ACTING AND ACTORS….Reflecting on Outlander Episode 15   50 comments


So, the dust has settled a bit on Episode 15 and folks are girding their loins for 16 because EVIDENTLY those critic/reviewers’ warnings forgot to mention that episode 16 is just as harrowing as 15.  (Way to suck us in with the light at the end comment) Anyway,… ( she says while adjusting the gird loining, which we all know can chafe a bit) what I’m still thinking about today are the performances. Which is what I think most people are still thinking about today…those performances! I was as staggered by the acting as I was by the visceral story that was unfolding on my screen.

I know there is this common belief that a viewer really shouldn’t notice the acting because if you do then somehow your disbelief didn’t get suspended.  Maybe that’s true, but I’m pretty sure I bought what they were selling!  My appreciation occurred upon reflection. Like I said before, the dust has settled and I can’t get the performances out of my mind.  And….per usual…it made me curious.

Like…how did this guy


BECOME this guy!?


One of my readers commented, “It’s like they swallowed the characters!” I believe my response was, “So, that’s how they do that?!”

Read the rest of the article after the jump!

I want to know HOW they do that and WHY they do that!  As a teacher, I’ve often instructed my students in the use of the five W’s and How method employed by journalists. I think its use is appropriate for my exploration of acting as it pertains to Outlander on Starz:


The Lovely and Talented Caitrionia Balfe

The Lovely and Talented Sam Heughan

The Lovely and Talented Tobias Menzies


Stellar acting performances in Outlander on Starz


My lite research lead me to some information that suggests that there are at least eight major ways to learn and approach the craft of acting. No one way seems truly better than another and I was left with the impression that it was all a matter of personal preference. Here are the top eight and brief defintions:

Constantin Stanislavski’s

This method is a blend of spiritual realism, emotional memory, dramatic and self-analysis, and practice.

Lee Strasberg

This method was built on Stanislavski theories and asks actors to magnify and intensify their relationship to the material by using emotional experiences from their own lives.

Stella Adler

Ms. Adler’s method sort of takes a step back from the Strasberg model and emphasizes imagination in addition to recalling personal emotional experiences. In other words, you don’t HAVE to have experienced something to imagine how it feels.

Sanford Meisner

Meisner teaches his students to “live truthfully under given imaginary circumstances.” This method is all about being in the moment and reacting (this is my guess for what Sam and Tobias used in filming the Episode 15 dungeon scenes).

Michael Chekhov

This method focuses on using both the mind and body and encourages actors to be consciously aware of their senses.

Practical Aesthetics

Developed by playwright David Mamet and actor William H. Macy, this method uses elements from both Stanislavsky and Meisner. It teaches actors to use a four-step process to analyze a scene and focuses on what is actually happening in the scene and what is desired of the other characters (wait…maybe this is the one they all used…?…I’m so confused).

Uta Hagen

This method encourages actors to find the “truth” in a scene and then substitute their own experiences and recall of emotions.

Viola Spolin

This method focuses heavily on improv and teaches actors to live in the moment. They are encouraged to respond quickly and truthfully to the circumstances in which they find themselves.

Diana Gabaldon recently posted a letter from a fan who was also an actress.  She had acted in difficult scenes of a violent and sexual nature and wanted to share how taxing these were for actors. She shared that it took a great deal of vulnerability and trust to truly do these scenes right. The emotional toll appears to be great.  Given the subject matter, I’m sure these actors were taxed. Those who were on the set, many veterans of filming difficult scenes, were struck by the actors dedication to their craft. In a recent Zap2it interview, Chris Hayner noted the scenes and filming was intense,

“… it was interesting to observe Menzies and Heughan during breaks from filming. Even when sitting right next to one another, the two completely ignored each other. “We didn’t talk a lot outside of doing the scenes,” Menzies reasons. “We tried to keep it as fresh as possible.” Taking it one step further, he refrained from interacting with just about anyone, instead keeping his mind trained on the character and scene.”

The entire article can be read here

Whatever method they chose to employ worked because it felt REAL. The actors fade away and it is Jamie, Claire and Black Jack. What I’m sure is a lot of hard work looks like magic to us!


I want to know what motivates someone to become an actor or actress. So, I started to do some reading. I read some blogs written by actors and acting teachers, some magazine articles and even some interesting research on the psychology of acting. Some of the most interesting stuff I read came from a trade magazine called BACKSTAGE. 

My reading lead me to a couple of conclusions:

1. If people go into acting for fame, fortune or a need to feel love and acceptance they are liable to be disappointed because these things truly are fleeting.

2.The only real reason to act is because it brings you joy and you will do whatever you need to do for the chance to act and can’t see yourself doing anything else.

I noticed that the same words kept getting repeated when people tried to describe “why” they act. People said they acted because they wanted to create, to express themselves, to have fun, to learn what it means to be human, to meet new people, and to actually discover themselves. A lot of these writers described their satisfaction in creating something that might actually impact people’s lives.

There are actors or actresses out there that are definitely in the limelight and receiving all the benefits that come with fame. You will often see them in one big budget movie after another. However, there are also actors who would welcome fame if it came, but don’t let it drive their career choices. In fact, there are a lot of actors who take roles simply because it gives them the chance to play a character they find challenging or tell a story they find interesting and box office be damned.

Funny, those are the same reasons why I write. I love it. I’ll do whatever I need to do to continue to be able to create because it brings me joy and book deals be damned! (just kidding if anybody wants to give me a job writing, I’m open for a lunch meeting on Thursday..oh hell, who am I kidding…any day…just call me any day)

I’ve been hanging out on social media reading and writing about Outlander since Diana announced the series was a go. In fact, my very first tweet went out to Sam the day he was cast. I think I said something like “Congratulations on becoming the face of Jamie Fraser. Gulp. #afanfromOhio” and, because I know you’re wondering, no, he didn’t answer me. I secretly believe it’s because my tweets look like this to him:

I remain a Sam #Twirgin.

But, I digress. The point I was trying to make was that I’ve had a chance to watch these actors from the beginning. I’ve read their interviews and tweets and…seen the choices they’ve made in their acting careers.  I’m proud to say “Our Actors” appear to fall into the group who aren’t letting the desire for fame guide their career choices.

Caitrionia Balfe has said she has always wanted to act. She thinks she knew what she wanted to do even when she was a precocious child in Ireland. At 30, she figured if she wanted to act it was probably now or never.  She moved to LA and started taking acting classes. In a recent interview, she described her acting ambitions.

“I got to a point in my life when I thought if I don’t try it now I might not get the opportunity to do it again. There was a feeling amongst my friends and industry people whom I came into contact with that ‘oh it’s tough for women and it’s tougher again for women of your age’ and all of these things. But I’d never been interested in being a starlet; the people I’ve admired had long careers and it shouldn’t matter how old you are for those things.”

The entire interview can be read here


I know that she admires Patricia Arquette’s independent career choices and didn’t find being a super-model very satisfying. I wonder if she knows what a fantastic role model she is? (and knowing her penchant for self-deprecation, she would probably laugh if she read that)

Sam Heughan, went to university to be an actor (he actually had an instructor tell him he couldn’t act! I KNOW! shocking!). Before Outlander, he was going about his career playing a variety of roles ranging from a drug dealer to Batman to a Prince that some lucky girl got for Christmas.  He was acting, but had remained pretty well under the radar, so to speak. When he was cast as Jamie, some of the descriptors thrown around about him included the term “unknown” actor.  He definitely is getting some attention now and if Outlander fans have anything to VOTE about it it’ll stay that way!

During the drought, you know what drought I’m talking about, Sam did an independent film called When the Starlight Ends.  I found these comments by Adam Sigal, its writer and a first time director, to be very revealing of Sam’s character and love of acting. The following is in answer to a question asked of Mr. Sigel in an exclusive interview by @SamCaitLife

I actually met Sam long before Outlander–I want to say about 5 years ago. At the time, he was a semi-struggling actor in Los Angeles for pilot season. He got hold of Starlight from a casting director friend, and he really loved the script. At the time he wanted to do it, but I was dealing with producers who really wanted massive stars in the lead roles. About a year or so later, Sam messaged me on Facebook and mentioned he’d just booked a new show he, “thought might be a big deal”. He didn’t tell me too much more, but when I saw a bunch of my friends posting about him on social media, I knew he really had! I reached back out to him, asked if he still wanted to do Starlight, and he said absolutely! Pitching the project with him on board made it easier to find money for it. I’m still in awe of the fact that Sam stuck with me and still agreed to do the film, even after booking Outlander, and with the fact that he’s on his way to becoming a megastar.

The entire interview can be read here


Recently, when asked if he thought playing Jamie was his most challenging role, he responded by saying not really because “each role comes with its own challenges”.

Tobias Menzies is probably the most “famous” of our troupe.  He’s played characters on several big budget series like Rome and Game of Thrones. After the showing of Episode 15, Tobias was interviewed… a lot…and as a result, there are a lot of really great interviews out there this week and not one asked him if he would wear a kilt (thank God)!  If you want to get a good idea of why Tobias acts read some of those interviews.  I was struck by the cerebral and scholarly way in which he discussed acting. He has a real passion for what he does.

Despite having some amount of fame and an “impressive” resume, Tobias actively seeks out challenging roles that don’t nessecarily come with a big paycheck or a big stage.  One of his more recent ventures had him acting on a bed in a hotel room in a play called The Fever.  He performed a monologue to a maximum capacity audience of…28.

The Fever at the May Fair Hotel

In an interview about a a recent role, he was asked if he would like the kind of fame his co-star Keira Knightley enjoys. His response?

“Would I want that? Absolutely not. Then again, do you want recognition that allows you to do the work you want to do? Of course.”

The entire article can be read here

On Saturday night while we were all glued to our TV sets drinking whiskey and hiding behind stuffed animals or significant others, our trio were not.  They were out and about watching Grant O’Rourke, an Outlander comrade (Rupert), perform in a play called The Venetian Twins. I know it’s silly, but that makes me so proud.



Well, that’s easy to answer, on Starz of course!  They’ll be playing a marathon this weekend so you have a chance to see all the fantastic performances again. Plus, it’s another great excuse to drink whiskey. The finale is scheduled for 9:00 EST on May 30th. And then the l o n g e s t  drought ever recorded in fandom history begins.  You remember all the craziness of the last drought? Yeah, well…lots more fans…and time ….


I don’t pretend to know anything about what kind of performance would earn an actor an Emmy, but damn….I gotta think these would be in the running. Outlander and its actors have continued to be brave about enacting difficult or controversial scenes. In fact, their efforts have been nothing short of ground-breaking. So, I’ll be doing my part in the fan-dom’s efforts to get these actors an Emmy…because that would be nice and might help them get the chance to do what they love some more. #EmmysforOutlander

Posted May 20, 2015 by bethwesson in Outlander, Outlandish Anticipation

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50 responses to “ACTING AND ACTORS….Reflecting on Outlander Episode 15

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  1. Reblogged this on Ana Fraser Lallybroch Blog.

  2. It was hard to get through the episode. I had to close my eyes for most of it. I still see Jamie’s horrified face and the tear coming out of his eye. So sad!!!
    Great acting!!!!!
    Dreading the next episode!!!

  3. the cast is awsome, even the one who plays angus is grea!!!

    i’m still not over last episode, the pain, the loss, this show has so much potential!!!

  4. My first thought about episode 15 was my god, these are the best actor’s and actresses yet seen on National Television. Their performance was truly gripping and heartfelt. I am glad that these last few episodes cut back on the sex scenes, viewers have imaginations, and I would rather the story be played out like the latest episodes then see 20 minutes of two naked actor’s rolling around. My second thought was why did they use a manufactured nail in Styrofoam? Is it a possible hint on the actual time? Anyway, BRAVO, BRAVO! ! Break a leg…definitely Emmy worthy! Looking forward to season 2 and Master Raymond.

  5. Reblogged this on cm houghton and commented:
    Some good thoughts in here… I like your take on the show. Well done.

  6. Great article Beth. These three actors absolutely blow me away. I cannot imaging anyone else playing these roles. Cait’s decision to get into acting at 30 reminded me a bit of Diane’s decision (at 35) to get busy and write that novel she was always meant to write! You may also have seen Adam Sigal’s lovely tribute to Sam on Instagram: . I will be seeking out by all of them during our next loooonnng Droughtlander to get my fix in. I always look forward to your articles and reflections. Keep them coming!

  7. Emmys for Outlander!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Terrific article. It’s really interesting to learn the different methods that may be employed to reach a character. The only name I had ever heard of before this was Lee Strasberg and that was because Marilyn Monroe apparently studied with him. Yes I go back that far. It takes something special to be able to bring a character to life and make him/her totally convincing. I was gobsmacked pretty much all of ep. 15. Although the finale may be even darker, I am confident all involved will continue to deliver masterful performances.

  9. As always, so articulate! Thank you for putting into words what so many of us feel and cannot say properly. I read your analysis last night but needed to come back to read it again. I’ll tell you why.

    I just read comments for another review and imdb, and to go by those posts you would think everyone hated what the actors, writer and director did with Episode 15. The trashing of the mini-series as a whole was unbelievable to me. I kept asking myself, “Did I watch the same episode they did?” Most complainers felt the blood and gruesomeness was unnecessary to the story. And many of them claimed to be lovers of the books. What did they expect? How could you tell this story without “going there”? They totally don’t understand the books or the series if they think the torture can be bleached out. I’m speechless. I needed to head straight over here to know that I would read a sensitive and well thought out review. Clear my head of all the rubbish I read at the other sites.

    • Wow! I didn’t know that was going on. I’m not sure how you understand where Jamie is and where Claire has to go without “going there”. In my opinion, what might be bothering folks is how visceral it truly is! It feels real not gratuitous and that might make folks uncomfortable. It is a visual medium.

  10. I mentioned yesterday that Jaime (Sam) better get an Emmy for what he has to go through. I am actually scared for him for this next episode. Nightmares? Actually, the main three characters should. Black Jack (Tobias) plays the best creepy I have seen in a long time. Claire (Cait) plays the strongest woman protagonist I’ve seen in such challenging times. I love them all and have recorded the episodes and watch them several times each.

    • I find myself re watching with a different focus each time. The performances and the adaptation are full of subtle clues to where the story-line and characters are headed. Everything seems purposeful o me even the scenery and comic relief. I suppose it is good thing that the show inspires so much discussion, debate and reaction. Outlander has become that show that everyone is talking about!

  11. I’ve been wondering too how Sam, especially, does it. The transformation you show from Sam to Jamie in the pictures you posted is profound. Sam completely occupies the character. Maybe, as your reader suggested, he did swallow him. My heart bleeds for Sam when I read comments from people who say they like Jamie better than Sam. Sam is Jamie, there is no other, and he deserves all the credit in the world for bringing him to life. I want to see multiple Emmys, too, and will keep my hopes up. Thanks for focusing on the actors in this post, Beth. Well done.

    • Thank you for reading! I’m surprised her hear what you are saying about the negativity. What I’ve seen has been overwhelming positive! Then again, Im pretty good at skimming to see if folks are making any sense. If the logic feels shakey I move on. Too much good stuff out there to read!

  12. I think Tobias Menzies is the far superior actor of the trio. As for why they act or what these people are like, I’m not really interested. They’re just people and not really my type of role models. As long as they do a good job in the role, that’s all I care about.

    • Well, to each his own! I would agree that actors are often put on pedestals and often fall off because they are human. The “role model” point I was trying to make about Caitriona was her decision to chase after a dream to make acting her lif’s work no matter how much naysaying she encountered. Doing something for the right reasons is always admirable to me wether is being a teacher, a nurse, an artist, or….an actress.

  13. The thing is…since the episode and I watched it back to back I’ve been hesitant to watch again. I know that it wasn’t just a couple folks sitting around improvising and pretending x, y, or z emotion. Now, I’m afraid to rewatch, bc I know that this next round I’ll be watching and really feeling it. I usually watch these episodes multi times, first for overall plot, then to watch more closely for the little things that I missed (like I didn’t even see that tear on Jamie first and maybe second viewing–maybe my LASIK is wearing off), then later it’s for really entering the world, seeing the costumes, the music, the subtle things between the characters. So now I’m here and it’s the hardest thing ever to rewatch it again. To willingly join that party. And these actors do this purposely and amazingly and still appear to be themselves off the screen.

    Michele Raynor
    • I know! That’s why I wrote this I was fascinated!

      • My good friend Carolan is an actress and she’d been saying this all along and until Wentworth I never really got it. Another example in life of a fine art/craft/talent that the typical observer doesn’t get and possibly can’t unless they are truly walking a mile in their shoes.

        Michele Raynor
  14. Reblogged this on Inspired by Outlander.

  15. I really enjoyed reading your post! I teach too, and I love to learn new things. This post was insightful and intelligent. I read the book, and thought I knew what was coming. Episode 115 was so emotional, and I’ve often thought about how the actors would prepare for these episodes. Amazing and Emmy worthy performances from Sam, Cait, and Tobias!

  16. great article, thanks for all the back ground info on these amazing actors. #EmmysforOutlander

  17. Excellent article! Thank you for posting your thoughts!

  18. As an actor & one who has had friends & loved ones gain a measure of success, I can absolutely attest to the stellar work these three displayed in last week’s episode & the show overall. 1) giving longer, intricate speeches such as those of BJR is REALLY HARD, especially on camera that catches EVERYTHING. Tobias is absolutely chilling and I love how no matter what, he never judges his character, he plays the intention and creates a human being who, vile as he may be, still shows his weaknesses. 2) overall Caitrina is just plain WONDERFUL. I will point out the “argument” seen in The Reckoning shows what GREAT listeners she & Sam are. I believe 1/2 of acting is listening & staying engaged. After Jamie yells at her & essentially calls her a bitch & then is overtaken w/ the moment & events leading up…watch her face. She goes from furious to heartbroken in about 90 seconds because she is listening, absorbing, and reacting. All of these we naturally do, but a camera is unnatural. She plays the truth and lays herself bare. Same in 115. Crying on cue is hard, but being in the moment and playing out the scene, you can’t help but become invested & go there. The tears just happen. I applaud her for being so vulnerable. 3) And there is Sam…handsome men do actually have a hard time proving they’re more than a pretty face. This guy has some amazing acting chops. He can provide subtext & his delivery is beautiful. He rose to a higher plane though in 115. Acting w/o words is typically called emoting. The camera catches EVERYTHING & he stays present and allows us in to see his true thoughts & feelings w/o a word. He does the virtual impossible…..he opens himself us and allows us in so far that we can’t help but feel the same. Brilliant. I can’t say whether the powers that be will open their eyes come nominating time, but I know I won’t stop fighting for this artistic masterpiece. #EmmysforOutlander

    • Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. It helped confirm my suspicion that I was witnessing something really special. Would you mind if I shared your comments on Twitter?

      • Absolutely Beth! Share away, this is a show that has achieved so much & deserves credit; most especially to all the consummate artists in front & behind the lens

        • TY!

        • Your comment is getting more hits than the blog!😳😂😂😂 You ate VERRA popular!

          • lol : ) I’m happy to share insights, opinions, and commentary about wonderful art! Everyone was so stimulated by this episode in SO many different ways. I can’t stop talking about Outlander!

            • Preaching to the choir here! I keep reminding myself that even the negative stuff is drawing attention to the series and Outlander is becoming “that show people are talking about’! (But I still wonder what show it was some folks watched cuz it doesn’t seem to be the same one I watched! ) LOL!

    • Beautiful commentary. Thank you for sharing. What Tobias and Cait did was so good, but Sam was just so awesome.

    • In Episode 13 The Watch, go back to the scene where Claire gives Jamie the “Sawny” snake before he leaves with McQuarrie. . .look at his expression when he says, “Sawny. . .I haven’t seen him for a long, long time” and listen for the catch in his voice. Sam was absolutely perfect in his interpretation. . .he expressed everything that object meant to the character of Jamie and that particular moment of time: his youth, his brother, his loss of brother and parents, leaving Lallybroch, leaving Claire, Ian, and Jenny, the danger of his “forced” participation in the ambush, how others always seem to pull him from his home and his happiness. I have watched that little scene a dozen times and can see and feel every emotion going through Jamie’s mind at that moment. . .amazing and wonderful! I don’t know if the three actors will get Emmy recognition or not. . .it would be great, but it won’t make a difference with me if they don’t. I will follow their careers and be a constant fan because I know how good they really are.

      • Oh my gosh yes! The subtext there is INCREDIBLE! He does that a lot too…and at the end of the scene the little nod they give each other is the cherry on top.

  19. Beth, loved the info about the craft! Knew about Strasbourg and Adler, but not the others! Really interesting! And sassypants25, wow! Your insights are great! The performances were amazing and touched me deeply. The actors’ vulnerability was an amazing thing to see and I expect it next week to be equally amazing! Looking forward to the upcoming posts! G’night!

  20. Great comments. The thing I find more and more interesting is the difference between American stars and British actors. Not that there are not Americans who can act and Brits who tend to play themselves over and over again (“stars”), but there does seem to be a deep cultural difference here. What do you think?

    • Cameron, I do know what you’re refering to. I see a lot a Brits having to work hard to play more contemporary characters because much of casting is fitting people into archetypes and that tends towards “period” pieces. Americans need to legitimize themselves with more “challenging” parts. Americans do tend to obsess over process & most Brits get trained, go work, and whether they gain notoriety is all in the stars. Some of the best actors I’ve worked with were British and were very professional & cut and dry. We had fun, but it was uncomplicated. Americans need to tear their hair out a little, one way or another.

  21. I agree that these actors are profoundly incredible. I have read some of the same interviews, and how humble they are. I was a late comer to the Outlander scene, until I saw the first episode and read the books. Ron Moore could not have done a better job at casting Sam, Catriona, Tobias and the rest of the cast. They turly deserve Emmy’s, and be damn with the negative comments.

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