'Outlander' Postmortem: Lauren Lyle analyzes Marsali's relationships with Fergus, Jamie, and Claire

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Lauren Lyle as Marsali and César Domboy as Fergus in ‘Outlander’ (Photo: Starz)

Warning: This interview contains spoilers for the “Heaven and Earth” episode of Outlander.

Here’s how you know that Nell Hudson and Lauren Lyle are perfectly cast as Outlander‘s mother and daughter team of Laoghaire and Marsali, respectively. Even in real life, they’re each other’s biggest fans. Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment recently, Hudson called her on-screen daughter “awesome,” and now Lyle is returning the compliment. “She’s amazing,” the British actress says of Hudson. “When we first met, we laughed because we look so similar.”

Of course, the striking resemblance between the two wasn’t the sole reason that Lyle landed the role of Laoghaire’s eldest child. “It was more the attitude,” Lyle says. “Matthew [Roberts, one of Outlander‘s executive producers] told me that the minute I left the audition they were like, ‘That’s it, we found her.’ The resemblance is an extra bonus on top of everything else!”

In another case of like mother, like daughter, Marsila is currently none too happy with lovers Jamie and Claire Fraser, whose happy reunion none-too-happily ended Jamie’s admittedly strained marriage to her mom. But she’s keeping it all in the family, after a fashion. Jamie’s no longer her adopted father figure — he’s now her adopted father-in-law. Having carried on a secret romance with Fergus, the boy Jamie helped raise to adulthood, the two arranged a hasty marriage before stepping aboard the Jamaica-bound ship ferrying the elder Frasers in their pursuit of Young Ian. It was so hasty that Jamie, for one, doesn’t consider it legitimate, although as we saw in tonight’s episode, he was willing to overlook that detail if the lovers agreed to help him out of a jam.

We spoke with Lyle about the ways in which Marsali is — and isn’t — like her mother, and whether she and Claire are destined to be friends… and maybe even family.

When I spoke with your onscreen mom, Nell Hudson, I asked if she felt that, other failings aside, Laoghaire was at least a good mother to Marsali and Joan. Do you imagine her a strong maternal presence?
Nell and I discussed that a little bit. Laoghaire has been married a couple of times; she had one husband that she had me with and another that she had my sister with. When he died, she brought the kids up on her own until marrying Jamie. But Jamie hasn’t really been around; he’s been in and out, and a bit of a ghost since Claire left, so he’s not really a father figure to Marsali. Laoghaire has had to be very, very strong, because she’s had no other option except to bring up these two girls alone. Marsali’s loyalties definitely lie with her mother over anyone else.

Nell also told me that family dinner with the four of them would have been a lot of Laoghaire talking at Jamie. What do you think their dinners might have looked like?  
I think it would be very female dominated! [Laughs] Jamie wouldn’t have been allowed much of a say. Maybe Laoghaire would have come up with the recipe, and Jamie would cook. He wouldn’t get to make any decisions at all. Marsali would probably be the one to make the decisions. As the first born, she’s the miracle child, so Laoghaire loves her and would let her take the reins from time to time.

Since he’s not a father figure, what is Jamie to Marsali now?
Marsali sees him as a convenience more than anything else; she’s never seen him as someone she has to get permission from. I think Fergus’s loyalties like with Jamie more than hers do! When the girls were younger, Jamie was good fun, but he and Marsali haven’t developed much of a relationship as she’s gotten older. Especially after finding out about Claire, everything falls to pieces in terms of how she perceives him. What’s funny is that Sam [Heughan] and I have a great relationship on set! He makes me laugh, and we’re probably the ones that mess around the most. So to have to be harsh and brittle with each other is strange.

I was kind of on Laoghaire’s side when she discovered that Jamie hadn’t told Claire about his “other wife.” He didn’t come off looking too good with the way he handled the situation.
Yeah, I think it’s great because it was his choice, wasn’t it? No one forced him to marry Laoghaire. He was in a dark place and saw a little light with Marsali and Joan, so I think that’s what drew him in. He also realized that Laoghaire had changed a little bit by then, and they could maybe be a kind of support for each other. So he was never forced to marry her, but he had a responsibility and he had to honor it. Which I think he does, especially with Marsali. He honors his role in her life, and tries to be responsible for her and doesn’t cast her away by any means, which is good.

We don’t really get the backstory of how Marsali and Fergus’s romance started. Did you and César Domboy come up with a history for them?
I think we decided that they’d grown up around each other; they live in the same area, so they’d see each other a lot, and since she’s younger, it would have been Marsali looking toward Fergus. So it happened over time, and we thought of them as a well-balanced unit. Marsali in no way conforms to the century’s norms, and Fergus has had a colorful life as well, so they find each other. César and I didn’t meet until we did the first read-through, so we tried to form a relationship outside of the show. When we were in South Africa [where the shipboard sequences were shot], we hung out a lot and became good mates that way. That really helped on set, because having chemistry as friends meant that we were comfortable with each other.

Marsali and Fergus could have gotten Jamie’s blessing for their marriage had they agreed to free him from the ship’s prison, but they end up not going through with it. What was the significance of that choice to you?
It shows that they’re adults. They’ve already made this huge decision to leave Scotland and run away together, so at this point it’s about growing up and making a mature decision that they feel is best for everyone involved, including themselves. Marsali knows the dangers of letting Fergus do what he wants, because that can impact their relationship and leave her alone. It’s also a moment where they have to think of their relationship as being something more serious than just a fling. They want to be together for the rest of their lives, and this decision could really impact that. So you see a whole new layer to who they are at this stage in life, and the tendencies you’ll see more of as the series goes on.

Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser in ‘Outlander’ (Photo: Starz)

They do take the idea of matrimony seriously. Is that maybe a reaction to what Marsali has seen growing up?
I think so. It’s also about making [their relationship] legitimate in everyone else’s eyes; people haven’t been taking them seriously up to this point — they’ve gotten the impression that it’s just a fling and they’ll be over it in time. But they really do mean this, it’s not just a little bit of fun. Marsali isn’t particularly educated, and comes from a tiny place. Now she’s headed into something completely unknown, and Fergus is all she’s got. And she’s all he’s got!

She claims not to care about Fergus’s previous romantic history, but is there a part of her that’s bothered by it at all?
How César and I discussed it is that the two of them have no secrets. She knows about his past. Part of me thinks she does just move on from it. He’s dedicated himself to her, and hasn’t done anything but be with her. He also doesn’t treat her the way he’s treated anyone else; she’s something completely different to him, and his behavior alters when he’s around her. She’s too much of a force for him to let go of, and I think she’s quite confident in the way he feels for her. So she doesn’t let it eat away at her; since being with him, she’s had no reason to feel that way.

Do you think Marsali had romantic interests prior to Fergus, or has he always been the one?
I think there have definitely been people she’s attracted to and flirted with. But I don’t think she’s been with anyone else or certainly slept with anyone else. She’s 18 and hasn’t seen much of the world or seen other men. Fergus is someone she’s known for a long time and has probably loved for quite a while. So he’s the one, I think. There’s no one else in competition.

It’s fun to see how Claire and Marsali are both more at ease on the open water than either Fergus or Jamie.
They’re also the only two women on the ship, so that alone takes a lot of confidence. It was important to me for Marsali to be comfortable, cool and able. So often you see women onscreen who are depicted as being weaker or finding everything hard. These women don’t feel that way, and take to sailing quite naturally. Marsali has lived on a farm, is a hard worker and has no issues with adventure in any way. This is just another adventure she sails onto… pardon the pun! [Laughs]

You filmed those sequences on ships previously used by the Starz show Black Sails. Did those environments help you get into the spirit of 18th century seafaring?
Oh yeah, 100 percent. They were proper, big, functioning machines, and when you got onto them, they would gimbal and whip you around as ships would in the water. At times that could make you a little seasick! Claire and Marsali have come from Scotland, so they have layers and layers of clothing on. So the heat of South Africa really helped, because that was how we were supposed to feel. There were times when I’d be in costume, the sun was beating down, and I thought I was going to die! And that’s probably quite accurate; they wouldn’t have been comfortable on the ship. There was minimal crew on the boats as well, and the actors could do all the activities with the ropes and stuff. The scale of it was vast.

Marsali and Claire are at odds now, but it’s clear that the two of them are alike in many ways.
Caitriona [Balfe] and I had a lot of discussions about whether Claire was a mother figure, and the fact that she’s missing Brianna. But Marsali’s not her daughter; that’s not what we were going for. Marsali sees a real edge to Claire that she also sees in herself. Other than her own mother, she hasn’t seen many other women that have that edge. She sees Claire as someone who is quite intimidating at times, and demands respect. Obviously, Marsali doesn’t want to give her that because of how her mother feels about her, but she’s drawn to Claire’s views of the world and her smarts. She’s seen a lot and Marsali also wants to see a lot. I think that’s why they clash and, eventually, why they bond. You’ll get a glimpse of the beautiful relationship forming between them in the next episode. It becomes about putting old arguments aside and understanding each other. Marsali’s got a lot to learn and Claire teaches her.

Is it fair to say that these four become a family by the time the season ends?
For sure — we become a team. In Episode 12, there’s a big Governor’s ball and some very dramatic things happen there. I think that’s when Jamie and Claire know they can start trusting Marsali and Fergus when they need help. A family and a unit really does happen, and you’ll see it. It’s really cool if you compare Marsali from where she starts to where she ends up. There’s a really nice moment at the end of the season between her and Claire that shows they’ve gone full circle.

Outlander airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.

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