Outlander’s Clive Russell on Why Jamie’s Grandfather Is a Horrible Person

Clive Russell as Simon Fraser. Photo: Ed Miller / Starz/© 2016 Sony Pictures Television inc. All rights reserved

Spoilers ahead for the most recent episode of Outlander.

Now that Jamie and Claire are back in Scotland, they've embarked on a new mission to change history — making sure the Jacobite rebellion succeeds. Easier said than done, especially when the Scottish clans are divided, and Jamie's own grandfather is playing both sides. Simon Fraser, a.k.a. Lord Lovat, is an actual historical figure, a Jacobite who kept his support for the rebellion at arm's length so that he would seem loyal to the crown. Actor Clive Russell took a break while shooting on location in the verra cold Scotland outdoors to chat with Vulture about his character's duplicity, misogyny, and ideology travel.

Lord Lovat seems to be naturally duplicitous. He's playing both sides here. Was that fun for you?
It's glorious fun to play! I think there's an expression, The devil always has the best tunes. It's probably a reflection of the realpolitik of being in a country like Scotland. His whole psyche, if you like, is based upon growing up with, and being close to, and having to deal with, and make deals with, possibly the most powerful imperial nation up until that point in history, along with Russia and France and Germany. As a small country next to that, that would affect every individual. And a man as powerful as he was, within the Scottish clan system and Scottish politics, would have to be very careful about where he placed himself. And also finding out at that time what was going on 100 miles from your house must have been pretty difficult. There was no social media. No media at all! You had to be very careful with how you placed yourself, so he plays both sides beautifully. There's an element of that in how he treated everyone, really, and nobody could be terribly clear about which way he was going to jump.

Even with Jamie ...
The way he dealt with his grandson was just appalling! Obviously he enjoyed doing it, enjoyed undermining him, and enjoyed being completely and utterly offensive about his wife. I don't think he's a man who acknowledges when he's being helped, particularly by women. I think, crudely, he'd like to fuck her. That's it, really. He doesn't enjoy the dance, as it were, as modern men do — the long dance, until something maybe or maybe not happens. He’s used to taking women and raping them. He's a horrible character, really, certainly by modern standards. But it was a different time. And if you were of a lower class, you would just expect to be sexually harassed and used by certain men in certain hierarchies.

Do you think there's a parallel with how he treats women with so-called magical abilities? He seems to both want their visions, and hate them for it.
There was quite a lot of historical evidence that there were women accused of being witches, and before that, seers, within 200 years of now, who were periodically stitched up, as it were. They might have just been gay women, or women who chose to live outside society, choosing not to get married, feeling the suspicion of villages and towns for that choice, and therefore being suspected of being witches, or having malevolent powers. And I know that in one of the villages nearby, which was the center of it, the way they dealt with them, they would be dunked. If they drowned, they were innocent, and if they survived, it meant they were witches. It was as ridiculous as that. They never stood a chance.

There's a big gambling syndicate in Ceylon, Sri Lanka, where people go to seers to know which way to bet. There is an attitude or notion that a seer has a revered position, but they would get things wrong sometimes, and then they would be got rid of. And in all these societies, with what we would regard as reactionary attitudes towards women, the seers were women, so that compounded the problem of being a certain kind of powerful person, who was assumed to be wise and all-seeing, and yet was still merely a woman. It's a contradictory position to be in. For Lovat, having been humiliated to some extent by her vision, the payoff for all his machinations is that he can now pay Claire back. He's saying, "I've got you all. I'm protecting myself. Go fuck it."

Part of what Claire is doing, though, is changing some of those reactionary attitudes about women. She's confronting men in power, challenging the patriarchy.
Have you seen the film Sunset Song? It's set in Scotland, in the '20s, and it's about a girl who is partly constrained or destroyed by patriarchy, the assumptions of what she can and can't do. Her mother dies. She has to stay home and look after the family, and she has a brutal father. It's difficult to watch. The notion of taking modern sensibilities into an earlier era, it's really intriguing.

It would be perfectly possible to argue that feminism, like most progressive political movements, is a failure. Yet when you look back at what we had before — we now have a black American president, and it's absolutely extraordinary that that's happened. Whether that's way ahead of what's actually happening to most black people in America, or likewise with women or gays, these things are issues, and the fact that they're issues means that some movement has been made. But behind that movement, there's a lot of retrenchment and violent reaction. So yeah, I think it's a very smart, very clever conceit. It's not just time travel. It's philosophy travel. It's ideology travel.