Outlander fans have been hoping and waiting for Jamie Fraser to reunite with his godfather, Murtagh, but even the biggest Murtagh fans had to be surprised by his appearance in Sunday night’s episode, “Savages.”
Unlike in Diana Gabaldon’s novels, the grizzly Fraser survived the Battle of Culloden in the Starz drama, and was last seen in season three being escorted out of Ardsmuir Prison to board a ship to the American Colonies with other prisoners. As we learned in “Savages,” he spent 12 years as an indentured servant before becoming a blacksmith in Woolam’s Creek. And he’s doing well for himself: Murtagh’s work is so in demand, he can charge Young Ian 21 shillings to fix a broken horse bit. An outraged Jamie was ready for a fight when he marched into the smithy, but when the gray-haired Murtagh turned around, what he got instead was an embrace.
Now that actor Duncan Lacroix no longer has to keep secret the details of Murtagh’s reappearance — his own cousin was worse than any fan pestering him for spoilers, he says — he spoke with Vulture about the Fraser family reunion, how it could’ve actually happened in season three, and why he was temporarily put on the hair department’s naughty list.
Murtagh’s surprise entrance felt like a real event. Just like Jamie, I teared up. What did you want to capture when they came face-to-face?
It was more what I was trying to avoid, really. There are so many of these big moments in the show, and if you think about them as big moments when you’re going into them, they become increasingly difficult to act because you’re just putting so much pressure on the situation. Am I meant to be crying or whatever? I just tried to focus on the blacksmithing stuff that I’d been taught. [Laughs.]
Was your training for the blacksmithing lengthy?
No, it was just a couple of sessions. I made my own knife. I have it adorned on my wall. It looks like a bit of black lump charcoal — I wouldn’t use it to cut butter — but I’m very proud of it.
There’s that moment when Jamie says he has so much to tell Murtagh, and Murtagh responds, “I want to hear every word.” That line is full of loyalty and love.
It’s kind of a love story in itself, isn’t it, the Murtagh and Jamie relationship? I think the character was meant to be coming back in season three in Jamaica. We had plans for that happening, and then that was put off, so it was a long time that we hadn’t worked with each other as well, so it was a nice moment.
How would Murtagh have been worked into season three?
It was something like they found him and he’d been a slave or an indentured servant in Jamaica, and he’d managed to escape and he was leading a ragtag band of escaped slaves. It was really very exciting. I think he was, like, hooked on some Jamaican drug. I was very excited. It sounded like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, so I was getting very carried away. It didn’t materialize. I think it turned out for the best. [Laughs.]
You’re not just pulling my chain here, are you?
No, I think there was a story line that was proposed. I don’t think the studio went for it. I don’t think they liked the drug addict Murtagh plotline, unfortunately. Denied me my holiday in South Africa, which I’m very bitter about. [Laughs.]
Do you think we’ll ever get to see any of Murtagh’s time as an indentured servant in flashbacks?
I don’t think we will. I’d love to personally, of course, explore that missing period. But no, there are so many events that take place in the books that it’s just left there now. It kinda works with Murtagh — there’s so much mystery to him anyway.
I also want to ask about Murtagh’s reunion with Claire, which was, in a way, even more joyous than his reunion with Jamie. I assume the whistling and dancing was scripted?
It was scripted that they wanted that kind of echo to the season one episode when we were on the road and the Boogie Woogie Boy. So I was concentrating on trying to remember how the tune went more than anything else, and trying not to fall over as I was skipping up the hill.
Jamie and Claire are in this new world, where they’re missing someone they trust unconditionally. Is that sense of ease between the characters something you all discussed?
I think that was the primary reason, from way back when, why [showrunner] Ron [D. Moore] and the crew wanted to keep the character. They knew once season two was over, you would lose so many characters, the whole Highlanders, and they knew it would be nice to have that family member there that could connect the whole history of their relationship. I think that’s the primary reason that Murtagh’s still alive, and I think that works.
That bond between Jamie and Murtagh was immediately tested when Jamie asked him to come live at Fraser’s Ridge. Murtagh declined and asked Jamie to join him by opposing the royal governor’s corrupt tax collectors. Jamie says he won’t join, but he also won’t try to stop Murtagh. What does that say about their dynamic now?
To be deprived of someone that you were that close with for so long, it is very difficult to know where you pick up from, especially when they’ve had such diverging experiences. There’s something in Murtagh now that is so bitter or angry against the British system — that’s his primary goal now, rather than it used to be protecting Jamie. Jamie’s a man himself now. So the relationship has changed. Their priorities have changed. Their love is still there, but now there are tensions due to these changes in circumstance.
At the end of the hour, Murtagh does visit Fraser’s Ridge, but it’s safe to say that he hasn’t forgotten his impassioned speech to the Regulators.
Definitely. That’s the major plotline for him this season, his revolutionary drive with the Regulators.
How much research did you do on the Regulators? Had you heard of them before?
I had a rough knowledge of how Scottish and German immigrants were disenfranchised at the time, but I hadn’t heard of the Regulators. So the writers gave me a few historical essays to read about that period. It’s fascinating.
I read an interview where you said you used to watch Hillbilly Blood: A Hardscrabble Life, a reality show featuring two survival experts in North Carolina, early in Outlander’s run. That feels especially apropos now. Did it influence anything you did this season?
I used those guys just to initially create Murtagh back in season one. But this season, I knew it was about playing the age difference, and I didn’t expect the wig to be that gray. Initially we didn’t plan on having snow-white hair. That happened last minute — I think a couple of days before my first scene. So he came together this season very quickly. You can look foolish trying to play old, I think. I just imagined someone who works with their hands, what it does to the stoop of your shoulders when you work in fields for 12 years. I was just concentrating on little tiny things like that.
Back in 2015, you said you were very proud to be one of the few men in Outlander who was “au naturel” with his own hair and beard. Now you have the wig.
[Laughs.] I know.
How did the wig change things for you?
It worked out, almost accidentally. We tried a few wigs on, they weren’t working. We tried this on and it just seemed to materialize in the mirror. But also, part of the beard is a wig this season, which was even more frustrating, having bits of things glued to your face. I didn’t react well to the wig for the first few episodes. I got in trouble for taking it off myself. I got a good scolding. It was getting quite itchy and I took it off, and all hell broke loose. I now respect the wig.
Did you name the wig? I know some actors do that.
No, I named the beard wig, but it’s probably too rude to mention.
I kinda want to know.
Well … Granny’s muff, I call it.
Last question: I read that you kept one of Murtagh’s kilts when you left in season three. Where is it today?
I didn’t keep the kilt — it was the little piece of material that Murtagh had cut off and hid in the cell at Ardsmuir. So it’s just this little sliver of plaid. And that’s now part of his costume in the New World. You see a little brooch on his waistcoat, and he’s kept the piece of Fraser plaid from the prison.