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, layed 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 was 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.
What 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 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 towards 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.