Sitting with actors Richard Rankin and Sophie Skelton, it’s not hard to see why their on screen relationship has blossomed in Outlander season three.
“They have such a fiery to and fro, they’re both stubborn, they fight a lot,” Rankin says of Brianna and Roger’s relationship. “God, so far removed from us in real life, eh!” he teases Skelton as the pair chuckle on a couch in a central London hotel.
Poking fun at each other seems to be something of a favourite past-time for the Scot and the English actress, who first burst on to the Outlander scene in the season two finale. Skelton plays Jamie and Claire’s daughter Brianna, while Rankin is Roger Wakefield, the adopted son of the Reverend Wakefield, who was close friends with Claire’s first husband Frank.
Their characters first met at the Reverend Wakefield’s funeral, and have been growing closer together ever since their endearingly awkward encounter. It’s been something of a slow-burn ‘will-they-won’t-they-well-they-do-in-the-books’ plot that the actors have really enjoyed playing about with.
“Brianna and Roger’s relationship is very real and it’s very awkward,” says Skelton of the growing attraction between the ballsy Harvard student and the somewhat shy Scottish history professor. “It’s very up and down and they argue a LOT”.
“There’s a frustration to them,” adds Rankin, “they’re like elastic bands because they come apart and ping back together – sometimes reluctantly. I think they’re both very strong-minded and very stubborn. It’s a really nice contrast to Jamie and Claire’s relationship.”
Rankin and Skelton have an endearingly humorous off-screen dynamic too, which must have been key when developing their on-screen bond?
“Roger and Brianna are a team a lot of the time going forward, so we had our own ideas and plotted how we wanted to do it,” explains Rankin. “Even through the episodes, the smaller details, we worked together on what we wanted from Roger and Brianna, as well as what they wanted for the show.”
Skelton adds, “Sam [Heughan] and Caitriona [Balfe] had the same sort of thing; they came into it together and found their feet together. I think it’s nice to have somebody to go through that with and lean on.”
It’s reassuring to have a friend to turn to when taking on characters who’ve been cherished by fans of Diana Gabaldon’s novels for more than two decades. Were Skelton and Rankin nervous about living up to their expectations?
“I think coming into it you have to be hyper aware of the fact that people are going to have their perceptions and expectations of these characters, and I think we go into that having a lot of respect for that,” Rankin explains. “It’s important too because these guys are the reason why the show is still here and continues to be.”
“That’s why it’s important to read the books,” Skelton adds, “to give a nod to the characters that they respect.”
What about when the story changes? Or when the character’s physical appearance doesn’t quite match up with fans’ expectations?
“If you have to take a slightly different course to bring the truth of these characters to the screen – which is the most important thing – I think they’ll appreciate and respect that,” says Rankin. “You will forget after about five minutes that Roger doesn’t have green eyes or that Brianna doesn’t have blue eyes.”
“It is genetically possible for two blue-eyed parents to have a brown-eyed child” Skelton adds.
“Any opportunity for a dig, it’s in there,” his co-star sighs.
See? It’s not difficult to see why this particular pair were cast in their roles.
Season three episode four finally saw the characters share a kiss – albeit in a rather different scenario than their original literary lip lock. While Gabaldon’s novel had Brianna and Roger kiss during one of their early encounters, Outlander’s writers opted for a plot that carried on across multiple episodes, something Rankin and Skelton say they really appreciated.
“In the book their first kiss is in a church at the altar and Roger’s already imagining married life with children at that point,” Rankin says, “which is great in the book because you have pages and pages of description, it doesn’t feel too fast.
“But if you want to take this and put it into a single episode, that might be considered too quick.”
Skelton says the delay gave them a more interesting tale to play with: “In the book they kiss before they find out about Jamie Fraser. I think what’s nice about the series is, because they do that afterwards, it comes from a very different place. It’s not just a sort of affection; it actually comes from experiencing this really unique scenario together and actually finding solace in each other.”
With events unfolding at break-neck speed, however, there may not be much time for romance between the two to blossom. “When reality kicks in then what happens to Roger and Brianna? I suppose that’s the next step in the journey, isn’t it?” Rankin teases.
Both he and Skelton are already looking forward to that next step and to season four, not least because the novel it’s based on – Drums of Autumn – is their favourite.
Rankin says, “The scope really widens in Drums of Autumn. It’s a brilliant book and it just becomes much bigger; not just for us but as a whole, the story as a whole just becomes epic.”
Skelton adds, “There’s a really great story for Roger and Brianna, and we may or may not go back in time in the books…”.
“How they’re going to get Drums of Autumn into one season is beyond me, it’s just packed,” muses Rankin.
“I think they’re going to cut Roger out,” Skelton suggests, finally landing a responsive blow for his earlier jibes. It’s Rankin 2, Skelton 1, and the clock is ticking.
Since we’re talking theoretical plot points – nothing has been confirmed – how is Rankin feeling about potentially meeting his would-be lady love’s dad, Sam Heughan, on screen at some point?
“The day may never come,” says Rankin – not least because Skelton jokes that Brianna could well kill Roger first – “but I imagine, in my head, if Roger ever were to meet Jamie Fraser it would be a very pleasant encounter. Hands would be shook, they would maybe sit down, have a whisky, and have a chat about Roger’s intentions towards Brianna.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s what happens in the book!” Skelton laughs incredulously.
“In my head that’s how it’s going to go,” Rankin insists. “I think they would find a lot of mutual ground, maybe play a game of chess.”
“Sounds riveting,” his co-star snaps back, making it 2-2 as time runs out.
The thing is, though, it actually DOES sound a wee bit riveting. Roll on the Rankin/Heughan chess match. We’d pay good money to see it.