'Outlander': Graham McTavish on Dougal's "Superobjective," Claire and Rewriting History

"Dougal is egotistical enough to believe that he could bend history to his own desires"
Neil Davidson/Sony Pictures Television Inc.

[WARNING: Spoilers ahead from Saturday's episode of Outlander, "Rent."]

Outlander took the mission to the road.

In the latest episode, "Rent," Claire's quest to return to the magical stones at Craigh na Dun went on the back burner as she was forced by Dougal to join the rest of the Mackenzie clansmen making the rounds in various villages to collect rent — an act she first believed was to line Colum and Dougal's pockets. She would later learn that the money, spurned by Jamie's flogging scars, was to quietly fund a Jacobite rising so that the Stuart monarchy could take back the throne from the Crown. Would it matter that Claire knows their attempt becomes unsuccessful just a few years later?

Graham McTavish talks to The Hollywood Reporter about the biggest events from Saturday's episode, including Dougal and Claire's increasingly complex relationship, using Jamie's flogging scars to his advantage and how Dougal would react to the future failures of the rising.

When I spoke to the writer of last week's episode, Matt Roberts, he called Dougal and Claire's relationship "convoluted" and "conflicted." What's your take on them?

Dougal has a history of being interested in and pursuing strong women. He finds them attractive and Claire is a strong woman who has never been captured before. She represents, quite literally, the future. For him to encounter her makes him want to pursue her that much more, so in the coming episodes he gets pretty keen on her. At the same time Dougal's got many plates up in the air. While there's a part of him that finds her attractive, there's also a part that is mindful of his duty toward the clan, and over and above, to his duty toward the restoration of the Stuart monarchy. Always with Dougal, the superobjective is getting the Stuart back and everything else with Claire is beneath that. It would be great if he could date Claire. If he could take her over to the clan it'd be great, but [the Stuart monarchy is] the thing that he focuses on.

His relationship with Claire is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the show for me — the push and pull between them and that he is determined to get her one way or another. In subsequent episodes, marriage is no barrier to him. It doesn't matter that he might arrange the marriage between Claire and Jamie. Hey, that's just a piece of paper. She says, that doesn't stop you from "sampling other pleasures." He's quite bold.

That line sums up the character quite nicely.

He is a man who loves his pleasures. He is a hedonistic, passionate, impatient man who sometimes leaps before he looks, unlike his brother [Colum], who assesses the situation before making his decision. Dougal responds with his gut to almost everything, and he is touched by Claire's treatment of Geordie when he is dying. That affects him, but he's also very good at pulling himself out of those feelings and changing gears within a conversation so that you can think you know who this guy is and then two minutes later he's given you someone completely different and wrong-footing you.

In the last few episodes especially, the complexities of Dougal and Claire's relationship were really spotlighted. One second he's drunkenly attacking her in a dark corridor, another moment they bond when one of the clansmen dies and then his suspicions come to a head by the end of this episode. How do you explain the various layers?

It comes back to what I was saying before about where his ultimate goal lies. Within episode six, it's basically, "I'm going to kill her, I'm ready to do it. If she doesn't answer the question that I'm about to ask her truthfully. If I don't believe her, I'll kill her right where she stands." He would not hesitate to do it, and I think that speaks to his inner strength. Dougal can't be this led by the nose sort of guy. He thinks things through, he's not just a mindless brute who's going wherever he feels like. With that situation with Claire, one moment he's literally saving her from the hands of Black Jack Randall and the next moment he's preparing to cut her throat. It's the same as his relationship with Jamie, his nephew. He has a genuine love for him, but again, wouldn't hesitate to kill him.

Dougal's relationship with Jamie is fraught with tension. And one of the biggest moments comes when he first reveals Jamie's scars to gain funds for the Jacobite rising. How does Dougal justify going to that level to gain "rent"?

The ends justify the means. As far as he is concerned Jamie shouldn't be objecting at all. He has a conversation with him to that effect where he says, "Don't you want the same as me? Don't you want the restoration of the Stuart throne? And if you don't want the restoration of the Stuart throne you're crazy because you're going to be hanged otherwise. Your neck is in the noose now so it is in your interest to go along with me rather than going off with a huff." Dougal is the kind of person who wouldn't understand Jamie's reaction. He'd look at it and think he's being a little picky, that there is a big picture here that he's not getting and showing some scars on your back is going to help raise money to restore the rightful kingdom. It's a small price to pay.

Claire comes from the future and she knows that the rising he's trying to put together is unsuccessful in a few years. If Dougal found out, how do you think he would handle that? Would he like to think that he could change the course of history?

It's a very good question, and as somebody who is interested in that period, the history hinges on very, very small moments. I think Dougal is sufficiently egotistical enough to believe that he could bend history to his own desires. If Claire straight out said to him, "Listen, I know that you fail at Culloden," he'd say, "Well I'm going to prove you wrong." I think he would. I don't think he'd be cowed by it. I also think he would have it proved to him. He would have to experience it to believe it, whether or not he could believe in somebody coming from the future as a concept. Even if he could believe that that is possible, he would still have to see with his own eyes the demise of the clans.

There is that chance that with Claire's presence in 1743, maybe it's all moot anyway.

Absolutely. If he was told by her that this is what happens, he's a smart enough person to think, Well, we can use you, the person from the future to help change this. This can be altered by the very fact of you being here. Interesting.

Claire and Dougal are in the presence of the enemy, the Red Coats, by the end of the episode. Give us a tease of where episode six picks up.

Dougal insists that he's not going to be left out of any conversation between Claire and any representative of the Crown. He's going be there. And some interesting things follow once we get to meet this general. It's one of my favorite scenes of episode six, with John Heffernan who plays General Oliver Thomas, and it's a wonderful scene where Dougal suddenly is a fish out of water, he's not the guy in charge, he has to watch his step and he's surrounded by the enemy. And one of those enemies might be Claire. It's an interesting episode — all the shifting sands and where it leads.

What was your favorite scene from this episode?

To be absolutely honest, being out on the road, being on location because Scotland becomes another great character in the story. We've been closed in the castle and suddenly we're out; it's a breath of fresh air for the audience but also for my character. It allows Dougal to breathe and take command. There's no Colum on the road, Dougal's in charge. It's his word and he's able to act out his agenda.

Any memories from filming the Gaelic scenes when Dougal was persuading the people to donate money?

It was a joy to do those. It was a great challenge doing those speeches in what is for me, I'm ashamed to say, is a foreign language even though my great grandparents spoke the dialect. It was fantastic to be able to play that out without subtitles and get across the meaning of those speeches without being able to understand the words. An interesting challenge.

What is one question you still have about Dougal that you hope to explore further?

I hope to explore my relationship with Geillis. I find that [dynamic] interesting because Lotte [Verbeek] and I didn't have a scene together in the first season. We're present in one scene together where we exchange a look, but the fact that she is of such importance to him, which is revealed as the season goes on, is an area I'm interested in exploring.

Outlander airs 9 p.m. Saturdays on Starz.

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