There’s a new man on Starz’ Outlander. Fans of Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies have already taken a liking to Richard Rankin as Roger in his brief appearance during season two. Season three is where Outlander really gets into Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and Roger’s storyline from the Diana Gabaldon books.
The cast of Outlander was at a Television Critics Association event for Starz and Showbiz Junkies sat down with Rankin one-on-one to talk about his increasing role in the show. Outlander returns September 10, 2017 on Starz.
This might sound crazy but a fan actually wanted me to ask why you went with a beard instead of clean-shaven for Roger?
Richard Rankin: “Well, the truth is that wasn’t my choice. There was a series of photographs and things done where I went into makeup/costume tests. I think it may have been Ron (Moore). I’m not entirely sure but someone didn’t like the clean-shaven look for Roger so we went with a beard. There were many variations of that beard so I think they just felt it was more fitting with the period, this academic, this one assistant professor would more likely be fuzzy than not I suppose.”
What was the scene you auditioned with?
Richard Rankin: “Oh, there were many, many, many auditions. I had audition scenes with Claire, audition scenes with Brianna, a mixture of the two and they were all crucial scenes which have yet to come, actually. There weren’t many scenes that I auditioned with that were in season two and most of them weren’t even in season three. So, I think they just wanted to get a good sense of where we may go with the characters. A lot of them were spread out over the books rather than already adapted scenes for television.”
Outlander is such a sweeping, romantic show. Do you feel that atmosphere on the set?
Richard Rankin: “Yes. It’s an epic. It’s an epic show. There are so many people involved. We’ve got an amazing production team from the showrunners, from Ron and Matt (Roberts) and Maril (Davis) and all of our execs and writers. They’re very hands-on. They’re a very passionate group themselves and they love the show so much that that filters down through the rest of the team. There’s always that energy on set, that excitement about the show that we’re making, I believe, a really quality TV show.”
Had you ever done a ‘60s era period piece before?
Richard Rankin: “No. It’s a period piece whichever way you look at it, right? I’ve done period before. The earliest I’ve been back is World War I. I did this show called The Crimson Field which was set in World War I so predates where we find Roger and Brianna, but nothing from the swinging ‘60s. This is my first.”
Did you do any research?
Richard Rankin: “Oh yeah, I did a ton of research. The time period itself, I wanted to obviously have an awareness of the ‘60s and where we find Roger, the culture, the music, the political scene at the time, what was going on, major historical events just to give yourself a sense of place. This is what any actor does I suppose, but I read a lot of the books to give myself a sense of Roger, give myself a flavor of what he’s about. Obviously, he’s a historian so I ventured off into more remote parts of Scotland that I thought Roger might have because he’s so passionate about that field, I thought I’ll give myself an idea of what that would be. I think because the piece – a lot of it is historically accurate and obviously we’re touching on major historical events throughout the story which is one of the things I think is great about it, then I think it’s important we have an awareness of these elements of the story that we’re telling.”
Is Roger socially aware and politically conscious?
Richard Rankin: “Yeah, obviously that doesn’t really factor too much into the story but I think as an academic, as the intellectual that Roger is, I think he’s getting in touch with that scene.”
You were the only one on the panel who read through book five. Did you learn anything in that book that gives you an advantage for your performance?
Richard Rankin: “Oh no, I don’t think it gives you an advantage. People who have read the books, Caitriona (Balfe’s) read some, Sophie’s read a few of the books, we’re all reading them for maybe slightly different reasons. I don’t think there’s any point in seeing too far ahead with your character because you’re not playing that yet. You don’t want that to taint the performance that you’re giving now. The reason that I read ahead was just to get an idea, because I didn’t have a whole lot of material available to me when we started on season two. I just wanted to get a more rounded idea of what Roger was about and what the fans would expect and their perception of him. And also to give myself an idea of where he was headed so I’m then in a better position to plot that throughline for Roger.”
Could anything prepare you for meeting the Outlander fans?
Richard Rankin: “Nothing can prepare you for meeting the Outlander fans. They’re an incredible group of people, second to none I think. They’re a very passionate and vocal bunch. They’re really committed to the show. Without such an invested fan base, the show obviously wouldn’t be where it is today and continued to grow. They really help spread the word. Their love for the show is just infectious.”
Did you have any memorable encounters at Comic Con?
Richard Rankin: “I met Ricky Whittle from American Gods who is my new bestie. We were on the New Warriors panel so that was cool. He’s a really cool guy. I really got on with him. I think that’s going to be a friendship for life, so that was worth doing that.”
And from fans?
Richard Rankin: “There was only one fan that particularly stood out because when she got to Sophie and I, she was like, ‘So, what do you guys do? Are you in the show?’ And I was like, ‘What? How are you on this autograph panel?’ She said, ‘Oh no, I only watched up to halfway through season two.’ And I was like, ‘Actually, I’m just crew. I’m security for these guys. Actually, I’m a signing double for Sam.’ So that was pretty funny.”
Do you have anything coming out after Outlander?
Richard Rankin: “Oh no, I’m pretty committed to Outlander for the foreseeable future. I think we have a lot of big stuff coming up that we’ve yet to film and that’s going to keep us very much involved with the production for the next while anyway.”
Even though Roger is not on the ships, are your sets going to be in South Africa just so the whole crew is together?
Richard Rankin: “Well, I’m not sure because I haven’t read any of the scripts. I know the story of season four but I haven’t read any of the scripts. I don’t know how they’re going to adapt that or what elements of the story they’re going to tell or how they’re going to tell the story. The writers are so good when they’re adapting it to keep, I suppose, the essence of the story, the main throughline of the story but they may have to change things for logistical or storytelling reasons. I’m not sure how yet we’re going to do that so I can’t really say. There is a part of book four where Roger has a voyage on his own and he meets some new key characters in book four, but whether or not that comes over the screen I don’t know.”
How quickly did you know you had chemistry with Sophie?
Richard Rankin: “I don’t. I don’t. There is no chemistry there. No, well straight away. When you do a chemistry test, I think it’s immediately apparent if you’re clicking with someone. It’s not something you really have to hash out or work at. Obviously when you’re at that stage of casting, you know the characters inside out, you know the story and you know the scene, so it’s just a case of seeing if you get in front of that camera for the test and if it just clicks. If there’s just that spark there. Obviously with Sophie that was present immediately.”
More on Outlander Season 3:
– Exclusive Ronald D Moore Interview
– Caitriona Balfe Interview
– Sam Heughan, Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies Q&A
– Sophie Skelton Interview