‘Poldark’ actress: ‘I am quite a competitive person’

Eleanor Tomlinson returns as the fiery Demelza in “Poldark” on PBS’ “Masterpiece.” The second season returns on Sunday.
Eleanor Tomlinson returns as the fiery Demelza in “Poldark” on PBS’ “Masterpiece.” The second season returns on Sunday. TNS

Eleanor Tomlinson sports the talent and the looks to be an actress. But she possesses something else that has kept her performing since she was a child – a fierce determination.

“I was 11 when I started acting, so you don’t take the word ‘no’ on board. If you want to do something, you just do it. I was very much like that,” she says in the hallway outside a hotel conference room here.

“I am quite a competitive person, not so much in sports. I’m useless in sports, but when it comes to amazing roles,” she shrugs. “You’re going up against the same people all the time often, and that becomes quite difficult. Then someone takes a chance on you, someone gambles.”

Someone took a big gamble on the British Tomlinson when she insisted on trying out for the role of the fiery Demelza in PBS’ “Poldark,” returning for another season on Sunday.

The producers wanted her for the part of the cultured Elizabeth. “I just read the script and this one role really appealed to me and I thought, ‘If I don’t ask, I’m never going to get anywhere.’

“I said, ‘May I please audition for the other role?’ At first they said, ‘We don’t think you’re right for it.’ I said, ‘I really want to try because I think I can do it, and I really want to challenge myself as an actress.’ So they let me audition. And here we are,” she grins.

It wasn’t quite that easy. She had to tryout three times. “I did one audition by myself, the second audition was with all of the producers so they kind of see your performance. And the third audition was a screen test with Aidan (Turner, who plays Poldark); a chemistry test to see how we got on on camera. I was terrified. There’s always another girl in the waiting room. And you can’t help look each other up and down and go, ‘OK, there’s the competition.’ It’s hard.”

Tomlinson should know better. She comes from a family of actors. Her mother, father, and brother are all actors. She was just a child when she intercepted her father’s agent and insisted she represent her. Though the agent had no child clients, she agreed.

And Tomlinson, 24, has worked pretty steadily ever since. Though she’s fiercely focused on her career (no time for sweetheart, she says) she’s been through some trying times.

She was just 19 when she left home for London to blaze a trail. It was the same day that her pet dog died. He’d been with the family since Eleanor was 2. “When he passed away the bottom fell out of my world. He was like a brother,” she says.

“It took a really long time to get over it … He died and I moved out and I never went home again to live. I think I just told myself that’s life. You’ve lost something you loved so much, but that’s what life is. People come and they go and it’s horrendous, but you can’t have them forever. I’m sure he’s running around in some amazing field now,” she brightens.

While she’s meticulous about her work, she denies she’s so exacting in her life. “I’m quite a creative person. I surround myself with things I like. My flat is like a film set,” she laughs. “I surround myself with creative people as well. All my friends are all in the industry and are all very creative, so that’s really nice. I wouldn’t say I’m a perfectionist,” she muses.

“I know exactly what I want and just need to be given the opportunities to try it. I have a strong will. You take knocks, of course, you have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off. My God, the amount of times I have wept having not got a job, going ‘I can’t do this anymore. It’s so ruthless.’

“A week or so later an audition comes in and you pick yourself up, and you go in, and you act like your heart hasn’t been broken. It’s a bizarre life.”

Between assignments, Tomlinson says, “I’m awful for arguing with myself. If I have any time off, I always feel like I should be doing something else. I should be reading scripts, I should be reading a book. Instead I’ll sit in my dressing gown and eat chocolate all morning and not leave the house. It’s such a guilty pleasure, but I’m full of self-loathing after I’ve done it.”