'Outlander's' Laura Donnelly: Jenny and Claire Are the "Thelma and Louise of Their Time"

The actress talks with THR about playing Jamie's headstrong sister.
Courtesy of Starz

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from "The Search" episode of Starz's Outlander.]

In a show that is frequently lauded by critics and fans alike for its dynamic narrative and the compelling, feminist character at its helm, it would be easy for Outlander to rest on those laurels and let that be enough.

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from "The Search" episode of Starz's Outlander.]

In a show that is frequently lauded by critics and fans alike for its dynamic narrative and the compelling, feminist character at its helm, it would be easy for Outlander to rest on those laurels and let that be enough.

 

But the drama based on Diana Gabaldon’s novels is a veritable smorgasbord of interesting and unique female characters that subvert the tropes so easily laid out in the series’ 1740s setting. One such character is Jenny Fraser (Laura Donnelly), the sister of Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) — a woman that has seriously given Claire (Caitriona Balfe) a run for her money in the second half of season one.

Here, Donnelly talks with The Hollywood Reporter about what it was like playing the headstrong Scot, her subversion of Black Jack Randall’s attack, and whether or not we’ll see more of Jenny and Claire together in season two.

 

 

With Jenny, the show gets to really dig in on subverting the gender roles of the time — particularly during “The Search” when Jenny and Claire dash off to find Jamie. It’s the damsel in distress flipped on its head.

Absolutely! Absolutely. I love that about that scene; it really appealed to me when I first read the script, that these women can take this on like something out of an old Western and get on their horses to rescue the guy. It’s a real turn around and we don't often get a chance as actresses get into characters like that. … Our producer has been describing them as the Thelma and Louise of their time. (Laughs.)

Despite their many similarities, Jenny and Claire's relationship evolved in a very trepidatious fashion.

Jenny, I don't imagine, relates all that brilliantly to other women. She's used to running her own estate and being the leader of the house. So Claire's arrival automatically meant that she would instead take over that role of being the lady of the house even though Claire doesn't have any experience in it. So Jenny is not very impressed, but their mutual love of Jamie forces them to get to know each other better and they definitely develop an understanding and respect for one another.

Which is fun and gives the characters more nuance.

They don't just run into each other's arms like sisters to begin with, and I like the fact that their relationship is allowed a lot of time to develop. Even with the time that they spent together in season one, I don't feel like that's resolved or developed fully.

Like the pregnancy scene in “The Watch.”

Yeah, that’s one of the first scenes that really develops their relationship and forms that bond for them — that they are able to relate to each other as women, initially, over the subject of having babies and the reality of Jenny actually going into labor. With Claire's medicals skills, she really helps Jenny, [who] is not a naturally vulnerable woman. She doesn't enjoy being in a vulnerable position but she finds herself suddenly relying on and having to put her life in Claire's hands.

Jenny’s been portrayed as quite the survivalist, which made the arrival of "The Watch" a bit of a surprise.

Jenny is first and foremost a survivor, so it's a reality of the times for her, and she’ll go about that in whatever way she sees fit. She knows that she's in between a rock and a hard place, she's got the choice of either siding with McQuarrie's men, allowing them to do what they do, or she can risk being at the hands of the English. And for her they're the lesser of two evils because at least it's something she can keep an eye on and can almost be controlled. She's found a good balance in her own way: she doesn't allow them to just come and take over the place and be whatever the way they want, she has her tongue — she had a dig at McQuarrie for being a robber  — and she'll make it clear that she doesn't appreciate their presence but she will see it as something essential for survival.

 

 

Like when she laughs at Black Jack during the attempted rape. Jenny really disarmed him in a way he wasn't expecting — and you really don't see that on TV.

I think that it makes a refreshing change to be able to see a woman fight back like that. For Jenny at that point, she doesn't even know why it is she does it; it's just her last resort. She knows that she can't physically fight her way out of it any further — she tried — and she knows there isn't going to be anybody coming to her rescue, so she just does the first thing that comes to mind. And it works! It's clever of her, it's spontaneous. She's certainly not one to just willingly be a victim and it shows that Black Jack didn't quite know what he was getting involved in when he tried it with Jenny. It says a lot about her character.

And she really informs a lot of what makes the Frasers (and Jamie), simply by being herself.

It's a funny thing when you know someone and you meet their siblings — you get so much a sense of who they are because when you can recognize similar traits in the family you understand exactly why they are the way they are.

The sibling relationship between Jenny and Jamie is couched in a years-long misunderstanding that plays out so genuinely.

Well, it’s a huge thing that they need to overcome, [and] it happens in families so often — that people harbor these misunderstandings for years. I think it's a very realistic part of a lot of people's lives. I loved how they're able to come to an understanding in the end because both of them find it within themselves to apologize to the other. And that is essentially what breaks down those barriers, their rare moment of humility with one another. It's not easy for either of them, and it’s certainly not easy for Jenny to say she's sorry.

So what’s next for season two?

There’s still plenty more to do! In season two there will be a lot more to investigate in terms of [Claire and Jenny’s] relationship and places to go. It’s going to be really fun.

Outlander airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz. Click here to read our interview with the episode's writer.

comments powered by Disqus