Actor Heida Reed is nothing like the character she plays on MASTERPIECE. In fact, she describes herself as, “actually the opposite;” she’s impulsive and she “doesn’t have a filter.” So what has it been like for her to play the buttoned-up (and totally hate-able) Elizabeth Poldark? We turn to Heida to find out.
Jace Lacob (Jace): We’ve got the lowdown — courtesy of Heida Reed — on the penultimate episode of Poldark Season 2. Unless you want Heida to spoil the show for you, make sure you’ve watched Episode 8 before listening.
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Jace: I’m Jace Lacob and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
After Francis death, things looked especially grim for Elizabeth Poldark.
Not only was she saddled with her late husband’s debt, but as Heida Reed describes it:
Heida Reed: She was older than 18 and she was a widow, and kind of ineligible.
Jace: Still, age proved to be less of an obstacle than expected — Elizabeth accepted George’s marriage proposal, and shared her bed with Ross.
For a minute, it seemed like Elizabeth would have her pick of men.
But then Ross abandoned her — for the second time — and Elizabeth went ahead with marrying George.
Heida Reed: At that point, I think the decision in her heart is probably to move on and to close that chapter, and to not allow him to affect her life anymore.
Jace: With only one episode left this season, Heida Reed takes us inside the mind of Elizabeth Poldark and teases what’s to come for her and Ross.
And this week, we are joined by Heida Reed. Welcome.
Heida: Thank you.
Jace: Ross says of Elizabeth that she was born to be admired. What did you make of the character of Elizabeth when you first read the script for Poldark?
Heida: I thought she was very proper, very much a lady of her time, but fortunately, she’s a lot more complicated than what you see in the beginning, and that’s, obviously, always nice for an actor. So there’s a lot of levels to her.
Jace: Especially this season.
Heida: Especially with this season, yeah. It has been great fun.
Jace: Now you grew up in Iceland.
Heida: I did.
Jace: Were you familiar at all with Winston Graham’s Poldark novels…
Jace: …or the original adaptation?
Heida: I don’t think most of us were. When I had the recall for Elizabeth, I started looking it up and I was like, “Oh my God! This is huge.” (Laughs)
Heida: “This was a huge deal,” which made me want it more and then made me more nervous, obviously.
But no, I didn’t know. I didn’t know, which was nice because it was all fresh.
Jace: Were you surprised at all by how the audience reacted to Elizabeth in Season 1?
Heida: No. To be honest, I feel like they were more sympathetic than I expected them to be. But there has always got to be someone, you know, that bears the brunt of the hatred, you know.
And she’s sort of built for that, her and George, I guess.
Jace: Though Elizabeth is far more sympathetic than George Warleggan.
Heida: She is way more sympathetic.
Heida: And I think, I mean, I think… Because I’m on Twitter, and I was looking and seeing what people were saying, and what I liked is that the people that watched it from the beginning to end did, sort of, start to sympathize with her, and felt like they went on a journey with her. So that’s all I can ask for. And even if they hate her guts, as long as they hate her with a passion because they have passion for the story and… Yeah. You know, I’m not there to get hugs and kisses.
Jace: How do you see Elizabeth’s journey as a character over the last two seasons, and how has she changed since the first time we meet her as Francis’s fiancée at the start of the series?
Heida: She’s a completely different person at that point, you know. Everything that she set out to have and be has, kind of, come falling down on her. She’s… Francis did not end up being the husband she thought he was going to be. And then, obviously, she ends up a widow.
Ross: I wish I could help you.
Elizabeth: For my own sake I can bear it, but for my son, for his future… When Francis came into his estate, there was money to live on, comfort, dignity. It breaks my heart to think that Geoffrey Charles will have so little to his name.
Heida: I think, at the beginning of the second series you realize that, or she realizes that she kind of needs to take matters into her own hands and, and do things herself in order to get anything done, so she becomes a bit more manipulative. And she realizes that, you know, her feelings for Ross are still there, and that’s, I think, where her manipulative side kicks in. She just needs to know that a piece of his heart is still hers. So she becomes a little bit more selfish actually, a lot more selfish.
Jace: She does.
Jace: But also it’s about survival, I think, for her.
Heida: It is about survival.
Obviously, that night of passion isn’t. That’s like pent up frustration like over a decade, basically, but it leaves, obviously, a lot of complications.
Demelza: Do you suppose that she ever seriously meant to marry George? Surely it was just a trick to get you to declare your hand.
Ross: I have no idea what she intended.
Demelza: Still it worked, did it not? She got what she wanted.
Jace: Do you think she sees Demelza as a rival or as less than that?
Heida: I think she didn’t at first. I think, they respected one another. I think, Demelza was always a little bit, you know, intimidated by Elizabeth, but, I think, somewhere in the middle of the second series, Demelza overhears a conversation between Ross and Elizabeth which makes her very wary.
Elizabeth: But you and I would never have been happy together. Our character’s are too different?
Ross: True. But cannot love overcome such obstacles?
Heida: So I think at that– around that time she starts to realize that… Yeah, there’s definite friction between them, and she is probably slightly intimidated by her. Because she, you know, everything… She’s kind, kind of lost everything and she realizes she still wants Ross, so that’s when Demelza becomes a rival, but I don’t think she ever means to, you know, break up the marriage, and mess everything up for them.
Jace: She’s just Elizabeth doing Elizabeth.
Heida: She just can’t help herself. That’s the thing. That’s basically what it is.
Jace: So Elizabeth owes her life and Geoffrey Charles’s to Demelza, who nursed them through the Putrid Throat, which led to the death of Julia.
Elizabeth: She saved my child…
Elizabeth: …and lost yours in return.
Jace: Does Elizabeth continue to harbor guilt over Julia’s death, and does the affair with Ross compound that further?
Heida: Wow. Honestly, no. I think… (Laughs)
Jace: That was brutally honest.
Heida: I know (laughs). That is brutally honest. But there was a huge amount of guilt for a long time, with her and Francis feeling very guilty about what happened with Julia, but I think, at that point, they’ve gone past it; they’ve had another child. And I think, in those times, it was more common to lose children, and people would move on a little bit quicker and they wouldn’t, sort of, hold the grief or the guilt for as long as they do today, I think. I mean, that’s how I sort of view it.
She does feel bad, but she’s just become quite selfish at that point, you know? And I feel like if her life would have gone a little bit easier, then she wouldn’t have done anything like this. But she, I think, at this point, she’s just starting to feel sorry for herself, and she’s like, “I deserve to get something that I want.”
Jace: She’s always so composed that she seems in control of her every movement…
Jace: … at times. When she spills the Port with Aunt Agatha, we see how tenuous her grasp is, actually, on everything. She’s sort of barely holding everything together.
Heida: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jace: Are cracks starting to form in Elizabeth’s façade?
Heida: Oh, yes. Absolutely. Absolutely, and it’s taken, you know, eight years, I think.
She has been raised, you know, to be the perfect wife, and to be the perfect lady in society, so there will always be that mask and she’s a very– she’s genius at that. But, you know, the more stuff that goes on with her, like the harder it is to keep it completely polished.
Elizabeth: He tried to stop this marriage, but offered nothing in return. He has taken what was not rightly his and walked away from the consequences. Why did he have to come? I hate him for it. He has left me with only one possible choice.
Jace: I mean, if she is trying to survive, an alliance with George Warleggan makes sense.
Jace: He can provide for her and Geoffrey Charles. But what is that she hopes for? That Ross will actually leave Demelza before she can– has to marry him or that some other solution will magically present itself, like Demelza will fall off a cliff? I mean, what is that she’s hoping at this point?
Heida: I think she’s never a hundred percent honest with herself, but if she’s a hundred percent honest with herself, and what I think that, you know, people from the outside would tell her if they knew everything, was that she wants just him to leave her amicably and her to be okay with it…
Heida: …or something, you know. Or her to go, “I can’t deal with this anymore. I’m leaving.” And yeah, for Ross to come and finally for them to be together.
She can’t go ahead with marrying George without knowing for sure that Ross is, is not coming back.
Jace: I mean, George agrees to postpone the wedding but only if she’ll set another date…
George: Grant me the consolation of being able to fix a date a month from today.
Elizabeth: So soon?
George: What is there to wait for?
Jace: What do you make of George and Elizabeth’s relationship?
Heida: I think, it’s sort of a relationship of helping each other in different ways, you know, helping each other’s statuses. They’re stronger when they’re together. There is, well, there used to be respect, and there is, at that point, there’s mutual respect, but George’s ambitions become a little bit more morbid and don’t favor Elizabeth or especially Geoffrey Charles, who’s the light of her life. So there is… There’ll be a lot more resentment and contempt later but… I mean, they’re perfect together. I think, you know, if it had… If the circumstances had been different, then George could have been a very viable suitor before she ever married anybody.
And she needs him. She is absolutely helpless. She has nothing. Like she can’t provide for herself. And… So it’s a comfortable life and she gives him this kind of status of, you know, him marrying someone who has been born into society as a very respectable lady, and from an old name and an old family, which is all he has ever wanted, so…
Jace: I mean, she does go through with it, but she’s not a smiling bride; she’s a rather rueful bride. Does she regret her decision already when she has exchanged vows?
Heida: I think, at that point, there’s no turning back. I think, it’s not even… She’s not even in a position to regret anything. I think she’s just… This was genuinely her last chance, if she wanted to be able to provide for her son or have her son being provided for, and herself. So Elizabeth won’t look back and regret, because there wasn’t anything else. She’ll probably be resentful that things didn’t work out between her and Ross, but she won’t regret it. No.
Jace: I mean, George has…
Heida: She’ll resent it.
Jace: She’ll resent it but she won’t regret it.
Heida: But she won’t, yeah, she won’t regret it. Yeah.
Jace: George says…
George: I’ve been thinking about our domestic arrangements.
Elizabeth: I’ll be glad to return home to Cardew.
George: I had thought so, but now, I believe, I have a fancy to live somewhere else.
Jace: …which was revealed to be Trenwith. Is this another challmmm enge to Ross or the fulfillment of George’s desire to own everything that Ross holds dear?
Heida: Yes. I think, there’s a huge power play, and I think, it has a lot to do with Francis as well, and the fact that Francis and George didn’t part on good terms.
Trenwith has always been this sort of great establishment for the Poldarks, and the Poldarks have always been one of the best and biggest families in Cornwall. And for someone like George, who had to work his way up in the world and, you know, become his own gentleman, it’s kind of like the Holy Grail to be able to own the mansion that is Trenwith.
Jace: And what should viewers make of the dark expression that Elizabeth gives Ross at the gates before she turns from him and takes George’s arm at the end of that episode?
Heida: (Laughs) You know, I am happy for them to interpret what they will, but I think, at that point, love has turned into hate, you know. There’s a fine line, and she feels like she’s been very wronged by him. At that point, I think, with that look, the decision in her heart is probably to move on and to close that chapter, and to not allow him to affect her life anymore.
Jace: There’s one episode left of Poldark this season. What can viewers expect from the final episode?
Heida: Big stuff. Fire… I guess that’s all I can say. It definitely ends off on another cliffhanger; not on a literal cliff, I think. Actually it might do.
Jace: It does.
Heida: It does. (Laughs) Of course, it does.
Heida: We have to. We have so many cliffs. So yeah, there’s plenty to look forward to in Season 3.
Jace: Do you have a favorite scene from the second season?
Heida: Huh. I have a lot of favorite scenes. It’s hard to pick out one. Maybe it is the end scene with Aunt Agatha.
I like all my scenes with Aunt Agatha because Caroline Blakiston is like the most incredible actress, and she has taught me so much, and acting with her is like, you know, is like a master class every time. She’s just the biggest legend.
Jace: I like that. You have the earliest call times on the set because of your hair…
Heida: I do.
Jace: … and the corsets.
Heida: Oh, god.
Jace: Do those helped you to immediately get into character Elizabeth, and do you breathe a literal sigh of relief when you can take the corset off?
Heida: Oh, my god. It’s like… It’s almost worth putting it on just to have it taken off, because there’s this kind of euphoric feeling once you take it off. You’re just like, “Oh, this is amazing.”
But it is so painful. Sometimes it’s fine and you sort of warm into it a bit, and sometimes it’s just the worst, and you’re in a bad mood all day. You’re yawning. You can’t get oxygen. You’re burping. Because like everything… It just restricts your, your whole system so it’s beautiful, but it’s painful.
Jace: Elizabeth makes a lot of decisions that are often hard for modern viewers to understand. Are you more or less impulsive than your character?
Heida: Oh, god. I am absolutely the opposite. I think, the only thing that we have in common, or we had in common, because Elizabeth is slightly different now, is I always feel a little bit cursed with having to do the right thing all the time, you know, to the point where it’s kind of detrimental, but… Wait what was the question?
Jace: Are you more or less impulsive than Elizabeth?
Heida: Oh, am I more or less … I’m very impulsive. I don’t really think things through.
I just do them. I just go and do them.
Jace: Your Twitter bio simply reads “frequent idiot.”
Heida: Yeah. (Laughs)
Jace: Is that how you see yourself?
Heida: Yeah. (Laughs) Yeah, I do. I don’t really have a filter. It might be like an Icelandic thing, but maybe not; maybe it’s just my personality. I just, yeah… I think, I frequently do idiotic things, and it’s not a self-deprecating thing. It’s just… I’m just not very contained as a person, and I don’t feel like I need to be. Therefore, it’s fun to play someone who’s very contained and very calculating.
Jace: What do most people get wrong about their preconceptions regarding Icelanders?
Heida: I don’t know. I mean, they always, sort of like, say the Viking thing, I guess. But we are… We’re very cliché, as in we are the cliches that people think we are. And, you know, we are very proud of our Viking heritage, and there is a lot of, sort of, (laughs) Viking attitude up there.
I think, the only thing that people get wrong is, or not the only thing, but one of the things that they get wrong is that it’s cold all the time. Like it’s not cold all the time. It’s colder, but we definitely have four different seasons. And also that you can go and see the Northern Lights at any point.
They will only come out when they want to, unfortunately.
But you might go at the end of August, like I did, and be in a hot tub with your best friends, and some champagne and they just appear. And that was with the cast of Poldark. (Laughs)
Jace: (Laughs) That’s amazing.
Heida: That was incredible.
Jace: All of Poldark’s Season 2 drama comes to a close next week. Catch this season’s literal cliff-hanger Sunday at 9 pm ET on MASTERPIECE.
Then, even though the cast is already off filming Season 3, we caught up with Aidan Turner — Ross Poldark himself — to get his take on the Season 2 finale.
Aidan Turner: (Laughs) It’s pretty epic.
Jace: You can hear Aidan’s revealing interview next Monday, November 28th, right here on the MASTERPIECE Studio podcast.
In the meantime, find us on iTunes or Stitcher and leave us a review. We obsessively check our reviews because we do love hearing from our listeners, so please tell us what you think!
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.
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Sponsors for MASTERPIECE on PBS are Viking River Cruises, Audible, and The MASTERPIECE Trust.
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