Eleanor Tomlinson Dishes on Demelza

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In the wake of Poldark‘s tense Season 2 premiere, Eleanor Tomlinson sits down with us to talk about playing the fiery Demelza Poldark and Demelza and Ross’s future together: the good, the bad, and the baby.

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Jace Lacob (Jace): Before we begin: We’re going to be taking a deep dive into the second season premiere of Poldark so if you haven’t seen it, you might want to save this episode until after you do.

MASTERPIECE Studio is brought to you by Audible. For a free trial, go to Audible.com/Masterpiece.

I’m Jace Lacob and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.

Like any steadfast partner, Demelza Poldark has stood by her husband in times both good and bad.

She stood by him when he faced repercussions for helping Mark Daniel get away, when the Carnmore Copper company went belly up, and when they lost Julia.

Now in the second season premiere, Demelza stands by Ross as he faces a judge and jury ready to condemn him to death.

Justice: Do you find the prisoner guilty or not guilty?

Jace: But just when it seems like Ross is heading for the gallows…

Jury member: We find him…

Jace: The jury rules unexpectedly in his favor.

Jury Member: …Not guilty on all three charges.

Jace: With some of Ross and Demelza’s worries behind them, the pair can begin looking towards the future: the good, the bad, and the baby.

Eleanor Tomlinson: These relationships that you’ve become so used to, they become tested, as relationships do. You know, marriage isn’t easy.

Jace: Today, Eleanor Tomlinson — who plays Demelza Poldark — joins us to discuss the nerve-wracking second season premiere and what lies ahead for Demelza and Ross.  

And this week we are joined by Eleanor Tomlinson. Welcome.

Eleanor: Thank you.

Jace: What was it, initially, about the character of Demelza Carne that drew you to the character?

Eleanor: When I first found out that they were casting a series called Poldark, I spoke to my family about it, and they told me of this incredible success that the previous adaptation had had.

At first, I was asked to audition for Elizabeth, and I, upon reading the scripts, absolutely fell in love with the role of Demelza, and just thought it was the most extraordinary challenge for an actress to take on, and something that I really wanted to get stuck into. So I basically begged them to audition me and they did. I got the job, so… That was just the most exciting journey for me to take this character on.

Jace: Along those lines, I can think of very few examples where a character transforms that much in just eight episodes. Could you just describe that arc a little more, and how you, sort of, played that character through that transformation?

Eleanor: Well, I mean, at the start of Season 1, she’s mistaken for a boy, so I think, certainly, I worked very closely with the costume and makeup designers to create this very, kind of, realistic look. I wanted all of her costumes throughout Series 1 to take on a very practical vibe. You know, each one, she has to be able to work the land in. And in Season 1, you get this, this real impression that she’s growing; she’s growing up.

And she’s … She never becomes a lady, but she tries. And then she slowly starts to fall in love with this man, Ross Poldark. And she starts to really take an interest in, you know, herself. And she wants to be a better person for him.

Ross: I cannot have my wife wrestling a man servant. It’s unbecoming.
Demelza: No, Ross. I see it is not dignified. I’ll remember next time.

Eleanor: So I think, you know, as an actress, you just had to be so across all 8 scripts at the same time, to know exactly — because we don’t shoot in any kind of sequence — to know exactly where your character was, and how she talks, how she eats, you know, what the relationship with Ross is at that stage. So that was really, you know, interesting for me and very challenging.

Jace: And then Season 2 will be a cakewalk.

Eleanor: Well, Season 2 is certainly easier from that point of view, but then, what’s great about Season 2, and I think it makes it equally as good as Season 1, is that these relationships that you’ve become so used to, they become tested, as relationships do. You know, marriage isn’t easy and that is really explored. Jealousy is explored. But, that’s real life, and that’s, you know, incredibly exciting to take that on, to take that journey on with these characters.

Jace: Were you intimidated, at all, in terms of stepping into the shoes of such a beloved character?

Eleanor: I was more excited about taking on the character than intimidated. I deliberately didn’t want to watch the previous adaptation, because I didn’t want to subconsciously give a performance that would be similar to Angharad Rees’s. I wanted to do my own thing with the character. And so, you know, I wouldn’t say that I was intimidated, I would just say that I was really looking forward to making this character my own.

Jace: You worked with a dialect coach to nail the Cornish accent. I love the way that her accent softens as Season 1 goes on. It gets worn down a little at a time. Were you trying to tell the story with her voice in that first season?

Eleanor: Yes, absolutely, and that was really important to me, that you see her changing, you see her trying to change for Ross.

When you meet her, her accent is really strong.

Ross: What’s your name?
Demelza: Demelza Carne.
Ross: Speak up, child.
Demelza: Demelza Carne.

Eleanor: And then, by the end of it, she’s… She never becomes a lady, but she’s… You know, she still has her accent, she’s still true to her roots. But it has faded in time. It has, kind of, you know… Those brash sounds, those harsh sounds are dulled down a lot.

Jace: Every time you say, “Judas,” I swear, that’s where it comes back.

Eleanor: Yeah.

Jace: You see the old Demelza there.

Eleanor: Yeah. But I as well when the character, when Demelza is talking to Jud or Prudie, you know, her accent comes back stronger.

And I think that’s important, because I think that’s what happens, you know. It’s like, if you go home, you pick up the accent from, you know, home. So, for me, I’m from the north of England and, you know, I find sometimes when I spend a lot of time there my accent starts to come back a bit.

Jace: Now, Demelza Poldark is already a fan favorite. A fiery-willed, independent woman who gives Ross as good as she gets. Why do you think viewers have connected with her in such a palpable way?

Eleanor: Because, I think, she’s such a modern woman in a period drama and, I think she’s a great role model for women. She is true to herself. She doesn’t change to, you know, fit in or conform into society, you know, and I think that’s exciting. I think that’s what, certainly, women love about her.

Jace: She’s raised up by her marriage, socially, to Ross, but she never really seems to get over her feelings of inferiority or her concern about Ross’s feelings for Elizabeth. How do those fears help to shape her character?

Eleanor: I think in any relationship, you know, there are problems. But, I think, at the end of Season 1, we leave her knowing that Ross loves her. And I think, before in the series, she knew, but she was never quite sure. Then, when push comes to shove, when she’s really very ill and he says to Elizabeth…

Ross: You can pray to God that I do not lose the love of my life.
Eleanor: Not that she hears that, but at the same time, the audience realize and Demelza know that she has his heart.

And the reality is that a relationship between Ross and Elizabeth would never work, because they are too different.

You know, Demelza is the perfect antidote to Ross. You know, he can be a real pig and she just deals with it brilliantly, and she will not be messed around by him. Whereas, someone else would just be, kind of, overruled by that, and would kind of, wilt. So I think, that’s really cool.

Jace: They are, sort of, yin and yang to each other. They balance each other out so perfectly, in a way that I don’t think Ross and Elizabeth ever could.

Eleanor: No, no and I think that’s what people love, as well, it’s just very realistic. They argue about big things and they argue about little things, so, you know, I think, arguing is at the heart of their relationship, but I think, that’s what makes them real, you know?

Jace: What did you think of the hallucinations that Demelza suffers in which Elizabeth tells her to “Let go” and allow her to take care of Ross?

Elizabeth: Let go, my dear. Let go. I’ll take care of Ross. You know he would rather be with me. You know he would rather be with me.

Jace: Was that a manifestation of her greatest fear?

Eleanor: Yeah, I think so. I think they’re actually very real. It’s just a bad dream, you know, if there’s something upsetting you in your life, it is in your subconscious all the time. I think, you know, it’s at moments like that, where it does come to the forefront, and by that stage, she loves Ross more than anything in her life. But this figure, Elizabeth, is always there, is this, kind of, speed bump, and it’s just … I think she is scared. I think she is worried that she’s going to lose him and, you know, how would she go about her life? She’s lost her child. How does she begin to take on losing him, as well?

Jace: Last season, Ross said of Demelza…

Ross: You make me ashamed. Your heart is so generous. You always see the good in things.

Jace: Do you think that is true of Demelza, even now?

Eleanor: Absolutely, yeah. At the end of Season 1, she’s lost her child and life has to go on. She has to find a way of getting through that. But Demelza has this love of life and, I think, that’s what’s so lovely about her is that she doesn’t take things for granted. She doesn’t sit there and mope. She very much gets on with her life, and being positive, and says, “Thank you,” for everything she has had. And, I think, that is so lovely and so refreshing and, you know, I think, fabulous for the audience to watch.

Jace: Now she is fiercely independent. You mention that she is, sort of, a modern woman in less than modern times. In what ways do you think Demelza would be different, had she lived today?

Eleanor: I don’t think she would be different. I think– Well, I think, you know, I guess she would have a job. She would probably go out to work and she would be, equally, a bread winner as Ross, you know, I guess that would be done. But, I think that’s what’s lovely about her, I think, is that she is a timeless character. And I think that really refreshing because, you see, period drama is all about etiquette and how you should behave at the time, and she doesn’t conform to any of that. She is, you know, her own spirit, and her own person. You know, that’s been so much fun to create that character.

Jace: I love that about her.

Demelza does her best to try and help Ross, ahead of the assizes, scheming in the way that only Demelza can.

Ray Penvenen: I do not have that sort of influence, ma’am. And it would prejudice your husband’s case, not help it.
Demelza: But if it was put the right way.
Ray Penvenen: If it were put any way, ma’am. No, I wouldn’t dream of trying to persuade a judge.

Jace: She turns to Ray Penvenen to influence the judge and she seeks out the judge himself to chip away at the Crown’s case against her husband.

Demelza: How can a body judge if a person be telling the truth?
Judge Wentworth Lister: Well…
Demelza: For some of them be so damn right convincing and have all the evidence to back them up. But what if the evidence be false?

Jace: Does she end up making things worse for Ross in the end?

Eleanor: I think that is a good point that could be argued. I think she certainly doesn’t do that intentionally. She is so wound up by the fact that her husband could be taken away from her at any point, and I think she just… She doesn’t understand. She’s so innocent and she’s so green and, you know, you really see this horrendous fear that she has, that her life will end, basically, if he is taken away from her as well. And it’s heartbreaking, it’s absolutely heartbreaking.

Jace: Do you think, maybe, subconsciously, she suspects she’s pregnant, at this point? Is this why she’s so desperate to save her husband?

Eleanor: No, not at all. I think, she doesn’t know she’s pregnant until she start feeling super queasy, but I think, that’s what’s lovely is that she’s terrified of that, you know, because that’s really not what she needs right now. She’s concentrating on getting her husband home safe.

But also, you know, it’s something she has to come to terms with in her head as well. She needs to have a think about having a child, again. They need to think about if they can risk their hearts again. And it’s a very scary time for her.

Jace: In her efforts, Demelza runs into her father, who is terrifying, and actually hugs him despite his cruelty towards her, only to have him then speak out against Ross in court.

Carne: He stole my daughter, debauched and left her unfit for neither man nor beast.

Jace: Is Demelza perhaps sometimes undone by her own kindness?

Eleanor: Oh, that’s a good question. I think… I think on the outside it could definitely be perceived as that, but I don’t think Demelza would ever consider it like that. I think it’s naturally ingrained in her soul that she knows what’s right and she knows what’s wrong, and she’ll do whatever. But, I think, the relationship with her father… She’s moved on from being under his thumb, and she’s in love, and she’s loved by her husband. And that gives her the confidence to be able to turn around and face him for what he is.

And he was a bully to her, he really was, but she still loves him, and I think, that hug is actually very sweet. You know, there he is, he even mentions, you know, “Your daughter has died and your husband’s on trial…” and she still hugs him and says, “Thank you for pointing that out, but have a great day.” You know, she’s not going to be rattled by that, anymore.

Jace: I think that’s why we love her.

In the script, Episode 2 begins with a scene of Ross being hanged, which is revealed to be Demelza’s worst fears, again, playing in her head, a scene that doesn’t make its way into the broadcast. Did you end up filming that scene?

Eleanor: No, we didn’t. I don’t think we did. That’s interesting.

Jace: That’s good.

I love the scene where Demelza tells Elizabeth that she’s pregnant outside the court. How would you describe the dynamic between the two women at this point, and how does this knowledge perhaps shape its future path?

Eleanor: Well, I think, Demelza just hasn’t– She has never been close to Elizabeth, but she has this lovely moment with her where they’ve both shown up. I think, Elizabeth is immediately on guard saying she’s there for Francis. But…

Jace: And she actually says, “I’m here for Francis.”

Eleanor: “I’m here for Francis.” Yeah.

But I think Demelza knows that she’s not, because she knows that Elizabeth loves Ross and always will. But Demelza now knows that Ross loves her more and that’s why it’s okay. And that’s why she can open up to her and say, “I’m pregnant, I’m terrified”. And they have that… I love that scene because it’s the first time that you, actually, see them, you know, really kind of bond over something. Really support each other.

Demelza: I never thanked you for tending me in my sickness.
Elizabeth: You saved my son, and at such a cost. How can you bear it?
Demelza: I’m with child again.

Jace: The episode ends with Demelza deciding not to tell Ross that she’s pregnant. What is going on in her head at this point, and why does she opt to remain silent?

Eleanor: Um, because I think when someone says to you, “Don’t wish for a child,” and you know that you’re carrying one… It’s something that she wants, it’s something that she, you know, definitely needs to broach with him at some point. But, I think, considering everything that they’ve been through, that day in particular, if she doesn’t tell him right then, it’s not the end of the world.

She’ll tell him, and he’ll be fine, and of course he will love this child. But it’s a very scary thing and I think, it just knocks her confidence. And I think, you know, she panics, out of, you know, fear that he doesn’t want a child after Julia, because he can’t risk his heart.

Jace: Looking ahead, I mean, what can you tease about what’s coming up for these two?

Eleanor: Um, well, I think, you know, we have this child, this child that she’s pregnant with, certainty. They have to face the music that, you know, this baby’s on the way, and it won’t be Julia; it will be a new child and it will be a completely different child, and, you know, that’s quite scary and quite upsetting for them because it digs up all those horrible memories.

But then, there’s also Ross who just can’t quite seem to live by the rules and avoid, you know, getting into trouble with the law. And it gets really exciting. It’s a very exciting series, actually, because it’s so realistic.

Jace: Excellent. Many of your scenes are with Garrick, the dog.

Eleanor: Yeah.

Jace: Is it true that in real life you have a dog named Burt Bacharach?

Eleanor: Yes, I do, yeah.

Yeah. He’s great, he’s lovely. He’s a rescue.

Jace: And then, lastly, can you give us a “Judas” in Demelza’s Cornish accent?

Eleanor: Oh, God, I can’t, I’m afraid, because I haven’t done the accent for a while now, because we haven’t been filming and I wouldn’t want to get it wrong. But yeah it’s mad, you know. I completely disconnect from it when I’m away from it for awhile. So, it’s not something I can just immediately pick up, it’s bizarre. I have to really work hard at it.

Jace: Eleanor Tomlinson, thank you.

Eleanor: Thank you.

Jace: Next Sunday, Poldark returns to MASTERPIECE at its normal broadcast time — 9 pm ET.

And we’ll be here every other week, talking to Poldark’s biggest stars.

Which means that in TWO weeks, we’re sitting down with Cornwall’s resident villain, George Warleggan:

Jack Farthing: I think he sometimes behaves in a way that makes him difficult to feel sorry for, but I feel sorry for him.

With two weeks sans episodes, you’ll have plenty of time to find us — MASTERPIECE Studio — on iTunes, Stitcher or your favorite podcast-listening app and subscribe to the show. Subscribers will be among the first to know when a new episode has been released, which means you’ll never miss out on a tell all interview with the Poldark cast.

MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob and produced by Rachel Aronoff.  Kathy Tu is our editor. Special thanks to Barrett Brountas and Nathan Tobey. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Rebecca Eaton.

MASTERPIECE Studio is brought to you by Audible.

Sponsors for MASTERPIECE on PBS are Viking River Cruises, Audible, and The MASTERPIECE Trust.



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