Outlander’s Rosie Day on Suffocating Corsets, Time Travel, and Rape Culture

Photo: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

Spoilers ahead for Saturday night’s episode of Outlander.

So as it turns out, our time-traveling heroine Claire has encountered the other side of her 1945 husband's ancestry — the timid Mary Hawkins is supposed to be the great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother of Frank Randall, or something like that. Mary getting raped in Saturday's episode could endanger that lineage, or it might ensure it — who's to say just yet? What could this mean for the former virgin Mary? Actress Rosie Day took a break from filming her scenes on set in Scotland to chat about rape culture, suffocating corsets, and what she would do if she could travel back in time.

You actually go way back with Sam Heughan.
We did a movie together two years ago in Norway called Heart of Lightness, based on a Henrik Ibsen play. He had just been cast in Outlander, and he was reading the second book, and he said to me, "There's a part you'd be great for." And I was like, "Oh? Okay, cool." So I kind of knew Outlander through Sam, and then, weirdly, this part came up, and it was the exact part that Sam had said, "You'd be great for ..." So it's kind of because of Sam that I'm here.

He kind of did that same thing to Laura Donnelly, who now plays Jamie's sister Jenny.
She was in the film with us! He's just playing casting agent, isn't he? So yeah, when I got sent the script, I texted him and went, "Oh. My. God. This has come through!" I'm the biggest Doctor Who fan. I love the Doctor Who mode of time travel. I love the idea of a man coming to pick me up in a blue box and taking me away. That sounds really dodgy, doesn't it? Like he's kidnapping some girl. But I really love time-travel stories, and so this is amazing. Although we were joking the other day that there are maybe three scenes that we've shot so far where I actually smiled, because everything just keeps going wrong for Mary.

Let's talk about what this rape means for Mary, in this time and place.
She's a soiled woman. Soiled goods. You're just done, even though it's absolutely not the woman's fault in any way, shape, or form. Awful. I mean, still, in today's society, there are countries where they think that. In the Middle East, you actually get punished for being raped. One woman was sentenced to 400 lashes. How can you justify that?

And for Mary, this could jeopardize her arranged marriage. "If she's been violated, her reputation will be ruined," Jamie points out. "She'll be a spinster until the end of her days." Although even the fact that her marriage was arranged ...
It's terrible how that happened, and it's good that they're highlighting it and showing it. I don't think Claire can get her head around this at first, at how awful this is, and how young Mary is. I mean, she's like 15! This is the age where they were sold off and sentenced to the life of marriage and just having to have lots of children to provide an heir, which is awful when you think about it. Appalling. But historically accurate. A lot of people are ignorant of these things because you're not taught about women's history at school. They kind of rush over the hardships that women had to endure, so I think raising awareness and bringing it to the forefront of people's minds is quite important. I hope people will watch this and be outraged, at all of it. How did women survive?

We talk about it on set all the time. Even just how women were seen as being kind of hysterical, always fainting, when it's because they had to wear corsets and dresses so heavy that you can't breathe in them. It's really, really difficult, and we're doing it like they did it. They showed us a picture of what corsets do to your organs, crushing them, and I'm like, "Oh my God, not good." I'm not going to be doing any of that weird waist-training craze to try to make your waist so tiny. I don't know why women do that on their own. It's so barbaric.

What was it like shooting the rape scene? It was a two-night shoot in Prague?
It was awful to ... I mean, it was fine to shoot, but it was not fun. Just to imagine what it must be like in real life, and it was rape because rape is a weapon. Which is terrible! Our lovely director kept coming up to me and saying, "Are you all right?" And I was like, "Yeah." I can switch on and off. It was in the summer, so it wasn't too cold outside, but we were doing it all night, and we got to about 2 a.m. on both nights, so we were just kind of dead. And then we had to do it again and again. After doing it four or five times, you start thinking, "I'm being paid to simulate rape," which is a weird concept. It was also very physical, because it wasn't a bed rape. I'm thrown onto a horse cart, repeatedly, by some stunt guys. And then there's lots of screaming and shouting and crying. It was very intense. But it was handled so brilliantly, because it's not the easiest of things to do.

Afterwards, Mary gets a little confused ...
She believes Alex Randall is her attacker, and she thinks he's trying to rape her again, so, yeah, lots of screaming and running around the house in my nightie, but that one was good fun to do. Everyone else is dressed very posh, in their Parisian dresses, and there's me, running around in my nightie. I like any costume that doesn't restrict my oxygen levels. But still, very upsetting to watch. Not one for the parents or my local vicar. He's got Amazon just so he can watch Outlander, and my mom was like, "Maybe not this, because ... yeah."

Right now, it's too soon in the story to say, but it could appear as if Claire's meddling with the past has set a new series of events in motion, and certain people in the future might be erased. Or perhaps Claire's meddling makes them possible in the first place ...
Well, if Claire hadn't come along, Mary would have married the first count, and he's really old and fat and warty, so she would have had an awful life. She wouldn't have flourished. She wouldn't have felt true love. So that is all down to Claire. It's hard to get your head around everything because Frank is there in the 1940s, so if Claire hadn't gone back, he wouldn't be there? Time travel's weird. It would be really cool if Mary could go forward in time!

If you could go back in time, what would you do to change history?
I would be really bad, because I'm a massive feminist, so I wouldn't be able to abide by their rules. I'd want to be the one to do the suffragette movement of 1743, you know? You'd have to rally a group of women who weren't afraid, but lots of them did live in fear. So I'd need a partner like Claire. I'd need someone who had Claire's characteristics to help rally the troops and create a girl squad, because they might just call you crazy and lock you up in an asylum. I might not last long, but I'd try!