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Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
Poldark’s main romantic triangle might remain fixed upon the on-again, off-again turmoil of Ross, Demelza and Elizabeth, but the real passion in this season of the series flows from these main characters’ extended families.
Morwenna Chynoweth, Elizabeth’s young and impressionable governess, and Drake Carne, Demelza’s wayward younger brother, meet cute along the Cornish cliffs and quickly tumble into a mismatched romance.
Morwenna: We can never be together.
Drake: Why can’t we? Cause I’m low born? Cause I bring nothing? Not money, not home, nor good name?
Morwenna: Do you think I care about that?
Though their romance seems to have gone off the cliffs after Morwenna is forced to marry the slimy Reverend Oswald Whitworth in this week’s episode, actor Ellise Chappell told us there might be some more surprises yet to come for the young couple.
Ellise Chappell: I think her heart is telling her that she wants to be with Drake but she’s being constantly told that it is her duty to go against what her heart is saying. So I think it’s just that is the struggle within her.
Ellise Chappell joined us to talk about filming on the Cornish cliffs, joining the close-knit Poldark cast so late in the series, and what she loved most about shooting scenes with all of those frogs.
Jace: This week we are joined by Poldark actor, Ellise Chappell. Welcome.
Jace: What was your take on the character of Morwenna when when you first read the scripts for this season?
Ellise: I fell in love with her because I just loved the journey that she goes on throughout the series. You know, she comes into the story as a very kind of gentle, innocent young girl. And by the end of this series she’s in a very different place so that was very exciting for me as an actor to have the opportunity to go on such an incredible, turbulent journey with a character.
Jace: We’re introduced to Morwenna in the first episode of the season when she and her mother arrive at the Warleggan’s bank and her mother says quote, ‘Your father may have left us destitute but we are not so vulgar as to beg.’ How much of our situation comes from the confines of our social position and gender?
Morwenna: Are we here to ask for money, mama?
Mrs. Chynoweth: Don’t be uncouth, Morwenna. Your rather may have left us destitute but we are not so vulgar as to beg.
Ellise: Well I think as you say when she when she sort of enters the story and her mother says that they’re they’re destitute. It kind of highlights the the role that women would have in order to well especially for Morwenna without her father to secure money for the family and the mother kind of finds the opportunity for her to become a governess which is actually in those times was a really bleak position to kind of take on. But you know she’s been brought up with so much duty, her life is all about duty for her family. And so she kind of makes that sacrifice to to bring in some money for her mother and her sisters. So just from a very young age she’s already you know she’s got these responsibilities as a as a young woman which is quite is quite a lot I think.
Jace: What does she make of the fact that her mother has essentially sold her into a position of servitude with her cousin’s family?
Ellise: Well I think as I say she’s she has grown up to kind of abide by these social boundaries. And so I think I think she’s happy to do it. I think you know she wants to make sure that her mother and her sisters are okay and actually when she arrives to Cornwall and meets Geoffrey Charles and they end up really getting on. I think she actually ends up having quite a nice time, I mean for a woman of her age, she actually ends up having quite a lot of independence, you know she’s roaming around on these amazing cliff tops and on beaches you know by herself — which would have usually been quite unheard of.
Jace: She’s an outsider arriving in Cornwall. Did it help to have Morwenna to be portrayed in that position as a new cast member yourself?
Ellise: Yeah I think so it was all it was all very new and exciting and I think that’s that’s definitely how it feels for Morwenna, you know, turning up to this completely new environment and just being in awe and being excited by her independence. Coming into the into the show as a new person, I was in awe and I was very excited.
Jace: How familiar were you with Poldark before auditioning? Your parents were massive fans no?
Ellise: Yeah. Both my parents watched the original in the, in the 70s and they were big fans of this version as well. I hadn’t watched it until I started auditioning for the role. But when I was I just binged the whole first two seasons. And I just was hooked kind of straight away. I loved it.
Jace: Is it true you served coffee to one of the show’s producers in the cafe where you had worked?
Ellise: That’s true, yeah. Yeah we were just we were just chatting one day and I was talking to her about a cafe I used to work at. And she was like, ‘Hang on. That’s my local cafe.’ And we kind of just deduced that I probably served her coffee at one point or another.
Jace: That’s hilarious. Is it also true that you were walking back to that cafe to ask for your job back when you got the call that you had landed the role of Morwenna?
Ellise: Yeah that’s true. I’d just finished another acting job and I was walking my way back to ask if I could pick up any shifts. And literally on my walk there I got the call from my agent to say that I had got the role of Morwenna and I just stopped on the side of the street and I just cried. I just like cried and was just like laughing with joy, all social boundaries just like falling to the wayside and I was just like a mess on the street.
Jace: You mentioned Geoffrey Charles. How would you describe Morwenna’s bond with her charge?
Ellise: Oh, I think it’s such a lovely relationship. I think at first it starts off she wants to become friends with him, but she’s aware of her position as governess, but it sort of turns out that they do get on and they become good friends and almost like a older sister-younger brother type of relationship, I would say.
Jace: And that bond does develop rather quickly. He initially seems to resent his governess, but Geoffrey Charles quickly comes to enjoy showing Morwenna around Trenwith. What was your relationship like on set with Harry Marcus, who plays Geoffrey Charles?
Geoffrey Charles: Lord but christenings are dull. Thank heaven we escaped.
Morwenna: Your mama may not be so pleased.
Ellise: It was wonderful. He was just so professional and just full of energy which was amazing, really, because he’s so young. There would be mornings I’d be like, ‘Oh I’m so tired!’ and he would just come in like full of energy and it would just it would just pick me up and so yeah, we had lots of fun — it was great.
Jace: Now, Morwenna’s cousin Elizabeth seems to react quite deeply to being replaced in her son’s life. How does that jealousy provoke the decisions that are ultimately made against Morwenna?
Ellise: Yeah I think for Elizabeth, Geoffrey Charles, you know, her pride and joy she loves him so much. So when Morwenna comes into the story, she kind of unintentionally takes Geoffrey Charles away from Elizabeth, which yeah, has some consequences I think you know because he is Elizabeth’s pride and joy she would never blame him for anything. And so ultimately the blame goes to Morwenna, who is supposed to be looking after him.
Jace: Cornwall seems to represent not imprisonment initially for Morwenna, but freedom. How much of that is due to her surroundings — to those cliffs and those dunes?
Ellise: I think Cornwall when she first arrives is like a fairy land, really. She’s never seen or been anywhere like this before. And it just I think it just represents, as you say, so much freedom for her, and excitement. She loves the small things in life. She loves being in nature. I think you know just little flowers or you know the shell bracelet that Drake gives her all mean so much and so to actually be in that environmentit’s breathtaking for her. And I think she’s just loving the freedom and the independence of it all.
Jace: Now you said the “D” word. So we have to talk about Drake Carne.
Ellise: The “D” Word.
Jace: Morwenna quickly meets Drake Carne, who is far more lowborn than any of the men she’s previously met in her life. What does she see in Drake, and what does he offer her?
Ellise: When Morwenna it meets Drake he’s he’s like someone she’s never met before and he’s just so kind to her and. He puts her at ease just straight away. And I think he he opens up the side to her that she didn’t necessarily knew you know existed so you know this kind of carefree fun loving love for life. You know they have so much fun together and it’s very almost childish and just it’s just so much youth and joy in it. And he opens her eyes to so many different things and so many new ideas. And I think she’s just completely drawn to that. I think they’re just drawn to each other’s energies and I think they’re very much kindred spirits.
Jace: Many of your scenes this season were opposite Harry Richardson, who plays Drake. What was it like working with Harry?
Ellise: It was great. He is such a genuine lovely person and we just had so much fun on the set. And I think he’s he’s just he himself is so he’s so joyful and energetic. It was it was great because I think Drake is very much like that as well.
Jace: There’s a Romeo and Juliet like air to Drake and Morwenna in that they’re ultimately casualties of two warring families. Did you feel that that sense that these two were just as star crossed Shakespeare’s lovers?
Ellise: Absolutely. I think they’re both very young and I think they just become completely consumed in each other. I think it is very much that young love that first love that is so pure and innocent but also very passionate. And yet all consuming. And I think they’re quite naive. They don’t realize how deep rooted this feud is between these two families. And so because they’re just so wrapped up in each other as well they don’t kind of quite realize what the consequences could be of their relationship.
Jace: Why do you think viewers have become so invested in their romance so quickly? What is it about them?
Ellise: I think it I think well for me reading the script what really what really drew me to their their relationship was just the innocence of it, and how how pure and how true it felt and just the fact that they are so young and so joyous it just feels really, really beautiful. But then because of that when they’re faced with these with these obstacles and the challenges, it makes it so much more heartbreaking because it was so, so joyful to begin with.
Jace: Morwenna is at the heart of a rather, we’ll say, unconventional love triangle between Drake and the odious Osborne Whitworth. How repulsed is more well-known by George’s selection of Whitworth as a suitor?
Ellise: I think she is completely repulsed by it. And but then again. In those times it was your duty to be married. And so I think because Morwenna is such a gentle gentle person by nature even though she is completely repulsed by this man, she can’t quite be firm enough to say that she absolutely does not want to marry him and then of course there is that that duty that is the struggle within her. You know is does she go with her heart or does she abide by the boundaries and the rules that the society sets on her? And then you know she’s having that struggle. But then of course even that struggle is taken away from her because in the end she has no choice but to marry this repulsive, odious man.
Jace: I mean, have you seen the toe sucking scene?
Ellise: I have seen the toe sucking. And I just have so much respect for Christian Brassington who who plays Ozzy because that is a real, real commitment and I commend him.
Rosa: I thought you’d be wed by now.
Whitworth: The delay is just awkward. A man has needs. If they remain unfulfilled by a wife, he must satiate them elsewhere.
Jace: Christian said of you, ‘It was great but occasionally tricky when I had to be mean because she’s lovely. Afterwards I would say I didn’t mean it.’ What was it like filming with him in these very creepy scenes?
Ellise: It was it was quite dark and quite difficult for some of the stuff. But he was just so respectful and I mean t’s a good thing that he’s such a lovely person himself, cause otherwise, you know, I think it would have been much more difficult. But he is genuinely a really lovely person.
Jace: Is there a sense that George is basically pimping out Morwenna in order to advance his own social standing, ostensibly selling her to Osborne as a bride?
Ellise: I think that’s I think that’s a huge part of it that I think George is it’s all about himself and you know furthering his own aspirations. I think that’s why more when it comes into the story in the first place you know it’s to take Geoffrey Charles away from Elizabeth so that Valentine can have all of the attention and then you know with Osborne, I think Morwenna just becomes a pawn in George’s game in order to further like I say his own his own aspirations and his own goals which is is really sad, because you know Morwenna desperately tries to take control of her own life, but ultimately that’s taken away from her because of what George does.
Jace: Now in last week’s episode, Morwenna gave up Drake and then she runs into Demelza on the beach where she learns that Drake has gone to France on a suicide mission despite the difference in their social standing. Do you feel there are similarities between these two very pragmatic women?
Ellise: Yeah I think I think there’s definitely similarities in the sense that they have their own their own versions of their own their strength. I think Demelza is very much trying to do the right thing and as was my when that when she made that decision. But. Yeah. I think you know Demelza is very. But in terms of their differences I think Demelza is very much kind of a modern woman in a period drama whereas I think Morwenna tends to be very much a woman of that period in the sense that she is you know manipulated and her life isn’t necessarily her own in a way.
Jace: Morwenna and tells Drake, quote, “Surely we have no right to expect happiness. All we can do is our duty.” Does she believe this or is it merely for his own protection?
Ellise: I think she doesn’t want to believe it but it’s what she’s been brought up on her whole life, and I think that’s where her struggle definitely comes from. I think her heart is telling her that she wants to be with Drake but she’s being constantly told that it is her duty to go against what her heart is saying. So I think it’s just that is the struggle within her. I think she doesn’t necessarily believe it deeply but that is the sort of justification she is giving herself by giving him up if that in itself does.
Jace: Now up until the point where he’s actually arrested and charged with the theft of a bible, why can’t they be together? Are the odds that insurmountable for these two?
Ellise: Well this is the thing I think what’s lovely is that there’s that scene on the dunes where where Drake says “Why can’t we be together?” You know, if I make a good living I could provide for you. And I think when I say he opens her eyes to so many things I think that’s one of the things that is one of those things that he kind of says why not. And she sort of thinks, “Yeah. Why. Why not? We could be together.” And I think that’s where her strength comes from is to defy sort of what she’s been brought up on and the duty she’s been told she should have. But then of course because she’s trapped in her circumstances of being a woman in that era that kind of freedom to make her own decisions is taken away from her.
Jace: I want to talk about two scenes from this episode which are actually two of my favorite scenes this entire season. The first is between Morwenna and Drake, in the trees by the pond at Trenwith where they finally acknowledge that they are in love with each other and they kiss. What was it like shooting this pivotal scene?
Ellise: It was it was great. It was amazing as actors because it was something we could really you know get our, sink our teeth into. And it was just amazing working with Harry on it and with with Joss the director and just the just the setting was really very romantic and beautiful as well. Yeah.
Jace: And then the second scene is echoed with from that first scene it’s the one in the dunes where Morwenna examines Drake’s bruise, and she places her head on his back. It’s a scene that manages to be both really chaste and very sexy at the same time. Was it difficult to capture that that balance and walk that very fine line?
Ellise: Yeah I think you were certainly right there is that there is that kind of chasteness this to it and the sexy part of it. I think just treating it with with the innocence and the truth and the purity of it that it is with these this love for the characters and the care that they have for each other. I think what I was trying to play in that you know touching his back its. It’s just very tender and very sweet. And you know she loves him so much and just she and also she’s just never been this close to to a man’s skin before. So it’s pain that kind of excitement and then the newness of it but also the context of the fact that she might have to be getting married. And also just the intense care and love that they have for each other made it really kind of sweet.
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Jace: She is willing to stake her life that Drake is innocent of the crime for which he’s being prosecuted by George. And in fact Morwenna’s willing to stake her happiness in future in order to save Drake. What’s behind the awful decision that Morwenna makes here?
Ellise: I think she just can’t bear to think of life without him. I think life with this with this horrible man is better than life without Drake at all. And I think that’s very much the decision behind it. And so that’s where her bravery and her strength comes from. I think she’s very much her romantic heroine in the sense that she does put her whole life aside in order to to save Drake. I think it’s shows how noble she is and why I think she’s so amazing.
Jace: In the original Poldark series, Christopher Biggins played Whitworth, and he very quickly became the most hated man on television. As a result did viewers come up to you offering sympathy for Morwenna?
Ellise: I haven’t actually been recognized that much I think because maybe my hair is so different. But whenever whenever people have come up to me they have they have always said you know poor Morwenna, we just feel for her so much. You know we hope things get better for her. And that’s the thing I think you know we’ve got to keep hoping.
Jace: Elizabeth seems only too willing to sell out her cousin. Do you see Elisabeth as having turned completely now to the dark side. Or is she is unwilling participant in this as Morwenna?
Ellise: I don’t think she’s turned completely to the bad side. But I think in the events leading up to this marriage, Elizabeth has seen more when as someone who has defined herself and George and has very much blamed more went for things that she shouldn’t necessarily be blamed for in order to take the blame away from Geoffrey Charles because in her eyes he could never do anything he could never never do anything wrong so I don’t think she’s completely gone to the bad side. But I don’t think she’s been a help, really in the situation.
Jace: How much darker are things going to get from for Morwenna this season? They’re going to get pretty bleak I imagine.
Ellise: I think yeah I am going to say they get they get pretty, pretty bleak but what’s nice to say is there there’s always that little bit of hope.
Jace: It’s always darkest before the dawn.
Jace: Is Morwenna’s story ultimately about the loss of innocence?
Ellise: I think it’s about definitely about the loss of innocence but also I think it’s she’s part of this amazing love story. I think it’s her story as a is one of passion. It’s one of hope and heartbreak but also incredible strength and incredible integrity. You know she goes on such a turbulent journey but she. I think it’s I think it’s a story of learning I think she discovers so much about herself and aspects of her character that she had no idea existed. So I think it’s a it’s a story of learning and of growth.
Jace: I love the scenes between Morwenna and and Agatha which crackle with this kind of wit and mischief. What was it like working with Caroline Blakiston?
Ellise: She is just fabulous. Absolutely fabulous. I loved loved working with her. Just watching her and watching her work was just inspirational. And she’s just she’s lovely I think. Well whether or not Agatha their relationship is so lovely you know Agatha looks out for her and is very kind to her. And Caro was very much the same with me. She was very very kind.
Aunt Agatha: Geoffrey Charles’ friend was here again.
Morwenna: Oh yes, he called to bring some toads. He’s very fond of Geoffrey Charles.
Aunt Agatha: And of you too? Or so I observed this afternoon.
Jace: Surprisingly, Morwenna seems to interact a lot with frogs this which begs the question: do you actually like frogs?
Ellise: I mean they’re cute. Yeah they were. We actually had real toads on set which was pretty cool. I never actually ended up holding them because it turns out their skin is covered in salmonella which freaked me out. Oh no. We just got told I think Harry was like holding thing they were like. By the way wash your hands afterwards. And after that we were like, oh oh don’t worry so much about handling the toads that much.
Jace: Do you have a favorite scene from this third season of Poldark?
Ellise: Yeah. Well one of my favorite scenes is yet to come but another one of them was. I just loved doing the Holiwell scene with the two Harrys I just I just loved where we were shooting we were literally inside the cliff. A cliff in Cornwall. So we were in a cave and it was just so kind of magical. And yeah it was. I just loved shooting that it was it was great.
Jace: I mean that’s one of my favourite scenes as well. And I think just actually being in the cliff sort of gives you so much to work with. As an actor that I would imagine slipping into character would be pretty simple. In circumstances like those.
Ellise: Yeah that’s definitely definitely true. And I think being in the cliff and it was so peaceful in there and it. And quiet and it kind of really really added to the atmosphere that this was a holy place and making a wish in in that well was sacred. And it you know it was felt very special and very very sweet. And being actually in the cave in the cliff definitely added to that it was amazing.
Jace: As a newcomer to Poldark Did any of the other cast members offer you advice?
Ellise: Yeah everyone was amazing. But you know I think Heidi said some you answer that you know you have to just once you’ve done a scene just it’s important just to park it and move on because otherwise it would just be thinking about it all the time and that was the really great piece of advice because you know I can think a bit too much about what I’m trying to do and get wrapped up in my head so that was a great piece of advice to just you know move on and you can’t really change what you’ve done. There’s no point in worrying about it.
Jace: Prior to Poldark you had two screen credits to your name from last year: The Last Dragon Slayer and New Blood. Are you just pinching yourself that you’ve catapulted this far this quickly?
Ellise: I honestly can’t quite believe it. I think I’m definitely pinching myself. I just feel so lucky so grateful. I just had the most amazing experiences in the past in the past year and a half so yeah I just can’t believe it. It’s amazing. I’m so lucky.
Jace: How has Poldark changed your life so far?
Ellise: Well it has just changed my life in the sense that I am able to do what I love on a weekly basis which is just amazing. I’m just pinching myself that I’ve been given this opportunity in order to to do what I am really passionate about. So yeah I’m just so lucky and the people I’ve met and got to spend time with on it is just it’s been amazing. Yeah.
Jace: Now you’re shooting Season 4 of Poldark now. What’s next for you once you wrap?
Ellise: Well we’ll be shooting Series 4 for quite a while. It’s quite a long shoot. So we spent quite a lot of time on that and then I’m not sure. See see there are a few things a few things lined up and then hopefully. Who knows. Hopefully Season 5 will go. But we’ll see.
Jace: Ellise Chappell, thank you so much.
Ellise: Thank you so much. Lovely talking to you.
Jace:Coming up next on the podcast, we speak to Caroline Blakiston, the omnipresent matriarch of the Poldark clan, about how Aunt Agatha keeps up appearances in the background of Trenwith:
Caroline Blakiston: A costume can become a friend…they can, and sometimes if you have a horrible wig that doesn’t quite fit or it hurts or they stick a pin in your head when they’re pinning it onto your head then a wig can become an enemy.
Jace: Catch that conversation Sunday, November 5th in your podcast feed, available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you find your podcasts.
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MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob and produced by Nick Andersen. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. Special thanks to Barrett Brountas. Susanne Simpson is our executive producer. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Rebecca Eaton.
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