Ahead of the Outlander season 6 finale, Sophie Skelton connected from Scotland — where she was back to start filming season 7 — to talk to fellow actor KATHERINE MCNAMARA about life after her big break, view similarities between their journeys, and share some words of wisdom.
PHOTOS: Emma Craft at The Canvas Agency
TALENT: Sophie Skelton
INTERVIEW: Katherine McNamara
STYLING: Sarah Slutsky at The Wall Group
SET DESIGN: Lidia Moore
MAKEUP: William Scott at The Wall Group
HAIR: Seiji at Forward Artists
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT: Carmen DeCristo
STYLIST ASSISTANT: Carlee Princell
SET ASSISTANT: Chey Kline
LOCATION: KEZCO Studio
PRODUCTION: Jasmine Perrier at Studio J•T•P
SPECIAL THANKS: Rogers & Cowan PMK & The Lede Company
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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Check out some extracts below.
SOPHIE SKELTON: Hey! How are you doing?
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: I’m good, how are you?
KM: You look so beautiful.
SS: I miss you. Where are you?
KM: I’m in Santa Fe right now. I’m shooting that [Walker: Independence] pilot, it’s fun. You guys are all back up and running too, right?
SS: Yeah, we are back in sunny Scotland. I say sunny because there is a blue sky today, for once [laughs].
KM: Well, Sophie, it is my absolute honor to be here with Grumpy interviewing you today, because I adore you and I’m a huge fan. It’s so funny in this industry how friendships spring up out of the smallest interactions. I’ve been trying to remember the first time we met, and I think it was at that [Heroes Dutch] Comic-Con.
SS: It was in Holland. We were in the big green room, we ended up chatting, and we stayed in touch. But like you said, I think it’s quite rare in this industry that people do stay in touch when they say they will, especially during a pandemic [laughs].
KM: Absolutely. My first impression of you was, “Wow, this woman is so lovely, kind, and genuine,” and we clicked instantly. I was so happy to find another like-minded individual that I hung on to you.
SS: Agreed, it’s not always easy to find [laughs].
KM: But you were the highlight of my pandemic at the very beginning because we were both stuck in LA.
SS: I remember you baking these little cookies and dropping them on my doorstep. And we had our little walks around the hills.
KM: It was nearly two years ago. We are starting to get back to normal, but let’s take it back to the pre-pandemic [period]. I didn’t know that you started in ballet, and performing has been in your life since you were a kid. So, tell me about that and growing up in Woodford near Manchester. Where did that spark come from?
SS: I guess I have to thank my parents. They took me to ballet school when I was two or three, and I absolutely hated it [laughs]. I was such a little tomboy because I’ve got two older brothers. So, I was against anything pink or girly. And my ballet teacher for years would tell this story about this kid who would come to class every Saturday, sit, and refuse to join in. It was only as I was leaving when I was about 20, that she said, “Oh, this story is actually about you.” In the end, I used to go there until I did all of the exams. So, I started on stage doing ballet shows [before doing] musical theater and plays. Funnily enough, for my very first TV experience, I was doing a play [Oliver!] at the Palace Theatre as one of the lead dancers. And Ricky Hatton, who is a boxer, had this mystery guest section of Question of Sport. We had to re-choreograph the whole dance around him. I have this on VHS [laughs]. Then, the acting thing came from my love for the stage. I do really miss it, but film and TV feel so much more real to me because you get immersed in this experience.
KM: That makes sense. Especially in these things you’ve been doing, you are transported to another world and time. It’s entirely immersive.
SS: You can’t think of anything else, can you? With dance, you have to think about what every tiny part of your body is doing. It’s very therapeutic in that way.
KM: When you started acting professionally, did you know what you were getting into? Was it what you expected it to be?
SS: No, it happened very organically. I think I was 13 or 14 when someone who was starting to be an agent wanted to look after me. Then, I was going to classes and auditions, and he left and went to a bigger agency. It snowballed in that way, and I became more passionate about it. All my studies were directed toward being a surgeon because that was what I wanted to do. But then, I got jobs, deferred my uni place, and after three years, I called the university and went, ‘‘I don’t think I’m coming.’’ [Laughs] By that time, I was doing Outlander.
KM: I think that’s another thing that you and I have always connected on. We do have other interests outside of the arts. You were almost a surgeon, I was almost an economist. It’s interesting how those things factor into the jobs that we do. For example, Bree is an engineer. It almost helps to have these other influences. Is that something you would ever consider studying or doing?
SS: Totally. Actually, in lockdown, I started a neuroscience module at Harvard which is part of the degree, so I want to keep building it up. But like you said, it’s one thing we connected on, and I think it’s really healthy to have other interests. Our industry can be so immersive and it’s sometimes to the detriment of people. How can we act like different people when we don’t have different life experiences, don’t experience different interests, and don’t immerse ourselves in different worlds? I guess that’s why we both clicked.
KM: And we both love traveling and coffee [laughs].
SS: Even in lockdown, when it was freezing outside, we were determined to have this iced coffee.
KM: Absolutely [laughs]. That’s something I’ve always really admired and loved about you — you’ve always made time for those personal relationships and outside influences. How has your view of being an actor evolved over the years?
SS: I don’t know how you found it, but I think you put a lot of pressure on yourself initially, don’t you? When you are younger, you have this thing of, “I need to do it this way and this is how I take this to set.” And [at one point], you have the confidence in yourself to play with things, go with your gut, and see if it works. You try different things and it doesn’t feel like it matters if you fail. You can play a role in two completely different ways and both could be right. Now, I just love having that confidence. It’s important in this industry to believe in yourself in terms of doing the job, but not to let that override anything else.
KM: That’s another element of playing the daughter of one of the most iconic TV couples. You’re doing that on Outlander, I did something similar on Arrow. We have these two fantastic actors who have created this relationship for years. And then, people like us have to come in and carry that on, they are the physical manifestation of this thing that so many people love. How has Outlander defined this chapter of your life? Talk to me about when you first read Brianna [Bree]. What that process was for you?
SS: It adds a lot of layers of pressure, doesn’t it? I never wanted to say what I took from [Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan’s] performances because I must have watched season 1 on repeat so many times to try and take a lot of Claire and Jamie’s mannerisms, and put it into Bree. When I first auditioned, I called the books in from my little bookstore and read all of Brianna’s bits — she’s got a great sense of humor and she is very witty. People love or hate her, or love to hate her. I’ve always really liked her. I think one of the challenges was trying to make her a little more likable at times. Because the show and these characters are so loved, people sometimes find the bad qualities hard to swallow. But it’s been so fun and a once-in-a-lifetime challenge to be on something for so long, and see how she has evolved as a character, going from this 16-year-old girl to being now this mother and wife. Now, Brianna is written more similarly to how I play her.
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