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Outlander’s Lotte Verbeek on Geillis’s Reveal, Feminism, and Dancing Naked

Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

The Fault in Our Stars fans might recognize Lotte Verbeek as Willem Dafoe’s Amsterdam assistant, but for Outlander’s audience, she’s the mysterious Geillis, who, in Saturday night’s episode, declared that she was indeed a witch. But the real twist was that her “proof” was a mark of the devil — her scar from a smallpox vaccination, which wasn’t widely available in 1743. That, plus her saying “1968!”, reveal that, like our heroine, Geillis is a modern woman in a not-so-modern place. Unlike Claire, however, Geillis meant to be there. And if she could choose when and where to travel in time, perhaps Claire could as well? Verbeek chatted with Vulture about her character’s reveal, feminism, witchcraft, and dancing naked.

I know it’s hard to dance around some of the spoilers …
It is. I mean, it’s harder than dancing in a forest naked! [Laughs.]

And how was that?
That is very freeing. Everybody should try it sometime. I mean, the complication was more the [pregnant] belly, because as much as I was wearing close to nothing, you kind of didn’t want to give everything away just yet, but you did want to see the belly. So I would say I was just kind of figuring out how that works while moving. We had a couple of rehearsals [with a choreographer] to figure that out. It worked out so well! It was a dream scene to do.

More so than yelling, “I’m a servant of Satan!”?
Oh gosh! When I read those lines, I was like, “Oh my God, how are you going to … ?” There’s hardly any way to be subtle about that, right? We’ve seen Geillis being someone you have to read between the lines, but that is pretty expressive. I enjoyed that. I liked that.

Up until now, she’s been subtle, coy, almost teasing, like, “You have a secret. I have a secret. Let’s figure out if your secret is my secret.”
And then that changes. Once you think you know her, you turn out to not know her at all. And hopefully you start to feel for her, because it turns out she’s an idealist, in the truest sense of the word. She believes in this more than anything else, and it means more to her than her own life, even. And she and Dougal are of like minds. They’re both rebels, in their own way.

What might clue you in before she makes her grand Satan speech is that her vocal affect and her vocabulary changes. Just a few episodes ago, Jamie had to ask Claire, “What does fucking mean?” because it wasn’t a commonly used word in that time. But Geillis says, “Looks like I’m going to a fucking barbecue,” so that anachronism is a tip-off.
That’s what I really like about the writing, because it’s not so spelled out in front of us. It’s little hints. Bread crumbs. I hope the audience will be like, “Oh, I get it. Makes sense.” You trust the audience to be smart enough to get it, you know? And even if you’re not getting it, it’s fine, because it’s a bit of a mystery to indulge in. When Claire and Geillis have a moment to themselves, she asks, “Why are you here?” And she’s stunned that there is no bigger plan, because Geillis’s life is all about the greater plan. It’s almost grotesque, or grandiose, to think that she can change the course of history. We think of Claire as being the more altruistic one, because she’s a healer, but it turns out that Geillis is ultimately the one who’s altruistic. She saves her friend’s life.

But she’s also a murderer. 
Because she’s an idealist. And Arthur Duncan, on a Darwinian level, might not have been the last man standing, anyway. So it wouldn’t have been much of a loss.

Do you think Geillis is a feminist?
Yes. Yes, she is. I mean for me, a feminist is a self-empowered woman who strives to move things forward for not only women but also men, in terms of freedom and liberation. Just to be equals and equal of value and equal of self-expression. It doesn’t take away from the fact that men and women are so different. I think the beauty of the relationship between Geillis and Duncan, which we never see, is that he’s very masculine; he’s a burly man, and she’s very feminine, just in the way she orchestrates things. I think you can be a feminist and maintain your very feminine values and traits, and I think she’s an example of that. To place women from the future in a time where the male is dominant, how the two sexes really clash is quite fascinating. It makes for a lot of drama and a lot of romance.

A lot of women were accused of witchcraft back in earlier eras just because they were self-empowered, though. If they understood rudimentary medicine, for instance.
If you were a healer, you do have power in a certain way, which might scare people.  Even if there is something feminine, motherly, nurturing about that, because you can actually make people better. But then they imagine what you could do if you turned those powers against them. When I used to go to the cheese market in Holland, it still has a scale where they would weigh women, and if they were found too light, too light in body weight, they could actually be burned. They thought, “You’re a witch, then.”

Because witches were supposed to be light enough to fly broomsticks.
Yeah. And I went to a museum in Scotland where they had certain torturous devices for women who were thought of as witches. I mean, really brutal devices. And we kind of laugh about that stuff now — “Oh, you’re a witch!” — but this is how we used to perceive women who were slightly different, or who weren’t wearing a corset, for example. Who weren’t walking the expected line. And both Claire and Geillis are lost creatures in a world that requires them to be a certain way, in a very male-dominated society. It’s kind of brutal. We’ve come a long way. Nobody’s being accused of being a witch now. At least not here.

Both you and Carice van Houten are playing redheaded witches of a sort, her red priestess Melisandre on Game of Thrones, your “confessed” witch on Outlander. You’re both Dutch …
Are you saying we’re good at witchcraft in Holland? [Laughs.]

No, but I thought it was interesting considering Geillis in the Outlander books isn’t a redhead …
At first I was like, “I don’t see why they would cast me, if they’re looking for a tall, blonde, green-eyed Scottish woman!” I mean, you could dye your hair, which I don’t really like doing. It was really lovely, though, because one of the producers said, “It’s kind of exciting. You really want to find the right person for the role, and I knew it from the second I saw your photo.” And I think in this case, it helps to be a redhead, because that’s considered to be exotic.

I don’t know if they’ve entirely mapped out what is going to happen in season two yet, but at some point, they might show the 1960s, and we could potentially see Geillis before she goes back in time.
That is true. I remember some costume talk about the 1960s. Miniskirts! I’m all about the miniskirts. I love that. I like the Twiggy look. Some go-go boots would be nice!

Outlander’s Lotte Verbeek on Geillis’s Reveal