As the fifth and final series of Poldark returns to the BBC this month, Ellise Chappell reflects on how the part of Morwenna has been both career- and life-changing, and tells us about her role in Yesterday.
Ellise Chappell is preparing to bid an emotional farewell to Poldark, which will draw to a close at the end of series five
this summer. Getting the part of Morwenna Chynoweth in the BBC’s blockbuster adaptation of Winston Graham’s novels was, without question, a career defining moment for the actress. “It has had a huge impact… something I never even expected,” she tells me, enthusiastically, adding, “I have met some incredible people and I’ve done some amazing things. I mean doing a shoot for Fabric magazine – things like that. My God, this is really cool!” she grins.
Even knowing little of the story, as a lover of historical drama and dressing up, the role was an irresistible one for Ellise, who tells me: “I just adore period drama, so that was one thing.” But the appeal was, she says, so much more than that. “Morwenna just seemed like an innocent, gentle, sweet character. But then to find that she goes on such a harrowing and turbulent journey was really, really exciting. As an actress it was definitely a challenge. And I feel like I have gone on such a huge journey with her. I feel so incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunity to tell her story.”
Lucky too, to have worked with such a fantastic team, she explains. “The main thing for me is that on set, all the cast, all the crew are just so amazing. And I honestly feel like I have walked away from it with friends for life. It really was like a family, and to have that community and that network was really cool.”
She will, she says, miss each and every one of them. Along with that dramatic west country scenery, of course. “Cornwall is so spectacular…” she says, wistfully. “When the weather is good it is such a stunning place. But then when the weather is bad it feels really dramatic and powerful. Especially when you have got a scene that is high emotion, or when something really dramatic is happening.”
From drama to comedy, Ellise will also be seen later this month in a supporting role in Yesterday, written by Richard Curtis, directed by Danny Boyle, and starring Himesh Patel and Lily James. It is the story of a failing songwriter who gets hit by a bus during a power cut and wakes up to find he’s the only person who can remember The Beatles. It sounds completely bonkers, but, with Curtis and Boyle on board, it’s almost guaranteed to be a box office hit. And Ellise is convinced that it is going to be “delightful,” confirming that it was: “so much fun to work on.”
So that’s Yesterday, but what about tomorrow? Where future projects are concerned, she says she has no firm ideas about what she’d like to be doing. “So much is being made and there are so many amazing projects. I’m getting all of these scripts and I love reading something and just thinking: oh my gosh! Yesterday I didn’t even know that this project existed, or that this idea had been formed…” she enthuses. “I am still learning, and I am still wanting to experience so much, so for me, at the moment, if a project comes through and it sounds interesting, I am so open to it,” she smiles. There would, of course, be dream propositions: “One of my favourite movies last year was Eighth Grade, written and directed by Bo Burnham,” Ellise reveals. “I enjoyed it so much and I would love to work with him. Also Greta Gerwig, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Wes Anderson – I love everything they do…”
But ultimately she thinks that what is important for her is to feel challenged: “I really love how small you can be on screen. And how intimate it has to be. It is a double- edged sword I suppose, because it is quite terrifying how the camera picks up everything, but at the same time that is thrilling, because you are constantly striving for something that is authentic, and for something that feels truthful. I am constantly trying to go out of my comfort zone,” she tells me. “I love that challenge of making myself feel vulnerable.”
Perhaps something completely different, then? A stint in the West End? “When I did my training, I did a lot of theatre,” Ellise tells me, “I really love the stage. When you go to see an amazing play that moves you, that live aspect of it, I just love that. That is why I wanted to do this in the first place, so that I could see that live physical effect. And be there with the actors. So yeah, I would totally love to do theatre again. Alongside TV and film,” she says.
The arts scene in London is one of her favourite things about the Capital. “I love how accessible it is to go to the theatre here, or to go to a gallery. You can find really quite reasonably priced tickets, and you can go to most museums for free,” she nods. “It is something that I never really appreciated until quite recently when I have visited other cities and realised: oh my gosh, you have to pay £20 to go to a museum. But here you can go to a museum for free and spend an afternoon just learning something new, which is so cool.”
Art, it transpires, would probably have been her plan B. “I loved art at school, especially drawing. I always feel like I would probably have done an art history degree or something. I don’t know what I would have done with it, but I love art history and I find it so fascinating.” It is though, she confesses, hard to imagine not doing what she is doing now.
Galleries and museums aside, Ellise isn’t all about the highbrow pursuits; her guilty pleasure is RuPaul’s Drag Race. “I watch so much mindless TV… I love RuPaul’s Drag Race. It is amazing: that and a jar of gherkins and I’m all set,” she laughs. “I guess that it is not really a guilty pleasure, because it is genuinely an inspiring programme. It makes me feel like I want to be creative, and I feel all pumped up because I just think that they are all so talented and amazing,” she reflects.
What else does she do that’s just for her? “I love just seeing friends, being with my family. I am a bit of a history nerd, and I grew up in the countryside, so I like exploring National Trust places.
A good day off is going to a stately home,” she laughs. “And I think self-care is really important, even if that just means going to the shop and treating myself to something that I find really delicious, like a punnet of raspberries. Or going for a picnic and enjoying that sweet, sweet vitamin D on my skin!”
Where does she head for a spot of al fresco lunch in the Capital? “One of the things I love about London is how green it is. When you visit other cities and you are away for a while, you start to realise how amazing and green London is. I love Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood, Waterlow Park – there are so many lovely spots for a picnic,” she grins.
Having grown up in the countryside, Ellise is drawn to the leafy loveliness of north London: “I would love to live in north London, surrounded by greenery. It is so beautiful around there, it honestly feels like you are no longer in a big city. It takes a while to adjust to London if you have grown up in the countryside, because obviously the pace is different, and it is so built up.
But I definitely call it home now. I just think that it is a really beautiful vibrant city: I love it.” We couldn’t agree more.