Lauren Lyle on her “dangerous” character in BBC One’s Vigil — and the controversial Outlander season 5 finale

BBC One's Vigil star Lauren Lyle on filming "intense" police interrogation scenes, and what lies in store for Marsali in Outlander season six.

Big RT Interview: Lauren Lyle (GETTY)

There’s a police interrogation scene in the first episode of Vigil, the new submarine thriller beginning on BBC One. For fans of police procedurals like Line of Duty and Criminal, the slow build of the one-on-one dialogue and the cramped, beige setting will feel all too familiar. For Lauren Lyle, who stars in the scene opposite Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie (of “You know nothing, Jon Snow” fame), a police interview was far removed from her normal days on set. 

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Lyle is best known for her long-running role as Marsali in Outlander, the time-travelling, bodice-ripping period drama. When it comes to TV sets, the actress is more used to 18th-century castles than modern-day police stations; and in the absence of any restrictive corsets, filming was a (quite literal) breath of fresh air. “It felt very iconic being in a police station,” she says.

“It was a genuinely tiny room, so it was really intense. And I have never been to jail, so to experience what it feels like to be interrogated… was cool,” she jokes.

Speaking over Zoom, Lyle tells RadioTimes.com that she was attracted to Vigil because it’s very different from Outlander – and that additionally, she was excited to “look like s***” on camera.

“I remember my makeup artist on Outlander saying, ‘What did I want to do after that season? What did I want to do next?’ And I was like, ‘I just want to do something where I can look really rough and ready’. Because Marsali… is so well put together, and always looks perfect. And everyone in period dramas like, you have to look – you’re so meticulously planned, like every hair, it’s matched and set. I remember going back to her [the make-up artist] in [Outlander] season six and being like, ‘I got to look like s***’.”

Lyle’s character in Vigil is Jade, a protestor who’s firmly opposed to nuclear weapons (many of which can be found on HMS Vigil, the fictional submarine that lends its name to the drama).

It’s difficult to fully introduce Jade without veering into spoiler territory – the show is filled with twists and turns. However, suffice to say that Jade is strong-willed; plays a key role in the series; and (judging from the audience reaction at the drama’s BFI screening) has an unexpectedly humorous introduction. She also definitely doesn’t wear a corset. 

Vigil
Lauren Lyle plays Jade in Vigil (BBC Pictures)
BBC

Jade “is a bit of a lone ranger at times, and holds quite a lot of secrets throughout the series. And [she] is someone that the police end up needing and has a lot of information to give, but isn’t willing to give [that information] up until she really has to,” Lyle teases.

Filming Vigil “was super different” from Outlander, says Lyle. She enjoyed speaking with her own accent in the series. “I’ve got a real lilt that I put on for [Marsali], that’s a lot more Highlands period; I remove my Glasgow accent. Whereas with this, I was able to just do my own accent – and also live in a very dangerous mindset. Jade has a really dangerous mindset, and a really strong sense of what she believes in and what she stands for… I really enjoyed playing something where every move she makes, she risks her life to an extent.”

She continues: “So it was totally different – and also just gets me [into] a pair of jeans. That’s the thing. No corset.” 

Lyle knew that the Vigil cast would be impressive, but it wasn’t until the table read that she realised just how many stars were lined up to take part; among them Suranne Jones, Line of Duty’s Martin Compston, three major Game of Thrones alum (Rose Leslie, Daniel Portman, and Stephen Dillane), Endeavour’s Shaun Evans, Peep Show’s Paterson Joseph, and Sex Education’s Connor Swindells. As Lyle puts it, “We’ve got someone from every show that’s big on TV right now”.

The actress also spotted a former Outlander co-star, Gary Lewis (who played Colum MacKenzie)“I think I was one of the last ones to arrive, and I turned around and I saw Gary Lewis. We were like, ‘Oh my God’. So the two of us were hugging and having a great time.”

Vigil kicks off with a suspicious death on a submarine, and a police detective, DCI Amy Silva (played by Jones), is sent to conduct a three-day investigation onboard. The series is then split into two distinct investigations: the underwater investigation led by Amy, and the police inquiries conducted back on land by her colleague (and, it seems, potential love interest) Kirsten (played by Leslie).

Jade’s storyline takes place on land, but Lyle jokes about bagging an invite to the exclusive ‘submarine cast’ WhatsApp group. “Martin [Compston], he said something about the WhatsApp group. And I was like, ‘What WhatsApp group?’ So he added me onto it.”

Vigil
Vigil (BBC Pictures)
BBC

Filming Vigil was split pre and post-pandemic, but Lyle was also kept busy shooting Outlander season six. How did she find filming Outlander with social distancing rules in place – particularly for a show that’s well known for its more intimate scenes? 

“It was really hard,” she says. “I found it really hard having to not mix with everyone in the way that we normally would… We couldn’t socialise.”

Lyle “felt very lucky to be working,” but describes an intense, rigorous testing process, with COVID-19 tests administered multiple times a week, even on days off, and double testing ahead of “any intimate stuff”. 

In the previous Outlander season, Lyle’s character Marsali had an expanded storyline that was interwoven with one of its more controversial moments: in the season five finale, lead character Dr Claire Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) was gang-raped.

The scene, which had a mixed reaction among both viewers and critics alike, was graphic and upsetting. As an Entertainment Weekly comment piece opined, it was “a sobering reminder that graphic depictions of sexual violence remain an oft-used trope in the [Outlander] saga”.

“I can totally understand it. I can totally understand that it’s very triggering for people,” says Lyle when I ask her about the rape scene and resulting controversy. “I would say that the guys [in] the production team did a really great job of researching and having support lines. It was really delicately handled. But of course, I mean, it’s really dark content. So I can completely understand people finding that triggering. And I think it’s natural that you may [find it triggering], I mean, I’ve found it difficult to watch,” she says, before immediately clarifying, “I mean, actually I didn’t really watch it. I don’t really watch Outlander that [much] to be honest, because you’re doing it every day. And you’re there, and you know what’s gonna happen, and also, like you say, there’s a lot of intimate scenes [starring] my friends. So I don’t really have any need – and so much of it [is intimate scenes], so I don’t really watch it. I’ve seen elements of [the rape scene]. And I think Caitriona handled it really gracefully. She’s so intelligent, and all of her intentions are in the right place. So I think she’s handled it really well.”

Outlander
Lauren Lyle as Marsali (left) in Outlander season five (Starz)
Starz

At the end of season five, Marsali takes it upon herself to avenge Claire (her surrogate “Ma”) by killing her rapist. In season six, “it continues to just get quite a lot darker” for Marsali as she deals with the fall-out of the murder, says Lyle. 

Marsali is one half of the three central Outlander couples: Claire and Jamie, Brianna and Roger, and Marsali and Fergus. 

“Marsali and Fergus have always been this fun, romantic couple – young, cool – like the ones that make people laugh and are just really in love with each other and have all these kids. And this time [in season six], it just got really deep and really dark. They’re at their most tested,” Lyle explains. “It’s the most tumultuous time that we’ve seen them and their relationship [in]. And Marsali really has, this season – it’s the first time you see her having to step up, and she’s sort of supporting the family and dealing with her own needs.” 

Outside of Outlander, it doesn’t seem that Lyle is lining up any other period dramas in her future. Instead, she’s set to play the title role in another upcoming police procedural, the three-part ITV series Karen Pirie, which she describes as the “best job” she’s ever done.

“I’ve got Karen Pirie coming out, which is my new big ITV drama, which is like the ride of my life. It was the best job I’ve ever done. It was unreal. I can’t believe someone’s let me play a Detective Sergeant. It’s ridiculous. I love it, it’s amazing. And it’s good. So I’m really excited for people to see that.”

As for Vigil, Lyle teases that the series is “gripping, thrilling, and dangerous,” guaranteed to keep viewers guessing right up until the end. With so many plot threads to keep track of, scrolling on your devices is a definite ‘no’. Her advice? “Turn off your phone and concentrate.”

Vigil begins at 9pm on Sunday 29th August on BBC One and BBC iPlayer, with episode two airing at 9pm on the Bank Holiday Monday, 30th August. Vigil will then continue weekly each Sunday at 9pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

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