“Outlander” star Tobias Menzies is headed back to Scotland on Sunday to finish filming the last few scenes of the time-traveling Starz drama’s first season, but first he sat down with TheWrap to talk about his dual roles as 1940s’ upstanding gentleman Frank Randall and his 1740 doppleganger and ancestor, the cruel Red Coat known as Black Jack Randall.
Saturday night’s episode is a big one for Menzies as Jack comes face to face with Claire (Caitriona Balfe) after he almost assaulted her in the season premiere, and the scene is set for a tense, dramatic showdown.
Also read: ‘Outlander’ Gets Season 2 Renewal From Starz
Menzies talked to TheWrap about what it’s been like playing two very different characters, how he handles playing the “other guy” on a show with a very central love story, what’s the deal with those “Game of Thrones” comparisons and why it’s fun to go bad.
What’s it like getting to play these two very different characters? Did you get to switch between them or did you film all Frank scenes in one block and all the Jack stuff in another?
Tobias Menzies: It’s mainly been quite separate. The early episodes were mostly Frank, with a little bit of Jack. As we’ve gone on… I guess it’s been a mix, because there’s a little bit of Frank in Episode 6 and then Episode 8 is both characters. I’ve never had to play them both in the same day, thus far… It’s a really fun, exciting thing to do, to have two different people and two different stories to explore. It’s an unusual and sort of exciting proposition for TV in particular.
Frank seems like a sweet, thoughtful guy. Is there a bit of Jack’s darkness in him and will we get to see it?
Yes. We do some stuff in Episode 8, where we depart from the book and go back to Frank and see what’s been happening in the months since Claire disappeared. We see quite a different person. Somebody who’s been crossed by recent events and is sort of losing his control, so we do get a few moments where we do get a bit of Jack in Frank. We’ve tried to play a bit with the kind of ancestral mirroring down the years, which has been quite fun. Hopefully there will be moments where Jack softens and we’ll see a bit of Frank in him.
What’s it like playing the other guy in something like “Outlander” which has a strong central love story in Jamie and Claire?
I haven’t really thought about it like that. You engage with what’s in front of you, the scenes that are on your plate. I think we all felt that it was important that we establish the relationship between Frank and Claire as a fully realized, really meaningful relationship. When she loses it and she decides not to go back to it, it has impact on the story, so it’s not an easy decision. So we’ve maybe beefed it up a bit from the book. Jamie and Claire obviously have a very different relationship. Frank and Claire have a lot of history, but then there’s a lot of separation, maybe some damage that’s been done to the relationship, where to Jamie, Claire is really his first great love, so their relationship feels newly minted. But the variety between the two is where it’s interesting.
And as Jack, you spend a lot of time on-screen torturing your co-stars – especially in Saturday’s episode, which is huge for Jack and Claire. What is it like filming those very intense scenes, especially when it gets physical towards the end?
It was really… fun. They’re great scenes, I think. That’s the sort of stuff you get into acting for. It’s a real change of pace for the show in general, it goes from a show that has a lot of outdoor space and adventure and highlands and kilts and clans, and then in Episode 6 it completely locks down into a chamber piece, really, between Jack and Claire. It was an opportunity to really spar with Caitrona, and I feel really happy with what we shot and where we sort of arrived.
Did you keep it solemn between takes or did you have to kind of laugh it off to break up the intensity?
I’m a pretty small-brained bear so I had to really concentrate. [laughs]
So you had to go a little method?
I don’t know about method, but it’s just concentrating on what you have to do. Half the battle of filming is sustaining the scene … Having to keep in mind what came earlier, what we’ve shot already. It gets hot in there, you’ve got your heavy costume on, your wig is itching, all that kinda stuff. You don’t see it when you watch it but these are the challenges of something like this. But once in a while, yeah, Cait is an enjoyable person to try to make laugh.
You’re also on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” What do you make of comparisons saying “Outlander” is like a female “Game of Thrones”?
We’re all pretty flattered to be compared to that show, it’s obviously a success and a great piece of TV. For my money though, they’re very different beasts. It’s a little bit apples and oranges. What is interesting about ‘Outlander’ is that what you do have at the head of it is a very strong female character. The palette of characters in ‘Outlander’ is much more narrow than ‘Game of Thrones,’ which has more of a scale of characters and is a significantly more ambitious world. I think it’s a fun conversation to have.
The show is obviously massively popular, and it’s already been renewed for Season 2. Are we going to see you back?
Yeah, I’m contracted. I’m unsure what the storylines will be like, I think they’ve yet to sit down and decide what to do with the second book. I think as it stands, there are long stretches where neither Jack nor Frank are around, so we’ll have to see. Hopefully they’ll use me as much as they can.
I think there’s a third character wearing the same face walking around, so hopefully there’s plenty for you to do.
[laughs] Yeah. I think that might be unlikely, the two brothers might be over-complicating it, but I think that would be fun.
“Outlander” airs Saturdays at 8 p.m. EDT on Starz.