Outlander star Richard Rankin has one of the thickest Scottish accents that I have ever encountered. But in the transcription of our exclusive one-on-one interview with the talented performer, photographer, singer and guitarist (and yes, we asked about his singing and playing on the show, and a couple of questions that we sourced from fans of his), the accent becomes very familiar and comforting. While speaking to the man behind Roger Wakefield MacKenzie, Rankin provided deep insight about one of our favourite shows on tv.
The following is a condensed and edited version of our enlightening phone interview with the multi-talented Richard Rankin.
Brief Take: You are wonderful on this series and you have incredible chemistry with Sophie Skelton, both in character but also in press appearances. What is the secret to your rapport?
Richard Rankin: Thank you for saying that, that’s very kind. I suppose [chuckles] I’ve just actually been saying this very thing, I think that we have a lot of trust in each other, which is very important especially given some of the things that we have to shoot together. We’re very comfortable working with each other, I think. We know that we can really rely on each other on set, even in spite of any potential disagreements, which actors are always prone to having. We know what comes out of having that trust and comfort to know that we are always there for each other in each of our scenes is very important and goes a long way.
BT: How do you feel now that Roger and Bree, and Jamie and Claire are all in the same time period this season?
RR: It’s great. It’s the first time that it’s ever really happened. We start season 5 with a wedding and I think that it’s the first time that we’ve had all of the main cast members together in one place experiencing the one thing. So I think that will be really exciting for fans, especially long-time fans, to see all of the characters that they love and their favourites all there at the same place, and it felt like a wedding. It was a lot of fun to play.
BT: This show has such a passionate fandom. What has been your most memorable fan encounter?
RR: We always have such great times with our fans wherever we go, they are a real lively, good-spirited, intelligent bunch for the most part. I was at an event a couple of years ago and the fans had all contributed to buy me a 25 year old bottle of Macallan, which is a beautiful whiskey, very expensive. And I was absolutely floored and flattered by the generosity, which is kind of indicative of our fans across the board, that they’re very generous and they spend a lot of their time and love, I suppose, on us and on the show. But one of the things very recently, and I think it’s been due to fan interaction and fan contribution, because after the wildfires in Australia, I do a bit of photography so I had donated one of my prints that I really like and I thought: “You know what? I’m going to give that one to charity to see if I can raise some money for the wildlife in Australia”, and I think within a day of going online, it had raised $15,000, which all went to help the wildlife causes over in Australia. So I know that the majority of that would have been fans, and I think that would have been a sort of testament of how really with us they are. I was really floored by that.
BT: What sorts of shows do you like to watch?
RR: I like anything that is really well-written. Some of my favourite tv shows are The Wire, The Sopranos, I loved Game of Thrones, but then I was a huge fan of the books. There was Breaking Bad…these shows are really, really well-written, with some really colourful, well-drawn characters. But I like so much tv. I shouldn’t hold myself to much, I shouldn’t even give you a specific show, what I enjoy most is good writing and I enjoy good acting, good directing, when I see all of these things come together in a really strong, positive way, then I react to that, I think, more than a specific type of show or genre.
BT: What are some of your previous projects that stay with you?
RR: I’ve been so lucky with the work that I have done up until Outlander. And I am so very grateful for each of those projects and the effort of my co-stars on each of them, I think I have to take that away as being my…that I am lucky enough on each of them to have had the best luck, the best options, to have worked with the likes of Morven Christie, Vicky McClure and Anne-Marie Duff and Oona Chaplin and Cara Theobold as my co-stars or leading ladies. I feel like that’s kind of like back-to-back-to-back, I felt like I was really in a good place with that and very thankful to have worked with these really, really great actresses.
BT: How does it feel to be able to bring your pursuits of singing and playing the guitar to this series?
RR: I love playing the guitar, that’s something that I have actually recently gotten back into. I try to play at least once a day and I love singing. I’ve always liked singing and that’s something that I always try to do in some capacity, but I love playing the guitar as well, it’s another favourite hobby of mine. It’s great, because Roger can play the guitar and convenient that I can also play the guitar. [laughs]
BT: What is your go-to karaoke song?
RR: Dignity by Deacon Blue or Piano Man by Billy Joel.
BT: It’s lovely to see the easy rapport you have with the cast on the press tour. What does that mean to you?
RR: I think it’s just important to your well-being, right? I think it’s important to your mental health at the end of the day, because you spend so much time with your cast mates and I think that it’s important that not only do you get along, which is fine, that’s the default for a lot of people, but if you actually like each other and enjoy being in each other’s company, then that’s great, that’s just a great life experience above anything else. And I feel fortunate for the most part, for our cast to get on really, really well and some people that I really like and consider to be great friends in the cast. I feel very privileged and very lucky to have that, because that’s my work, that’s my job. We’re out on tour together and we have gone to do press, it’s my job to hang out with these people and I feel quite blessed for that, it’s quite a fortunate position to be in.
BT: What was something that you learned about them recently?
RR: I think just recently that I spent more time with Sam (Heughan) than I had done before. We’ve had the opportunity to get to know each other a lot better than we ever have, I’ve really been enjoying getting to know him a lot better. I think that I have really been enjoying his company, which is something that we really haven’t had the chance to do before now, we haven’t really worked with each other that much in a lot of our stories and whatnot, we’ve been very separate, so there’s not really been too much of a reason to bring us together, so that has been quite a new element in my work with the cast.
BT: You were quite recently in Toronto. What was that experience like for you?
RR: Actually, I only left there yesterday. I’ve never been to Canada, that was the first time I’ve ever been to Canada, and I’ve always wanted to go. And I want to go back because I didn’t spend enough time there. I was only there for about three or four days and Toronto is a city that I’ve always wanted to visit. And one of the other shows, one of the other Starz shows films there, American Gods, and I’m good friends with Ricky Whittle, who’s the lead on that show. I thought that I would surprise him and just fly out to Toronto on my way to New York, it’s not much of a diversion, it’s only an hour away. I thought that I would pop in and surprise him on my way and see a little bit of Toronto while I was at it.
BT: What do you enjoy most about shooting on the incredible location of Outlander?
RR: Being home. Being in Scotland. It’s such a beautiful place and I feel really lucky, not only to film there but to be part of that, to be from Scotland. It’s beautiful, it has an awful lot to offer, and we get to film there for most of the year. I feel very lucky for that.
BT: What do you feel is the most admirable quality in Roger and the one that you lean into the most?
RR: His honour. His determination. His passion for the right thing. He’s a good man and with a very strong moral compass and that often gets him into trouble, but it’s always about doing the right thing and doing right by people. And he has a huge determination to provide for this family, and I think that for them, he will do anything. And I think that his tenacity is a really admirable quality for Roger.
BT: What has been your all-time favourite scene to shoot on Outlander?
RR: That’s a good question. There was this really great road trip that we did quite early on in which we had to drive the car along the Highlands and Sophie and I, Brianne and Roger, are just getting to know each other. That was really a lot of fun, I don’t know if I remember laughing so hard since. That was a really good day of filming.
BT: How much do you lean into history, as well as the books and the scripts, and are you building a world in the series?
RR: It is all of those things, I would have to say. And we are building a world that is inspired and referenced by the books. When I got the part, actually before I even got the part, I was straight into the books, because it was undeniably a great resource, which we were very fortunate to have at our fingertips. I really only had one script when I started and that was episode 213, and that’s really not a lot on which to build a character, so I went to the books to get myself an idea of what this guy was about, what Roger was about, but also what might be the anticipation and the expectation of that character. So I got a lot, I got a rich resource for me and I leaned on that quite heavily before I started. But at the same time, we are building this universe for television, which is a different medium and it has to be adapted for that, so we are at the same time building the world that Diana (Gabaldon) has written.
BT: If you could travel in time to any time period, what would it be?
RR: I would love to go into the future, no ever allows me to do that, if that’s the hypothesis. I’d love to travel maybe 100 years into the future and see where were are, like where are we and what have we done with ourselves as the human race. Did we acknowledge climate change? Have we done things about it? There are a million things that I would want to see… space travel, did we make it to Mars? Did we colonize the moon? These sort of things fascinate me and I would love to see how we advanced.
BT: What has stayed with you from the show long after you had filmed it?
RR: Well yeah, as we go further into season 5…I’m not sure that we’re allowed to chat about it. But other than that, I think there’s so much in it and so much happens to our characters that I suppose what does it mean to really carry trauma with you, to carry real inner conflict within you, with some of the things that happened with the characters. Brianna’s rape, for example, Roger goes through a hell of a time with a Mohawk, he’s beaten, he’s almost killed, he’s held captive, kind of against his will in a time in which he really doesn’t want to be. So what does that mean and how does that inform a person to carry that trauma with you long term and how did that affect you, how did that change you? And that happens quite a lot for our characters, and I think that’s what really sticks and sets up a lot of depth of characters that are really three-dimensional because of what they carry with them, along with who they are as well. I think that Diana writes that really well and the writers do a great job of incorporating that into the show. Yeah, I think that just adds real richness to what we do and into the story.
BT: What is something that you would take from this series into a potential shift into cinematography or directing?
RR: That’s…a really big question, because my experience has gone through the roof on this show, it really has, I’ve gained so much experience and so much knowledge. They have such an amazing crew and directors that come in and are really great and they’re all really very generous with their time, with advice, with getting you what they have to teach or what they have to offer should you want it. And I spend a lot of time absorbing that, all that kind of information and being really interested in what a director’s doing and what our team’s doing and what our crew’s doing, how everything works. I know, obviously, I’m not an expert on any of the departments, but I know how all of the departments work. I know how all the sound teams work, I know what they require, to a certain extent. I know what the camera team need, I know what they require to a certain extent. I wouldn’t necessarily have been so well-informed before Outlander, in any of these things, so to then go on and then be in a position to direct or do something behind the camera, I think that the amount of time and attention and awareness that has gathered everything on set has probably given me more experience, more knowledge, than I think that I maybe even realize at the moment. Because we spend hours upon hours upon hours upon hours on set and I think that by being there, you learn quite a lot. I think that there’s a much bigger difference also between being a guest on a show and being a lead on a show when you’re in a fortunate enough position to be one of the lead characters, then also with that comes a different status, a different sort of…I guess a position on set in which you are in a better position to just learn a lot more and not necessarily give advice, but you can collaborate a lot more I feel with the directors and have much more of a option to creative collaboration with you. So you feel like you’re doing a little bit of directing, or you’re talking about setting up a specific shot, or recommending, on occasion, given the time or the freedom if you’re recommending a shot or a cutaway shot that you are establishing and you are being listened to on that front. So sometimes, not all the time, you won’t always get everything [laughs] that a director will think, but you feel like you have a bit more creative freedom, which I think helps you progress and learn and get experience, and it’s a resource that’s there, if you want to pay attention to how television is made, well, if you’re on set which I highly recommend, then why wouldn’t you?
BT: What keeps you occupied during your down time on set?
RR: That depends on the scene. Sam, Caitriona, Sophie and I don’t have a huge amount of downtime. When we’re on set, we’re usually on set. But whenever I do have any down time, I’m usually off shooting photos, so I’m hanging out with the camera team or basically making a nuisance of myself, trying to learn something from the day before. But in the downtime, I’ll wander off into the woods and take pictures of trees quite a lot.
BT: How was it going from the 1960’s to the 1700’s on set?
RR: It was like stepping on to a different show. In season 2, it felt like we were shooting an entirely different thing, whereas Sam, Caitriona and the rest of the 1700’s cast were shooting a completely different show. So when those worlds came together, it was a very different feeling, going back to the 18th century, you felt like it was immediately contrasting to everything we started in the 1960’s.
BT: Do you feel like you possess 18th century skills to survive?
RR: Yeah, I think that I could potentially get by probably better than Roger does at the start. Like I feel like I’m a better shot, my chances of being able to hunt are probably a bit better than Roger’s. But he’s a fast learner and he’s much more intelligent than I am, so he would probably ultimately last longer.
BT: How do you differ from Roger in other ways?
RR: Yeah, he has much more sentiment and much more patience than I do. I would have been gone after my first opportunity. I would have maybe gone back to the stones and gone home and thought: “You know what, Brianna? You can be with yourself”. [laughs] Like I wouldn’t have stuck around as long as Roger had, probably.
The season five premiere of Outlander is now available on the Starz and Global TV apps