‘Outlander’: Sophie Skelton on Filming the Brutal Finale and Brianna’s Big Season 5 Moments

     May 10, 2020

Outlander wrapped up its fifth season on Sunday night with a dark and gut-wrenching finale.

“Never My Love,” named after the song from 1967, came with a trigger warning at the top of the episode that noted it included “disturbing scenes of a violent and sexual nature,” and provided the link to RAINN.org. Stars of the series, including Caitriona Balfe (Claire Fraser), Sam Heughan (Jamie Fraser) and Sophie Skelton (Brianna Mackenzie) also warned fans in advance on their social media pages that the episode tackled difficult material. Indeed, Claire was assaulted and raped by Lionel Brown and some of his men.

“Thank you all for riding with us on this rollercoaster journey that has been season 5. Please note, this might be another tough one in this season to watch for some of you. If you are a survivor of sexual assault, please take care of yourself during this ep. and please remember that @rainn is a free, confidential, 24hr support hotline should you need it. Their number is: 800-656-HOPE (4673) or if you don’t feel like talking out loud, then Online rainn.org Please also note that very important word… survivor. 🤍 Sending lots of love x #strongerthanyouthink,” Skelton shared on Instagram.

There was a lot of painful trauma portrayed in the episode – material pulled from Diana Gabaldon‘s A Breath of Snow and Ashes – what seemed like a primal-driven rescue, and tearful moments of reunion – like when Claire returned home and saw the daughter she thought she’d never see again – Brianna, in front of her telling her, “I’m home.”

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Image via Starz

Season 5 covered a lot of ground for Skelton’s character, Brianna, allowing the actress to explore more layers of Jamie and Claire’s daughter. Bree formed bonds with her DNA father Jamie in those early episodes, cemented her love with new husband Roger (Richard Rankin), deepened her adult relationship with her mother, Claire, and fought like hell to survive her own kidnapping by the psychologically disturbed pirate Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers), who sexually assaulted Brianna in the previous season.

Skelton opened up to Collider about filming some of the emotional moments in the Season 5 finale, and throughout the season in our new Q&A.

The season finale is hard to watch, and I wanted to know what the mood was like on set.

SOPHIE SKELTON: Yeah it was one of those where we—because it’s a finale episode, when you go into a read-thru, obviously everybody’s really excited for it to be wrapping up and everything, but with the material of it, we had obviously all seen the script. Some of us had had the script a couple of weeks before shooting, some people maybe a day before… And I think it’s just—it was fine on set in terms of, you know, we’ve dealt with a lot of this subject matter before and Outlander has a really good way of dealing with these kinds of things very sensitively. So, in terms of that on set, everybody felt comfortable, but obviously, everyone could feel the gravity of the storyline. And for me, whenever I read a script, I always end up sort of reading it as Brianna. So, to me, it was more just having an immense amount of empathy for Claire and Caitriona just knowing that it’s quite a brutal thing to throw yourself into mentally. And so, yeah, mainly on set it’s all just kind of supporting each other.

I’m just curious if there’s anything special done to allow you guys as actors to have the space you need to do this kind of work? Obviously, you had to do it last season, Caitriona had to do it this season and also, just people having to find out what happened and deal with that. Your character and Sam’s character have their own traumas. And Richard’s character has a lot of trauma too. How do they give you guys the space that you need to kind of find your place as an actor, as a character, in this world, in this episode? Does that make sense?

SKELTON: Yeah. It’s a tricky thing, because we do move pretty quickly on Outlander. We film for a lot of months, but obviously each episode is quite long and there’s a lot of material in there. So, in terms of having the space when it comes to time or anything, we don’t really get a huge amount of it. We wrap up one block… and then we have maybe three days before the next one. So usually it’s a pretty quick turnaround in terms of getting the script, processing it, learning it, and everything else. Obviously with the books, we know that this kind of stuff’s coming, so in terms of prepping for our characters and being able to sit with the story and prep that way, we’re always thinking about it because we know from the books that those things are coming. I can’t speak for Caitriona’s prep, but I know when I was doing it, I would just, after work, would watch a lot of interviews of rape victims, I would watch a lot of court cases, actually, if I could find them of women and men who have confronted their aggressors again, and just how they reacted and … just read a lot of articles … So, in terms of the space that you’re given, a lot of it is just you as an individual taking the initiative to do that research and that work yourself. Obviously people from the show are always there to talk to because they do know that it can be a very hard head space to go to and then, when you’re then thrust into the cold set and rain and gray of Scotland, it can take its toll a little bit. So yeah, it’s as much just knowing that producers and other castmates are all there to talk to and just kind of go through it with.

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Image via Starz

Would you mind telling me a little bit about filming the reunion scene. It’s just a very brief scene where Claire is brought home and she sees Brianna who she thought had gone back to the future. She says, “I never thought I’d see you again.” She hugs her daughter, Brianna hugs Claire, and then Marsali joins in and there’s this embrace between the three of them. There’s such heart in that moment. What was that like to film? You just feel the emotion resonating off the screen as those three women come together.

SKELTON: It’s one of those funny ones where logistically filming it always feels a little bit [disjunct] from the story line because for me, coming down from the house as Brianna, I just wanted to run to Claire. But, logistically with the camera and the way that everything was set up that in terms of the actual physical distance between us and everything else, I wasn’t allowed to. We kind of had to take it as a bit more of a slow walk. So, I just kind of adapted it to – Bree has her worst fears about what happened to Claire. I don’t think she thought was rape on the cards to be honest with you. I think she maybe thought that she’d been held somewhere hostage and whatever else, but I think for Bree, she’s probably suppressed that given what she’s been through… So, I think just seeing Claire and seeing the state that she’s in… it’s very brutal, but I love that Brianna and Claire have this unspoken understanding. It’s like Bree just knows straight away. She can just read the moment; she can read Claire and she knows her mother so well now… and I think it shows how far their relationship has come that they don’t need to speak to understand each other. And I think as soon as Brianna sees her, it really just hits like a ton of bricks. And obviously Brianna of all people knows exactly what she’s feeling in that moment. So, Brianna I think was probably the perfect person for Claire to see first because Bree would just know exactly what she needed in that moment. And honestly, the hair and makeup team for Caitriona were amazing, Caitriona obviously is just amazing, so just seeing that sight anyway, it was just brutal. And for Bree, I think she knows that the one thing her mother needed in that moment is just a friendly face and to be held and to feel safe and I love that that’s Bree’s only line – ‘I’m home.’ It’s almost like, ‘Mum, you don’t have to say anything. It’s OK, I’m here for you.’

And Marsali being in that scene I think is really important too because she may not be a time traveler, but her life is interwoven with these women. Obviously, you had a huge scene with Marsali earlier in the season and she is just such a strong part of the support group. I think that’s so beautiful – the three of them.

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Image via Starz

SKELTON: Definitely. And that’s one thing that I know Caitriona really fought for was to make sure that the women weren’t all batting off each other—that Marsali and Brianna weren’t fighting for Claire’s attention or anything like that. And I think that that moment sums that up beautifully in that it’s almost a thank you from Brianna, too. She knows that Marsali has been there for Claire. Brianna doesn’t like blood, so she hasn’t been helping with the surgery and any of that and she loves that her mother has an apprentice to do that with. She’s very grateful for Marsali for that. And obviously Marsali and Claire have just been through something together that Brianna wasn’t privy to and didn’t know what happened. So she sees that Marsali’s been beaten up too, and just for them all to just be together in that moment and feel safe and even the way Bree steps back for a second just to give those two a moment, because they’ve obviously been really worried about each other—Marsali and Claire—I think it all just plays out really beautifully and really natural and yeah, they’re all just supporting each other and knowing that they’re safe.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next season, but I would love to see them pairing you up with Lauren Lyle, who plays Marsali, more because those are really nice interactions when they put the two of you together.

SKELTON: Yeah, I love that scene earlier in the season. And even the short goodbye scene that we had. It’s lovely and I always say within Outlander, there’s so much that goes on – Diana’s books are amazing and there’s so much content in them that it’s really hard to fit everything into a season… So, I think it is really good that we kind of book ended a nice Brianna-Marsali scene just to remind the audience that they are sisters and it’s a tough time for both of them, but for different reasons. And I think that it’s lovely to show that these two women from completely different time periods can just bond and get on really well and actually still manage to give each other sound advice, even though they don’t fully know what the other one’s going through.

So not going through the stones – did they tell you and Richard that [Brianna and Roger] weren’t actually going to make it to the future when you went through the stones or did they leave that hanging when they sent you the script?

SKELTON: I think I knew, just from the books (Editor’s note: THE FOLLOWING COMMENT CONTAINS POTENTIAL FUTURE SHOW & PAST BOOK SPOILERS) when Brianna and Roger go back in the books, it’s after they’ve had Mandy and the reason that they go back is to give Mandy heart surgery because she has a heart problem… So, from reading it at that point I knew that, or I thought I knew, that they weren’t going to make it back to the future. So, it wasn’t a huge surprise when I saw that they hadn’t.

Looking back on this season, because there was so much for Brianna to do this season, do you want to talk a little bit about what you found most challenging this season because they gave you so much.

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Image via Starz

SKELTON: I know. Well, it’s been good because that’s the Brianna that I’ve been really excited to play since I got the role. A lot of my audition scenes were sort of this version of Brianna where she’s a little more mature, she’s got a bit more life experience under her belt and she understands her mother at this point. So, I think she’s a little less quick to anger, shall we say, at times. So for me, it’s actually just been really liberating to have all this stuff and be able to show the Bree that I always know what’s going on in Brianna’s head, but she doesn’t always have a huge opportunity to show it. She’s very good at putting on a façade and really covering up what she’s feeling. So, this season, I’ve just loved that she’s actually been able to show it. Even in scenes with – the stuff with Ed [Speleers, who played Stephen Bonnet]. That’s probably some of the most challenging just because of the emotional place you have to put yourself in is really brutal, but I loved doing those scenes because I love that we get to see the Brianna who is very good at putting on an act and pretending she’s fine, but then actually, when the camera’s just on Bree and Bonnet can’t see Brianna’s face, we as an audience, get to see into Bree and see what’s going on inside, which hasn’t always been the case of Brianna for a lot of the seasons. So now, I’m just excited that actually the audience can see both the façade and her inner thoughts for what they are as opposed to just being the strong, stoic Fraser.

Let’s just move on quickly to the end and what you want to see next season. We know the remaining Browns are going to be a problem. There are a lot of people hoping that Brianna will finally get to meet her brother, Willie. Is there anything you’re looking forward to next season?

SKELTON: Yeah, I think it will be really exciting to work with the actor who plays Willie, because I don’t know what age he’ll be at this point. It’s always fun when you’re working with someone new on set. But mainly just sort of, obviously now that Brianna and Roger have stayed in the past, it just means that there’ll be some more Fraser time, which is always fun because as I said before, the season’s always so packed … but when we actually get some family time, it’s always good fun. So hopefully there’ll be some more Brianna, Jamie and Claire scenes, because they’re always great to film.

For more on the Outlander Season 5 finale, check out our post-finale interview with actress Lauren Lyle.

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