Warning: This interview contains spoilers for the second season of Outlander, including teases about the finale, which will air on July 9.
Sorry Charlie, your days are likely numbered. Given that it appears history is going to unfold just as it did before with the bloody Battle of Culloden, the fall of the Jacobites and no return to a Stuart reign, we’re guessing that likely means Andrew Gower, the actor who plays the rebellious royal, is also not long for the world of Outlander.
With Season 2 coming to a close next week, we tracked Gower down by phone in England — where he is doing a play and was on his merry way to get a haircut — to ask about all things Bonnie, from wigs and catchphrase drinking games to how he researched the role and his favorite scenes.
How familiar were you with Outlander before you got the job?
I was lucky enough to work with Stephen Walters in Morocco of all places last year. He had talked about this series he was in that had an amazing, dedicated following and a really interesting story. We stayed in touch, both of us being from Liverpool. When I came home, I weirdly had a meeting to play Bonnie Prince Charlie in my email account, and the rest was history. And Stephen and I were lucky enough to share a little moment together in Episode 10. It is very interesting how small the industry can be and how coincidental.
How has life changed since becoming a part of a show with such a dedicated fanbase? Do people recognize you when you are in your modern-day look?
Stephen had told me how loyal the following was, and I have been lucky enough to experience it firsthand now. It feels validating. I don’t get recognized on the street. I would be worried if I did, given that I wear a wig at all times on the show and have quite a different wardrobe, and the facial expressions I pull even. The day I start getting recognized as Charlie, I will be worried. There’s been none of that. But virtually over Twitter, it has changed tremendously. I have so many more followers now. And all good, positive interactions. I am quite happy that I can still walk down the street every day in a pair of jogging bottoms and my woolly hat, and no one knows who I am. That’s nice.
You play a historical figure, Bonnie Prince Charles Stuart. Did you do much research on him?
A hell of a lot. The Frank McLynn biography became my bible basically up until recently when I lost it on a flight between Edinburgh and London. It was so important to read his letters and to know more about his relationship with his father and his time in Italy and Paris. When you are playing somebody who did exist and there is good source material on them, whether it is a biography or archives or experts, you would be stupid not to delve into them. But there is a point in the process where you leave the books alone, and instead, you focus on the script and creating your version.
What was the most interesting or surprising thing you discovered?
I have to be honest that before I took on the job, apart from the name and the basics, I had no real idea how he fit into history. I had no idea about the Jacobites or those battles. Growing up in Liverpool, we studied the British side of history, and we only would barely briefly touch on Scottish history. So everything was, for me, a big revelation. The fact that he was born in Italy was a lovely discovery. He was at war as a 15-year-old boy. That he used to dance in front of the groups of soldiers to entertain them.
How would you describe him to people? He seems like he has daddy issues to me. Like he needs to please him by winning this rebellion.
Totally a daddy’s boy. I think he is having an identity crisis. He doesn’t know where he belongs or who he belongs with. He has aspirations to sit on the British throne and thinks the way to that is this war, but as far as who he is, I think he struggled with that. He is forever aligning himself to different people and beliefs to figure out any way to get into power. And he is very devout in that way, that he believes God wants him to be King.
And he also seems to be mostly kind and ambitious, at least tries to think long-term like with his theories about how the British should be treated.
Being removed from British society and living in Europe, he doesn’t understand the divide. There is a naivety to him, having been isolated in Italy for his whole childhood. When he arrives in the Highlands, there is a sort of childlike innocence on how British politics actually works, and he doesn’t understand how much anger there is on the part of the Scots toward the British.
He also seems, especially in the last few episodes, like he really has a desire to get in the fight and stand alongside his men. Even though when they finally decide to let him join in this episode, he gets lost and screws up their shot at a surprise birthday attack.
He sure means well, but it doesn’t always work out for him. I think he probably did have the desire to do his part, but he is far from a warrior. I have really liked that the details about the rebellion and the battles have been historically accurate — things like the secret path, the conditions, the introduction of the generals — but that the show has built their story inside of that framework and taken some artistic liberties for the sake of story. I have taken some license with Charles, and I do hope that people appreciate that we are trying to link the beginning of the series with the end of the series.
I’m wondering if his catchphrase “Mark me” is based on research, or was that just something that came from the book or from the writers’ minds?
There is no mention of that particular phrase in my bible on Charlie. It has become such a part of the character. Quite interestingly, it was in a first draft and read-through for my first-ever appearance on Outlander. There was a speech in the brothel, and from that point I wanted to build on that. I kept adding a few more “Mark me’s” because it felt like his way of demanding attention and saying, “This is my moment. Pay attention.” I took it also as a very military phrase, and he is a guy who is interested in that as in, “Mark my gun” or “Mark my sword.” In a way, for me in trying to play someone with a lack of identity, I wanted to give him a phrase that he routinely uses and that speaks to who he is. The scenes where I have not used it, I was a bit more raw and emotionally cut up. I have enjoyed the collaboration with the directors and writers on deciding when to throw one in or when to cut it out. It was a nice thing to add to the character.
Did you ever count how many times you said it?
I have not. But I heard it has become a drinking game. I’m worried if people are drinking with every “mark me.” I’m worried for their heads on a Sunday morning.
Did you have a favorite scene of Season 2?
Definitely the bedroom scene where I climb through the window and I’ve just been bitten by the monkey. That was a direct adaptation from a scene in the book. That was a fun scene to film. The other scene I really loved is more a whole episode of scenes. I loved Episode 10, where I was wearing my tartan outfit and leading my Scottish men and looking out over the English. Working opposite Dougal [Graham McTavish] and the other Scots was fantastic.
What took more getting used to — the wig, the kilts, or the high-neck bows and ruffles?
The wig. Definitely the wig. Although I do not have the knees for kilts either. If I do come back, I am going to have to work on the legs. [Sam Heughan’s] legs put mine to shame.
Can you tease the finale?
I am going to give you very short, mysterious clues — wax, an unfinished battle, and more God. It is going to be a great, great episode. Not to be missed.
Outlander airs on Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz. The finale, titled “Dragonfly in Amber,” will air on July 9. It is a an extended, 90-minute episode.