time on Poldark?
Josh: I think one of my favorite scenes was escaping from the prisons. And I loved I loved the that dirty and grotty stuff running through the forests and the explosions the action getting dressed up in a bed raggedy clothes you know like I really enjoyed all that stuff. But I mean then you know because of that I’ve had an equally kind of enjoyed being all sharp and shiny sort of thing afterwards. I read I saw episode one of season four recently and I was that I really enjoyed that. That episode is brilliant. But yeah I think I think my favorite scene of all seen shooting was pretty back in the forests.
Jace: What do you miss most about playing Hugh?
Josh: The thing I miss most about playing Hugh is getting to get dressed up in his in his crazy attire
Jace: He’s quite a dandy.
Josh: He’s quite a dandy. Yeah I like that. I like I like being able to play a character whose clothes kind of decide how I hold myself and how I walk. You know I mean it comes from his culture and stuff as well. And his position in society, you know versions of things but you know I kind of the second I got dressed as Hugh I was like, ‘Oh I know this guy.’
Jace: You’re not only an actor but also an artist and quite an accomplished musician. You’ve released music under your name as well as fronted bands like More Like Trees and High Cross Society. How would you describe your musical style?
Josh: I play guitar. I’ve always played guitar since I was about 16. Since I was 12 actually, but since I was 16 I started playing flamenco style guitar and I’m self-taught. So it’s not entirely traditional, but you know I’ve learned a few of the techniques and I use that and a lot of my music so a lot of the stuff that I play generally has a kind of hip-hoppy flamencoy sound to it but we also in More Like Trees we’d like to use it with a drum and bass so be so very fast gypsy-ish mixed with drum and bass but all acoustic and in the other band, High Cross society that’s more hip hop sort of style.
Jace: True or false you live in an old warehouse in East London with eight roommates.
Josh: That is true.
Jace: That’s amazing.
Josh: Yeah I’ve been living there for about eight years now. My brother Tim, he’s my oldest brother. It was actually him who originally moved me to London to start performing, gigging around London everything like that. At first we stayed on his couch for a while and then eventually thought about we found a warehouse and we moved into someone else’s warehouse and we lived together for two years and then after that had been the case for two years he decided to find one and he found one that was just empty no rooms in it at all and he took all of the money that he had from his job and Bill bought lots of wood plasterboard and just built all these bedrooms basically. So you kind of masterminded this project to try and find a way to live a little bit cheaper than usual in London and be able to afford being poor musicians at the time. Yes so that’s kind of how it happened. We also wanted to just have a space where we could further our connections with friends musicians people who were creative. Invite them and give them somewhere to work and have like a sort of a live work area maybe make people music videos or things like that. And yeah we’ve had such an amazing selection of people living with us over over the last eight years. I kind of always evolves and changes and stuff but. We get some really cool creatives coming in.
Jace: EOnline dubbed you quote the next Eddie Redmayne. Do you wear that moniker comfortably.
Josh: Do I wear it? I don’t wear it at all! But I mean you know it’s very nice that people have been saying nice things about me, like that. But to be honest I already think about it I like it because I’m like oh that’s that’s complimentary. That’s nice but yeah we carry it around with me.
Jace: I mean is that a career path you would want to emulate. Eddie Redmayne?
Josh: I mean Eddie Redmayne is a legend. Yeah he’s awesome. He’s a brilliant actor. I never saw myself getting that big but I mean I I’m kind of playing a game here so I’ll just see where it goes.
Jace: Uh, worst job you’ve ever had.
Josh: Worst job I ever had. I’ve done a lot of dishwashing in my life. Dishwashing jobs you know I used to work in a pub when I was in when I was back in Chester called the Chumlee Allums? It was horrible, sweaty kitchens and washing dishes is not great.
Jace: True or false, you once spray painted I love you in a heart on a rooftop.
Josh: You’ve been doing your research.
Jace: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I did do that. I think someone was asking m what the most romantic thing I ever did was. I don’t know if that was particularly a great romantic thing to do. It’s a very teenage romantic gesture. Yeah, yeah.
Jace: Which begs the question then, what was the true most romantic thing you’ve ever done?
Josh: Play Hugh Armitage.
Jace: Good answer.
Jace: Well, we can’t wait to see what you do next. Josh Whitehouse, thank you.
Josh: Thank you. Thanks very much.
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