Outlander star Tim Downie warns that Governor Tryon is 'the devil incarnate'
Warning: This article contains spoilers from the Outlander season 5 premiere, “The Fiery Cross.”
The Frasers have faced their share of evil on Outlander — from the sadism of Black Jack Randall to the witchy ways of Geillis Duncan.
But life in the American colonies brings a host of new threats for Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan), including impending revolution and the machinations of the British ruling parties there. Back in season 4, we met Governor Tryon (Tim Downie), the head of the North Carolina province. When Jamie accepted a land grant of 10,000 acres from Tryon, he opened himself up to political blackmail, or at least an expectation that he will honor his oath and duty to the crown.
In the season 5 premiere, “The Fiery Cross,” Tryon comes to collect on that debt, at the wedding of Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and Roger (Richard Rankin), no less — finally forcing the issue of when Jamie will embark on his hunt of the fugitive/rebel Murtagh Fitzgibbons (Duncan Lacroix). Jamie is at least going to have to feign making an effort to keep his land, and perhaps even his life, because Tryon is tired of waiting for action.
Ahead of the premiere, EW caught up Downie to get a sense of what the governor has in store. Jamie has faced off against vindictive Redcoats before, but Tryon may be unlike any force he’s ever reckoned with. Below, Downie talks about why it’s good to be bad, Tryon’s weaknesses and dangers, and what lies ahead in season 5.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re set up to be the biggest threat to Jamie and Claire this season — in a way, carrying on the legacy of Black Jack Randall and Geillis. How do you feel about that? Relish it? Fear the hate a little?
TIM DOWNIE: I absolutely relish it. And actually the fans have been incredibly generous considering, for all intents and purposes, I am the devil incarnate. Being English, being a Redcoat, being slightly threatening to Jamie, I mean, all of these things will pretty much have you thrown under a bus. But they’ve been incredibly gracious and they’ve been incredibly open and welcoming into their fandom. But it is enormous fun being given that chance to play someone so Machiavellian and twisted and power-hungry. It’s great fun. Who wouldn’t relish it?
How many of the Outlander books have you read? Have you read ahead to get a taste of what Tryon gets up to down the line?
I was actually sent the first two books quite a number of years ago. So I read the first one, and I got about halfway through the second one and then took over at that time. But I hadn’t got to my character yet because he comes in in book 4. But I did do reading around his character. When I knew I had the part, I knew he was a historical figure, so I thought I’d do some reading around the character itself and find out a little bit about who he was and all those kinds of things that add nice color to it. That was fascinating… I don’t usually read ahead on anything. I usually like to experience it in the moment. So I’ll usually take things episode by episode or book by book because I wouldn’t have known where I was going. I would only know where he’s been. Then it’s a lovely surprise to go, “He does what?!”
Governor Tryon is one of the few real historical characters we interact with at length in the series. Has that been a boon to you in terms of research and perspective?
It has. Because it really planted his feet somewhere. The actions he did were real, and they have real consequences in the real world. And that’s quite exciting and not to be taken lightly. He’s had enormous ramifications for the sculpting of a new country and what happened to England after that. He is coming from money, being in a time where there was a very much of a social elite. If you weren’t a part of that, then chances are you were poor or indentured in some way. They would’ve known that, and they would’ve had a huge sense of us and them, and just not caring about anything else. When you then put that into public life, it’s incredibly potent and incredibly dangerous. You don’t know where or what a character like that will necessarily do. He looks after himself, he looks after his own, and will probably give lip service to a lot of people that are either under him or work for him. But that may be just about it. Life is very cheap to someone like that.
He’s actually been pretty patient with Jamie, all things considered. How short is his fuse going to get? How bad can we expect his demands to be?
That would be telling. Tryon is, he’s consistent, if anything. He’s been weaving a web for a long time. He’s had an end goal that he is very keen on pursuing. We’ll get there under no uncertain terms, be that standing on people or be that using people. He’s probably done it his entire life to get to where he’s got to. He’s all about himself. He’s very narcissistic. He’s endearing in some ways, but there’s a lot of more of the same. His plots and plans become more elaborate, more enthralling because the stakes become much, much higher as the series goes on, which makes it a very exciting prospect.
It seems clear he suspects Jamie is not entirely loyal. Would you say that’s fair? Does he have any inkling of the true connection between Jamie and Murtagh?
To be honest with you, I don’t think he does have an inkling about Jamie and Murtagh. He just doesn’t trust him anyway because he’s a Scot. After recent historical events, in their DNA, in their bones, they don’t trust each other. They both know what this is. They both know what each other can give. They both know what each other could take away. They play that game very stealthily and beautifully. I don’t think Tryon would’ve given it much thought. He probably would have thought, “You’re a Scot, so therefore, you’re probably a traitor anyway. So I will play that and be very cautious about things, but I can use that if I need to.” Keep your arm’s length and just see who’s gonna make the first move and what that move will be.
Jamie really makes a show of giving Tryon a Scot: donning his kilt, getting his men to swear loyalty to him. What does Tryon make of all that? Is it an annoying? Intimidating?
It’s all of those things because through all the bravado, seeing that and the memory of that and the memory of the passion and the pride, and what a Scot will do for their homeland and the defense of that, is quite chilling. That’s quite fearful. But there’s probably also a part that’s incredibly arrogant, that’s probably going, “Oh, that’s very sweet. Isn’t that lovely? They’re going to dress up.” Because he’s just very, very arrogant and probably thinks if anything happens, we’ll crush it. This is a man that runs an area of land that’s bigger than the country he came from. He’s probably told his wife, “You know, I’m king. What I say is the law.” And that changes a person — that sense of power is almost too much power.
Is there a real danger of Jamie losing his land? Would Tryon truly take it back? Can he?
Absolutely anything is possible, and that’s the danger. The excitement and the intrigue is you catch him on a bad day and he probably could just say, “Yep, it’s gone.” Or say the wrong thing or not do what he wants to do — he wouldn’t think twice about kicking people off their land and if people died, people died. I don’t think it would bother him. He would just see it as a business deal, and he would then give it to the next person that’s in line. He would purely see it along those lines; anything humanitarian wouldn’t really cross his mind. I don’t think he would do it too blasé, because he knows the Frasers and the Scots are very powerful and have a tightly knit bond, and it may cause more trouble. It may cause more trouble than it’s worth, and it may ignite something further.
Is Tryon most exclusively a danger to Jamie? Or is he a threat to the entire Fraser family?
If you’re a threat to Jamie, you’re probably a threat to everybody. I mean at the end of the day he could just take their land away, which would just push everyone out, whether they liked it or not. He would probably find Claire very useful, being a doctor. She helped his friend in the last season when he had the hernia, so he’s seen firsthand how useful something like that is and how rare in this new land. That could come into play as well in his decisions.
He’s also pretty cozy with Jocasta [Maria Doyle Kennedy], who has a secret relationship with Murtagh. Can we expect that to become an issue for him at some juncture?
I think he would purely look at that as she’s got money. He’s one of these men that is very much that if it isn’t happening either to him or for him, almost in front of him, he doesn’t really pay that much attention. He would just look at Jocasta and think money. He wouldn’t be too sharp. Too much on the ball. He would leave that to his soldiers and armies to try and find out.
This season is based on the novel The Fiery Cross, and that titular moment plays out in the premiere, which I think could be quite polarizing because of the contemporary connotations of the moment. What were your thoughts or response to it?
When I heard about it, obviously your thoughts do go to a modern interpretation of it because that’s where your modern sensibilities take you. You hear it and you think that can only mean one thing. But I think they have, especially in the first episode, they’ve dealt with it very nobly and truthfully within its original context, within the context of that historical moment and what it means. A lot of bad things come out of things that have been manipulated for their own end. It certainly has been warped by certain factions. But I thought it was dealt with very well, very beautifully, very honorably, and with a lot of knowledge as to what this means and what this signifies. I think hearing about it is probably worse in this instance. The truth of it that you see up on screen, I think, is very well done.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.