- Outlander -‘Outlander’s Duncan LaCroix Reflects On 7 Memorable Murtagh Moments
Warning: this articles contains spoilers for Outlander Seasons 1-5.
It's never easy when you're forced to say goodbye to one of your favorite characters in a book, and it's even worse when you have to say goodbye twice, when that character is then again killed off in the TV show adaptation. Outlander fans know this pain all too well, having witnessed Murtagh FitzGibbons Fraser's demise in Diana Gabaldon's third book of the series, and then later, in Season 5 of the television show. Thankfully, though, actor Duncan LaCroix is willing and able to keep beloved Murtagh's memory alive.
Over the phone, LaCroix tells me he's languishing in rainy Glasgow, which seems like a very fitting mood and backdrop for a time-travel back to happier times when Murtagh was still on the show, delivering excellent one-liners and suspicious eyebrow raises.
The British LaCroix played the Scottish Highlander Murtagh for five seasons on the hit series before having to whisper his last dying line to Sam Heughan's Jamie, "Dinna be afraid, a bhalaich. It doesna hurt a bit to die." Even though we got 25 more years of Murtagh's life story in the show versus the book (where he died back in the Battle of Culloden), it still stung to see him go.
Now it's time we go back and pay homage to one of Outlander's greatest. Below, LaCroix reflects on the character's better days and some of Murtagh's most memorable Outlander moments.
Season 1, Episode 7: "The Wedding"
In this episode, Murtagh talks to Jamie about marrying Claire and displays his soft side when referencing his unrequited love for Jamie's mother, Ellen.
"That was my first big scene," LaCroix tells me.
"It was the first scene where I felt I got to show some depth to the character. Previous to that, I didn't get the feeling that people really knew who that character was, that the relationship between Jamie and Murtagh wasn't really made clear in the few episodes running up to that. You got to see a little bit more depth. You got to see the relationship. You got to see that he had that lost love with Ellen, that book fans would have known about."
Up until this episode, show watchers who hadn't read the books would have only known that Murtagh was a gruff Highlander who was fiercely protective of Jamie, and weren't aware of the gooey sentimentality behind his loyalty.
"I think it's the first scene where I proved to the producers that I could act a bit as well. That was a real turning point for me. Because after that, they started to write a bit more for me. So yeah, that was a huge, huge scene for me ... it was a bit of a game changer for the character."
Season 1, Episode 14: "The Search"
Murtagh and Claire tour the Scottish countryside as an unlikely performance pair in hopes of luring a captured Jamie to their location.
"We had a great production assistant — a writer's assistant — called Marina Campbell who actually was a Highland dancer. [She] taught me this little dance to the point where I was quite reasonable at it and then it [became] a deconstructed sort of dance which I got to do on several occasions outside with vegetables pelted at me. Yeah, lots of vegetables were pelted at me that day..."
It's this episode where Claire and Murtagh's bond is solidified with LaCroix telling TVLine in 2016 that, "The search cemented their friendship." Who knew all it would take was a road trip rescue mission, a sack of rotten vegetables, a bizarre rendition of the "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," and some dance moves to bring these two together?
"[It was] quite exhausting 'cause I was just leaping around for about seven hours but, yeah it was a lot of fun. It was just me and the extras, the SAs [supporting artists], with loads of vegetables, so fun all around. ... They took great relish in pelting me. Even before action was called they started throwing vegetables at me."
No vegetable relish pun intended.
Season 2, Episode 2: "Not in Scotland Anymore"
Murtagh may be unimpressed with the French when the gang relocates to Paris, but he can't take his eyes off Madame Nesle de la Tourelle [Kimberly Smart] in her scandalous swan dress at Versailles.
"Oh my god. [Smart] was just a poor, poor girl. What I loved about Season 2 is lovely little comic moments that you could put in. That was definitely one of them. We had such a lavish set [and] so many incredible costumes designed by Terry [Dresbach]. ... But yeah, couldn't take my eyes away really. Dirty Murtagh, that's what we call him."
Dresbach told VanityFair.com in 2016 that designing the swan dress (which they called "the nipple dress" behind the scenes) was a challenge, and when Smart walked on set, "Everyone's head turned, not just on camera but behind the camera. Everybody was like, 'Oh my God, what is that?' Because a lot of the on-set crew is not reading the books. The fourth grip is not necessarily attuned to the ins and outs of what the story is requiring, so pierced nipples are a bit distracting."
Murtagh was in good company.
Season 2, Episode 6: "Best Laid Schemes..."
Murtagh finally learns the truth about Claire's time-traveling ways — and shows Jamie exactly how he feels about being lied to this whole time.
"It's always easy to play scenes with Sam [Heughan] when it's just a one-on-one situation," LaCroix tells me. "[But] that was a strange one to get my head around actually — trying to place yourself in an 18th-century mind that's just been told that someone's a time traveler. Up to that moment, the time travel thing didn't really come into the scenes [the Highlander actors] were playing in. We weren't aware of it and it was easy enough to forget that it was kind of a time-travel show."
How does Murtagh react to the news? By hitting Jamie in the face, of course. Sure, he might have been more understanding than expected, but he wasn't going to let his godson get away with lying to him this whole time.
"To us, Claire was just this strange Sassenach person that we didn't know whether to quite trust. But then Murtagh, obviously, he quite saw something in her straightaway, which endeared him to the fans. ... [This scene is] another reason why Murtagh endeared himself to the fans — because he's another one that's in the know dramatically. He's in that circle of trust. It's the three of them then that are in the plot from then on to try and stop Culloden happening."
Murtagh never learns Claire is a time traveler in the books. So by including him in this trust tree, Murtagh officially became the most significant character on the TV series behind Jamie and Claire. And from here on out, it's going to take some force majeure events (wars, time travel, etc.) to tear this trio apart.
Season 2, Episode 11: "Vengeance Is Mine"
Murtagh beheads the Duke of Sandringham [Simon Callow], fulfilling his promise to avenge the attack on Claire and Mary Hawkins [Rosie Day] in Paris in this episode written by Gabaldon.
"I put myself in such a psycho mood for that ... Originally, it was written in Gaelic, this Gaelic curse that I come out with as I'm approaching him with the ax. I think they wanted to cut that out, but I kept it in to keep the violence going."
Murtagh's Gaelic speech (which Caitriona Balfe regrettably confirmed was cut to The Hollywood Reporter) had an Inigo Montoya-vibe, per an interview LaCroix gave to Access Hollywood at the time. (The British LaCroix doesn't actually speak Gaelic and told Access Hollywood in a previous interview that he learned it from Outlander's Gaelic coach. )
"I was working myself up, going outside listening to gangsta rap on headphones and then Simon [Callow] would go, 'Just go for it, go for it,' [and] push me around," he says.
LaCroix says that Callow (perhaps best known stateside for Four Weddings and a Funeral) is an actor he always admired, so cutting off his head was "such a surreal moment."
"At the end of the day, [Callow] turned around to someone in makeup and Sam — Sam's an awful gentleman, he was helping me out between takes — [and said], 'I think that Duncan's a psychopath.'"
"It was such a dramatic moment, I just went for it. What I wanted was that real look behind the eyes that he — as much as we like Murtagh — he is of that ilk of the clansman that is capable of complete violence," he says.
"When you do a lot of researching, reading up about those actual guys, they were pretty terrifying human beings."
Season 4, Episode 5: "Savages"
Murtagh, who is working as a blacksmith in North Carolina, unexpectedly reunites with Jamie for the first time since Ardsmuir Prison decades earlier.
"That's such a huge moment. It was the first time I was back on set as well after a long, long layoff since I wasn't really involved in Season 3 that much other than briefly in the prison. It was kind of getting my feet under myself again on set [and] the first time with gray hair — [to] see if the wig worked, the new look. So it was being reunited with the show and Sam as an actor as well," LaCroix says.
"I just tried to concentrate on little things, like the blacksmithing, and let the scene play out naturally. It seemed to work really well. I think it's one of those things that is just between [Heughan and me] — that on-screen chemistry. ... I was really happy with the result."
Too bad Young Ian and Jamie weren't happy with Murtagh's blacksmith prices.
Season 5, Episode 7: "The Ballad of Roger Mac"
Although he outlived his book counterpart, death finally comes for Murtagh when he leads the Regulators at the Battle of Alamance.
"I was trying to concentrate on some kind of physical realism and what it'd be like to be shot and the shock to the body," he explains. "I don't know if it worked or not. I haven't even actually seen it yet myself because I try and put a bit of distance between doing the show and leave a couple years and then look back on work. I find it difficult to look at myself objectively unless there's a gap."
Book readers only got to hear Jamie recollect Murtagh's death after the fact in Voyager. But the TV series gives viewers the chance to be there with the kinsmen when they say goodbye in real time.
"That scene's just Sam's scene really. It's all played on his emotion, his reaction, what Murtagh means to him. Also, scenes like that, when you've been playing a character for so long and the audience has been attached to a character so long, it's generally that the audience [does] most of the work, if you know what I mean. You don't have to do too much for the audience to react so strongly to a character that they've been watching [for years]. It was just a conglomeration of everything working together."
His character may not be on the show anymore, but LaCroix is still hanging with his former castmates (he recently posted photos of him hiking with Brianna actor Sophie Skelton).
And even though he doesn't like to watch himself on screen when episodes initially drop, LaCroix says he "of course" will keep watching the show — now, simply as a fan — and he's already formulating a plan to binge the episodes he's not caught up on. "I want to find out what happens," LaCroix says. "In the very first episode with the ghost standing under the window in Inverness with Claire before she travels back — I want to find out how that happened, like everyone else. So yeah, I'll be watching away."
As for Murtagh ever popping up again after his 1960s appearance in the Outlander Season 5 finale, the actor doesn't rule it out but states he's satisfied with where his character's story ended.
"I don't know. Maybe down the line if there's a call for it," LaCroix says. "But I think he's probably best left where he is now. He's had his day in the sun and he's up there in Castle Leoch in the sky frolicking around with the other [Highlanders], like Angus, and Rupert, and Dougal." Said like a true Scottish Highlander.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Outlander Season 5 is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital.