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Graham McTavish: Gaelic – It’s in my DNA

It’s been a month since more than 300 Outlander fans flocked to the Thru the Stones conference in Davenport, Iowa, where super-fan Debbie Ford set up a day and a half of activities complemented by a Meet & Greet with Diana Gabaldon and Graham McTavish.

Graham and Diana at the Thru the Stones conference (12/6/2014)
Graham and Diana at the Thru the Stones conference (12/6/2014)

I had the opportunity to sit with Graham for a quick chat before he left the conference; here is the second part of that interview:

O: If you, Graham, not Dougal, could pass through the stones, which era would you travel to and what would you bring with you?

Graham: The Elizabethan period, for me, because I would love to meet Shakespeare, I would love to attend one of the original productions of his plays and I think it is such an interesting time, such a revolutionary time in many ways, the court of Elizabeth (the first).  I think would have been wonderful.

What would I have brought with me…I would bring penicillin, definitely. Medicine.  In all reality, if someone from the 20th century went back to the 18th century, they would probably be dead, be dead within a couple of weeks just from the diseases they would get, that they wouldn’t be immune to, and they’d exposed to stuff I can’t imagine.

Now all these surfaces are cleaned (gestures at the table) constantly, everything is clean, I mean, this would be just filth, but then in some ways, you could argue, that people would develop very strong immune systems.  My mother used to say that that you should eat a peck of dirt before you die.  And a peck – I don’t know if you know a “peck”… it’s a pretty big measurement, and that’s a lot of dirt to eat in a lifetime.  She believed and her parents believed you should eat and have dirt in your diet because it keeps you healthy.

O: You spoke a lot about art last night (at TTS) and Van Gogh. What inspired you to become interested in visual art rather than performing art?

Graham: I always drew and painted, all my life, and it’s something I enjoy doing, enjoy having around me. I find it very therapeutic, but in this specific instance of Vincent, I came across that quite by accident really. My friend and I were looking for a two-man show to perform, and we bumped into a lady at Covent Garden, who was a work colleague of my friend, and she said that she’d seen a Dutch actor perform a one man show, ten years previously, about Vincent Van Gogh. She said it was absolutely fantastic, based on letters. I’d never read any of the letters, I obviously knew who he was, and I don’t know why, I mean normally, under normal circumstances, I would have just gone to the pub after that conversation. This time I went straight to the bookshop and got a copy of those letters, they happened to be there.

Collage image from Google.
Collage image from Google

Sometimes you do think that things are not planned exactly, but they are made a little easier than you would expect.  I’ve gone into a lot of bookshops since and I’ve never seen copies of Vincent Van Gogh’s letters, and there they were, waiting. I got it, read it, it was amazing, and sat down and started writing it.  So many people love Vincent because he represents the quintessential artist, because prior to him, if you were a painter, you made a good living.  You didn’t do it to not make money; you would have patrons, be commissioned, do biblical studies, you had a good life.  The idea of leading an uncompromising artistic existence that flew in the face of popular conceptions of what art should be – it’s unbelievable that so many people would look at what he did and say that it’s rubbish and should literally be thrown away.  Yet he still continued (to paint). I think that speaks to a lot of people and inspires them.

O: It’s a character strength for him, that he would keep going?

Graham: He painted over 600 paintings and sold only one in his entire lifetime.  Everything else [sold after his death], everything else.  I think he would have thought it was amazing, but he expected it.  One of the reasons he signed his paintings “Vincent” was because he believed that one day people would know him by his first name. He totally believed that he would be famous, and he was right.

O: You talked a lot about your father last night, really wonderful stories. Has there been any particular instance during the filming of Outlander that has brought on memories and what would those be?

Graham: Yes, my dad, he is always with me, especially when I’m in Scotland, and playing a character like Dougal.  You know, Dougal is a very Scottish – I know it sounds obvious – but he is a very Scottish man, and there are lots of people like Dougal; plain speaking, which my father was, passionate, loyal, all of those qualities. I often think of him when I’m playing Dougal, and when I was playing Dwalin in “The Hobbit.”  I think there are parallels I could draw between those two characters, not just their accent. A lot of people would look at Dougal and see duplicity and other things, but he wouldn’t see it that way, and I think that’s interesting. I don’t think he sees himself as duplicitous, I think he sees himself as practical, and pragmatic and realistic, and so he acts accordingly and yes, my father is a great inspiration to me. It’s a sadness to me that he never saw this show; he would have really loved it.

O: This question is from Lisa Branford of Outlander Ambassador: You have learned some Gaelic for the show, has that inspired you to learn and become more fluent as part of your great great-great-grandparents’ heritage?

Graham: Yes, yes, it has. It’s something that I would love to learn, because, I guess it’s in my DNA.  When I was doing it with Àdhamh (Gaelic consultant), it does stir something in you, it’s strange.  I was quite surprised at that, actually, you start to hear the sounds that your family would have made for most of the history of my family. Speaking English is a relatively modern part of our history.  To go back to that, where it’s also becoming a lot more fashionable (Gaelic), in Scotland: Gaelic schools, Gaelic bars, Gaelic restaurants, and certainly, when I was in Scotland in the 80s, Gaelic was almost a dead language.  It’s had a huge resurgence.

Thank you Graham for your time, and to the fans who haven’t seen “The Hobbit” – you won’t be disappointed!

Want to learn a little more about topics that interest Graham?  Here are some of my picks:

The Elizabethan Era

Van Gogh Museum/Van Gogh Letters

My recording of Elizabethan era music by The Flying Monkeys, featuring a piccolo and the hurdy gurdy (only a minute long).

Photo is a screenshot taken from a short video by Starz.
Graham McTavish and myself, Spreckels Theatre. Photo is a screenshot taken from a short video by Starz.

 

 

 

Graham McTavish Talks About His Portrayal of Dougal and Masculinity

One week ago, an unprecedented event occurred, not only because it was held in Davenport, Iowa, but because one Outlander fan had an idea and ran with it: she brought author Diana Gabaldon and actor Graham McTavish to her Thru the Stones Convention (TTS).

Graham and Diana TTS 12 6 14

Diana, author of the New York Times Bestseller Outlander, mingled with some fans on Saturday afternoon before peeking into a lavender class designed for TTS.

Graham, who plays the MacKenzie War Chieftain Dougal MacKenzie in the TV series Outlander, arrived prior to the evening activities.  Winners of a trivia contest sat with Diana during dinner, and the names of seven lucky fans were drawn to sit with Graham at dinner, after which Graham and Diana each gave a talk, followed by a a question and answer period.  Prior to his departure from TTS, I sat down with Graham (and Erin Conrad) for a short interview; here is some of what he had to say:

O: What do you think are the aspects of Outlander that would draw in and hold male attention? It is predominantly women.

GM: I guess it is predominantly women; it’s interesting, what appeals to men.  I think anything that involves a combination of action, adventure, time travel, romance, has, for me, a pretty much universal appeal. I don’t think that’s confined to women at all. The characters, the relationship, between someone like Jamie and Dougal is a very interesting male relationship.  Not an uncommon relationship.  A man who feels threatened by a younger version of himself, really;  I think that’s what Jamie is to Dougal.  He looks at Jamie and thinks “you’re me when I was in my twenties,” so I think that speaks to men.

The period, I think, is very interesting from a male point of view, the costuming, the way they look.  All of us (the guys), when we were filming, wished that that’s how we dressed now, because it’s a fabulous way to walk around and you feel great in in those outfits.

 

Photo by STARZ
Rupert, Murtagh, Angus, Dougal, and Jamie

O: Braw?

GM: Braw, exactly.  So I’ve been very pleased.  I’m on a film at the moment in Boston, and there are Teamsters there who have come up to me and complimented the show.  You know, that’s a tough crowd. I’ve had a lot of guys, actually, talk to me about the show and I have been surprised, but very pleased as well.

And I think the combination that Diana touched on last night of placing a 20th century woman in an 18th century male environment has a very interesting dynamic with masculinity.  I mean it speaks to a way of behaving (for men) that is no longer fashionable, I suppose.

O: The honor and protection…

GM: Yes, and you know they are very masculine characters, they are not metrosexual (laughs).

O: Is there a scene that we’ve seen, in Episodes 1-8, that was the most challenging for you?

GM: Challenging, gosh, that’s a hard one…oh, no, you haven’t seen that yet (chuckles).  I guess, any scene that involves emotion, like the Geordie scene, the boar hunt, that kind of scene was the most enjoyable yet the most challenging.  It allowed me, from a character point of view, to take Dougal in a different direction, which is refreshing and it gives him more rounded appeal.

O: After that scene, when you (Dougal) talk to Claire and say: “You’ve seen men die before,” that was very powerful in the book.

GM: Yes, that scene as well. I loved doing that one.

O: That was very touching, you (Dougal) opened up as a man and not the War Chief, trying to find out what is going on.

GM: What I think is interesting about the character and hopefully what comes across in the portrayal, is that, just when you think he’s one thing, he (snaps his finger) becomes something completely different, and that scene that is a good example. He takes the time to come down and genuinely thank her for what she did, sincerely.  He means it, and it meant a lot to him, and he just turns in an instant into this calculating guy who says “That’s all very well, but you’re coming with me and, you know, I’m going to keep a very close eye on you.”  So the fact that you were very kind to me and helped my friend when he was dying, thank you, but….

I think that’s what’s interesting about him, is that he always has his eye on a bigger picture, so he can focus on something small, or not as broad, and yet keep in his mind on his ultimate goal, and his ultimate goal is the restoration of the Stuart throne – that suborns everything else: lust, vengeance, jealousy, all of those things, when it comes to that, he’ll do anything to make sure that happens.

O: And to keep Jamie from becoming Chief by marrying him to an Englishwoman

GM: Yes, he’s a great politician, Dougal.

EC: One of my favorite microscenes is right before Dougal goes to swear the oath to Colum.  You stop, almost sigh, take a breath, and then, you can see Dougal (mentally) saying: I love my brother, I respect him, I’m doing what’s right, but that should be me up there.

GM: Oh good, I’m glad that came across (laughs).  Yes, absolutely, he (Colum) is the thorn in my side, I’m just thinking, surely to God he’s going to die, soon, please, so that we can move on.

EC: As much as I hate for my brother to die, he needs to go.

O: Because Dougal was born the second son.

GM: Absolutely, they’ve got a very complicated relationship.

Photo by STARZ
Swearing of the oath by Dougal to Colum.

O: You talked a lot about your father last night, really wonderful stories.  Has there been any particular instance during the filming of Outlander that has brought on memories, and what would those be?

GM: Yes, my dad, he is always with me, especially when I’m in Scotland, and playing a character like Dougal.  You know, Dougal is a very Scottish – I know it sounds obvious – but he is a very Scottish man, and there are lots of people like Dougal; plain speaking, which my father was, passionate, loyal, all of those qualities.  I often think of him when I’m playing Dougal, and when I was playing Dwalin in “The Hobbit.”  I think there are parallels I could draw between those two characters, not just their accent.  A lot of people would look at Dougal and see duplicity and other things, but he wouldn’t see it that way, and I think that’s interesting. I don’t think he sees himself as duplicitous, I think he sees himself as practical, pragmatic, realistic, and so he acts accordingly; and yes, my father is a great inspiration to me.  It’s a sadness to me that he never saw this show; he would have really loved it.

O: Do you think Ron (Moore) can be convinced to do something with bloopers?

GM: I would be very surprised if he didn’t do this, when the DVD comes out, that may be part of the special features. They’ve shown us some gag reels, very funny and there are a lot of them, Duncan Lacroix being the main perpetrator of stuff.  He was in his prime.

O: When will filming begin for Season 2, Dragonfly in Amber?

GM: March or April of next year, no definitely start date, but it will be around then.

Upon returning to the west coast, Mr. McTavish attended the Los Angeles premiere of “The Hobbit” which will be released in the United States on December 17, 2014.

To hear his speech from TTS, click this link, which will open in a new tab: http://youtu.be/AhT2vtqT7ZE

To see more about the costuming, please see Terry Dresbach’s blog titled “Terry Dresbach An 18th Century Life” http://www.terrydresbach.com/  (included with permission from Terry)

Thank you to Debbie Ford of TTS, and Graham McTavish, who generously gave his time in the morning after being up late meeting hundreds of fans.  The second half of the interview will be up in the next week or so.

Erin Conrad is a personal friend of mine who writes about Outlander.  Her articles can be found here: http://www.threeifbyspace.net/tag/outlander/

Tulach Àrd!