The Starz series Outlander is back for its third season, and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is struggling to navigate life without Jamie (Sam Heughan) and instead with her first husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies). As the years pass, Jamie and Claire attempt to make a life apart from one another while each are haunted by the memory of their lost love, and resentment builds in Frank over the fact that he will never fully have his wife’s heart.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actor Tobias Menzies talked about the show’s devoted fan following, playing two very complex characters on the same show, the challenge of playing Frank, why he doesn’t see Frank as a tragic character, always looking for variation in his work, and why he’d like to explore more American genres. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: What has it meant to you to be a part of Outlander, and to see just how much the fans have embraced it and love it? Has that been surprising to you?
TOBIAS MENZIES: Yeah, I’ve not been involved with a show that’s had such a dedicated following. It’s always a surprise. It’s great. It’s unnerving sometimes because you feel there’s a lot of expectation or feelings or ideas about how it should be. I have to just block that out. If I thought about that, it would get in the way. That would be too many plates to spin. You’ve gotta just realize it as well as you can.
When you originally signed on to this show and knew you’d be playing these two men, did you find yourself more drawn to one than the other, and did that change, over the course of playing them?
MENZIES: Jack was the more flashy of the two, broadly speaking, and Frank has been more of a surprise, once I got into playing them. That would probably be the case. In the early scripts I was shown, there was much less of Frank. The writers were encouraged to write more for him, but the decision to flesh out Frank more hadn’t been made before we’d started. That stuff was really outside of the books. That was a fun thing to dig into.
How difficult was it to say goodbye to Black Jack Randall, or was it a relief to leave him behind?
MENZIES: It wasn’t difficult. It’s more that I’ll probably miss playing the character. It was a fun character to do. The reality is that they say, “Cut!,” and everyone gives you a round of applause, and then you bugger off and go feed your cat and life carries on. It’s been a good journey, though.
Does it feel weird, when you play a character for awhile, to then have to let him go?
MENZIES: That’s not how I experience a character. It doesn’t feel like something other than me. When you’re doing it, it’s you in that situation with those circumstances. You’ve obviously made physical and vocal choices, but it is you. With both of the characters, I was looking to root them in bits of myself to make them as real as possible.
What was it like to get to have that final moment between Jack and Jamie?
MENZIES: It’s hard to know how to finish that story, given where we’d gone. How do you follow that up and carry on from there? It was relatively slim. There were no words, just a physical encounter. So, within that, we just tried to make it a fitting finale to all the stuff that had gone on. That had to be in the looks and the attitude toward each other. It wasn’t just about having a fight scene.
What do you most enjoy about playing Frank, and what do you find most challenging with him?
MENZIES: He’s much more internal than Jack. He’s a study in suppressed emotion, really. It’s mainly about making it emotional and soulful enough. A lot of the stuff for Frank, especially in Season 3, is the build up of disappointments, resentments, sadnesses, and occasionally rages, and how he lets all of those things bubble under the surface. You have to feel all of that stuff in their marriage, even if it’s not always being verbalized. That’s always a challenge.
It must be so difficult, to the point of almost being torture, for Frank to be so close to having a life and family with Claire, but feeling that her heart belongs to someone else.
MENZIES: Yeah, there’s a lot of sadness.
Does he feel like a tragic character, in that sense?
MENZIES: I don’t know. That’s maybe not for me to say, really. In a way, how he’s viewed is a narrative structural thing. He didn’t feel tragic, doing it. He tries really hard to make it work, but he ultimately fails. There are times, in the first three episodes, where it’s possible they could make it work. It’s not a foregone conclusion. There’s hope, love, affection and goodwill, at various points along the way, but they constantly just miss each other. I wish we had more time. It would have been nice to have dug into it more, but you get a pretty strong sense of what they want.
How did you enjoy playing the moments as a father, this season, going from infant to young kid to teenager?
MENZIES: That’s one of the things where it would have been great to have more time to do that because those moments were quite fleeting. It’s a big part of the story, the arrival of this child. Brianna is a big new character that comes in, and when she arrives, it changes the whole dynamic. It actually draws Frank away, as Brianna replaces Claire in his affections. He discovers that love and it definitely changes Frank.
Do you think Frank really thought that he and Claire could make it work and that they could really raise this child?
MENZIES: Yeah, sure. I think Claire does, at times, as well. We had to play it like that. We had to play it like they were genuinely really wanting it to work. If it was just Frank and Claire was disinterested, that would not be very interesting. I like that you have these moments where maybe it can happen.
If they had been able to time travel, do you think Jack would manage better in Frank’s time period, or do you think Frank would manage better in Jack’s time period?
MENZIES: I have no idea! That’s a good question, though. I’ll leave that up to you. I don’t know. They’re both very much men of their time. I don’t know how they’d fair somewhere else.
When you play characters like this, that are so exciting to explore, as an actor, how do you find the next thing to follow that up?
MENZIES: It has been a hard act to follow. But also, if you haven’t worked for a bit, you’re like, “I’ll just take anything!” Suddenly, things look really exciting. The variation is always fun. You get a chance to do lots of different things.
Is there a genre that you’d like to work in?
MENZIES: I’d like to do some more American stuff, like a Western. We don’t get a chance to do the American genres over in England. That would be fun.
Outlander airs on Sunday nights on Starz.