Around the Table with 'Outlander'
An unfiltered conversation with the cast and creators of Outlander.
When it comes to bringing a beloved book series to life on television, Steven Cree knows a thing or two.
The actor, who is about to embody fan-favorite character Gallowglass on the second season of A Discovery of Witches, has spent the last several years playing the lovable Ian Murray, Sr. on Starz's Outlander. And this time, he was prepared for all that bringing to life a popular series of novels entails.
"When I got Ian Murray in Outlander, I wasn't on social media at that point," he tells EW. "Even though I was aware of Outlander being a hugely successful book series, I didn't know anything about the huge fan base. It wasn't actually until I was on Outlander that I realized how big the whole thing was, whereas with this, it was an entirely different scenario from the start. When I had the audition and I googled to find out a little bit about the TV show, whenever you google Gallowglass and A Discovery of Witches, it became very quickly apparent that Gallowglass is indeed an extremely beloved character."
Sky One/Bad Wolf Productions
"Ian is nice and warm and fuzzy; Gallowglass is a lot more dynamic than that," he adds. "He's a bachelor as well. He's a bit of a rock-and-roll vampire for his time so he's an entirely different proposition from Ian. I did read the book, and I absolutely loved the character of Gallowglass every bit as much as the fans. Whilst I know that there may well be some people out there who will never agree with my casting of Gallowglass, I hope the majority of people are happy with how he's portrayed and what I bring to him."
There is one man who would know what Cree is going through, embarking on playing this beloved fictional character who many fans have declared their literary crush. That would be his Outlander costar Sam Heughan. Cree didn't ask Heughan for any advice about the perceived pressure that comes with stepping into a role of this nature, but he did ask him for help with something a bit more weighty.
"Gallowglass is described as being a particularly physical, and muscular character, so I've been spending a lot of time in the gym over the last 18 months," he explains. "So, I was asking Sam Heughan some fitness tips."
As a lover of fantasy novels for most of his life, Cree was enthusiastic about diving into the world of A Discovery of Witches and his character in particular. "He's a very complex character, and there's a lot about Gallowglass that's unknown," he reflects. "He has a slightly mysterious quality to him; he's been alive for already a few 100 years by the point we meet him. Even though he's described as a soldier of fortune, you don't exactly know his history or his past. When it comes to the crunch, he's a really fearsome warrior that the Claremont family calls upon. He's almost a slightly bombastic character, full of one-liners and quick to make a joke. [But] there's a slight sadness around him as well."
How does an actor tap into such a mysterious figure with a shadowy backstory? Well, it helps when the author who created him is also an executive producer. Deborah Harkness, who wrote the A Discovery of Witches series, was often on-hand to give Cree advice. In a move reminiscent of Alan Rickman's experiences playing Professor Snape in the Harry Potter franchise, Harkness even provided Cree with secret details.
"She gave me a very long and very detailed backstory of Gallowglass' life," he notes. "Which you wouldn't necessarily see any of that on the screen, but from an acting point of view, the more you can learn about a character, the easier it is for me to bring that palette to the character. Debs told me some things in absolute confidence, which I haven't shared with anyone else at all. It's good to have some secrets about your character, to create that inner life."
Harkness also helped Cree feel a certain level of confidence in the role. In the novel, Gallowglass is described as a former Viking, and his warrior spirit had led fans to dream-cast the likes of Charlie Hunnam and Heughan himself in the role. But Cree never got anything but absolute support from the character's creator.
"I was hugely encouraged by how positive Debs was in my casting of Gallowglass because I had come across a lot of suggestions on the internet," he muses. "When the person who's actually created that character has been so vocal about how much she thinks I am her version of Gallowglass, it gave me almost unspoken permission [and] made me feel really good about filling his boots, literally and figuratively."
Cree was immediately enchanted by the sexy, romantic implications of playing a vampire, noting he's a longtime fan of things like Interview With a Vampire and the Twilight series. He reveled in getting to bring that ancient mystery and superhuman strength to life (though he shares a mournful regret with his costar James Purefoy that he didn't get to bite anyone). But to him, the key to Gallowglass was that view of him as a rock-and-roll vampire.
That translated into his prep in his trailer before shooting scenes. "The one thing that I did use quite often when I was in my trailer, and I was putting on my costume and I wanted to get into the headspace for Gallowglass, I would very often play 'Nothing Else Matters' by Metallica," he quips. "I could imagine Gallowglass being really into Metallica."
A bit different from the music of the 1590s...
A Discovery of Witches season 2 premieres on Sundance Now, Shudder, and AMC+ on Jan 9.