In Sunday’s episode of Outlander, Jamie (Sam Heughan) is blackmailed into having sex with Geneva Dunsany (Hannah James), a young virgin who is betrothed to an older man she does not love (much less like). EW talked with James about her action-packed episode and what it was like to film such a heavy and emotional sex scene. “It as one of the most bizarre Thanksgivings I have ever had in my life,” James admits, looking back.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you first got the script, was there a note at the beginning that said, “you’re not to look happy ever until you are in a scene with Sam Heughan?”
HANNAH JAMES: [Laughs] No it didn’t say that. I actually got the breakdown and I didn’t get the script until I accepted the role and I was in London getting my hair done. I read the script at the hair salon. I remember just sitting there and my jaw dropping when I got to the love scene. I was like, “Oh my God, what have I done.” With that said, it was a dream come true and I couldn’t have been happier.
You rode side saddle in that one scene with Sam! Have you ever done that before?
No, I haven’t. I was told when I was auditioning for the role that there was an asterisk at the bottom of the email that said, “Don’t even audition for this role if you can’t ride horses”‘ I haven’t ridden a horse since I was about 12 years old. So I was like, “Don’t tell anyone. I can absolutely ride. Pretend it’s totally fine.” When you are an actor, if somebody asks you if you can do something, you absolutely can. I told my agent, “Yeah, I grew up on a farm. I’ve been riding for years.” I thought it would be totally fine. When I got to set, I was trying on costumes, and they said “so your riding assessment is tomorrow.” I was like, “I’m being tested?” I was a little terrified, but it was totally fine. We rode astride for a little while and then switched over to side saddle. One leg became very sore because you are using one more than the other. But it was so much fun. When we filmed that scene, they had a hard time getting me off the horse. They were, “Hannah? You have to come down now.”
Was that you who Sam dropped in the muddy water or was it a stunt double?
They were going to offer me a stunt double for side saddle had I not been able to do it, but I was very adamant — I wanted to do my own horseback riding. I’m quite stubborn if I’m honest. I did all riding. When it was a big fall, the stunt double did it because she knew how to fall safely. She was in Sam’s arms and she dropped from there. But what he and I did, I would literally just drop down my face into the mud. We would do several takes where I’m literally just lying there, sitting in this mud puddle, and they would go, “Face in the mud, Hannah!” And I would have to float into the mud. It was everywhere. It got all into my mouth, into my hair, my eyes. Those were honest laughs we were having throughout the whole thing.
Let’s talk about the most important scene of the episode. Why do you think Jamie said to Geneva, “You can watch me if you like?” He didn’t want to be there, after all.
I think the from my perspective, Jamie knew it was a big moment for Geneva. Aside from what other people think, yes … she brought him to her bed chamber against his own will. But he does decide to go there and do this and follow through, even though he is blackmailed to do it. When he gets there, there is an intimacy that comes into the scene and the situation. He does caring things because these are things that she’ll not ever get to do with someone she cares about, loves, even wants to do it with. So there is a softening in Jamie that comes in, and it also allows Geneva to let her down her guard, to be vulnerable and to be human.
There is so much to interpret from this intimate scene. What’s the right answer? Did she really want one last dash of enjoyment before marrying the old man or did she want to get back at her father and her old man?
I don’t think there’s any vengeance or revenge in it because nobody is going to know. It’s not she’s going to tell her dad that “I slept with the groomsman, by the way.” I think it is for herself. She knows that she’ll never be with a man that she truly loves and wants to sleep with. She has no control in her own life, and Jamie is someone, through her manipulation, which is completely wrong, she’s able to connect with someone who she would in another lifetime, in another world, want to be with. So I don’t see revenge in it toward her father. I don’t think it’s in a spiteful way to hurt other people. It’s selfish. She’s very selfish in doing it.
Since Sunday’s episode, there’s been a lot of discussion on social media about the scene and whether it was a case of rape — as in, Geneva raping Jamie. What do you think?
I never felt like he was raped. I understand other people’s opinion and where they are coming in on it. The way the scene went for us, and the way Toni Graphia wrote it so it is a mutual understanding … yes, I had blackmailed him into coming into my room, but he came of his own free will. There is that softening with, “you can watch me undress.” He never had to do that. There is that part where they are coming close and she says, “I don’t know what to do.” and he says, “We don’t have to go through with this.” I feel like the power or the roles reverse a bit and they come onto even ground where she knows that he is giving her something that she wants and can never have, and maybe she’s giving him something he’s missed for such a long time.
You mentioned Toni’s writing. One thing book readers have brought up is how there is one moment when Geneva asked Jamie to stop but he continued. Was that ever in the script?
It was never in the script. And I was so thrilled when I came across that.
Maybe I’m projecting here, but I can’t imagine a more intimidating thing than having to come in, do a nude sex scene with a stranger, get killed off, and then boom, you’re gone!
It’s quite an art. Blackmail a beautiful man, sleep with him, have his child and die. Oh and ride side saddle, by the way.
How long did all of this take, by the way? Was it all done in the course of a week?
If they had done it all back to back, we could have done it all in a week. But it was all spread out because of scheduling and locations and slipping back and forth between time periods. So I went over earlier to do some costumes fittings … I had one of the biggest wardrobes for that episode. I had so many dresses, and they are all so beautiful. And then also I had to make sure I could ride side saddle. We did that sex scene on Nov. 24 and I wrapped the day after. So it was spread out for me over a month.
Were you intimidated by the role at all?
Intimidated? I don’t know, I wasn’t really intimidated by it. I was so excited and really thrilled that even such a small role could have such an arc. It was a lot to bite off and chew on. That was a real gift as an actor to go in on such a beautiful show and have a guest starring role that really had a life that I could pluck from the pages and make a full performance out of it. I don’t think that happens very often, so that was a huge kudos to Toni for making it happen for me. And Sam is such a giving actor as well. I’ve said this so many times. He is so grounded, so down to earth, that any time there was too much going on, he was honestly the person I would just focus on … which I think most people would be like, oh my God, how do you even look at him and not freak out? He was, honestly a focal point. Like, “Okay, we’re fine. We can totally do this.”
Did you get a big hug from Sam when it was all over?
Yeah pretty much. It was so bizarre. The first 10 minutes of it, I was very, very nervous. And then when we got to set… they say it’s a closed set, but that’s such a lie because there are still loads of people around. I looked at him and I just started laughing. The room is so tense and I feel like everyone else around us is way more tense than we are. We thought everyone just needed to have a good laugh, and then we take our clothes off and go into this and just get through it. It was totally fine. By the end of the day, it felt very normal to be laying there in a bed naked, which is totally bizarre. Just one of those things. It was one of the most bizarre Thanksgivings I have ever had in my life.
There was such a jarring time-jump from your bedroom scene to you being pregnant. Were there additional scenes that were shot but were cut?
It was always the way it was laid out. I would have loved to have her have a bit more of a life. We could have absolutely stretched her story out over a couple of episodes. But I think that story, I think they didn’t want to make it too much of a big deal. There was the controversy around it, anyway. And I think honestly, everyone wants to get back to Claire and Jamie together.
You didn’t even get a dramatic death scene! Any chance that was shot?
I would have loved to do a death scene! My God, it would have been amazing. But I think production wise, a birthing scene is such a big deal and not an easy task to pull off.
What is next for you? Is Mercy Street going for another season?
Mercy Street ended. It was a miniseries. When I graduated from drama school I came to L.A. and did my first pilot scene. In my third month, I booked Mercy Street, which was just a miniseries, but people loved the first one so we made second season which was only six episodes. I was ready to move onto my next thing. I did Outlander and now I’m in the mix for several different roles.
I hope playing Geneva makes a huge difference for your career.
I could not have anticipated or wished for a sweeter response from everyone. Those fans are crazy but wonderful. They are wholehearted and lovely, and I was completely overwhelmed by everyone. It was an absolute honor, and I was humbled by it!
Outlander airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on Starz.
|Available For Streaming On|