The wait is finally over. Black Jack Randall returned on Saturday night's episode of Outlander.
Thus far in the adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander novels, viewers have gotten only a few small glimpses of the highlanders' worst nightmare and heard tales of his misdeeds recounted by Jamie (as well as seen the lasting evidence of his backside brutality). But that all changed in the sixth Outlander episode, "The Garrison Commander," when Black Jack arrives at Claire's unexpected meeting with a British general. She finds herself alone with her future husband Frank's repulsive and ruthless relative, who is determined to uncover her secrets.
Tobias Menzies (Game of Thrones, The Honorable Woman), who plays both Randall men on the show, spoke to Yahoo TV last February during a visit to the Scotland set when they were just starting to film Episode 4. He shared his thoughts about pulling double duty ("It is very unusual!"), about filming near Glasgow (he'll take the scenery and the food but draws the line at the man skirts), and about whether he thinks the villain will ever get any fan love.
Why did you want to be part of Outlander?
It will make a great TV show because it is incredibly bold, goes to a rich array of places, and the characters are very vivid. There is a strong female audience, but I think it has quite broad appeal. It has everything in it. It has time travel, adventure, history, romance, battles. I imagine if we get it right, it will have something for everyone and be unlike anything else. It is a big genre buster. It crosses a lot of different streams.
For those who don't know much about the Outlander world, explain your characters.
Unusually, I play two characters. At the beginning, I play Frank Randall, who is married to Claire in 1945. I also play his ancestor, who is in the middle of everything when Claire travels back in time. His name is Capt. Jack Randall. He's a British officer who is suppressing these Scottish clans like the one she has found herself with in 1743. They are related but separated by about 200 years and have incredibly different temperaments. So, Frank and Jack, they're my boys.
Do you play them differently or do you try to make it obvious that they're related?
Ron [Moore, the show's executive producer,] casting the same actor in both parts obviously brings them closer together. But they're quite different men. Actually Frank's thoughts on his relative are quite different than reality, which Claire comes to find out in rather unfortunate ways. I usually let the story tell the differences of who they are, and obviously the costuming and the look of each of them is different. What has been interesting is to define what is similar and different about them.
When I first met Ron, he said that what he found really interesting about these two men is that both of them have been formed by their war experiences, albeit two very different wars, but they have made very different choices and come to very different conclusions as a result of those experiences. That seems to be what is exciting about having the same actor play these two people.
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Were you nervous taking on two parts, especially given that one is the story's big bad?
It is very unusual, certainly, to do that onscreen. I've never done it before, and, of course, it's challenging. There was definitely a certain amount of trepidation about it. It's exciting especially with Jack and rendering someone from such a very different time and getting a feel for someone who's premodern in a way. It's easier to get in the head of Frank. Nineteen forty-five wasn't that incredibly long ago. My mother was born in '48 and that's within one generation of me. I hope I can do them both justice.
Is it more fun to be bad?
In the books, he is rendered just unequivocally black, for want of a better word, but I think what Ron and I are both interested in is exploring that a little more fully and understanding better what has made him into this kind of bad man without taking any of the relish or sadism out of him. He's still evil in the show; however, we hope to see him in context. The Jacobite Rebellions were a very brutal guerrilla war. A lot of gruesome, terrible things were done to British soldiers as well as what they did to the highlanders. Now he takes unusual relish and enjoyment in what he does, and that will be both enjoyable and challenging to play.
You already have the accent down, being that you're English in real life, but what sorts of other research and training did you do for the parts?
I read the first book, and that's obviously major source material. I looked into the Jacobite Rebellions and that period of Scottish history, which I knew very little about. What I found very poignant about this story is that the world Claire discovers when she goes back in time is a way of life that is about to disappear. She is looking back at that time with a modern eye that has just survived a war where someone was trying to take over the world and eradicate other lifestyles. There certainly are parallels.
I had to brush up on the old horse riding. I haven't had to put my hand on a musket yet because you don't see a great deal of Jack in action. His threat is often more implied rather than seen. Actually a lot of where you see me is interacting in enclosed domestic situations, one-on-one with Claire or one-on-one with Jamie. There's a sort of intimacy about his terror. In this book, you don't see him in full flight on the battlefield. That will come later as the books end up in Culloden.
So you still have time to make your torture hand strong? Sadism class at 1...
Yeah [laughs], that's all to come and I look forward to those lessons.
Going period always presents actors with challenges like corsets that squish their ribs or mastering antique weaponry. What was your biggest challenge traveling back in time?
I wear a wig to play Jack, and I remember on my first day of filming him, I spent my whole day trying to blow and push wisps of hair out of my face without ruining takes. Never had long hair before. It seemed like a total nightmare. I could just never get the hair totally out of my face, it was distracting. The 1740s costumes are very constraining. You're very, very conscious of what you're wearing at all times compared to how we dress now. Trying to get on and off horses with long swords was also interesting, especially trying to make it look like you've done it many times before.
So we won't be seeing Tobias sporting a ponytail anytime soon.
No. No. I liked it not.
There's a very established and vocal fanbase for this franchise, which you have dealt with before on GoT. Annoying or positive?
I think it is essentially a creative and fun dialogue between the fans who feel ownership over this material and the people who are making it. I'm all for that. Personally, I don't troll through the forums and try to steer clear because there is enough pressure on you already. And I suppose you want to come to it as unaffected as possible. But it is a great benefit to have such a large and rich group of people who are enthusiastic about it and who are looking forward to it. That's definitely a positive.
Do you think a Team Jack exists? Are there ladies out there who would prefer him to Jamie?
It wouldn't be a total surprise if there are people who, yeah, like a more complicated man.
Have you had a crazy fan encounter or gotten any underwear in the mail?
No, not with this yet. The other guys have been getting loads of stuff. No one is writing to Jack at the moment, but listen, they haven't really met him yet. I'm also a bit of a Luddite. The other guys are on Twitter and stuff, and I'm a tortoise with these things. I have yet to show my face there.
Best thing about filming in Scotland?
It is just an incredibly beautiful country. I've had the luck through filming to be taken to amazingly beautiful bits of it and allowed to just hang out in those places. The few times that the rain has stopped and the sun does come out, it is God's own country. That's been a pleasure. We've been basing ourselves in Glasgow, and there are very warm people here and we've been very welcomed. It's been one of the real bonuses of this job to get to hang out here.
Have you become a haggis convert?
I love haggis. Haggis, neeps, and tatties.
Obviously your character doesn't wear a kilt, but a lot of the folks involved, like Ron, have become big fans of the Scottish man skirt.
I wouldn't be seen dead in a kilt.
Outlander airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.