Simon Callow On Playing "Wicked" 'Outlander' Villain The Duke Of Sandringham

- Outlander -
Simon Callow On Playing "Wicked" 'Outlander' Villain The Duke Of Sandringham

When it comes to the villains of Outlander, no one schemed in style quite like the Duke of Sandringham. The not-so-secret patron of Black Jack Randall didn't often get his hands dirty, but he still caused enough trouble for Jamie and Claire that he ended up losing his head. Although he died back in a 2016 episode, The Dipp caught up with actor Simon Callow to discuss his miraculously beloved Outlander villain, the Duke of Sandringham.

Although his name is discussed a fair amount, the stage and screen actor, writer, and director only appeared as the Duke of Sandringham in five episodes. When the audience finally gets to meet Callow's duke in Season 1's "By the Pricking of My Thumbs," Claire has come to ask for his help in condemning Black Jack Randall to clear Jamie's name. While he's intrigued by this brazen woman, he's also distracted because he's writing a book — Aphorisms of the Most Worthy and Most Witty, Clarence Marylebone III, Duke of Sandringham.

Callow says these Season 1 scenes were some of his favorites of the show. "I hugely enjoyed the scenes where he was dictating his memoirs," he tells The Dipp via email. "In those early scenes, he was like a character from a Restoration comedy, outrageous, naked in his lusts and his greed." (Callow knows a thing or two about acting in Restoration comedies as he wrote a book on the subject.) As vile as he was, it was impossible not to admire a character who could threaten Claire's gorgeous neck, and within the same breath, demand his servant make note of his clever phrasing. "Later he became darker and more menacing, but in those first scenes, his pleasure in his own wickedness was wonderfully uncomplicated," Callow says.

In the 18th century Scottish Highlands, this British aristocrat was unlike any other character that Claire had encountered in the past. Callow says the costume and makeup departments were thrilled to have a man not in a kilt to dress and they "lavished their art on my outfits, my wigs, my make-up." Along with his dandy appearance, "That heightened and stylish element, and the racy dialogue, introduced a new element to the show," Callow says. "I think it was quite nice for Sam [Heughan] and Caitriona [Balfe] as well — the element of high camp."

"It was pretty bold of the writers to have introduced into this highly structured and intensely binary society a flagrant homosexual. I think that caused quite a stir among viewers," Callow adds. He previously discussed the homophobia toward his character in Season 1 to TVLine. "There were a lot of comments by the Highlanders about his perverse lust," he said. But the actor indicated his appreciation for the fact that Jamie doesn't seem offended by the duke's sexual interest in him. "He seems to rather like flirting with the duke," Callow told TVLine. "It was lovely doing those scenes with Sam. He was very playful."

There are well-founded criticisms about how the show and books depicted men who are attracted to other men as the main villains early on. (For what it's worth, Diana Gabaldon has written that Black Jack was not a homosexual, calling him an "equal-opportunity sadist," and the show toned back the duke's sexual advances on a 16-year-old Jamie.) But Callow used the duke's "element of high camp" to inject some humor into the show. Whether he was annoyed at covering up for Black Jack Randall again ("I must admit that shielding him from the consequences of his misdeeds sometimes feels like a full-time occupation, and I loathe work"), or channeling Monty Python after the MacDonald duel ("Oh, nothing to be alarmed about. Merely a scratch"), or questioning the pope's schedule ("What do popes do anyway?"), Callow's performance more than lived up to this larger-than-life character from Gabaldon's books.

When we asked The Dipp subscribers to submit questions for Callow, reader Allison wondered what was the most fun about his performance as the duke, to which Callow replies, "Being nasty, scheming, aristocratic — and funny."

Yet, all fun things must come to an end and there's no denying the duke's dark side. Although he was drawn to Jamie and Claire's looks and intelligence, he never actually valued them as people. Sure, he may pay them more attention than someone like his goddaughter Mary Hawkins, whom he deems too below him to bother with any pretenses, but he doesn't hesitate to hurt Jamie and Claire if that's what's in his best interests. "He's always attracted to the young and beautiful," Callow says. "But having no access to respect for his fellow human beings, his instinct is to destroy them — like a child with a dragonfly — capture it, then tear it apart." An apt analogy considering his death occurs in the second Outlander book, Dragonfly in Amber.


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Images: Starz

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