When a scene is scored with Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” you know it’s going to be a moving moment. In this week’s episode of Outlander, “Providence,” Roger (Richard Rankin) had the chance to escape the Mohawk village where he’s being held captive, but he opted to turn around. He’d befriended a Frenchman — the fellow fool for love, Father Alexandre Ferigault (Yan Tual) — who, despite Roger’s counsel in their shared “idiot hut,” chose a slow, painful death on a simmering pyre rather than baptize the baby he’d fathered with the tribe’s healer, Johiehon (Sera-Lys McArthur). The Mohawk supported the couple’s union, but Ferigault believed that, as a fallen priest, his blessing would damn his daughter, so he refused to give it.
Roger, unable to escape Father Ferigault’s screams as he fled through the woods, ultimately ran back and put him out of his misery. Roger knew he could be recaptured, but he didn’t anticipate what else happened as the flames raged: With her face still wet with tears, Johiehon calmly kissed her daughter’s forehead, laid the child down, and walked to the pyre to die embracing Father Ferigault’s burning body. As Kaheroton (Braeden Clarke), the Mohawk man who clearly had feelings for Johiehon, collapsed to the ground cradling the orphaned baby, Roger was escorted off. “That’s it, lads, take me back to the idiot hut,” he said, dazed.
Vulture spoke with Rankin about shooting the heartbreaking sequence, the importance of his character’s conversations with Father Ferigault, and why, in the end, Roger MacKenzie will never change.
I imagine every actor wants at least one scene in their career that’s worthy of “Adagio for Strings.” When did you find out that song was being used, and what was your reaction?
I was told by Mairzee [Almas, the episode’s director] as we were shooting it, if I remember correctly. Of course, you’re gonna be super excited, super grateful to have the honor of an epic episode finale. Very happy about that.
Why do you think Roger decided to turn back? He has a lengthy debate with himself before he says, “Ah, fuckin’ hell.”
[Laughs.] I love Roger so much. I love the fact that he even has this debate with himself. Because you know he’s gonna. He’s a man of such compassion. Hearing someone in such pain and anguish, he has to step in and do something. He just thinks, I’m gonna try to help him, somehow. More than likely it’s gonna lead to my own demise in some respect, but I can’t not. It’s almost like he’s pulled from the soul toward that, to try and help the man. This is just how he is.
When Roger gets back to the village, what’s in the barrel that he throws on the pyre to raise the flames?
Oh, there was a lot of debate about what’s in that barrel. Originally, it was whisky. However, we thought that whisky wasn’t going to be, for some reason, a realistic substance to be stored in there. I can’t quite remember what we settled on at the end of the day, but I think it was gunpowder.
And those were practical flames?
Oh yes. We had our stunt team on and off that pyre for a whole day. It was pretty scary, actually, what our stunt team put themselves through. The guys got dressed up in the fire-retardant gear and burned for almost a full minute each. It was terrifying to watch, because one big breath from atop that pyre and you’re potentially a goner.
How do you navigate such emotional scenes when you’re working with guest actors?
All actors deserve the respect and the space and integrity from you to allow them to do their job. It doesn’t matter whether they’re a guest actor, a regular actor, or one of the principal actors — you have to have a sensitivity for their work. Of course, it’s gonna be more difficult if you’re coming in for an episode, especially with such dramatic circumstances the Father was in. We know our characters inside and out, so it’s gonna be a lot easier for us to drop in to a situation like that than it is, perhaps, for someone just visiting for a couple of days.
Let’s talk about the hut scene when the Father returns missing his ear and you have that monologue about why Roger is an idiot. It’s such a switch from how we think of the character. How did you approach that?
I think he’s recounting his experiences for the first time. He’s realizing what he’s actually gone through, and how a lot of it may have been futile. Yes, he’s saying he’s making that switch to look out for No. 1, and at that moment, he probably believes it himself. But would he go back and do it all again? Probably. That’s the man we’ve come to know Roger to be.
That scene gives us a look into the complexity and the depth and the potential of that character. He’s dealing with all this turmoil. He’s angry. He’s grasping at making sense of a situation — what is it all for, and has it all been worthwhile? And no, it hasn’t. That leads him to the conclusion that, I’m just gonna be selfish and look out for No. 1. Is that the case? No, obviously not. He’s so filled with compassion and this sense of honor and justice that he immediately contradicts himself, doesn’t he? He gives this amazing speech and then he can’t do it. He immediately goes back, which is another idiotic thing. It’s that heroic quality in Roger that is so wonderful. The way he brings himself to this conclusion is so rich, so alive, so human.
When Roger is escorted back to the idiot hut, he looks numb. Is the level of physical and emotional beating you’ve taken as this character something you’ve ever experienced in past roles?
No. It is quite tiring, mentally and physically, remaining with that character for that whole time and knowing, obviously, the effects that all of these challenges, these hurdles, these experiences have had on that character. Yeah, by the end of it, I felt pretty numb walking back to the idiot hut. It wasn’t too much of challenge to play that.
Looking ahead to next week’s season finale, what do you hope fans feel as we reach the end of this arc?
I hope they’re there for Brianna and him both. That relationship has been tested to the very limits. I suppose it’s stood the test of time, you could say, without trying to be too cheesy. They’ve been through a lot. Brianna’s been through a heck of a lot herself. So I just hope that everyone is there for them at the end of the season.