Warning: This postmortem contains spoilers for the “Prestonpans” episode of Outlander, which aired June 11.
All wars come with a body count — even fake ones on TV — so it was to be expected that not everyone was going to make it out of Outlander season 2 alive. Possibly a little more shocking was just who fans were forced to say goodbye to in this week’s episode — the fiercely loyal and unapologetic horndog Angus Mhor, and in turn his real-life counterpart actor Stephen Walters.
Although Angus and his ale-bellied bro Rupert appear in the Outlander books, they play much less significant and different roles in McKenzie clan life. In the series, the characters became ride-or-die fighters for Dougal as well as much-needed comic relief. The highlanders managed to heckle their way into our hearts as well as that of author Diana Gabaldon, who called them the “1800s version of Laurel and Hardy.”
As we are sad to see him go, but appreciate what he accomplished while he was here, Yahoo tracked down Walters in Calgary, where he was about to start the next chapter in his career on a new TV show, to talk about his time in Scotland.
How familiar were you with the novels?
I have to plead ignorance. I’d never heard of them so I went into the audition quite blind. But I think it is important to stay a bit green during that process.
Given that the character is so different in the series that probably wasn’t an issue.
Yeah, he’s nothing like the character in the books, physically anyway. He really doesn’t feature in the books that much. Angus is more brought out in the adaptation and I’m glad about that. Credit to the casting director in London. I guess she felt I could bring something to the character that might be a wee bit different, yet still embody the character. Once I got the part and read the book and the scripts, I realized the character wasn’t as prominent and it was a nice bonus to find out they wrote so much more in the scripts.
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Gabaldon said Angus and Rupert were her favorite change that was made in the adaptation process. That’s high praise.
Indeed. We must have done something right. I think she called us the Laurel & Hardy of Outlander.
Well, you provided some much needed comic relief in a very intense story.
I’ve said it before and I will ay it again, I never saw the humor initially when I read the first scripts. But I think some of it can be explained by the unspoken chemistry thing. Grant [O’Rourke] and I got on very well and the fans seemed to enjoy our banter.
Given that, was the humor a result of improv, or do you think the writers saw the response the characters were getting and upped the humor?
I hope that maybe they saw some of that and thought they could develop that tone more. You get a sense of how things work at the read throughs and I like to think tat they gleaned little nuggets from that and said, “Well hang on. Maybe there’s something here we can do more with.” But you’d have to ask the writers to know for sure. It did seem like they started to write us in more often as the season went on and then we had a lot to do once Jamie and Claire returned to Scotland. The scenes seemed to get funnier.
Was it fun to play the raunchy, feisty, name-calling guy?
Yes. I normally don’t play that kind of part to be honest. I normally play some killer or something. It was still intense, but it was a ridiculous intense. They would argue over a piece of bread, a drink, or a prostitute the way somebody would take something that was really serious. The comedy came out of the fact that they take something silly so seriously.
How close did you and Grant O’Rourke actually become since you were almost always seen together? Did you know him before?
No. I don’t think I knew anybody on this job. The secret truth is I love him and he hates me. No, we both have small children so that’s a great conversation. He is really relaxed person and easy to get on with. I think because most of our scenes were together, we tried especially hard to make the most of the moments we had to make them stick.
It was also a very physical part in the last few weeks especially. What was the hardest part to get a grip on for the role — the swordplay, horse riding, the running shirtless, the explosion aftermath, always being covered in mud?
I certainly wasn’t a natural on a horse. I had to see that on screen to believe it. If you give someone a sword or a horse or anything physical as an actor, it would be a lie if they told you that they didn’t enjoy it. I enjoyed being muddy and the blood and fake smoke and choreographed fights.
Its intense, but it is fun intense. You got a bunch of sweaty, highly-charged men swinging swords and running around so you have to be careful as well. It can get carried away.
I remember Sam [Heughan] telling me way back on episode 5 that he had a horse that was a pill to work with.
They say a workman always blames his tools. It was very handy to have the horse to blame for something going wrong because I was a crap rider. I am being slightly cynical. Everyone came out of this a better rider. In the end, I ended up galloping which for me was amazing considering I’d never been on a horse before. Everyone improved a thousand fold.
When did you find out that you were going to be killed off?
I read it in the script one morning in an email. I thought it was Duncan [Lacroix. “Murtagh”] winding me up. Then I found out it wasn’t a joke. Because it was an important battle, it needed to be a character the audience would care about losing. He needed to be sympathetic.
The scenes in the hospital with Rupert and eventually your death were quite moving.
Someone had to die and it was me unfortunately. But it was kind of nice in a way. It was a solid end to my character. I got my own arc instead of dying generically in battle. The writer wrote me some really nice moments. I like all of the stuff in the hospital between Angus and Rupert and eventually Angus’ death was quite moving.
I think it is indicative of how much viewers have come to like Angus and the journey he went on from being suspicious of Claire to defending and helping her and Jamie in numerous situations.
The manor in which Angus dies ties up the loose ends. He really did love his friend. That’s how he goes out. He made the ultimate sacrifice. There is a real sort of undercurrent of warmth and loyalty. It was a clever trick of the writers that you are under the illusion that it is Rupert that might die and then surprise it’s Angus. He was the first one to fight for Claire’s honor so it is a nice arc that he dies in her arms, especially considering how much initially he mistrusted her and mistreated her and spoke down to her.
What was your favorite scene during your tenure?
I enjoyed the scenes where I am goading and baiting Claire. The scenes with Rupert were all great, but I had some really nice moments with Cait [Balfe]. The port scene was quite funny and there was a scene where I walk in on her pissing in a bucket and I drag it out. We were laughing so much doing that one. And the actual death scene when Cait was playing that. It is very hard to die on camera. What was nice for me and quite touching was watching Cait be emotional and very involved during the filming of that scene. When we finished, she was really crying, she was.
Well, in a sense they were losing someone they had come to like and rely on, because I don’t think it is likely he would be back as a ghost.
You never know. Maybe in the next book, Diana will have Angus come back to haunt Claire in her dreams. I will miss this group of course, but I have a pragmatic way of looking at this work. I always quote George Harrison, “All things must pass.” It is on to the next one. The memories are in the bank and they’re all good. I won’t miss the horse and I don’t think he’ll miss me. I always thought I could feel the horse thinking every time I got on to ride, “Dickhead’s on my back again.”
What’s next for you?
I am in Calgary working on a contemporary Western TV show.
Uh-oh, does that mean another horse?
No thank god, it is a modern story and I have a four-wheel drive instead.
Outlander airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.