Poldark’s John Hollingworth says scything scene led to months of crash dieting
Anyone who watched the first series of Poldark will recall that scything scene, in which Captain Ross stripped to the waist so he and his six pack could bring in the harvest.
For John Hollingworth, who played Poldark’s right-hand man Captain Henshawe, the scene stands out for a very different reason – it led to two long months of crash dieting.
“When we were making the first series, none of us knew how successful the show would be, or what an insanely celebrated moment of television that moment would become,” says Hollingworth, 38.
“Cut to prepping for the next series and I received a call from production asking, ‘Soooo, um, would you say you have a six pack?’
“I remember immediately feeling guilty that someone might be watching me and know I was lying so said, ‘I guess I’ve got a solid two pack…?’ Then as soon as I hung up, I started rapidly strolling through my phone to find a personal trainer to help me shred the weight.
“Two months later, after living on steamed veg and chicken, we were back on set. The director had an idea that the mining scenes in the second series would become these sweat-soaked, ultra masculine shots of guys underground, stripped to the waist.
“You hear lots about women being told to lose weight for roles, but this time it transpired that all the guys had received the same phone call.”
Ultimately though, John, who grew up in Keighley, West Yorks, and now lives in London with wife Anna and their two children, could have saved himself the effort. “In the end, they went ‘you know what, we’ll just have Aidan with his top off and you guys might just undo a couple of buttons to get a feeling of the chest’ so it was all to no avail.”
While he says he has never been someone who weighs himself, John knows he has a tendency to put on weight.
“I played rugby for a long time before I got into acting so I’ve always had a rugby player’s physique, but also a rugby player’s appetite,” he says. “I’m that guy who thinks that without going to the gym four times a week I can still eat what I want and there won’t be any consequences.
“Luckily I can lose it quickly if I need to, but the danger of that is crash dieting when I know a part is coming up.
“I’m almost 40 now and it’s not something I’ll be able to do forever – it’s not great to do it that way, it’s better if I keep moving and run three miles a day to stay in shape.”
John recently played Porchie, the Queen’s racing manager, in series three of The Crown. And for his next big role, as Giles Lacey in the Netflix movie version of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, he will be wearing a fat suit.
“It’s basically a couple of cushions that have been adapted into part vest, part adult-nappy and looks really real, so when the film comes out people will think I’ve really stacked it on,” he says.
But the actor has been keeping up his running rather than relaxing into the role because staying active brings benefits for his mental health as well as his waistline.
In particular it has helped John cope with the stress of being between jobs and not knowing if or when his next role will come.
“With acting, it’s feast or famine and when you come off a show like Poldark people think you must be paid a fortune,” he explains.
“But I’d been killed off halfway through the third series and so was paid half what I had been for the series before.
“As the series was airing I’d taken a job on a building site in London. I was being stopped in the street by fans of the show while wearing a hard hat, and doing interviews over the phone from the sixth floor of an abandoned building, hoping my supervisor wouldn’t catch me.
“I had low moods. I was very grateful I had the building job to go to, but you wonder how you’ve got where you are after training at Rada, so it was an anxious time.
“Acting can be amazing, you’re doing something astonishing with brilliant people. But as any self-employed person knows you’re often on your own, preparing for the next thing and it can be a monk-like life.
“My job is getting jobs, which is not glamorous and it is pressured and then, occasionally, my job is being an actor. So I love physical exercise, particularly running. I do a 3k circuit and race myself on an app.
“Getting outside and having that endorphin rush as I run along the canal lifts the stress that comes with the unknown and makes all the difference.”
John is appearing in The Sugar Syndrome at Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, South West London.
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