Spoilers ahead for the most recent episode of Outlander.
Raise a glass for Angus Mhor, one of the casualties of the Battle of Prestonpans. You knew going into the episode that one of our favorite Scottish highlanders would have to die — this is war, after all — but it almost wasn’t Angus. The character initially chosen by the writers for this tragic end, Willie, dodged a bullet when the actor (Finn Den Hertog) took another job and became unavailable. That’s why last week’s episode featured Rupert and Angus delivering the news of Willie’s marriage, in a moment that almost seemed like they were notifying Jamie and Claire of Willie’s death. Without Willie to kill off, the writers nominated Angus to take his place, “so I took the bullet, basically,” laughed actor Stephen Walters. Walters chatted with Vulture about bloody beards, kissing Claire, and the one souvenir he kept from the show.
In the books, Angus is basically just a bodyguard. But with Grant O’Rourke, who plays Rupert, you guys became this great comedy team on the show, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Laurel and Hardy …
Yeah! I didn’t see it in the initial scripts, to be honest. It came afterwards, I think, because of the chemistry I had with Grant. People seemed to react to it, they warmed up to it, and they thought we had the vibe you just described. It’s a compliment. [Author] Diana Gabaldon said it’s one of her highlights of the show, one of the bonuses that the show decided to do, expanding the relationship between Rupert and Angus.
And the relationship with Claire, too. Angus was trying to kiss her all the time.
Oh, man, he was hung up on Claire, wasn’t he? But who wouldn’t be? [Laughs.] He knew he had no chance, but he kept trying. That should be on his gravestone: “He kept trying.” He came close, I’ve got to say. And Caitriona [Balfe], we’d laugh every time we’d do those scenes. If you watch the outtakes, excuse the expression, but we’re pissing ourselves laughing! We had one scene where I burst in on her, and she’s urinating in a bucket, and I drag her by the arm, and I remember we were just howling with laughter. The sun was going down, the crew was getting tired, and they were like, “Listen, we really need to get this shot.” It wasn’t for lack of trying! It was just the scene was so naturally funny. We were winding each other up a lot. We really enjoyed doing scenes together. And without getting corny about it, I think that gives the character’s death a kind of authenticity. She’s with me when I die.
How did they alert you that Angus was going to die, instead of Willie?
Coldly and carelessly. [Laughs.] I’m only joking! But honestly, when I read the script, I thought, “Huh … strange.” And then I thought about it, and everything has to end anyway, so it was nice that Angus got his own death scene, as opposed to maybe dying in battle or something generic. So I’d like to thank [writer] Ira Behr for giving me that moment, giving me that arc. It’s kind of a gift, really.
Did you tell him that?
No, I didn’t, but I will share this — he wrote a poem for me called “Who Killed Angus Mhor” [based on the Bob Dylan song “Who Killed Davey Moore”] and he read it out loud at the final read-through to the assembled cast and crew, which just blew me away. Not just because he had written it, but also because of the manner in which he recited it. I have a copy of that poem in a frame on my wall, and it’s one of my most treasured memories from this job, because it was from the heart. I have a snake-shedding-its-skin philosophy about keeping souvenirs, apart from that poem. When something gets finished, you should let it go.
We’re led to believe up until that point that Angus is going to be okay, that it’s Rupert who is in serious jeopardy. “It’s just a cannon blast. It’s nothing.”
And we don’t realize the full extent of Angus’s injuries. There’s a real sense that Rupert is a goner, a couple of times. There’s a nice moment when the British officer is about to slay Rupert. He’s on the floor. There’s no way he’s going to get away. And then I arrive with a pistol and shoot his brains out and save the day! It gives an added weight to what happened. He truly saved Rupert’s life. And then he brings him to Claire, and you think he’s going to die, and it all revolves around his injuries instead of mine. I thought that was a clever little trick, because it’s more unexpected, more of a shock, when you find out what happened. And you just hope the audience has a vested interest in Angus, for the rug to be pulled out under their feet like that. Even when I read it, I went, “Oh my God!” It surprised even me, so I hope everyone else is surprised, too.
What was it like shooting it, on a technical level? It’s so sudden and horrible. Your mouth is full of fake blood, you’re changing colors …
Wonderful makeup, darling! [Laughs.] And the makeup itself didn’t take a lot of time, but removing the blood did, because there was so much. The fake blood tasted quite nice, actually. But it’s a lot, because I’m gagging on my own blood. So after each take, we had to have a complete costume change, and I had to go back to makeup and get all the blood out of my beard so we could do it all over again. You really only get one chance at a full take, so there’s kind of a purity in shooting it. If you don’t make it, the turnaround is about an hour and a half before you’re ready to go again. So we were kind of doing it under pressure. You know, it’s funny, every actor has to do scenes where you go, “Wow, we never studied for this in drama school.” You can’t really prepare yourself to die. You can only try and feel it, and try to find a way in. I hope we carried it off.
What about shooting the cannon blast? How did that work?
You mean apart from doing my own stunts? I’m always a bit of a fool like that. There was a stunt guy who flew about 20 feet and landed on his ass, and I was like, “Yeah, I’ll do that!”
So you did that stunt?
Let’s just say I did. Let them know that I did it, even though I didn’t. Let me go out with a bang! [Laughs.]