Graham McTavish talks 'Outlander,' 'The Hobbit' and being a secret writer before Megacon Tampa
In the past four years, Graham McTavish has been a Dwarf, an 18th century Scottish Highlander and a gun-slinging murderous cowboy.
Though the characters he plays are oftentimes ferocious warriors, he and the people he portrays have hidden passions that propel them through their missions. For his characters, it may be taking back a kingdom stolen by a dragon, restoring the Bonnie Prince Charlie to the throne of England and seeking revenge from a preacher who wronged him.
For McTavish, 55, it's writing.
The familiar face behind Dwalin (The Hobbit), Dougal MacKenzie (Outlander) and the Saint of Killers (Preacher) pulled over to the side of the road in Los Angeles to chat with the Times before coming to Megacon Tampa Bay at the Tampa Convention Center this weekend.
You've had some very diverse characters in your career; was there a favorite one or type of character you like to play?
I've had more favorite roles than not good ones.
Fortunately the Saint is not like me. I try not to slaughter an entire town whenever I can.
I really have affection for Dougal in Outlander. He's not particularly like me, but I really appreciated the complexity of the role and seeing all the different highs and lows of his character arc through two seasons.
The Hobbit was a life-changing experience. I'll be lucky if I ever do anything like the Hobbit again.
You're from Scotland yourself, so what were your favorite parts about playing a Highlander during the Jacobite Rising of 1745?
It was treat to be back home. That particular period was pivotal in Scottish history. The fact that the rebellion was crushed veered Scotland on a path that it's following to this day. (It started) a reluctant union with England going on for 300 years. And the Scottish independence vote (Sept. 18, 2014) happened during the first season. But I predict that one day Scotland will part company in the not too distance future.
Portraying that role, in the country itself at a very important time in history again, was really quite amazing.
What do you think Dougal MacKenzie's larger purpose was in the story of Jamie and Claire and then to the whole rebellion in Outlander?
I guess in many ways I felt that Dougal is an older version of Jamie, and that Jamie reminds Dougal of his own youth. What goes along with that is rivalry and jealousy. My role in their story and the story of Scotland comes to an end reasonably soon, so that'll be a very interesting transition. My character's death coincides with the Scottish defeat.
Jamie and Claire are now bonded in a way they've never been before — they're complicit in murder, they murdered his uncle. However justified they might feel, it will have a huge effect on them.
The Scottish rebellion (IRL and on the show) was intense and emotional. How did you and other actors channel that ferocity?
I've been asked that question a lot, how one emotionally connects to a role.
Especially playing someone like the Saint of Killers in Preacher, he's had this trauma in his life that switches his brain off and becomes a murdering vengeful psychopath — how do you accomplish that?
Some people wanna hear I lived in a cave in Scotland in the hills to become the character and wear a kilt all the time (to prepare for Outlander).
With every single role, it's all about telling the truth in the scene and in the story and being true to the character.
It's not exactly feeling the righteousness of your cause as that character, but really being truthful to the character without wishing to simplifying it.
And it's about play. We would often be laughing on set right up until the moment the cameras rolled. At the end of the day, it's a wonderful form of pretend. We are lucky to do that and to keep the sense of play that you have.
When doing Preacher, I watched Westerns, did riding, watched a lot of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood films. The writer of the (Preacher) comics said that character is influenced by Clint Eastwood's characters.
Tell me something about yourself your fans might not know.
I guess I'm a secret writer. Well I was always a writer. I wrote three books as a teenager; 250-page adventure novels. I've always kept a journal. It's something I've always wanted to go back to. I haven't written anything since the ‘80s.
I've been talking about writing on my experiences on The Hobbit and Outlander. They're so many things that happened on those jobs that enough people would be interested in knowing — the very intense relationships you form (on set), the strange and weird things that happen in the world of drama and TV, the combination of make-believe and terrifying reality.
In The Hobbit, it was going down a river in a barrel. We really did that. There's only so much you can fake about that experience; we were struggling for our lives to get to the shore. With Rambo (2008) it was no picnic. There were moments where you would go "oh, this could go badly wrong." Like snakes going up your leg in Thailand or getting shot at.
Graham McTavish will be at Megacon Tampa Bay Oct. 28-30. For a schedule and ticket information, visit megacontampabay.com.
Contact Chelsea Tatham at email@example.com. Follow @chelseatatham.