Home TVInterviews Interview: Outlander’s Tim Downie

Interview: Outlander’s Tim Downie

by Charles Trapunski

Tim Downie is kind of like our spirit animal, so getting a chance to chat with him a second time (this time about season 5 of a little show called Outlander), was sort of a no-brainer. His character, Governor Tryon, might be a little bit villainous but Downie is anything but, expressing support of the Outlander community in how quickly they have taken to him (maybe his pre-existing friendship with star Sam Heughan makes things a little smoother). But above all, Tim Downie is really funny and quick-witted, and it’s tough to express how he was able to build upon a few of our more surprising questions into an amusing back and forth, one of his first on WhatsApp (he was speaking from England).

The following is a condensed and edited version of our fun talk with the spirited Tim Downie.

Brief Take: How do you feel that everyone on Outlander is now in the same place on the show and getting to work with some new characters this season?

Tim Downie: It’s been great. The Outlander family really is that, it really is a family. And they’re very open and very welcoming, and even though I am a redcoat and there are edges of animosity to that, which is understandable [chuckles], they’ve been great. And it’s been really nice to play out some other scenes with other characters, that with whom you wouldn’t really have relationships, which has been really nice and great fun. They bring what you bring and it’s nice to see when two opposite poles go together and sometimes something that is very interesting to see is created. It’s been great, it’s been great fun, everybody is lovely and I think that we’ve created something really, really exciting this season.

BT: What do you like best about working with Sam Heughan? 

TD: I think it’s trust, we trust each other. We’ve known each other now for over ten years and we trust each other. What’s so nice about that is you know instinctively that within a scene or within a moment, you can push it, just to kind of see what happens. You can push him a bit or antagonize him a bit and he will do the same to me just to see how the other one reacts. Yeah, Sam is a very generous actor and is open to those kind of things, and I think that makes a very exciting scene. We obviously know the lines, we know the moves, we know what we’re doing, we trust each other. But then there is that other element, the element that is the frisson of any high-stakes conversation, you don’t know what the other person is going to do, and so you do need trust and a faith to go: “Okay, well, let’s go on this together, let’s see where it’s going to take us”. I think that’s what makes him a great actor to work with, which is that you know that you will do these things and he will follow you and you will follow him and hopefully, end up with a really lovely piece of work at the end of it. As an episode, as a series and as a whole, all of those lovely, little strands come together and hopefully make something really enjoyable.

BT: How much do you look to the books and to the historical record for this series?

TD: I kind of dip in a little bit to all three. I looked at Diana’s books and got the idea of where the character kind of sits and where to start, where the jump off point is. I did read a little bit, a lot of people from North Carolina saying how important Tryon is within that area, Tryon’s palace still being there. And I think being a very big character, I had never heard of him until this project. And then I find it very interesting as well, it has come to its social history about the time that it’s set and England is a very class based society, and the army would be absolutely no exception to that, especially one that’s ruled half the world. I find that very interesting and that’s an interesting place to pitch it. Because England is like that, how someone then negotiates with someone else and how their relationship is sort of coloured by that sense of class and entitlement. And that can probably tell you more about a character than anything else, it’s a very particular thing that is fascinating to read and to then put into play. Okay, this is then how he would talk to his superiors, this is how he would talk to his contemporaries and how he would deal with everybody else, and I find that very interesting to play. And as a modern eye, it shifts into places that you wouldn’t usually think that things would go, and that makes it very interesting and quite colourful at times.

BT: You were the first guest announced for this year’s Sasnak City. How did you enjoy the experience from last year? Also, I’m supposed to ask you a story about a duck?

TD: I’ve never done anything even remotely closely to something like that. And they were wonderful, they were open and enthusiastic and it was a really wonderful thing to be a part of. And that’s why I said: “Yes, I would love to do it again”. And the duck, the duck is from I think someone asked: “What is the oddest thing that has happened on the set?”. And I remember this one thing is that I was doing this very dramatic scene, I can’t remember what episode it is, very dramatic. And I’m sort of saying: “Well, we should go and do this, and if not, then there will, ooohhh, all sorts will happen”. And I was saying that, it’s being shot near a lake, and as you’re saying: “Well, you do understand the King….” “Quack!” “The King will not stand for…” “Quack!” There’s a duck and I go: “Does anyone else hear that there is a duck there?” To which, it would be going on for five minutes, and then we would [chuckles] stop, wait, no duck, has someone dealt with the duck? We have dealt with the duck, okay fine. We’re good, let’s go again. “So you’ll find that the King…” “Quack!” Why is that duck? The duck’s still there. And it went on and it was the end of the day and it was one of those things in which the crew collapse in fits, no one can take anything seriously after that. It was incredibly good fun. Incredibly good fun, difficult to get through, because you’re kind of thinking: “I need to get through the lines here”, plus there’s an animal that’s very determined, maybe it’s a critic, who knows? But yeah [laughs] very good, very good fun and it seems to be a favourite story of Sassenach at the moment.

BT: Key question: Do you think Governor Tryon will get to participate in a love scene?

TD: I don’t think that the viewers are ready for that. I think it would just be…[chuckles] I think that he would only have to take his jacket off and already you’re going: “It’s dark territory” and there would be screaming, running from the building, pulling down tv aerials, all those kinds of things, writing stern letters. [laughs] No! I don’t think so. I’d like to think people would be interested enough to think: “Yeah, that would be mildly interesting to see”, but no, [chuckles] I don’t think that’s going to be in the cards. He strikes me that if it were in the cards, it would be the type of thing where he would walk quietly into a room, sort of seductively, and the door would shut and it would slooowly fade to black, that sort of like, it would open up and they’re having tea the next morning, that kind of thing, reading the paper fully clothed.

BT: What has been a memorable moment from this past season in terms of fan interactions?

TD: The best memory is that on paper, he’s not a very likeable character. I think that was one of the things that at the very beginning that a lot of people…they knew that I knew Sam and that was kind of it, that was all that anybody knew, that he’s not particularly nice, I mean, he’s not nice to the Frasers and he’s not nice to a lot of people for a variety of different reasons. I think that what’s been really, really nice is that yeah, I am playing that character. And people are taking it to be that character, they’re haven’t kind of dragged it into real life or assume that I’m like that. Everyone’s been incredibly kind and generous. I’ve been overly blessed, I think, with the reaction that people have had. I’ve tried to play Tryon and colour him with, yeah, he’s not me. He’s also quite weak in places, he’s also quite pathetic in certain other ways as well, because he would have grown up in a very isolated world in England. I’ve tried to colour it with that, and I think that it makes him more rounded and more human. He is essentially a puppet of far greater powers, and yeah, I think that shows that people are fallible in many, many different ways. He is probably not as nice, say, [chuckles] as a fallible Jamie Fraser, but at the end of the day he is human and I think that they have embraced that. So that has been really nice, the whole thing, really, all of these little component parts all joined together has made the whole really enjoyable.

BT: You set up a very unpleasant task for Jamie Fraser this season. Do you feel that tension? 

TD: Yeah, absolutely. But I think that it goes back to that thing of where Tryon has come from with his life – that you rule the people. You’re from a ruling class and the ruling class do not care who is below that. And so Tryon would definitely take that, in a way he might admire Jamie, he might say: “I can see what you can offer. I can see why people listen to you, they probably don’t listen to me as much”, he’s astute enough to kind of get it. At the end of the day, he would be thinking: “How can I use this to my advantage?”. What he did was by setting up in season 4, he was like: “Of course you can have land! Of course you can take that area at Fraser’s Ridge. That’s yours, goodness me, but at some point I will ask you for something”. You know that is dealing with the devil. And as soon as you do that almost Faustian pact, it’s not going to end well. He’s not going to say, “Do you know what? I had a lovely time, you keep it. Honestly, keep it, here’s twenty quid, that’s for you. Have a nice seafood meal. I’m off”. It’s never going to end like that. It’s pretty much going to come back with an: “Oh, and by the way, would you just do this?” But that has been really, really, really exciting, because again it kind of goes against our modern way of looking at things. And yes, there are class divides still and this is to an extreme—this is like taking it to eleven—in which someone like Tryon would probably have someone dragged out into the street and flogged for not warming his tea, it’s that sort of extreme way of being. And people would then say: “Thank you for doing that, sir”. So it’s very different, but that’s drama, that’s what makes it interesting.

BT: Which shows do you enjoy?

TD: Stranger Things. I really enjoyed Stranger Things. That tapped into my [chuckles] Yeah, I really enjoyed that. Succession, which was really good. It was written by Jesse Armstrong, who wrote a series over here called Peep Show, which I did. And then he went over there and did that, which was just brilliant, those first few seasons. It’s like Shakespeare, it’s so dark and twisted and yeah, I really, really, really enjoyed that. And there’s things like Modern Family, which is something that you can put on and know that you are in wonderful safe hands for 25 minutes. You’re going to watch these brilliantly crafted comedy performances and that’s always a joy to watch.

BT: What’s something that viewers can look forward to in season five?

TD: The thing about the series is that there’s a lot that you expect, that is then turned onto its head. There’s a lot of movement and shift, and what you thought was steady, things are shifting, things are moving. There are forces at work that throw change and how they deal with change that comes from all directions, it’s not the usual things that they would be expecting, there are the greater forces at work, the shift and move within the series that makes it very interesting, it makes it different to the other seasons as well. There are certain things which you can do something about, and certain things which you can’t do anything about. You get swept up like a wave of history and time kind of takes you. And that’s what’s going to make this series very, very interesting – it’s all about shifts and moves and power play and family and love, and I think that it’s going to be a very good, interesting season.


Outlander season five airs on Sundays at 9pm ET on Starz and W Network

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