Sophie Skelton and Richard Rankin came to the TV Critics tour to talk about Outlander‘s new season. Starz’s romantic time-travel saga has finally premiered Season Five. This is the moment fans had patiently waited for!
Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) are celebrating the wedding of their daughter Brianna (Sophie Skelton) to Roger (Richard Rankin). So all is well in the 1700s, but Roger still longs to return to the 20th century from where he, Claire and Brianna have traveled.
Outlander 5.01 – Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) and Brianna Randall (Sophie Skelton) ©2019 Starz Entertainment

What are the challenges and the rewards for you as an actor playing a 20th century women in a time period when women’s roles were very different?

Sophie: There’s the physical element in terms of the costumes. In Scotland, we are not shy of rain or mud. The hems of the skirts get longer and longer by the day, as they get dragged through. A corset is difficult as an actor to breathe in and talk properly in. They make you quite emotional at times.

It’s one thing playing a character in one time period, but then taking them into another time period where they can’t be themselves brings new challenges. Claire, Brianna and Roger all have to monitor themselves 100 percent of the time when it’s not just the three of them together.

Obviously Jamie knows they’re time travelers but they have to change their language, their stance, their demeanor, any references they might make.

How difficult is that to play as an actor?

Sophie: For the character it is really difficult, but also as actors, sometimes you just wanna be in the character’s head. If you’re doing a scene where you’re angry, you wanna let out the true emotions. But sometimes you still have to be slightly on-guard.

For me, I might slip in an ‘okay’ or something which Brianna couldn’t say in that time. So you just have to be wary of that as an actor and as the character.

How does Claire’s use of future knowledge in medicine put the family in danger this season?

Sophie: Claire really wants to help people in that time, but at the same time she’s putting herself and her family in danger. Because if they then stand out as people not so much from the future but exercising sort of witchcraft, then they are all in danger again.

Those of us from the future feel a responsibility to help people using our future knowledge. But at the same time, it poses questions of how much can you change and how much should you?

Outlander 5.01 – Brianna Randall (Sophie Skelton), Baby Jeremiah, and Roger Wakefield (Richard Rankin) in their Cabin ©2019 Starz Entertainment

Richard, what is it like to play the guy who most wants to go back to his own time?

Richard Rankin: I think he always thought that they would go back to the safety of their own time.

There have been a lot of circumstances that have changed. We now have a child. We don’t know if he can travel. And actually, they’re happy there. I think at the start of Season 5, he’s happy.

The life there is great. He’s been integrated into the Fraser family and has an extended family here that he very much loves. So I think it just becomes about necessity for him.

He feels like they’re going to be safer back in their own time, but I’m not even sure if that’s necessarily true. That is one of the stories that unfolds through Season 5, whether or not they should go back.

When your character, Roger, sings the pop songs from nowadays, are those fun to do and do you get to pick what songs to sing?

Richard: I wish I got to pick the songs that I sing. It’s a lot of fun. It brings another element to the show. You got this guy who loves his music and will quite happily sing and serenade people all day. Bringing the music from our time, from the time of Claire and Brianna, it’s a language that we share together. It’s a little bit of our own time that we can bring back.

I also have to go back for some new material, because I’ve been playing the same three songs over and over again.

Outlander 5.08 – Roger Wakefield (Richard Rankin) outside his house with Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) seen inside ©2019 Starz Entertainment

If they’re choosing the songs for you, are they all songs you are at least familiar with, like “Joy to the World/Jeremiah was a Bullfrog”?

Richard: I’m familiar with it as being a very difficult song to sing. I can’t hit that key. They find some really tricky songs and they go, ‘Can you play this?’ And I’m like, ‘No.’ (he laughs) And they say, ‘Well, you’re gonna.’ But I can’t hit that note in “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog.” I have to drop that like three octaves.

Obviously that’s you singing, but did you already know how to play the guitar?

Richard: I was cast only because I could play the guitar. The rest of the talent was absent. (he laughs) The songs that they’ve given me aren’t really that difficult to play.

There was only one song I really drove everyone mad with and that was a Scottish jig. It’s called “Devil in the Kitchen,” I think. I especially drove Sophie absolutely nuts because I played it at every given moment because it was really tricky for me to play that style of music.

Outlander 5.02 – Baby Jeremiah, Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), Brianna Randall (Sophie Skelton), and Roger Wakefield (Richard Rankin) ©2019 Starz Entertainment

Sophie, because we see your character at younger ages, do you teach the younger actors how to play Brianna so that your performances match?

Sophie: I actually didn’t get to meet them, but I was asked to record the lines for one of the younger actresses. I think she was struggling with the American accent. So, that was about as far as I went with the younger ones on this.

I’ve played Bri younger as well; sixteen through eighteen, through to where she is now, about twenty-four. So, I think at least there are different timeframes for them to be able to watch and base it on, which hopefully helps.

The fandom for this show has been close to sci-fi-ish at times. Has there been something that surprised you from some fan encounter?

Sophie: I think there was actually someone saying they were at a convention one time and there was some of the Outlander cast there and then there was a Lord of the Rings line as well. Apparently, the Outlander (line) was bigger, which is cool because some us are big Lord of the Rings geeks.

And when there’s such a long break between seasons, they named it ‘Droughtlander’ and fans could very easily lose interest in that time. But they don’t. They’re still passionate about it and we’re excited for them to see it.

Outlander Sophie Skelton & Cat Soundbyte

Sophie was asked about the cat in the show who plays Adso. You will hear Caitriona Balfe, who was also on the panel, and Sophie talk about the unpredictability of having a cat in a scene…
Outlander 5.05 – Cat at Fraser’s Ridge ©2019 Starz Entertainment

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane