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February 25, 2019

Finding His Way

As Roger Mackenzie in Starz's Outlander, Richard Rankin has had to find his way through space and time.

Monica Gleberman
  • Starz
  • Starz
  • Starz
  • Starz
  • Starz

Outlander has been a hit on Starz for over four years now.

The series had its season four finale on January 27, leaving fans in what they call a "droutlander." The series takes so long to film and produce that the new season might not air for almost a year.

Luckily, to help ease the pain of the drought, had the exclusive pleasure of sitting down with Richard Rankin who plays Roger Mackenzie on the show, who had some insights into his character this season, why one should never give up hope, and the hero he found in his character.

When you read the script what originally drew you into playing Roger and do you still have those feelings now four seasons in?

We went through quite a long audition process which I think took something like a year and a half and I know there were changes to the writing, the characters were coming in at various different points originally that it had to change so the audition process ended up taking longer than it normally would.

So at that time I was able to read the books, books one to four anyway and get an idea of the character get an idea of the story. Season one Roger and the audition process has very much stayed with me because now because in season four I have had the chance to play that. And it was worth the wait to watch him and meet him.

In the beginning I still felt he was a very interesting character, he was just a different character because he was this historian and a sort of humbled, mild fellow. He goes through a lot of changes over the seasons so it's nice to go through that transition. It's everything you could want in one job.

What is it like playing someone that literally travels through time and what do you pull from to try and make that believable or relatable?

Well that was a lot fun. There's no way to relate. It's not really something you can prepare for because you can't read up on various people who say that have touched stones and gone back in time. You really need to live in that that imaginary world and your imagination to get you through. It's the only way you can do it and it's a lot of fun to play.

I didn't do any particular prep work other than be ready in terms of scenes. These characters we've all played so long and we know the story so well that it's much easier to invest in the story and in their world, which helps us a lot.

One of your first scenes after traveling through the stones is on the ship when Roger has to watch a kid get thrown out of the window. It felt like your character changed in the instant. How did you feel about that scene?

I'll talk about that specific scene because you mentioned it. I remember that being one of the longest shooting days ever. I was so tired and it was so taxing - quite emotionally draining because you're watching as a six or seven year-old girl gets thrown off a ship and the rest of the crew not getting treated very nicely.

So I remember stepping on set and seeing little Kitty, who is the girl that plays that character, and being struck quite heavily emotionally by the impact of what she was going through because she had pox and she was going off the ship one way or another. I think Roger knew that as much as he tries to intervene he knows that her fate is sealed.

People talk a lot about the preparation for your character and the preparation of the story. But if you know what's going on you should be able to walk on set and play. If your character's prepared and story is prepared that should have an impact. That should land on the day of filming and the playing of the scene.

And working with Ed Speleers, who plays Stephen Bonnet, that's all we cared about was to just play and see what we could find and discover within in the scene. I think a lot of that worked really well and that's one of those scenes that I think that's a good example of that.

Can you talk to me about the Bree and Roger reunion and marriage?

What I like about the relationship and what I like about Roger particularly through a lot of the stuff with Brianna is you get to see the very human side of him. Everyone has their flaws right? I think that in that moment for Roger you see the flaws in him as a person and love is never straightforward. And relationships are never straightforward. They are complicated and there's a lot more going on.

People just want them to be happy and be together and be in love and that's such a beautiful thing. But if you want to bring any honesty in, any reality, it's difficult and people are different and people have opposing opinions and people can be stubborn and people can be argumentative and Brianna and Roger are certainly stubborn.

They have their own ideas and they're very strong willed people and Brianna is a very modern independent woman and Roger is quite old fashioned and of his time and of his upbringing. So a lot comes with that and that immediately is going to cause some kind of conflict between the two of them whether they like it or not.

They have differing ideas sometimes. I think they're both very valid. I think they're both very justified in what they say and their actions. I think Roger doesn't often approach Brianna an optimum way. That causes friction between the two and I think that's what happened there.

They love each other very much and are very happy to see each other. Very grateful for seeing each other and supposed they had probably thought they had lost one another as well so I feel like there's a lot going on there. And when they got married I think they thought that they were in a very good place.

Obviously immediately the argument flares up so it was an interesting one to play because it's basically them again because they don't communicate very effectively. That seems to have generated a lot of discussion I think because there's a lot of interest in it, there's a lot of honesty.

The fact that is that sometimes what relationships are like, things are unsaid to cause problems or things you should have said to each other. That causes problems and I think we're seeing that a couple of times with those characters. Human flaws come out and you see what relationships can actually be like if you don't communicate effectively enough.

I think that was that's why that was particularly enjoyable to play even though I'm not sure Roger came out looking great.

I feel it's a little more relatable for me to watch.

It's trying to bring realism and trying to play the complexity and honesty to a relationship because it's such a dynamic, changing thing and you want it to be as real as possible, not as ideal or as romantic as possible because sometimes the drama and the potential drama and that kind of relationship is going to be more interesting to watch I think.

Moving forward things seem to just get worse for Roger, than better. He gets punched out by Jamie, ends up with the Mohawks. He is thrown into this new reality. One scene shows Roger tying knots to keep track of the time. Do you think Roger has ever given up hope, I mean he is still making those famous Roger jokes.

He is human, making light is just how we deal with things as people sometimes. And he's been there for a long time. So I think we are just seeing a moment of that light humor. I don't think at that point he's confident at all. I think what he said in that scene was "I'm not going to die here" and Roger says, "because I can't I just can't. I'm going to get back to my wife and find a way to escape."

I think the humor is used to boost moral. I mean he's 700 miles from where he started. He knows how many days have passed he's been trying to keep track of landmarks. So he might find a way to go back to where he was and ultimately get to Brianna. But I think what he's doing is keeping spirits up, keeping hope up. I think he is actually feeling pretty doomed at that point.

When Roger did escape and find the second set of stones, why do you think Roger didn't touch the stones and go home?

It's his compassion. It's the hero in Roger, or the wannabe hero might be more appropriate. He can't bear the idea of giving up on Brianna even though all odds are seriously stacked against him. In that scene he has the Mohawk trying to find him in a countryside he doesn't know.

But there he is, presented with this miraculous way out of a situation like he couldn't have asked for anything better to happen at that point. It's like it has been sent down from the heavens it's so unlikely but there he is presented with an opportunity to escape.

This is kind of a testament to his character. Time and time again, he doesn't take it in what could potentially be the end for Roger. But he can't abandon Brianna.

You give this great monologue when, after being stuck in the hut with the priest where Roger says he is going to start looking after himself and confesses how he has been an idiot this entire time and explains what happened to him after falling in love.

Has Roger lost hope at that point? I was worried, but then in a scene that was kind of ironic he get freed only to run back and put the priest out of his misery, while we watch his love walk into the flames with him leaving a child. There seems to be a change in Roger in that moment.

I think that for Roger there is a lot going on when he gives that speech. There are a lot of parallels as you mentioned, like his wife going into the fire and leaving the child. I think you're right that there are a lot of parallels between that relationship and Roger and Brianna's relationship and I think it's used as a way to reflect on their relationship.

The whole speech he gives the father, I was very grateful for. And you're right. There's a change in Roger but there's been a progressive change. There has been a bit of a transition, an evolution of the character. In that speech he's saying that out loud for the first time I think.

There is a self discovery in that and there's a lot of realization for the first time of all the stupid things he's done and all the times that it's tripped him up and the things that he's done for Brianna and the things that he's done for love and this whole idea of, you know, that this whole romantic idea that it's just encapsulated his whole story and how stupid it has all been.

Well it isn't actually the case I'm not sure how much he believes that. I think if you look at it quite literally, quite logically, yes, everything he's done has been quite bold, very bold. I can see why in that moment he is calling it stupid, but I think Roger would potentially do it again for her and for the people that he's tried to help along the way.

He does do it again. Literally its one of the first things he does after saying he is going to look after himself.

So that is the irony as he says all those things I'm looking out for number one and I'm going to do that and that's me and I'm going to start looking after myself and be more selfish. And then the first thing it does is he runs back. So it just this is just a testament to that character's inability to watch anyone in need or anyone in any sort of despair has to go back.

There's this heroic quality in Roger, I hate to use that word, but I suppose that's what it is. So what he's trying to be, that's just what he is. And he has so much compassion and so much of a good nature that he has to go back and help him even though ultimately that's potentially fatal move for Roger.

He knows that that could be the end of the story for him. But at least he might be able to do something. He doesn't even know what he's going to do when he gets there, so that's how stupid that is, but he does it anyway.

Well, for the finale we get to see Roger and Jamie together for the first time. What is that going to be like moving forward next season?

I think it's just going to be one big happy family. And really well and probably get a little cottage and a farm and have some animals and go riding in the day and pack apples in the afternoon [laughs]. Live all of season five very happily.

So is that what fans can expect moving forward for Season 5? That doesn't sound like Outlander.

That sounds like Outlander no? Ha, that's all I am giving you because I actually don't even know yet [laughs]. They haven't told me anything.

Is there anything you want to say to your fans during this drought?

Well we're always very grateful of our fan base. They are always so connected, passionate and so dedicated to the show and obviously we wouldn't be where we are without them. As always, a nice big thank you for the support and for all the presents that they've been sending. Keep sending presents and thank you.

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