‘Outlander’: Ed Speleers on Stephen Bonnet’s Storyline Twist

     April 26, 2020

Spoilers for Outlander Season 5 Episode 10 follow below.

Outlander sped things up for Sunday night’s episode, addressing a book storyline sooner than expected.

In episode 510, “Mercy Shall Follow Me,” villain Stephen Bonnet was finally brought to justice, jumping ahead to a plotline from Diana Gabaldon‘s sixth book in the Outlander series, A Breath of Snow and Ashes. Bonnet, played by British actor Ed Speleers, was shot by Brianna Mackenzie (Sophie Skelton), after being sentenced to death by drowning for his crimes.

Bonnet was the series’ most chilling character since Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies). He entered the show in Season 4, and after escaping hanging due to the kindness of Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), the pirate and smuggler went on to rob them, murder their friend and rape their adult daughter Brianna (who ended up pregnant, though it remains uncertain in the Starz drama who the DNA-father of her son is).

In his final episode, Bonnet came back not just for the boy he believed to be his son – Jeremiah Mackenzie – and to murder his way into owning Aunt Jocasta’s River Run plantation (Jocasta had made Jemmy heir to the estate) – but due to a disturbed desire to form a family with Brianna. But, after he learned Brianna was only placating him to escape (he had captured her earlier in the episode and was holding her against her will), the twisted Bonnet attempted to sell her to another ship’s captain. Thankfully, Claire, Jamie, Roger Mackenzie (Richard Rankin) and young Ian Murray (John Bell) turned up in time and rescued her, captured Bonnet and delivered him to Wilmington where he was sentenced to death by a fate he’d previously revealed haunted him – drowning. As he was beginning to choke on the waves as the tide rose, Brianna shot him in the head instead, giving him a quicker death, and one which her husband Roger asked if it was for justice or to make sure Bonnet was dead.

Speleers, a downstairs alum of Downton Abbey and the titular character in 2006’s big screen feature Eragon, was at home in England, observing social distancing and the U.K.’s rules related to COVID-19, when Collider spoke to him about his exit from the show. But first, we had to ask him about the runs he’s been doing – and sharing on his Instagram story – aimed at raising funds for Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Image via Starz

How’s your plantar fasciitis, which you mentioned on a recent run-related Insta-video, doing?

ED SPELEERS: It’s all right. It’s OK. I’m actually currently [elevating it]. My mum, who was a nurse in the NHS for many years, gave me some sound advice and I’m currently sat out upstairs with my foot out the window, watching the street, listening to the birds go to sleep, and the trees are sort of very gentle, and I’m hoping that my foot’s going to be fine for me to run tomorrow. But we’ll see.

You’ve been shining a light on the NHS and the city of Bristol, U.K. What made you decide that that was important to do during this time?

SPELEERS: As I briefly mentioned, my mum was in the NHS for many years and she actually came out of retirement for this crisis. I’ve been surrounded by the health service all my life. I’m not going to sit here and say we’re all in together because we’re all in hugely varying situations and I’m very fortunate, but there are some people in gravely grave situations, and I’m very lucky to be able to enjoy the time I have with my family at the moment, but I also was like, ‘Well, hang on, there must be something I can do. There must be something I can do physically.’ I thought, ‘Well, I like running. I haven’t got back into running for a while, so let me get back into it.’ I saw all these people doing these 5K, nominate five people; thought that was brilliant and saw the whole thing going on with Captain Tom Moore and that was like unbelievable. It’s astounding that this gentleman was just walking on his walker every day until his 100th birthday. I thought, ‘Well, if he can be out there doing that every morning in a suit, then I can get up and run with a dog.’ So, I thought, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s try and set myself a target and do it.’ So, I’m going to get back out and do 10K a day until the end of the UK lockdown. … The Bristol element, I guess it was because, yes, the NHS needs support, but the NHS needs huge support whether this crisis is on or not. … However I feel that we all live in – whether it be villages, towns, cities, all around the world, wherever we live, we have places that are businesses that are part of our community that are run by individuals, that are run by teams, that are run by a plethora of people, talented people, for many different reasons and I just wanted to show that a little bit, and just look at some of these great spots. … It was just a very, very small thing I wanted to try and do to try and do something positive and I guess, give something back in a way.

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Image via Starz

Awesome stuff. So, just switching over to Outlander – they really sped up your storyline. I actually wasn’t expecting it to go this way this quickly. Did you know at the start of the season that this would be your last?

SPELEERS: No, I didn’t have a clue. I found out whilst I was on holiday. I had a phone call from part of the production team saying was I able to come in for a prosthetic fitting for a bullet hole. … At first I thought, ‘This sounds [like] quite good fun. Where’s the bullet hole going to be? Is it going to be in my arm or leg? Graze my cheek – something exciting like that?’ And it was right between the eyes, so I thought ‘Oh, that probably means I’m not going to get out of this one.’ So, yeah, I found out in a slightly default way, but I guess me being me, my first reaction I was taken aback to an extent because I felt that I wanted to do more. There was lots more I wanted to achieve with the role before he had his final goodbye. But also, I guess, from a writing point of view, there’s a lot of people to juggle. How do you keep someone like that bubbling away whilst giving him enough airtime without doing something that is quite [grave] to him? I know in the books he has this big standoff where ends up being shot where it really does hurt. And I knew the back of that at some point he was going to die. I felt that this was probably the right time, but it maybe felt a bit premature to start with. I guess from a creative point of view, at least the exit strategy was well-written. I feel that the script for that final episode was a meaty one, was a good one in terms of the writing and so it was a good opportunity to maybe get the chance to say the things that he’d always wanted to say.

Right. I really thought, watching the episode, that they gave you an incredible amount to do acting-wise and I was curious how you decided to approach it because he swings from one end to the other and around a circle. He has to go through so many different changes in this particular episode and to be very technical about it, that seemed to me like it might be very difficult to do. Can you talk a little bit about how you approached that as an actor?

SPELEERS: That is always difficult to do, but I love a challenge. I’ve had plenty of jobs where I haven’t had the opportunity to try and get my teeth into something and express it in a way I might want to. And I feel that actually, we’ve seen him be the character before, where he’s bounced around the emotion chart and maybe it’s been leaning more on one side, and maybe on this occasion actually we saw – I’ve not seen the episode, but based on what the writing was and what I think happened on the day – you feel it was certainly an opportunity to show some of these other facets that we’ve not seen in him before. As an actor, that’s what I’m craving to do. I enjoy working and I enjoy trying to get my head around how these people – how any human works and how this particular person – what makes him tick and what makes him respond in a way of what actually is going on beneath all the exterior … but there’s got to be a core within there that is perhaps hurting. He’s a human at the end of the day, so I want to get into that root.

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Image via Starz

I’m curious how much you went into the psychology of this character because we do get backstory in this episode. We learn about his mother – that he didn’t have – his father – that he didn’t have – the [story from his past about] the cellar comes out in this episode. That’s paired with, I think with kind of an interesting reveal or tell from your character where he talks about Brianna visiting him in the jail and not wanting anything from him and he’s never really experienced anything like that before. There’s a lot going on. … How much do you dig into that psychology of that character?

SPELEERS: I aim to dig into all of. For me, it’s like I don’t want to leave a stone unturned, so I think you have to – especially with a character like this, there’s an element of treading carefully because there are certain things he says and does that he doesn’t necessarily mean because he does not respond the way you or I may respond. He’s not on a normal level. So, there are sociopathic qualities. He will say and do things in order to better himself. But I do think this script certainly allowed the chance to maybe show a more honest version of him in flashes and it’s interesting because the answer to your sort of first question, I think, because he’s showing flashes of it before flipping back into the Bonnet we’ve sort of come to recognize, but that psychology, for me, I have to try and explore all of it to try and understand it and to try and give it any weight at all. My interpretation may be completely off from Diana’s point of view and the writer’s point of view, but I had to try and get some handle on it. How do I relate to him in some way in order to do that?

I think I can fit in one last question [and I wanted to ask you] what your Outlander experience was like, because I do think that joining a show like this – I mean, Downton obviously had a kind of similar experience, Outlander is in that vein as well. You get embraced quickly and brought into the fold. That doesn’t happen on every job you do.

SPELEERS: You’re right. I think when shows work and shows are good then you tend to walk into environments that are pretty upbeat. It’s like anything, isn’t it? … I feel there’s a really wonderful camaraderie on both sides of this camera on this show. And, yeah, I feel very lucky to generally hold some good friends as a result of this job. And I don’t say this in some sort of flippant, negative way, but I don’t say that about every job because you’re not always going to connect with lots of people. But this is – it’s genuinely a lovely place to work, it’s a lovely country to work [in] up in Scotland, with these people. … I was very fortunate to be a part of that and I’m sad to leave it, but hopefully my paths will cross with many of them at some point.

Outlander airs on Sundays on Starz.

Television