Richard Rankin on Quality Acting in the Era of Peak TV

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Photo Source: Illustration: Nathan Arizona/Photo: Shutterstock

“Everything’s quite domestic at the moment,” says Richard Rankin. He’s embracing the calm before the storm that is filming Season 4 of the historical time travel drama “Outlander.” The Scottish actor plays Roger Wakefield, a professor at Oxford who helps reveal the time travel narrative. Before Season 3’s premiere on Starz, Rankin discussed his must-watch TV picks and acting for an international audience.

What has working on “Outlander” added to your acting skills?
There’s a lot of expectation on “Outlander,” especially for Roger. You need to bring a bag of tricks along with that. That’s a part of learning and developing your craft. You just have to put in the work. Drama school is important over here, reading a lot of books on acting, learning from other actors. I like to take something from every job that I do and I appreciate every actor’s process. For younger actors, just packing up every little bit of experience you have, even if you’re just getting technically involved. Crew these things. I still do that. If I don’t have projects on the go, I’ll be an assistant director. Getting involved always improves you as an actor. Having appreciation for everything that goes into a production is valuable as well.

READ: The ‘Outlander’ Men on Auditions and Adaptations

What advice would you give your younger self?
I would be telling myself to work on various skills that I now have that I could’ve had earlier: accent work, horse riding, I was always pretty adept at stage combat. I could’ve taken it more seriously. All of the things that count towards your versatility as an actor.

Other than those you just mentioned, do you have any other special skills on your résumé?
I think I have the core set skills for actors: Stage combat, horse riding. I think I have ice hockey on my CV. I used to play ice hockey when I was younger. It’s nothing that’s ever came to any use—not yet! I did a lot of martial arts when I was younger. Again, I haven’t used it but that’s not to say it won’t come up.

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You could audition for a hockey-playing martial artist.
[Laughs] Ice hockey–playing kickboxer! That hasn’t been done!

What advice would you have for those looking to be actors internationally?
That’s not something that intentionally drives me. For me, it was always about doing good work. There’s always great work to be had here in the U.K. It was almost indirectly that I’m on the international scene. It’s a massive bonus and it broadens my scope and it’s great for opening doors. If I get an offer to work in the States, then brilliant. But for me, it’s important to focus on doing quality work rather than going to Hollywood.

That’s kind of the beauty of the TV industry currently, so many shows are shooting all over the world. TV is changing.
It’s shifting massively not only in the production side of it but how it’s watched. No one says, “Oh no, I have to be home in 15 minutes for that show that I watch every Tuesday at 9 o’clock.” People tend to watch catch up or on demand or an entire season in a day.

Is there a show or movie that you’re loving that you think every actor should see?
There’s so many! I just finished watching “Orange Is the New Black.” That’s such a great ensemble that it’s a bit of an acting masterclass. “House of Cards”—I love Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. If you want to watch how it’s done, to give the subtle nuance performance, you don’t get much better than Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.

How does it feel to be a part of this great TV world?
It’s great! Especially to be a part of something that’s starting to get to its height. “Outlander” is a great story, but it’s just exploded, it seems to be everywhere. It's always nice when you go on Amazon Prime and the main banner on the homepage is “Outlander”; it's exciting.

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