As Jamie and Claire Fraser experience their disastrous first encounter with Stephen Bonnet, Outlander introduces us to an important new character – and he’s cruel enough to rival Black Jack Randall.
Season four’s relocation from Scotland to North Carolina brings us a new villain to blight the lives of Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe), who rescue the pirate and smuggler Bonnet (Ed Speleers) from a manhunt and save his life. He repays their kindness with murder and theft, even taking Claire’s prized wedding ring.
“I’ve been crying out to play a character like this for a very long time,” says English actor Speleers, who previously starred in Downton Abbey and Eragon.
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Speaking on the set of Outlander in Glasgow, Speleers is undaunted by the prospect of playing someone with such a nasty side. “I mean if [fans] end up hating him, then potentially I’m doing the right thing,” he tells us, hinting at greater evils to come.
If he met Bonnet in a bar, he says, he would “get out of there quite quickly… I’d have a drink and then scarper.”
Still, Speleers explains, “Stephen Bonnet is a multifaceted, layered character. A huge drawing card for me was just getting the opportunity to play someone like this because there’s a lot of depth to him and there’s a lot of conflicting emotional turmoil going on with him.
“He’s a charming man at the end of the day, he has a lot of drive and a lot of ambition, and he’s a pirate, he’s a smuggler. I feel he has strong views on the world, and I think strong opinions on where his place in the world is, I think in his mind he considers himself a gentleman.”
Comparisons between Bonnet and the show’s previous antagonist Black Jack Randall are inevitable. Tobias Menzies starred as Black Jack until the character’s death in season three, and has now left Outlander behind to take over the role of Prince Philip in The Crown.
“There’s an enormous amount of pressure in some ways because of the job Tobias has done,” Speleers admits.
“It’s hugely commendable and getting to terms with the material on this show, of course I watched everything, and just watching that man and what he has brought to that character is unbelievable. And he’s a world class actor. So that’s brought a lot of pressure.”
But Black Jack and Bonnet are very different Outlander villains.
The actor tells us: “They’re two very different individuals, and just looking at the approach and reading what I’ve read of the books so far, in terms of from where I come in from, I think they have a different standpoint and a different view of the world.
“It always comes from your point of view of the world. That’s how I look at it for a character, you have to look at: where do I sit in the world? How do I view the world? And I think Bonnet sees things in a very different way. I think everything’s play to him.”
But how do you humanise a character who can behave in such an inhuman way?
“It’s not easy, all the time. It’s not easy. I have my difficulties with it,” Speleers says. “Pardon my language, I hope to f*** I’m nothing like him – but I have to try and relate it to me.”
This article was originally published on 6 November 2018