‘Outlander’: Richard Rankin and Sophie Skelton on Navigating Fan Expectations

     October 8, 2017

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Currently in its third season, the Starz drama series Outlander has seen 20 years pass, as Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) have attempted to make a life apart from one another work, separated by the centuries while each are haunted by the memory of their lost love. At the same time, it’s a fun balance to watch the budding relationship between their daughter, Brianna (Sophie Skelton), and Roger Wakefield (Richard Rankin).

During this interview with Collider, co-stars Richard Rankin and Sophie Skelton talked about what it’s been like to be a part of the Outlander fandom, wanting to live up to fan expectations, the relief of having a built-in fan base, how they prepared to play their characters, what fans can expect from their relationship this season, and why their characters are the opposite of Jamie and Claire.

Collider:  What’s it been like to sign onto Outlander and be a part of this world, knowing how beloved it is? 

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Image via Starz

RICHARD RANKIN:  There’s a hashtag that says #OutlanderFansDoEpicShit. That’s true! They’re so vocal and so passionate. They support the show, like almost no other show with a fan base.

SOPHIE SKELTON:  They’re amazing! They really are.

RANKIN:  There’s actually only six fans, but they’re just so passionate and powerful that they carry the fandom. No. They’re amazing! Coming onto the show at the end of Season 2, the show was well-established and had a huge fan base. It had a huge fan base before it even started, with something like 23 million book readers. The reception has been amazing. It was quite nerve-wracking, coming onto a show with characters that people have been reading about for years, and carrying that on screen. It’s been an interesting and exciting experience.

SKELTON:  You put the pressure on yourself to keep the characters true to what these people have been in love with, for years and years. The first book was written about 20 years ago, so people have been living with Brianna and Roger for longer than we have.

RANKIN:  People have a real sense of what they should look like.

SKELTON:  Neither of us have the correct features of our characters, but nor did Caitriona [Balfe], and the fans were amazing and really accepted her. The fans are absolutely amazing! It’s been really great coming onto the show. They’ve been very welcoming.

Even though it’s scary to join a show that’s already successful, is it also reassuring to know that fan base is already there?

SKELTON:  There’s kind of a relief in that. Look at how many pilots of shows are amazing, and then they never get picked up. So, as daunting as it can be, it’s also really nice to come onto something where there is that fan base and support. You know the show is already doing well, so you just ride with that.

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Image via Starz

RANKIN:  Along with that, you get to come in and be such an integral part of such a great story. People join successful shows, but they don’t have the good fortune to join a show they actually enjoy. We’re on a show where we both really love the story and the books, where it’s going, the characters, their relationships, the dynamics of that, and the constant evolution of that. Outlander is always changing and always moving forward, at a really fast, exciting pace.

SKELTON:  There’s a different underlying story each season, which is nice. When you’re on something for so long, you hear people say that it gets monotonous. For us, it doesn’t because the story is always changing and there’s always a different background to it, with new characters coming in, all the time.

RANKIN:  Being on such a successful show when you also really love the material is a rare opportunity. There’s nothing superficial or shallow about any of the storylines or relationships.

SKELTON:  If you summed it up and said, “It’s about a woman that goes to the past, falls in love with someone else, and then gives birth to a child that’s raised by a different father,” it could sound like a very modern-day plot of a kitchen drama. But it’s done so well and it’s so rich, the whole thing.

RANKIN:  There’s just so much in it that to pinpoint what it is, is really difficult, in a good way.

How did you guys prepare to play these characters?

RANKIN:  The important thing about Brianna and Roger, that we need to keep in mind, is their lineage because it’s crucial to the story. As the story moves forward, it’s a very important element of Roger and Brianna. That’s further explored for Roger, further down the line, should they adapt it the same as the books. It’s also crucial for Brianna, the circumstances surrounding her lineage. It’s very important to keep that in mind.

SKELTON:  The important thing to remember with Roger and Brianna is that you’re coming from seeing 18th century scenes, and then you’re in the ‘60s. Even the ‘60s music is so light and boppy, just to give the contrast between the two centuries. With Brianna, she’s almost like Claire, in that she’s very modern for her day. Even in the ‘60s, she’s a little bit more modern. It’s slightly out of the decade.

RANKIN:  The feeling I get is that Roger and Brianna have this modern shell about them, just because of the time they live in, but I like to think that, underneath that, you can really see that 18th century bloodline. That starts to unravel, as it moves on.

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Image via Starz

SKELTON:  They’re like old souls that are quite modern for the decade. It’s quite a span for them. But in terms of prepping for the roles, we both read the books. I auditioned, for the first time, in 2014. I read the books, but the series wasn’t out then. And then, about a year later, I auditioned again, by which time the series was out. I watched it, over and over again, just to take little bits of Jamie and Claire to incorporate them into Brianna. I wanted it to be that she is genetically like Jamie. By this point, the fans had watched two seasons of the show, and I wanted them to recognize parts of Jamie in Brianna. Whereas with Claire, I didn’t want that to be as prominent. I wanted it to be more things that Brianna could have picked up from Claire, from watching her every day, as opposed to genetic facial movements. I just wanted to make a hybrid of those two people while also keeping true to the book Brianna.

RANKIN:  It was important to me to get an idea of the fans’ perception of Roger, although I didn’t play to that because I think it’s important to portray these characters as honestly as you can and with as much truth as you can. I wanted to bring more of me to the part, rather than the expectations of it, but I think it’s important to respect that. The fans have a real expectation for what these characters are about, and I wanted to know what makes him tick. So, I did a lot of reading. I read ahead, quite a bit, to get an idea of what he was about. I also traveled around a bit and got involved in some Scottish history. That’s what Roger is passionate about, so I dove into stuff that he may be looking at or researching, or that he’d have an extensive knowledge of. I just geeked out.

SKELTON:  We wanted to be true to the ‘60s, as well. It was a very different decade, in that people were starting to come out of their shells a lot more. It was a very experimental life, in the ‘60s. We wanted to incorporate that into them, too, so that it has that feel.

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