Richard and Sophie explained why they do and don’t read the Outlander novels (Picture: Starz/Robert Wilson)
Speaking exclusively to Metro.co.uk alongside co-star Sophie Skelton, who plays his on-screen wife Brianna, the pair mused on how having their characters’ journeys mapped out for them in Gabaldon’s saga is a huge blessing – but does come with downsides too.
Season five ended by following a few threads from the sixth Outlander book, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, by including Claire’s (Caitriona Balfe) ordeal at the hands of Lionel Brown and his men and allowing Brianna to finally have her revenge on Stephen Bonnet (Edward Speleers).
Season six is due to kick off in Fraser’s Ridge in 1773, with its basis on the same novel and introducing the arrival of new settlers and plenty of tension and conflict courtesy of both the Christie family and the brewing American Revolutionary War.
When it comes to preparation for their characters, particularly with both actors joining at the end of season two, Sophie revealed that initially they were very keen on their ‘homework’ and reading everything they could.
‘We started off doing that, especially because Richard and I like to do our homework,’ she said. ‘Wiki, Google, the books – and we read it all, to books four and five, when we were filming season two.’
Richard, who plays Roger, has a warning for fans (Picture: Getty)
Richard agreed, continuing: ‘I got to the end of The Fiery Cross [book five] and I think, just out of habit, I will pick up the sixth book in the very near future. I had read up to the end of book four before I started on season two just to give me an idea of character trajectory and where to pitch that character, and in terms of your own development of it.’
Describing how useful the books where to him as he took on the part of Roger MacKenzie, he added: ‘When we started, we had only been given episode 13 of season two, obviously, so we only had that script – and if you were to rely on that solely as the basis of your character, you’d probably be quite far from the mark. So the books were really helpful in establishing those characters.’
However, he issued a word of caution to fans who might expect everything just as it is written by Gabaldon, from his past experiences of dealing with production changes.
Outlander season six sees Richard as Roger stay in the past with Jamie (Sam Heughan) and the Fraser family (Picture: Robert Wilson/Starz)
Outlander’s main cast will largely follow the plot of the sixth book for their sixth season (Picture: Jason Bell/Starz)
‘Once you’ve got them [the characters] up and running and [considering] the fact that it’s an adaptation, you can’t rely on everything that’s written in the books because they might change it or they might do it differently or they might take it out entirely, so you don’t want to get too attached to some of the scenes that you might like or look forward to yourself – and then they don’t happen or are different.
‘Even if they’re better, you still go, “Oh! That scene. [II was going to] play it like this…”’
After what is now four full seasons in Roger’s shoes though, Richard is pretty confident in his depiction of the former University of Oxford don.
‘I think we know the character so well we just apply that to whatever plot or storylines they throw at us. We have our characters in place, so we can just put the two together.’
(L-R) Sam Heughan, Sophie Skelton and Richard Rankin at the Outlander season six premiere (Picture: Karwai Tang/WireImage)
Sophie also shared that while Richard is likely to keep reading along, she has ‘got to a point where I don’t want to read ahead’.
Talking about the script edits, where parts are removed or added in from past and future books, or there are flashbacks, she explained: ‘I didn’t want to confuse myself as to what had actually been filmed or hadn’t, or what was in the book and what wasn’t and what was in the script!’
The former CBBC star also reasoned that her decision helped with her portrayal of time-traveller Brianna.
Author Diana Gabaldon has so far published nine Outlander novels (Picture: Getty)
‘For Brianna as a character, there’s subconscious hints that you could make as an actor if you know what’s coming so if your character doesn’t, it’s easier just to not to know and just stick with it, bit by bit, so you’re at least keeping true to the character’s mindset.’
Brianna and Roger will be back alongside Claire, Jamie (Sam Heughan) and the rest of the extended Fraser clan in North Carolina for a slightly shorter season of eight episodes – but a feature-length premiere episode – very soon.
Outlander season six premieres March 6 on STARZPLAY.