He plays Osbourne Whitworth, arguably Poldark‘s worst villain, and though you may hate the character, you’re going to love actor Christian Brassington, who recently joined MASTERPIECE by phone. Find out for yourself as he discusses his brilliantly loathsome character; the making of Season 4’s most gratifying scene; his Poldark cast-mates; his hopes for Season 5; and an unlikely Durrells in Corfu connection. Plus, David Tennant chimes in! [Contains Episode 5 Spoilers] #PoldarkPBS
MASTERPIECE: Did you have apprehensions about playing a character who was so monstrous before you worked out who he was and found your way into him?
BRASSINGTON: It’s going to sound slightly strange, but not at all. I was excited about having such a wonderful character to play. I think you get yourself into trouble if you start thinking about what people’s reactions are going to be while you’re playing them—I was just excited about having such a rich, exciting part to play. I was aware that he’s a monster—that was very obvious right from the get go—but I wasn’t really thinking too much about what people’s reaction would be.
All the good looking young lads are off doing the swashbuckling stuff and I’m eating cake and being mean to Morwenna…–Christian Brassington on working with Aidan Turner
MASTERPIECE: Ossie is a clown and yet he’s a monster, he’s someone that you cannot wait to see on screen most of the time, and then there are those moments when you can’t bear to see him on screen. I don’t feel like I’ve encountered many characters like that, that are so entertaining and delightful, and then just so unbearable. Was that something that you particularly like about him?
BRASSINGTON: I suppose so. It wasn’t something that we were particularly going for, if I’m being honest, the idea that when he first appears in the show he does seem so completely ridiculous—he’s self-obsessed and vain and preening, and he just seems so silly, so stupid and ridiculous. So I suppose I quite like the idea that you would lead people into a false sense of security, or a false sense of ridiculousness. Because I think that the problem that happens in the Whitworth household for Morwenna, and I think it happens in a lot of abusive relationships as well, is that the outside world will see a version of somebody. So I think that when George and Elizabeth see Ossie, they find him ridiculous and they find him a bit priggish or what have you, but they don’t realize the extent of his monstrosity, and the abuse that he metes out to Morwenna, and so I suppose I was keen for that to happen, for it to be a multilayered character in that way.
MASTERPIECE: How did you and Ellise [Chappell, Morwenna] cope around those most difficult scenes?
BRASSINGTON: We were incredibly lucky in that we are a good team and we’ve become very good friends, which I’m very grateful for. That instantly makes it easier, having someone you know and like and trust to do those scenes with. That makes it easier. I think you just have to talk about it beforehand, you have to plan it out, and I think it’s a lot the most, sort of, unpleasant dance you could every think of, really, in that you have to talk about what’s going to happen in the scene physically; you have to talk about how you see the scene happening; you have to block it through, almost sort of choreograph it (in the worst possible way). And then, everyone knows exactly what’s going to happen.
You have to check that your co-star is alright, and just really be there for each other. That can take the form of actually saying “are you okay, is everything okay?”, making sure everything is alright. And also, maybe just having moments where you have a couple minutes to yourself and allow her to have a couple of minutes to herself. Because, really, she’s such a wonderful, committed actor and she really puts herself through it. So when you’re doing scenes like that it can be pretty unpleasant. I think it’s a combination of those things. But as I said, I’m really grateful that we were so close and got on so well because from my point of view and hopefully Ellise’s as well, it just meant that I trusted her completely. That’s how I got through it, and with supportive directors, who are sensitive to it as well.
MASTERPIECE: Ossie’s death scene was a great scene that couldn’t possibly have been any more gratifying! What was the process for filming it?
BRASSINGTON: It was really exciting. The process of filming all of those different parts was really interesting and I think it was done so brilliantly. There are bits of me on the horse, between dialogue. And I did a lot more than I thought I was going to do—I did a sort of big fall back, where I was kind of hanging off the back of the horse, but didn’t quite hit the ground. The horse, Aramis, is such a beautiful animal and he’s such a good lad and very calm. We did that bit and then we brought in the stunt double, and you would not believe how brunette and good looking this stunt double was. I mean, he was the complete opposite of this guy here—shoulders, and abs everywhere, chiseled jaw, the whole thing, and our makeup team did an incredible job of padding him out and making him look like me as Ossie in the show.
Then you had that sequence when the horse reared up, and it’s a different horse. Aramis is a big horse, but this horse they used when the it rears up is a different horse entirely. So the horse team holds up these boards and it’s like a boxing trainer doing pad work with a boxer: the horse will rear up and it almost punches its hooves onto these two boards—it’s incredible to watch. And then, we cut back to me sort of hitting the floor, like a fall into shot. And then the initial bit where I get dragged away, that’s me lying on the floor and a couple of the grips, and Butch, one of our props men, they just dragged me out of shot—they’ve both got hold of an ankle to drag me out of shot. And then we go back to the stunt man, who’s on a sled type thing, and he’s actually getting dragged on the ground on this sled at such an incredible speed. So you have this very short, and I think very well done, slightly humorous sequence where all those aspects come together.
And then the scream at the end was done months later in ADR because we needed to see the point where the stunt man, being dragged along, is bouncing off something—we decided that’s the point where Ossie’s head hits a tree root or whatever—that was like the coup de grâce, the moment where he’s finally gone. So months later, I was in an ADR studio screaming at the picture and trying to time the bump of the head at the right time. That whole sequence took a long time to film, and it was wonderful.
Then of course we filmed me lying on the bed, when I’m having the post-mortem done. We filmed that before we filmed the horse stunts, and that was just a hilarious, ridiculous day of Rebecca Front [Lady Whitworth] and Luke Norris [Dwight] trying to do a scene while I was trying to hold my breath and everyone trying not to crack up, and I’m lying there with all the makeup on. And obviously I put a lot of weight on for the role but as I’m lying there, you know with all of that belly sort of out on screen, you do sort of think “What am I doing? How is this my job?” It’s crazy.
MASTERPIECE: Rebecca Front as Lady Whitworth is just terrifying. What do you imagine Ossie’s childhood was like with her?
BRASSINGTON: We had a chat about this and discussed it—I think that we thought his dad was probably a bit of a monster as well. We decided that Ossie was very mollycoddled by his mother and was a complete mummy’s boy and was very spoiled, couldn’t do anything wrong, really overly protected, with the father not around and not a good guy. You know, these people married for status and for money, and women had to marry well, otherwise they would essentially be sort of destitute unless you’re in a rich family. I don’t imagine there was much love there. So when Rebecca and I discussed it, we thought that’s what his upbringing must be like.
MASTERPIECE: I’ve heard that Jack Farthing [George Warleggan] tried to make you laugh during one of Ossie’s sermons, is that true?
BRASSINGTON: Jack is the consummate professional—not only does he know his own lines backwards and forwards, he also knows yours, and if you ever lose a line you can ask him, and he knows what you’re supposed to be saying. Certainly, during rehearsals, we sit in that little church for a long time, and people get a little bit bored. If you’re the person at the pulpit at the front, and you’ve got the rest of the cast down there, and they’ve been sat there for a few hours waiting around while I talk over and over again, then eventually they’re going to start trying to make me laugh. Yes. Jack Farthing is not the only one, and I suggest that Heida Reid is perhaps slightly naughtier than Jack Farthing, not that I want to tell tales on anybody…but yes, Jack and Heida together, but not during an actual take—they were very good during an actual take.
But I know what you mean—I’ll tell you what happened—it wasn’t that they were trying to make me laugh, it’s that they got the giggles during a take, that’s right. So they went during a take when I was up in the pulpit, and I had to carry on, and I had to be looking at these people, like you’re directing lines to certain people in the congregation. And I remember very clearly, Heida was wearing a blue hat I think, and she dipped her head down so she wasn’t looking at me, so I wasn’t going to laugh, and I just saw her hat quivering as she was shaking with laughter. And of course you look around and you realize that everybody has gone, and they’re trying very hard to look down at the floor, and not look at me, to not put me off. I could just see everybody shaking, Heida’s hat shaking up and down…That was during a take, and they didn’t do it on purpose. But they did all go.
MASTERPIECE: What’s it like working with Aidan Turner?
BRASSINGTON: We’re sort of in two different worlds, you know—all the good looking young lads are off doing the swashbuckling stuff and I’m eating cake, and being mean to Morwenna… But there’s a scene in the carriage in episode three that was great fun to film. It’s always a lovely thing to see him on set and to do a bit with him.
MASTERPIECE: What was it like to say goodbye to everyone when the season finished?
BRASSINGTON: It was tough. I’ve loved playing Ossie, and so it was tough to say goodbye. When you actually finish filming, you’re aware that there’s so much more to come in terms of going through ADR, and there’ll be loads of screenings, and there will be all the promotion and stuff, and so you know you’re going to see people again. They’ve all just gone back to filming season five, so I felt it much more when they’re all down in Cornwall filming, more actually than when I finished filming.
MASTERPIECE: What would you like to see happen in Poldark Season 5?
BRASSINGTON: I would like to see Morwenna have some happiness, I’d like that to happen, and for her good spirit and kind heart to do something positive, and to be free. And for Drake and Sam hopefully to find some happiness as well. What would I like to do? I would like for Ross to realize what he has in Demelza and to stop being such an idiot about it. What else? I would like to see Prudie do more running. I think that’s the main thing: I want to see Beatie Edney do more running, every episode, ideally.
MASTERPIECE: In wondering what’s next for you, I understand that your wife works on The Durrells in Corfu, a show that we air and we love…Could we hope to see a part for you in that show? That’s basically what all of us want.
BRASSINGTON: That would be a lovely situation, but the fact that they are nearly finished filming it means that I’m probably not going to be in the series.
MASTERPIECE: You could be a visitor! They have a lot of visitors, for one episode. Just saying. You could be a fisherman!
BRASSINGTON: They come out to Greece and they film all the outsides before they come back to London and film all the interiors. And they finish in Greece today. I absolutely love the show. And it’s very nice that my wife’s show’s at 8:00 and we’re on at 9:00; it’s a lovely thing that they’re right next to each other.
MASTERPIECE: So what’s next for you?
BRASSINGTON: So I’m in a movie called Fisherman’s Friends, which is a British comedy filmed in Cornwall, again, brilliantly, and that’s in the UK on December the third, and I’d love it to come over to this side of the pond as well. That’d be wonderful. I think you guys would really, really like it, and it’s a sort of Full Monty-esque tale—it’s very funny, and it’s got a lovely cast, so that’s what’s coming out.
MASTERPIECE: I know that David and Georgia Tennant were trolling you when you did your Poldark Twitter Q&A…
BRASSINGTON: [Laughs] Yes!
MASTERPIECE: Now, and Georgia’s brother was on the cast of Poldark; he’s the new Geoffrey Charles, right?
BRASSINGTON: That’s right, yeah! Louis Davison—yes, he was Geoffrey Charles, that was a nice little coincidence that we had, it was nice to see him there. We didn’t get to be in anything together, unfortunately.
MASTERPIECE: And what did you think of this Instagram video that David and George filmed while you were doing your Poldark Q&A on Twitter?
BRASSINGTON: Well, I mean, it was just very unkind; very unhelpful… Very hard to concentrate! Yeah.
BRASSINGTON: [Aside:] The newspaper, she wants to know if it..When you filmed me doing the…
DAVID TENNANT: I think the Radio Times in the UK picked it up.
BRASSINGTON: It was the Radio Times that picked it up. They [David and George Tennant!] are here while I’m doing this interview. Although they’ve been much kinder.
MASTERPIECE: What?! That’s great! That’s so funny.
BRASSINGTON: Yeah. I think it was incredibly unhelpful. But nice, you know. Nice to have some attention.
MASTERPIECE: [Laughs] Well, I thank you so much for taking all this time to talk with us. And for this really wonderful performance that has brought so much to the show. We’ll really miss Ossie, even though mostly we’re just glad to see him go!
BRASSINGTON: Thank you, not at all!
Listen to the MASTERPIECE Studio Podcast’s interview with Poldark’s Christian Brassington for more in-depth insights about his portrayal of Reverend Ossie Whitworth, plus answers to all your burning weight-gain and toe-sucking questions!