I have added a new photoshoot of Sophie for Harper’s Bazaar. You can read the interview and watch the behind the scenes video below!
Studio Photoshoots > Outtakes & Sessions > Session 003
HARPER’S BAZAAR – ophie Skelton’s trademark long chestnut hair is knotted in a tight bun, precisely placed high atop her head—exactly the style you’d expect from a Royal Academy-trained ballerina. Despite the early call time for her first major fashion shoot, an unfazed Skelton arrives effortlessly polished post dance session in her hotel room (she always packs pointe shoes when traveling), sporting an adopted LA uniform: leggings, plain T-shirt, and an unassuming cardigan.
The 23-year-old UK native—who plays Outlander’s youthful, fiery, stalwart Brianna Randall Fraser, the daughter of an 18th-century Scottish Highlander and a time-traveling English WWII nurse—is fresh off her first trip to Comic-Con, where screaming devotees flocked in droves to see her. Despite some initial trepidation, Skelton, who grew up in the quiet English countryside of Manchester, says she was grateful to leave San Diego with a strengthened connection to her fans. “I was unsure what to expect, to be honest, but it was really rewarding,” she explains from the makeup chair of a sun-drenched studio. “They give us so much support, it’s nice to be able to give even a little bit back—to meet them and give them a hug, or whatever else they need.”
Skelton, who began her performative career with dance at age three, carries herself as someone braced to handle her rapidly blossoming career with expert poise and dignity: she’s more gentle and curious than intimidating. The actress, who enjoys baking and binge-watching Stranger Things in her downtime, comes from humble roots, where she picked up acting in various small theater productions at school. But her appetite for television was unshakable. “I had always wanted to do the discreet acting that you can’t really do with live theater,” she explains. “In TV and film everything is really underplayed, and I liked that aspect.” Eventually, Skelton cut a deal with her parents: if she were accepted into university, they would grant her permission to defer a year and dip her feet into full-time acting. Less than a year later, she was offered her largest role yet in Outlander. Here, Skelton opens up about her headstrong character; pushing forward despite the odds stacked against her; and dealing with new-found fame.
ON THE PRESSURE TO LIVE UP TO THE BOOK’S VERSION OF BRIANNA:
It’s almost like the pressure of playing a real person. A lot of these women have been reading about Brianna for 20 years. I was three at the time Brianna comes into the second book. That’s always the scary thing about it… You owe it to [viewers] to play her how they imagined, but obviously with the book everyone sees everything differently. Luckily, when I was prepping for the role, I read the books and became a fan of Brianna as well, so anything [fans] feel they want to keep of her, I probably feel, too. I feel very protective of the character. Also, we changed her a lot from the book to the series. You kind of have to ignore the precious side of it, and even though you want to reference the book, you have to be true to each scene and the character that’s been written on the page.
For example, when you first see Brianna and Claire [in the books], they get on really well as mother and daughter, and actually have a lot of banter. We did a bit of that in the series, but we really laid on thick that they’ve had 20 years of tension. It’s always been this thing between them, and Bree’s never been able to put a finger on it. So, obviously when this information comes to light, there’s that feeling of, “Oh, I get it now. It wasn’t ever me that she was distant from, it was just the situation. It was something about her that was separate [from me].”
ON THE INFLUENCES THAT HELPED SHAPE BRIANNA’S RELATIONSHIPS:
For me, it’s more about being in the scene with that person. Obviously Caitriona [Balfe, who plays Brianna’s mom, Claire Randall] plays very, very differently to how my mom would do the job. So it was more copying Caitriona’s traits and how I would react to Claire in that situation, just to really get in Brianna’s head because she’s a different person than me. She says things that I would never say, even when I’m that angry. She has that line at the end of Season 2 where she essentially says, “I wish you were dead instead of daddy.” Which is kind of a teenage-y thing to say. And while outwardly, you judge her for saying something like that, when you’re in her head it has to be justified. You can’t judge your own character. You have to see why they do and say those things.
I had auditioned for Brianna in 2014, before the show was actually out. So I read the books and I met Caitriona for the first time at one of my screen tests. Then I didn’t hear anything for a year. I thought I hadn’t gotten the role. And then the audition came through again and I was like, “I swear I’ve auditioned for this!” I was kind of gutted, because sometimes you get a character that comes along that you feel really protective of and I really felt like that about Bree. When the audition came around again, I watched the entire series so I could get a lot of Caitriona’s mannerisms in. I wanted to get a lot of Sam’s mannerisms in, too, because Brianna is going to be very much like Jamie. But I wanted to make sure that his mannerisms were genetic things that you could do without ever having seen the person. With Caitriona, I wanted to copy little traits that she did. She folds her arms, she does this little lick of the mouth—she does things you can pick up from somebody by being around them every day, as opposed to it just being in your genes.
When we got to Season 3, Caitriona and I sat down and talked about how we wanted it to play out—we talked about it in Season 2, too, because they hadn’t really laid on that bad blood between them, that bit of tension, and we wanted to make sure that came from somewhere, instead of it just coming across as both of them being stubborn and brash. We wanted it to be that Claire has been working a lot and she’s not home, so Brianna feels a bit abandoned. Frank has died at that point, so for Bree, the one person she’s really treasured is gone. We see with Bree that now this information [about Jamie] has come out, they do get closer, but it’s also not that simple. You can’t just patch up 20 years of a bad relationship with one piece of information. So it’s kind of a bit of back-and-forth with their relationship. We wanted to make sure that felt real.
ON WHAT SHE’S LEARNED FROM OTHER ACTORS ON THE SHOW:
I started working when I was 17, so I think you subconsciously pick up things from other people, like the way that they do things or their technique. From Caitriona, she’s such a generous actress, and it’s actually quite rare to do a scene with someone where even though the camera is on your angle for a scene, they’re still giving 100 percent. A lot of people save it, or let their energy go when the camera is not on them. Then it’s hard because you have to play to what they were doing before, instead of what they’re giving you right at that time.
From Richard [Rankin, who plays Roger Wakefield], he’s just such a boy. When you do a scene with him, he has you in giggles before you start, which is fine, but we had to do a scene where Claire is leaving to go back to the past, and I don’t know if I’m ever going to see her again. And Brianna’s meant to be sobbing tears against a window, and Richard is prodding my back behind me and whispering stupid jokes in my ear! [Laughs] So with Richard, I learned to phase out other actors.
ON THE TRAITS BRIANNA BORROWS FROM JAIME AND CLAIRE:
They all have a fiery temper, so I think Bree gets that from both of them. The difference is, Jamie is sort of a grounded-fire temper. It’s almost like he’d calmly be angry. And there’s more effect in that, sometimes. Brianna’s very logical like Jamie, in that they calculate in their head before they speak and before they act. So unless they’re angry, in which case they’ll react quite quickly from that hot-headedness, they will really think things through, whereas Claire dives headfirst into a situation and will worry about the repercussions later.
ON WHAT’S HAPPENING BETWEEN BRIANNA AND ROGER:
Their relationship is a slow-burner, but it’s more of a frustrating slow-burner. With Jamie and Claire, they came from two different worlds initially, and you almost watch them grow closer and closer. With Brianna and Roger, they actually come from the same world and they have a love of history—everything is in the right direction for them. But they’re both so stubborn, and both so bad at saying what they think, that everything gets between them. Every time they come closer, they get torn apart. I think a lot of that is because Brianna associates him with all the information that came to light in Season 3. We see her trying to deal with that conflict within herself: trying to work out who she is, decipher which parts of her are Jamie, which parts Frank, and which parts are just her.
I think she almost needs to push Roger out of the equation so she can know herself before she lets him in. And because he’s the one person that she lets her guard down with, she’s scared so she pushes him away. And he’s not very good at communicating either, so they both feel this thing and don’t say it. It’s frustrating for fans, but it still gives them that thing to root for at the end. It’s young love.
ON HOW THE SHOW TACKLES FEMINISM:
I think it’s good that the show is such a female-led one. Claire is such a strong person, and I think seeing how much strength she gives Jamie (this big, strong, manly highlander), it’s obvious she’s actually the one who holds him up. Brianna is such a strong character, too; they’re both so ahead of their time. We first see Claire in the ’40s and Brianna in the ’60s; it’s a really nice period to start with to show how women started to shape. In WW II, Claire is a nurse, and that’s kind of when women really started to be needed. Women had to step up, they were part of the war effort, and it completely changed their lives. It took away their youthfulness, and they became seen by men as equals, I think. That led into Claire being a surgeon in the ’60s, and then that spilled over to Bree—she had this amazing hardworking mom. To be a female surgeon in the ’60s was very, very rare. That’s a good thing to take from it—that against all odds, the hard work can get you there.
ON PREPARING TO ACT OUT SEASON 4’S DARKER STORYLINES:
I don’t know how much I can give away, but these kind of scenes for an actor are the tedious ones, because they’re heavy and they’re emotionally draining—however they’re so much easier than the exposition research scenes we’ve been doing that are like, “Hey! Twenty years ago…” It will be really nice, because you’re deeper in thought as a character. Plus, Drums of Autumn is my favorite book in the series.
ON MEETING HER FANS AT COMIC-CON FOR THE FIRST TIME:
Kind of overwhelming! [Laughs] I mean, it’s amazing—the fans really are amazing. You see a lot of them on Twitter, so it’s quite nice some of them turn up and they say, “Oh, I’m at this handle,” and you actually recognize it because they’re prominent on Twitter. That is one thing that’s nice about social media—it’s nice to know people like the show, it’s nice to hear that. Whereas with a film you don’t really get that rapport with fans, you don’t get that love. So Comic-Con was really cool. It’s nice to see people that are passionate about it. But it’s quite nerve-wracking, when you look at the panel, and you hear 6,000 people screaming, it was quite an odd feeling. When you’re going on stage, and all of these people are screaming, it’s kind of daunting.
One day Richard and I were doing a signing, and obviously all the fans are really avid fans, and they’ve queued for ages to come to this panel. Then this one girl got to the end of the panel and she just looked at me and Richard and said, “So who are you guys? Are you cast?” [Laughs] And we were just like, “No, we’re crew. We’re just helping out.”
There was another lady had done an amazing cross-stitch of Sam Heughan’s face—it had taken her nine months. And it was amazing, like it really was a work of art. She was like, “Yeah it took me nine months, I gave birth to Sam Heughan through my eyes!” [Laughs] That was kind of intense, but it was great.