Saturday, July 23, 2016

Actor Steven Cree on Outlander and Taking the Mickey Out of The Hoff

Welcome to Twitter, Steven! @MrStevenCree

By Scotland Now

Actor Steven Cree plays Ian Murray the Starz hit Outlander

WHEN Steven Cree sends an email from his phone, a note at the bottom claims it has been sent from Dolly Parton’s bathroom.

It’s a surreal footnote but not unexpected from the Scottish actor whose career is anything but predictable.

In the past year he has tackled roles as diverse as a one-legged Jacobite in Outlander to a spoof with David Hasselhoff.

Steven, who is originally from Kilmarnock, moved to London 17 years ago but was thrilled when the trans-Atlantic success story that is Outlander brought him back home.

“When I got the part I had no idea what Outlander was and it wasn’t until we started filming, that I realised how massive the whole thing is,” he says.

His character, the amiable Ian Murray, is best friends and brother-in-law to Jamie Fraser, played by Sam Heughan, and married to Jenny, played by Laura Donnelly

Steven Cree as Ian Murray, with Jenny ( Laura Fraser) and Claire ( Catriona Balfe)

All three actors studied drama in Glasgow and were reunited on the time travelling fantasy written by American author Diana Gabaldon.

Steven recalls listening, bemused, to the tales of super fandom surrounding Outlander, which he was soon to experience himself after first appearing in the hit series in 2015.

“Sam and Caitriona [Balfe, who plays Claire Fraser] told me about the various things the fans had been sending them, including home baking. I’d never experienced anything like it before. Even the drivers have their own fangroup."

Although not a fan of social media himself, Steven need not worry since several fans have set up twitter and facebook accounts on his behalf.

“All interaction with fans has been extremely nice, but this level of interest is definitely not usual,” he says.

Later this year he will attend the first ever Scottish convention dedicated to Outlander.

ScotCon, in September, is expected to attract thousands of fans who will get the chance to meet key cast members and share a table with the stars at a gala dinner and ceilidh.

The show has done much to support the Scottish acting industry as well as providing an extraordinary boost to tourism and Steven is looking forward to celebrating his role in the production that has done much to showcase Scotland.

“Outlander must have created work for half the people in the Scottish film industry but it has also showed the world that Scotland is such an amazing and beautiful country and it’s the first TV production for a while in which Scotland has been one of the main characters of the show.”

Playing the part of Ian Murray was not without its challenges, says Steven, who had to get to grips with wearing a wooden leg for the role.

“It made for a lot of off-camera comedy,” he says. “I’d been walking into a scene and my leg would suddenly fall off, which Catriona in particular found hilarious.”

Although the Outlander series stretches to nine books, it’s not yet known how many will be adapted for the screen by Starz TV.

“I know that the character trajectory lasts until book six but it depends how closely they will stick to the story in the book. But I’d certainly love to go back as it’s an amazing thing to be part of.”

Soon after Outlander, Steven found himself on set with David Hasselhoff in the ‘mockumentary’ Hoff the Record.

“That was probably the most fun I’ve had on a job. For a start my character was an ex-SAS survivalist called Mike Porridge.

“For the most part it was unscripted and I had carte blanche to do what I wanted. The brief was basically to take the piss out of David as much as possible.

“He was a brilliant sport and was really up for laughing at himself. But it was surreal too, of course, when you grow up in Kilmarnock watching Baywatch as a teenager then find yourself taking the mickey out of David Hasselhoff being in Baywatch.”

Earlier this year Steven filmed The Titan, with Sam Worthington andTaylor Schilling. Set 30 years in the future he plays an scientist called Major Timothy Pike.

“The morning I got the call about the part I was on the Tube and a newspaper next to me fell open at a story about Tim Peake, the astronaut currently in space.” It was yet another pinch-me moment.

Now Steven is about to start filming Churchill, alongside Brian Cox and John Slattery, playing real life RAF serviceman and meteorologist, Captain James Stagg. The thriller follows Winston Churchill in the 24 hours before D-Day.

In between stints in Scotland filming Outlander, London where he lives and LA for casting session Steven has yet to actually find himself in Dolly Parton’s bedroom - but stranger things have happened.

You can buy tickets for ScotCon and get more information from here.

Monday, July 4, 2016

‘Outlander’: Andrew Gower on Bonnie Prince Charles’s Rebellious Past, Uncertain Future

By: Carrie Bell,

Warning: This interview contains spoilers for the second season of Outlander, including teases about the finale, which will air on July 9.

Sorry Charlie, your days are likely numbered. Given that it appears history is going to unfold just as it did before with the bloody Battle of Culloden, the fall of the Jacobites and no return to a Stuart reign, we’re guessing that likely means Andrew Gower, the actor who plays the rebellious royal, is also not long for the world of Outlander.

With Season 2 coming to a close next week, we tracked Gower down by phone in England — where he is doing a play and was on his merry way to get a haircut — to ask about all things Bonnie, from wigs and catchphrase drinking games to how he researched the role and his favorite scenes.

How familiar were you with Outlander before you got the job?
I was lucky enough to work with Stephen Walters in Morocco of all places last year. He had talked about this series he was in that had an amazing, dedicated following and a really interesting story. We stayed in touch, both of us being from Liverpool. When I came home, I weirdly had a meeting to play Bonnie Prince Charlie in my email account, and the rest was history. And Stephen and I were lucky enough to share a little moment together in Episode 10. It is very interesting how small the industry can be and how coincidental.

How has life changed since becoming a part of a show with such a dedicated fanbase? Do people recognize you when you are in your modern-day look?
Stephen had told me how loyal the following was, and I have been lucky enough to experience it firsthand now. It feels validating. I don’t get recognized on the street. I would be worried if I did, given that I wear a wig at all times on the show and have quite a different wardrobe, and the facial expressions I pull even. The day I start getting recognized as Charlie, I will be worried. There’s been none of that. But virtually over Twitter, it has changed tremendously. I have so many more followers now. And all good, positive interactions. I am quite happy that I can still walk down the street every day in a pair of jogging bottoms and my woolly hat, and no one knows who I am. That’s nice.

You play a historical figure, Bonnie Prince Charles Stuart. Did you do much research on him?
A hell of a lot. The Frank McLynn biography became my bible basically up until recently when I lost it on a flight between Edinburgh and London. It was so important to read his letters and to know more about his relationship with his father and his time in Italy and Paris. When you are playing somebody who did exist and there is good source material on them, whether it is a biography or archives or experts, you would be stupid not to delve into them. But there is a point in the process where you leave the books alone, and instead, you focus on the script and creating your version.

What was the most interesting or surprising thing you discovered?
I have to be honest that before I took on the job, apart from the name and the basics, I had no real idea how he fit into history. I had no idea about the Jacobites or those battles. Growing up in Liverpool, we studied the British side of history, and we only would barely briefly touch on Scottish history. So everything was, for me, a big revelation. The fact that he was born in Italy was a lovely discovery. He was at war as a 15-year-old boy. That he used to dance in front of the groups of soldiers to entertain them.

How would you describe him to people? He seems like he has daddy issues to me. Like he needs to please him by winning this rebellion.
Totally a daddy’s boy. I think he is having an identity crisis. He doesn’t know where he belongs or who he belongs with. He has aspirations to sit on the British throne and thinks the way to that is this war, but as far as who he is, I think he struggled with that. He is forever aligning himself to different people and beliefs to figure out any way to get into power. And he is very devout in that way, that he believes God wants him to be King

And he also seems to be mostly kind and ambitious, at least tries to think long-term like with his theories about how the British should be treated.
Being removed from British society and living in Europe, he doesn’t understand the divide. There is a naivety to him, having been isolated in Italy for his whole childhood. When he arrives in the Highlands, there is a sort of childlike innocence on how British politics actually works, and he doesn’t understand how much anger there is on the part of the Scots toward the British.

He also seems, especially in the last few episodes, like he really has a desire to get in the fight and stand alongside his men. Even though when they finally decide to let him join in this episode, he gets lost and screws up their shot at a surprise birthday attack.
He sure means well, but it doesn’t always work out for him. I think he probably did have the desire to do his part, but he is far from a warrior. I have really liked that the details about the rebellion and the battles have been historically accurate — things like the secret path, the conditions, the introduction of the generals — but that the show has built their story inside of that framework and taken some artistic liberties for the sake of story. I have taken some license with Charles, and I do hope that people appreciate that we are trying to link the beginning of the series with the end of the series.

I’m wondering if his catchphrase “Mark me” is based on research, or was that just something that came from the book or from the writers’ minds?
There is no mention of that particular phrase in my bible on Charlie. It has become such a part of the character. Quite interestingly, it was in a first draft and read-through for my first-ever appearance on Outlander. There was a speech in the brothel, and from that point I wanted to build on that. I kept adding a few more “Mark me’s” because it felt like his way of demanding attention and saying, “This is my moment. Pay attention.” I took it also as a very military phrase, and he is a guy who is interested in that as in, “Mark my gun” or “Mark my sword.” In a way, for me in trying to play someone with a lack of identity, I wanted to give him a phrase that he routinely uses and that speaks to who he is. The scenes where I have not used it, I was a bit more raw and emotionally cut up. I have enjoyed the collaboration with the directors and writers on deciding when to throw one in or when to cut it out. It was a nice thing to add to the character.

Did you ever count how many times you said it?
I have not. But I heard it has become a drinking game. I’m worried if people are drinking with every “mark me.” I’m worried for their heads on a Sunday morning.

Did you have a favorite scene of Season 2?
Definitely the bedroom scene where I climb through the window and I’ve just been bitten by the monkey. That was a direct adaptation from a scene in the book. That was a fun scene to film. The other scene I really loved is more a whole episode of scenes. I loved Episode 10, where I was wearing my tartan outfit and leading my Scottish men and looking out over the English. Working opposite Dougal [Graham McTavish] and the other Scots was fantastic.

What took more getting used to — the wig, the kilts, or the high-neck bows and ruffles?
The wig. Definitely the wig. Although I do not have the knees for kilts either. If I do come back, I am going to have to work on the legs. [Sam Heughan’s] legs put mine to shame.

Can you tease the finale?
I am going to give you very short, mysterious clues — wax, an unfinished battle, and more God. It is going to be a great, great episode. Not to be missed.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Jacobite Cause

By Louise Yeoman,

Portrait style illustration showing James II

Patriotic Scots, disgruntled Britons, scheming European nations - all got involved in the Jacobite cause. The uprisings gave rise to episodes of great bravery as well of tactical mistakes, and have left us with a legacy of many stirring tales. Louise Yeoman tells the story.

The Glorious Revolution

To modern eyes the complex web of religious and political loyalties which underpinned Jacobitism can seem alien and unsympathetic. The whole movement might be said to span the century from the deposition of James II in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to the lonely alcohol-sodden death of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1788.

A Catholic himself, James decided that by promoting edicts of religious tolerance, he would be able to surreptitiously re-establish Catholicism as the official faith of the British Isles. This notion produced near-hysteria in James's Protestant subjects - who had been taught to abhor this faith. When a son was born to the King and Queen, British Protestants were faced with the prospect of never waking up from their worst nightmare: a Catholic dynasty.

They turned to James's Protestant son-in-law William of Orange. In 1688 he led a successful invasion of England. James panicked and fled. As Scotland wavered, James wrote an utterly tactless letter to the Scottish National Convention in Edinburgh. They declared for William. James's most zealous Scottish supporter, Viscount Dundee, turned to a military solution. The first Jacobite rising broke out. But it was not very popular at all. Most Scottish nobles took the attitude of wait and see.

Dundee's forces destroyed William's with a devastating highland charge at the battle of Killiecrankie in 1689, but their leader died in his hour of glory. This left the movement headless. The wait and see-ers kept waiting, and the rising petered out.

So how did Jacobitism come back from the political grave in Scotland? In a few words: William and The Union. The new King's Scottish reign was characterised by government tactlessness and economic disasters. The most important of the latter was the Darien Scheme. William refused all English assistance to this Scottish venture to found a colony in Panama. When the scheme failed, leaving most of the would-be colonists dead, the King was widely blamed.

Thus to the die-hard believers in the hereditary right of James were added the dissatisfied. Jacobitism became a magnet for almost anyone with a grudge against the government. The Union of 1707 then produced what was for many Scots the grudge to end all grudges.

The ink was hardly dry on the treaty before it was being widely denounced, and Scotland was ripe for sedition. The French, who were at war with Britain, suddenly saw an advantage to be gained here. They would land the new Jacobite heir, James III 'The Old Pretender' in his ancestral kingdom and start a rebellion. It was an excellent opportunity to unite much of the nation, even many Presbyterians, on the Jacobite side against the Union.

The abortive 1708 rising was dogged with bad luck, however, and possible sabotage. The invasion fleet arrived tardily in the Firth of Forth to find the Royal Navy waiting for them. The French commander refused to put the furious James ashore. The invasion that might have united Scotland against the Union was a damp squib.

The '15 Rebellion

However Jacobitism was still very dangerous. The promised benefits of the Union had failed to arrive for many people. Instead, heavy excise duty and increased tax caused much ill feeling. Added to these were humiliations at the hands of the English-dominated Westminster parliament. 

Yet rebellion when it came, sprang from a most unexpected quarter. When George I of Hanover succeeded to the throne in 1715, he sacked one of Scotland's most influential politicians: John Erskine, Earl of Mar. Mar decided to retaliate by raising the standard for the house of Stuart. On one side of his banner he put the arms of Scotland and on the other 'No Union'. Thousands flocked to it. Soon almost the entire north of Scotland was in his hands. He did this without even bothering to warn the Jacobite court.

This was not a phenomenon of a backward rural people rising for archaic notions of loyalty to the king over the water. There was strong support for the Jacobite cause in the trading burghs of north-east Scotland, as well as in the Highlands.

Historian Bruce Lenman characterised the backbone of the rising as 'Patriotic Scots and Disgruntled Britons'. The government commander, the Duke of Argyll warned his own side that 'Beyond the Forth the rebels have a hundred to one at least against us'. The Union was in serious danger.

Argyll seized the strategically vital ground around Stirling, but he was heavily outnumbered. Then at the battle of Sheriffmuir, when all seemed lost, Mar lost his nerve and suddenly withdrew. The belated landing of the Pretender couldn't retrieve things, and the leaders of the rising fled ingloriously to France.

The 1715 was like no other Jacobite rising since Killiecrankie. It was totally indigenous to Britain and not started from abroad. It was also the only occasion when a sizeable rebellion also broke out in England - in heavily Catholic and financially broke Lancashire.

The moment had passed, however, and the exiled Stuarts now became no more than useful pawns in foreign hands. The next European power to play the Jacobite card was Spain in 1719.

Unluckily for the Spanish, their main invasion fleet was destroyed by a storm before it ever set sail for England. Only a tiny diversionary force made it to the north-west of Scotland. There they garrisoned the ancient fortress of Eilean Donan but were scattered by the energetic response of the local Hanoverian commander at the battle of Glen Shiel.

Lowland Scotland had settled down under a Hanoverian regime, which though sometimes unloved, did not move it to outright revolt. Faced with the Stuart association with foreign enemies, most Scots preferred to keep a hold of their Hanoverian nurse 'for fear of finding something worse'. But what George II and his ministers could not inspire was enthusiasm, and this was to prove near-calamitous when the Jacobite card was played again.

The '45 Rebellion

Engraving showing the Duke of Cumberland
Engraving of the Duke of Cumberland who defeated the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden  ©

After major French invasion plans collapsed in 1744, Charles Edward Stuart put together his own tiny invasion force to land in Scotland. The Prince came without the men, money and guns that he had been expressly told that he needed. Instead, he brought himself and his unassailable self-belief.

Guaranteed by Charles that he would be compensated if the rising failed, the Chief of Clan Cameron committed his people to the cause. In this case, the support of a few key western clans was crucial to the rising. Without them, the Jacobite standard could never have been raised: with them, the '45 was begun.

The rebellion had remarkable initial success. Many Hanoverian troops had been withdrawn to fight the regime's wars abroad, and only a handful remained to defend Scotland. This, plus the general reluctance of the population to martyr themselves for George II, allowed Charles to occupy Edinburgh virtually unopposed.

In a move to whip up popular support, he decreed the Union to be abolished. Meanwhile, the government forces under General Cope appeared belatedly to take him on. They were surprised by the Jacobite army at the battle of Prestonpans and torn apart, according to one observer in the space of 'seven or eight minutes'.

Drawing of the execution of the rebel lords in 1746
Execution of the rebel lords at Tower Hill in 1746  ©

The Jacobite army now possessed Scotland. There was nothing to stop them marching into England - but was this a wise decision?

Charles Edward assured his commanders that his loyal English subjects would join them, and that massive French military aid would be forthcoming. It soon turned out that the Prince's promises were mostly empty.

The Jacobite army was in danger of being cut off from Scotland and massacred. At Derby, his military council forced a retreat. The decision sowed discord between the prince and his most gifted commander, Lord George Murray. Murray managed to carry off a successful retreat to Scotland, and then to win the battle of Falkirk against superior government forces. Little gratitude he got, however.

Finished Cause

Battle of Culloden - a contemporary coloured print giving an artists impression
Battle of Culloden - a contemporary coloured print giving an artist's impression of the battle  ©

At Culloden, the fruits of Charles's rancour with Murray appeared. After the failure of a surprise night-attack on the government forces, the Prince insisted on taking command.

He chose to give battle on the most unsuitable terrain possible for a Highland charge. Hanoverian artillery cut the Jacobite troops to pieces, and Culloden was a slaughter. The prince became the hunted fugitive in the heather, so well known to romantic legend.

Ironically, the savage government repression after Culloden was as unnecessary as it was brutal. Many former Jacobites were only too willing to seek terms with the State.

Within a relatively short time a large number of them were to be found serving the Hanoverians in a military capacity abroad. Jacobitism had been exposed by the '45 as no longer militarily viable. With the exception of a few half-hearted plots, it continued withering away.

The Bonnie Prince died, a sad old drunkard, in Florence. His brother Cardinal Henry, later effectively recognised the Hanoverians, although theoretically he maintained his own claim to the throne. Eventually admiration for Jacobitism was adopted, along with tartan, by the Hanoverians themselves as part of a general nostalgia for the good old days. There could be no more telling comment on the decease of Jacobitism as a political force.