‘Outlander’ Star John Bell Talks Season 6 & What He’s Learned from Sam Heughan & Caitríona Balfe
John Bell began his Outlander stint as Young Ian — Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire’s (Caitríona Balfe) nephew — in season 3, and audiences haven’t been able to get enough of him since. Bell’s Ian brings heart and humor to Outlander in a way few characters have, and in season 5, he finally returned to our screens after being away since the end of season 4. This week’s episode, “Hour of the Wolf,” dove deep into Young Ian’s backstory, and Bell sat down exclusively with SheKnows’ Reshma Gopaldas to talk all about his biggest episode yet.
“Hour of the Wolf” tells the backstory of what happened to Young Ian when Jamie and Claire had to part with him in the season 4 finale, and Bell tells me he was especially excited for the chance for the chance to keep working closely with Heughan and Balfe. I also had time to ask him about his famous TikToks, get into fan questions from Twitter, and hear the true story behind a blooper that his castmate claims Bell almost offed them in. Read on for our full chat with Bell below.
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Reshma Gopaldas: You had such an epic episode last weekend! We finally learned your backstory. When did you learn what the backstory was? And do you read ahead in the books?
John Bell: Yeah, I read a little ahead. I’m only human. I want to know if I die or anything, if I need to start looking for a new job. So yeah, I kind of knew what was happening. I also wanted to be informed for season 5, exactly what he had gone through to end up in such a dark place. So, yeah, I knew what was happening, but I didn’t know how the show was going to do it. Does that make sense? I had an idea of what was going to happen. The books and show are related to each other, but they’re not always the same. So when I heard how they were going to do it, how I was getting a good chunk of an episode to my story, and the characters were coming back from season four. I was like, Yeah, let’s get into it!!
RG: So exciting! So John, I did ask the fans for some questions.
JB: Yeah, I was scanning through them!
RG: I was scanning through them and was like, “Oh, this is overwhelming!”
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JB: I think that there were a lot of thinkers there.
RG: Really deep questions! We’ll do the fun questions first. You are clearly the TikTok King on set. I think it’s undisputed. We’ve seen you do them with Sophie (Skelton), Lauren (Lyle), Sam (Heughan) and everyone is asking: have you done one with Caitríona, or do you plan on doing one with her?
JB: I definitely plan on doing one with her in season seven, for sure. But, it was kind of difficult to do one with Caitríona seeing as she was very pregnant and nobody could find that out, you know? So I can’t exactly have Caitríona, hitting the “sha nay nay” if she’s got a belly! So I was always like, “Guys, I know you’re asking for one for Cait, but at the same time, like, ‘I can’t, I can’t!'”
RG: And now you know, from Belfast, she can dance. So if she says she can’t dance—
JB: Oh, I always knew Caitríona could dance, of course!
RG: I do have a TikTok challenge for season seven for you.
JB: I’m all ears.
RG: The Crown did this. So I think you should get the whole cast to do it in season seven. Challenge accepted?
JB: What’s the concept?
RG: You get to pick whatever you guys do, but everyone has to be in it in the main cast.
JB: Okay, okay I can do something like that! Challenge accepted. With the main cast.
RG: Excellent. So you’ve been on the show a long time. I feel like you started as such a young kid. A lot of your scenes obviously are with Sam and Caitríona, what have you learned from each of them?
JB: So looking back, I started in season three and I was like walking on to this — two years without a job, I was literally ready to stop acting. So that was a huge opportunity for me. I was like, “Damn this is amazing. To get to work with Sam and Cait was awesome. I guess from Cait, I’ve learned professionality on set. She’s fun — don’t get me wrong, it’s a good laugh. Always good fun. But she takes her job very seriously, as she should. And I’ve always just kind of admired how in control of it she always seems to be. So I kind of loved that from her and for Sam… I’ve learned the power of raising one eyebrow up like this [raises one eyebrow much higher than the other]. It’s the Sam look!
RG: A key Jamie Fraser look.
JB: It’s a shame this isn’t being video recorded. I’m giving my best eyebrow.
RG: We should take a screenshot.
JB: I also learned from Sam [how] he’s just such a giving and generous actor in scenes, whether the camera is on him or not, he is there with you. And I’ve always kind of hoped that I was that kind of actor as well, but just learning and seeing from him the importance of being so giving — it means everybody in the scene’s better. So, yeah, those are two things that come to mind.
RG: On that note, all of you guys are very notorious from blooper reels for laughing a lot in scenes and breaking. Who’s best at getting everyone to stop laughing?
JB: Cait! It’s 100 percent Caitríona! If Caitríona gives you that look [gives a serious look to camera] — Ooooh, it’s like shivers of ice down your spine.
RG: Have you gotten the look?
JB: [Nodding and laughing] Oh I’ve got the look! I’ve got the look. Yeah, yeah, yeah! And then afterwards I go groveling up, “Sorry Caitríona.” [Impersonates himself]. “Sorry please forgive me.”
RG: Live and learn.
JB: And then she goes, “That’s okay,” and she taps me on my head and she’s like, “Just know, you learned a lesson!” And I’m like, “Sorry.” (Smiles and laughs).
RG: I asked Richard [Rankin] about TikTok, if he’d TikTok’d with you, and he said, “What’s a TicTac?”
JB: [rolls his eyes, laughs]
RG: So you have a lot of work to do… But he did tell me, there was a blooper on set, where he said you accidentally tried to kill him.
JB: I didn’t try to kill him! Okay? The horse got out of control. Right? Basically, I was known as the horse whisperer. I was like, any horse stuff, stick Young Ian in it. He’ll do it. You want someone to ride a horse, Young Ian will do it. If want someone to hold another horse, while riding a horse, Young Ian will do it. You want someone to control a dog while riding a horse? Young Ian will do it. So they were like, “Stick him on a cart. You’ll be fine. You’ll be absolutely fine.” I was like, “Yeah, I will be.” And it’s a little different. It’s a lot more voice commanding and stuff. God, Dickie loves to tell this story. But the horse got spooked, and then I tried to correct the horse by going this way, and the horse went really far that way. So I told it to go the other way. And as that horse came crashing into the side, Dickie did have to make a leap for his life as he leapt from the cart, and I was a bit ‘beaver’ after it.
RG: I like how you call him Dickie.
JB: Yeah, he’s Dickie.
RG: Time for a few fan questions from Twitter. Louisa says there’s a lot of young Ian in books seven and eight. Are you hoping to continue into season eight? And then what are you excited for in season seven?
JB: I will take any job. So yes, I’m so looking forward to season eight if we can do it. I’m looking forward to season seven. Absolutely. I think Young Ian is just going to develop more and more and more. He’s just going to be more of a fabric of the story. I mean for anyone that’s read the books, they know what’s coming up, but not much I can really say about seven. You can really see that young Ian and Jamie are becoming this duo where they’ve got each other’s backs. They’re ready to kill for each other, and that’s only going to develop. And I’m just excited for young Ian as well — he’s such a character that’s been so full of light, and I don’t think he ever loses his morality or his perspective, or especially his loyalty to his family. But he does become a bit violent! [Laughs] And is not afraid to deal out death. And if somebody comes for him, you know, he’s not going to, he’s not going to give them a second chance to come for him.
RG: I think we saw that in the season five finale, when your character rescues Claire, I think there was a real switch in that scene. He sort of became “a man” compared to the Young Ian we had seen before. He really stepped up. Another Twitter fan, Kate, asked: is it true you knocked another actor unconscious during those fight scenes?
JB: No, I didn’t knock another actor unconscious. What I did do was like nearly hit one of the camera department [guys] with a tomahawk! So I had to throw the tomahawk to get the guy clear in the skull. The camera was there, and then there was a board up to protect. And as I [threw it], the Tomahawk hit the board, flipped over it, and then nearly landed on this guy. It was a rubber tomahawk, to be fair. Not everyone would have been fine. But it’s more likely I get hit by stuff! [Laughs] I’m the one getting hit! I mean, especially during like the gauntlet in season four, I got so many rubber war clubs to the face.
RG: I’ve seen a few bloopers where you’re just getting tossed by horses every five seconds.
JB: Yeah, completely! So I’m not usually the one dealing out the damage. Or am I?
RG: Yeah, there’s a story out there that you’ve knocked someone unconscious. We might need to tell Twitter that it’s not true.
JB: It’s not true! [laughs]
RG: You said you’re working with Sam a lot and probably will in season 7 too. Are there any bloopers that you can share?
JB: Any bloopers? No, we’re utmost professionals. Every single time. Every single take. [Laughs]
RG: You delivered that without laughing.
JB: [laughing] I don’t know if there’s anything specific that I can say, I will admit when we got down episode 604, it was the last block, we had to be on the money. We were up against the clock. We wanted stuff to get done, didn’t want to go over time. So there wasn’t a lot of time to goof around on camera.
RG: You just almost killed Richard and then move on.
JB: Yeah! But that was the horse’s fault.
RG: You’re sticking with that. Twitter fan TinyTunney wants to know: Were there any pranks played on you when you were the new cast member, the new kid on the block?
JB: No! There are no pranks. We always get asked about these pranks, and always look at each other like, we do not have time for pranks! I’ll tell you something funny that happened — maybe it should be a blooper — but during the fight sequence with Braeden [Clarke], we’re wrestling with each other. And at one point, he grabbed my head and he lifts me up, and he takes my Mohawk with him! So there’s just me going [grabs his head dramatically]. Literally! My wig flew off! I was wigless!
RG: I really hope that makes the blooper reel. Another Twitter question from Hailey: How does it feel to be, as John and young Ian, the coolest person that has ever lived?
JB: Oh, that’s very sweet of you, Hailey. It feels great. Yeah. And it’s really nice. Just being the coolest ever. Yes, yes! It’s so good.
RG: Which character on the Ridge would you go out with for a night of debauchery? And what would you guys do?
JB: Hmmm… They all can kind of be fun in their own ways.
RG: You only get to pick one for a night.
JB: I would go out with Brianna.
RG: Ooh, good one.
JB: Yeah, I’d go out with Brianna and have some ‘cuz time.
RG: Remember when she punched you in the face?
JB: Yeah, that was brutal! But you know, that’s family, you know?
RG: Sophie told me that she really thought that was a misdirected punch.
JB: [Laughs] It was just my cheeky face. She was just like “Shut the f*ck up.”
RG: How do you like Young Ian’s story arc? Is there one thing in the story from the books that you wish you had gotten to play that didn’t make it in? And is there anything you would change about your story?
JB: No, I think it’s one of the coolest stories in the books, actually, It has such great character development without having to be like, there every single day. I get some time off too which is nice! Stuff that was maybe in the book that’s missing — I always thought that scene was really interesting from like the third book with Jamie and Ian when he gets punished. And he sort of turns around and says, “You should do it to me.” I thought that was an interesting dynamic that started. And I mean, that’s sort of mirrored throughout. A lot of what Young Ian goes through is something Jamie’s already been through. So just more of that kind of the parallel of the two.
RG: All right. Let’s end it on a fun note. You get to pick one cast member to sing karaoke with or dance with. Who do you pick? What song do you dance to or sing?
JB: I will pick Caitlin O’Ryan and we would sing, Where is the Love? Black Eyed Peas.
RG: You answered that so fast. I love it.
JB: Because I’ve already done it 150 times. When I helped her move her house a month ago, we were like, [sings] “What’s wrong with the world, mama? People livin’ like!”
RG: Did you film new TikToks from season 6 that you’re going to release?
JB: No, I don’t think I’ve got any other TikToks. We’ve got some good behind the scenes, especially at the end of episode 604. Ooh, I got it for that.
RG: Can’t wait to see those! Well, don’t forget about your season 7 TikTok challenge.
JB: Something with the whole cast!
RG: And they have to be dancing!
JB: We’ll figure something out! Let’s get publicity on it!
Before you go, click here to see the all-time best ‘Outlander’ episodes you need to watch.
Launch Gallery: The All-Time Best 'Outlander' Episodes You Need to Watch (or Re-Watch)
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