Outlander star John Bell on finally revealing the trauma of Ian's Mohawk past
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Sunday's episode of Outlander, "Hour of the Wolf."
When Ian returned to Fraser's Ridge in Outlander season 5, it was as a changed man.
The once loquacious adolescent (played by John Bell) had transformed into a fierce Mohawk warrior, with demons clearing haunting him and a refusal to speak about what had sent him back to his Fraser family. On Sunday's episode, "Hour of the Wolf," audiences finally learned the truth of Ian's past.
While traveling with Jamie (Sam Heughan) to speak with the Cherokee about Jamie's duties as Indian agent, Ian crossed paths with an old friend, Kaheroton (Braeden Clarke). That stirred up Ian's past, leading him to tell Jamie of his wife, whom he called Emily, and the two babies they lost. After losing two children, Emily left Ian and chose Kaheroton as her partner — and Ian was ostracized from his tribe.
Ian confessed all this to Jamie, and Jamie spoke of Faith, the daughter he lost in Paris with Claire (Caitriona Balfe) so many years ago. And Ian sought to make peace with his past, promising Kaheroton he would return to Emily and care for the child his friend had with her if Kaheroton were to die in a duel.
We caught up with Bell to delve into these revelations, whether Ian is on a path to greater healing, what he makes of the Christie family, and just where the heck Rollo is!
Robert Wilson/Starz John Bell on 'Outlander'
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Ian has been home for some time, but we're just learning his story now. Was it new to you, or have you been carrying it around to inform your performance?
JOHN BELL: No, I had kind of known that this was his backstory and his history. It was just intriguing to me to see what the clues were going to be as we peppered them throughout the show until the reveal of what actually happened in that time he was away during season 5. It was always in the back of my mind just through the books. It's great having books. You know, it's like, "Oh, I don't die until book 9. Ooh, I'm not even dying in book 9, great." That was good to be informed on that so that I can really play his pure despair in [season] 5 truthfully.
What do you think is more crushing to him or haunts him more: losing Emily and being ostracized from the tribe, or losing the two babies?
It was losing the babies for Ian. He had so much love for for his wife that of course that's going to be heartbreaking. But I can't even imagine going through something like that. So it has to be that. You can see that in that scene, which was so beautifully done with Sam. Really that's at the core of what's churning him up. It's lightly touched on in the episode, but he's struggled with faith as well. Does he believe in God? Does he believe in the Mohawk creator? If God is up there, where is his daughter? And it's really Jamie that helps him to find that again, which is beautiful.
How much of a shock is it and how badly does it hurt Ian to see Kaheroton marry Emily?
Oh my gosh, it's so shocking. It's like his best friend. I'm like, "Yo, bros before hos," but it's classic, isn't it? The love triangle. Just the ultimate sense of betrayal there. Not only have you gone through all this trauma and sadness with your love, she also leaves you for who you thought was your best friend. It's an arrow to the heart and a knife in the back. He's completely wounded.
Is there any part of him that sees it as fair play since Kaheroton did seemingly have some feelings for her first?
Maybe? I don't know. I didn't think that. I think he is pissed off and hurt. That's how I played that, was just like, "Nah, this is the ultimate betrayal." That's why it's so arresting to him when he sees him again. Because he needs to reckon with his past, [and] now it's right in front of his face. But it was great to play, because actually me and Braeden are just total goofballs with each other.
Do you think he would actually go to Emily if Kaheroton died?
I completely do. He's a man of his word. When he took that bracelet, that was him making that deal. That's what's so lovable about Ian, is that his word is is his word. And he will not break it. That's something that he's taken from his uncle — an oath sworn is an oath not to be broken.
But would she take him back?
Um, well, I hope so. I mean, he's quite cool. [Laughs] You know, he's a good hunter. He'd provide for the family. But who knows?
Ian does finally relent and tell Kaheroton that God chose him to be with her. How much does it cost him to admit that?
Of course it's going to cost somebody a lot to say that. You're having to give up something that he probably was still holding on to his hope that there's a possibility that we would be reunited. To finally have to accept that, it's tough. But that's part of life. You have to accept things that don't always go your way, and you move on from that, and you grow stronger for it.
And what do you think forces him to accept it?
I think it's Jamie. It's that conversation with Jamie. Jamie always has the right words. He's always got the perfect thing to say. It's also the realization that yes, he has been between these two worlds for the last few years of his life, formative years of his life, thinking he had to be one or the other. It's that reconciliation that he can take lessons from both and be stronger for it.
Where do you see Ian's true home being now: with Jamie and Claire, or with the Mohawk?
That's the big question, isn't it? Because I would say his family, but both he sees as his family. But truly, I think it will be with his blood, with the Frasers. Because as the Mohawk elder says, "You,'re stronger with your own kin," and he will fiercely and loyally protect them. As you can see in the season, he is becoming Jamie's right-hand man. And that trust in each other is really building, and there's a lot love there. That's where he finds his strength, his true being, his true self.
How crucial is this for Ian's healing? Might this help him finally be able to move on?
Yes and no. What he has gone through, he's always going to carry that with him. That has profoundly changed his perspective on life. He cannot forget those things. He is healing, I would say, but there's a lot of unresolved trauma there. As well as much as talking through it is great, he has a tendency towards violence. He comes from a place of anger due to these past traumas. And it won't be until a lot later on that Ian will mature enough to be able to let that go. So yeah, I'm excited to play that spicy side.
Is he possibly read to open his heart again?
I suppose so. You see him opening himself up to a deeper connection with people when young Malva [Jessica Reynolds] turns up on the scene, although just between you and me, I think she's playing him like a tiny little violin. But I do see that in him now. I see that willingness to share and be vulnerable. But he's never had a problem with sharing his opinion either. To be fair. He puts his foot in his mouth a lot. But we'll see a little bit more of that.
Speaking of Malva, what do you think Ian makes of the Christies?
Oh, I don't think he trusts the Christies, but he does like Malva. Who can blame him? She's so charismatic and enchanting. That's something I immediately felt from Jess too. That scene in the reeds, me and Jess call that the day we became besties, because immediately we found this chemistry with each other that we were able to use with our characters. Actually a funny story, in one of the takes we were joking about, and we're like, "What if we just, like, kissed?" It was totally not in the script. It was so perfect, the sun was coming down, the art department were in the back throwing bits of cotton or something, some flowers were floating through the air. And we were like, "This so romantic." So we just kissed. They never kept it in. Sadly. Maybe that gave the game away too much. But we were having fun.
We haven't seen too much of Rollo yet this year. Will we see more of him this season?
I hope so! I mean, when I call him and he goes the opposite direction, I'm like, "Okay, maybe we just cut the dog." But no, I love working with Rollo and I hope we get to see more of him. He is missing a bit, isn't he? Underused. I remember some couple of scenes that are coming up where I had to horse-ride and control Rollo at the same time, and those were challenging, to say the least. You shout, "Stop!" for the horse, but the dog stops and the horse freaks out, and you're trying to juggle it all. But yeah, he'll be kicking about. He's his shadow. He's his wolf. That's his spirit guide. I see it in that way, anyway.