Just when Claire needs him most, Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser turns up to help her search for Jamie in Saturday night’s episode of Outlander. And as it turns out, Murtagh's always been there for her, even if she didn't realize it or appreciate it. Of all the Highland Scots, he's been the biggest supporter of the couple's love affair. "He spots their chemistry before even they do," actor Duncan Lacroix, who plays Murtagh, explained. This is in no small part because of his unrequited love for Jamie's mother, which he tells Claire about on their road trip. Lacroix chatted with Vulture about his character's romantic side, eyebrow acting, and why a dose of heavy metal would be good for the Scots of 1743.
So as it turns out, Murtagh was in love with Jamie's mom ...
Big time. I think it's an interesting character point for him that he's stayed in love with the idea of this woman. He didn't even have her in the first place. But the oath he took to protect Jamie has become the driving force of his life, really. I think he recognizes in Claire and Jamie, what they have together is what he was never able to have.
He's the one who defended Claire in the very beginning, when she first stumbled through time and Black Jack Randall tried to rape her, the first time. And he told everyone, "No, she's not a whore."
He's kind of responsible for the whole chain of events. I remember when we were doing that episode, we were asking, "Why do we even say that? After saving her, why does he bring her back with him?" I think it's because he's got a strong moral compass, an inherent decency, even though he does knock her out on the way. [Laughs.] And once he's done that, I think he feels an immediate responsibility for her, especially when some of the Highlanders start talking about rape. He leaps to her defense there as well. When it comes to matters of the heart and ideas of everlasting love and friendship and loyalty, he's got a strong compass. But he's someone who hides it well. He very much internalizes that, and gives off this outwardly brusque, surly demeanor.
Because Murtagh's usually pretty taciturn, you've had to do your fair share of eyebrow acting.
[Laughs.] Ira Behr, one of the producers, told me I pretty much got the role in the first two seconds because of my eyebrows! I've got to be thankful for my caveman genetics.
Is it all your own hair? No wigs, no fake eyebrows?
It's all my bushy own. I already had a beard because I did a small part on Vikings, and I just let it go. Who knew I was able to grow a big, majestic, bushy beard? There are a lot of hairy Scots on the show, but I think I might have been the only one who was initially au naturel, apart from Graham McTavish. At this stage, I've forgotten what my face looks like without it. I was able to shave it off between seasons, but once you have a beard this length, your face looks like the size of a peanut, so I immediately grew it back.
One of the things you do this episode is dance, and poorly at that. Are you normally a good dancer?
Yes, absolutely. We did a month of rehearsing, until I was actually quite good at it. But then we got to the set, and the reaction of the crowd was so bad, I thought I better turn down accordingly. You gotta know it, to be bad about it, to win the comic elements, the missteps, the frustration, the glaring of the audience. Murtagh is incredibly bad at dancing, and yet he doesn't think he is, so he's funny despite himself. In the book, he's supposed to have a voice like a nightingale, and unfortunately, that's not the case in real life. [Laughs.]
Singing, though, you guys introduce jazz to the folks of 1743.
Yeah, the whole boogie-woogie beat. It kind of fits. Poor Caitriona [Balfe] had to do it so many times, and I couldn't get it out of my head for a week afterwards.
It's kind of your Back to the Future moment, when Michael J. Fox plays them a little Chuck Berry ...
And then he goes full on Jimi Hendrix. [Laughs.]
What kind of music would you want to go back in time to introduce?
Heavy metal! Bring that back to 18th-century Scotland, to all the hairy men with beards. Lay some AC/DC on them. I think AC/DC had songs with bagpipes in it. You might have to change the lyrics to include haggis or something. I can see it now. Cannons going off. The whole shebang.
Murtagh hit the road with Claire Fraser in an attempt to find Jamie in Starz's "Outlander" on Saturday night.
The characters, played by Duncan Lacroix and Caitriona Balfe, traveled across the Scottish countryside in "The Search" episode, using the only 18th century method of communication available to get a message to an outlaw – fame. To try and let Jamie know their whereabouts, they became a traveling performance troupe -- a singing Sassenach and a Highland dancing Fraser.
"He's just like a frustrated showman," Duncan told Access Hollywood of Murtagh's stage moves. "He's really bad at it, but won't admit to himself that he's terrible."
While Duncan learned how to do some Highland dancing, he actually learned a little too much.
"I was actually getting quite good at it, but then, when the script arrived, he's actually quite terrible, so I suppose you have to learn something to be bad at it," Duncan laughed.
Much of the episode followed Murtagh and Claire on their tour, performing and then squaring off with the gypsies who borrowed their routine. Duncan said he had fun working with Caitriona on "The Search."
"She's so funny behind the scenes as well. It was lots of laughs and it's just an odd dynamic between those two characters, really," he said. "They make such an unlikely duo, but it kind of works… and… you get to see a lot of what makes Murtagh tick all of a sudden. He suddenly kind of blossoms as a character in that episode, so it was great to explore."
As the two characters did their best to locate Jamie (or have Jamie locate them), Murtagh's respect for Claire grew.
"Oh, big time. I mean, he essentially comes up with quite a ridiculous plan for the pair of them. ... They're almost like a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby on the road, but they're searching for Jamie all over Scotland and it kind of gets hopeless towards the end, and then they get frustrated with each other, they argue with each other, but she really shows like an indomitable will and kind of takes almost over as the kind of leader of that dynamic and he immediately respects [that]," Duncan said. "There's a scene… where it's a kind of make or break moment between the pair of them and yeah, he totally respects her from that moment on."
And we assume that moment is the one where, at their lowest, with no sign of Jamie, and penniless after paying off the gypsies (who didn't keep their word), the two argued and Claire accused Murtagh of never having lost someone he loved. He then revealed his own backstory – he once fought for the hand of Ellen Fraser (Jamie's mom) – and lost.
Access asked Duncan if he kept the backstory of Murtagh and Ellen in his mind while playing his character.
"Not so much the specifics of that, it's more the fact that he's the kind of guy that's almost an idealist romantic," Duncan said. "He stayed in love with the idea of someone throughout his entire life, and I think that's very revealing about his character -- that he's very kind of black and white and very romantic and has a very strong moral compass and won't let things go. He's very tenacious, and yeah, it's a huge aspect to the character -- the idea that you would just stay loyal to the memory of someone, even though… he wasn't even with her in the first place."
Duncan told Access Hollywood he originally auditioned for a different role in the show, one that "wasn't a good fit." But the people behind the show liked what they saw because they came back to Duncan and asked him to read for Murtagh.
"I kind of read the description of the character as 'dark, kind of brooding, hawk-like.' I thought, 'Yeah I can do that,'" Duncan laughed, as he spoke with Access over the phone from Scotland. "I did the self-tape in my flat with a friend of mine on his iPhone and sent it away. I didn’t really expect to hear anything back, or if I did, I thought, you know, there'd be kind of rounds of interviews. But yeah, a week later, I got offered the role, which was huge, and [I was] whisked off to Scotland that very week."
With Duncan's Murtagh about to join Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jenny (Laura Donnelly) in the search for the missing Jamie Fraser, Access decided it was about time we spoke with the actor playing the marvelous Murtagh.
AccessHollywood.com: Apparently you had a small little role in 'Game of Thrones'?
Duncan Lacroix: That was – small is an overstatement, I think. Yeah, it was just a day job, I think. I can't remember – was it Season 2, when Jaime Lannister's being hauled through the mud... and I think I was in the background somewhere. If you pause it for about one minute, I think you might see my face. That was the extent of that.
Access: It's a really big show, and you get to say that you were a part of it, just like Tobias Menzies.
Duncan: It was, yeah. It was my first big job when I finally arrived in Dublin and got an agent. It was a great laugh.
Access: What did they have you audition with for Murtagh? Because obviously your character doesn't actually speak a lot. That's part of his charm.
Duncan: It was the scene, I think, where I'm explaining to Claire in Castle Leoch when Jamie's coming in for The Gathering, and I'm explaining kind of the ins and outs to Claire. And I think Ira [Steven Behr], one of the producers -- I think he said I got it from my eyebrows within about two seconds apparently, so I didn't even have to do much acting.
Access: You know what though, the expressions are as important, I think, to every character, as how they say their words. I've got to ask though, kind of a funny question – was one of the requirements, 'must be able to grow giant mountain man beard'?
Duncan: Yeah… I'd already had one kind of on the go because I'd had a small part in 'Vikings' as well, so I had one on the go from that, and yeah, who knew. I was able to grow a massive, bushy beard within about a month, so that was a big bonus.
Access: Was there a brief that they gave you guys on the Scottish accent for those of you that aren't Scottish?
Duncan: Yeah, well, we got a dialect coach --- Carol Ann [Crawford], who's brilliant -- and we kind of sat down, well I did, sat down intensively with her, when we had a bootcamp, before [Season] 1 and like a lot of my time was spent with her and Àdhamh [Ó Broin], the Gaelic coach. Yeah, I mean, the Highland accent's kind of, you know, when an Englishman tries to do a Scottish accent, it's usually the broad Glaswegian accent, but the Highland accent is a lot more mellower. It's kind of nice. [I spent] lots of time with [Carol Ann] and she's always there on set as well to pick me up when I'm mucking it all up.
Access: Tell me about the Gaelic though – a lot of people are very interested in it. Was it tough for you?
Duncan: The Gaelic, I mean, originally, Àdhamh was – he's just one of the most enthusiastic people you ever want to meet, and he was trying to teach us the whole language, which was obviously too much, so it's just a question of breaking it down phonetically. Actually, the very first take I did I think, was when we went into the cottage with Claire... I was kind of so nervous 'cause I think it was one of my first scenes that I [gobbled] the Gaelic, but apparently, what I was saying actually made sense anyway.
Access: That's awesome.
Duncan: Yeah, I was kind of improvising in Gaelic without even knowing it.
Access: I spoke with Sam [Heughan] last year and one of the things he said to me is that you guys -- in order to sort of make that Jamie/Murtagh connection -- you guys always try and either see each other in scenes or speak Gaelic to each other. Is that right?
Duncan: Yeah, yeah. Well there's a lot of kind of I think non-verbal communication we kind of get in, in the scenes. … Yeah, it just kind of adds to that bond we've got as characters.
Access: On screen, you guys have a lot of chemistry and you feel the history between these two characters. Did you kind of have an instant chemistry with Sam when you met him? Because you really feel that between the two of you as actors when you're watching it and that doesn't happen all the time.
Duncan: That's great to hear. I think it's just very hard not to have an affinity with Sam. He's just such a lovely guy, you know what I mean? Same as Caitriona, they're very easy actors to work with. … There actually was a scene that we did quite early on, which I think got cut out in one of the episodes, which kind of set up a nice intimacy between us, [which] is when we got back to Castle Leoch after the 'Rent' episode, and because we filmed those out of sequence, it was one the first kind of big scenes we had together. … He's a very good actor at listening, and yeah, I think it just comes along naturally in those moments. I can't really explain it. There's nothing we really work on, I think it was just natural.