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There is more than meets the eye for Outlander‘s Geillis Duncan.
One of the first people at Castle Leoch who befriends Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), the mysterious herbalist Geillis showed signs of a looming darkness. When a local boy was struck ill, Geillis’ belief that he was possessed by evil spirits caught Claire off guard. Geillis’ line of questioning — from her beliefs in demonic possession to thoughts on magic — brought Claire back to the unexplainable moment where she was suddenly transported more than a century into the past. Was Geillis on to something in alluding to a higher power?
For Dutch actress Lotte Verbeek, Geillis’ progressive nature was appealing. “The way she was written was so playful, and I really liked that,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But she’s obviously on to something and as the story continues you get to see more sides to her. She’s constantly walking the line.” In a chat with THR, Verbeek discusses Geillis and Claire’s friendship, witchcraft and a “ballsy” decision.
How familiar were you with the books before you got the job?
I started reading the first book after I got cast and while I was filming I got a lot of information from fan sites online actually, so that was really helpful. Now I know more about what might or might not come for my character.
There is a lot of darkness with Geillis right from the get-go.
It’s definitely something you don’t see coming, especially in the beginning, but it definitely explains a lot. She knows how to play different roles, really. I feel like she plays a different role in every scene she has, which is intriguing because when do you see her real self? With all the different colors that she has, maybe she’s a rainbow, you know? I like the fact that even though you might describe her as being dark, she’s driven by something which you’ll get to see later on. From the get-go, you feel like she’s on to something and it takes a little while for that be revealed but that was cool to discover that and what her passion actually is.
Geillis and Claire clicked almost immediately. What is it about Claire that initially drew Geillis in?
When you first see them together, you think, “Oh, she’s just a very nosy girl.” She wants to know everything about Claire. She keeps doing that and there’s a moment later on when you realize she’s not just asking questions and she’s fishing for something. I have a sense that whenever Geillis talks, she always seems to know more than we do and more than what everyone else at Craigh na Dun does. But it’s also because she’s been isolated. She needs a friend and obviously Claire is a good candidate. They’re both probably the same age and ahead of their time in different ways so there’s a lot of stuff that makes them become BFFs.
Would you call them friends?
Yes and no, I would say. They definitely do become friends but yeah, there’s this suspension of guessing I guess — kind of like “What is she [Geillis]?” Claire is definitely on guard as well. It’s not a normal BFF friendship, they’re definitely on guard. That takes some time in the story to reveal why that is. That was particularly exciting to shoot.
It’s interesting to watch Geillis and Claire together because as you mentioned, they’re both progressive for that particular time — Claire in her breadth of knowledge and Geillis in the unique way in which she perceives the world, where they hint to witchcraft.
It is interesting how much of it is actually witchcraft. Geillis uses her knowledge of herbs in a different way than Claire does. I found myself to be quite the herbalist; I found myself knowing a lot about it and if you live in L.A. and everything is in organic, that definitely puts you in contact with nature. There are modern witches — I think it’s wicka — but witchcraft has a negative [connotation] and back in the day you could get burned for being caught in witchcraft and for being too much of a lightweight, for not weighing enough. In Holland there are scales in marketplaces where you could be put on the scale and if you were too light or too odd or different, that was a way to prove one was a witch.
Geillis certainly isn’t in the box.
She’s always walking that line and she’s a bit of an oddball. I love the character and it’s so much fun playing her. There is so much meat in it for me. I was given a lot of freedom by the director and the writers and even costume designer Terry [Moore]. I think that’s the only way to play the character because she goes there, so I have to go there too.
What is in store for Geillis?
A lot of has been establishing what goes on between Claire and Geillis and as Claire spends more time [in 1743], she also has to reveal a bit more about herself and in later scenes, you’ll see that Geillis too has to show her true colors. Those scenes were particularly interesting to shoot with Caitriona. For the people who know the books, you know what I’m talking about, but for the rest, towards the end, the character of Geillis really does surprise you. She does keep surprising us and even for me, I don’t know what’s to come [after the first season]. It’s been an exciting trip for me.
Any particular moments from the books that surprised you?
As much as she’s described as a charming, lovely person to meet at first, Geillis goes really far in order to get what she wants and the way she does it is very ballsy. She takes risks, she lives on the edge — that to me was surprising because at that time, to already be somewhat exotic creature in that world, the times were cruel with the whipping of the women. She definitely did risk [being victim] to that stuff and she almost seems to take joy in taking those risks. It’s almost sadistic.
You’re done filming your portion of the season. Any fond memories of filming in Scotland?
The first day I got to Scotland, the first thing I saw was rain — an undeniable presence of rain. (Laughs.) One of the great benefits of rain is the valleys are so green and it’s one of the most stunning countries I’ve ever seen. I had thoughts like, “Can we go back in time and actually in live in a castle?” I’ve always had a fascination with castles and to live in one, so that was definitely a great reward.
Outlander airs 9 p.m. Saturdays on Starz.
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