COVER STORY

From Glas­gow tear­away to Out­lander pin-up: the rise of Richard Rankin

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS -

OVER the next hour Richard Rankin will talk astro­physics, bis­cuits, spoof Twit­ter ac­counts, boy band as­pi­ra­tions, swap­ping IT for act­ing and the time Elaine C Smith saw him naked. Buckle up … The Glas­gow-born star of hit US tele­vi­sion drama Out­lander does a rapid-fire line in witty anec­dotes. When we meet at the Soho Ho­tel in Lon­don, Rankin is in gre­gar­i­ous mood. There is a mis­chievous twin­kle in his eye and it doesn’t take long for us to go roar­ing off-piste.

First, though, there’s his role in Out­lander to chat about. Rankin plays Roger Wake­field, an Ox­ford pro­fes­sor and the adopted son of an In­ver­ness min­is­ter, who finds him­self un­wit­tingly em­broiled in a time-trav­el­ling ad­ven­ture.

Based on the best­selling books of Diana Ga­bal­don, the show has gar­nered mil­lions of fans and made its cast into house­hold names around the world.

Out­lander cen­tres on for­mer Sec­ond World War nurse Claire Ran­dall who, dur­ing a sec­ond honeymoon to Scot­land with her hus­band Frank in 1945, is trans­ported back to 1743 through a mys­te­ri­ous set of stand­ing stones. It is there, on the brink of the last Ja­co­bite ris­ing, she meets High­lander Jamie Fraser and a love story be­gins. The third series, shot largely around Scot­land, will air on Ama­zon Prime Video from next Mon­day.

Rankin joined the cast in late 2015 af­ter al­most 18 months of fever­ish spec­u­la­tion. Other names in the frame to play Roger re­port­edly in­cluded Down­ton Abbey’s Matthew Goode and for­mer Game of Thrones stars Gethin An­thony and Richard Mad­den. “Cast­ing was thor­ough to say the least,” says Rankin. “It is the most thor­ough cast­ing I have done on any­thing. They had me in time and again with dif­fer­ent ma­te­rial and ideas for the char­ac­ter. They were very clear about what they wanted.”

From the out­set Rankin, 34, was a firm favourite among many Out­lander afi­ciona­dos who lob­bied pas­sion­ately for him to get the role.

“Even from be­fore I was cast I was one of their choices as Roger for a long time,” he says. “That was bizarre and put me in a very strange po­si­tion where I thought: ‘I hope the ex­ecs on this show don’t think I have started my own cam­paign to be cast …’”

Tes­ta­ment to his heart-throb sta­tus is the raft of trib­ute Twit­ter ac­counts that pay homage to ev­ery­thing from the ac­tor’s strik­ing blue eyes to his ma­jes­tic eye­brows.

Are there other, er, parts of his anatomy that have a fan club? “The brain.” Wait, I didn’t know you had a brain? “Ap­par­ently I do and it has got its own Twit­ter ac­count,” he dead­pans. “There is the beard – which I’m not sport­ing to­day – and other sim­i­lar ones, quite silly.”

The Out­lander fans are a pretty great bunch, he says. Even if they do have a habit of try­ing to fat­ten him up. Ac­cord­ing to his Twit­ter bio, Rankin en­joys a bis­cuit. “Here’s the thing,” he in­ter­jects. “That’s not ac­tu­ally me per­son­ally. A lot of peo­ple seem to have missed the joke.”

Do ex­plain, Richard … “It’s the char­ac­ter. Wee Roger from sea­son one gets a bis­cuit and then asks: ‘Can I have an­other bis­cuit?’

“I put ‘likes a bis­cuit’ on my Twit­ter bio and now get sent bis­cuits on an al­most daily ba­sis: short­bread, Hob­nobs, cho­co­late Hob­nobs, re­gional bis­cuits, bis­cuits from dif­fer­ent coun­tries, bis­cuits I have never heard of …”

Does Rankin eat all these bis­cuits? “Aye, now and again I’ll open a pack or two. But I do­nate a lot of bis­cuits to good causes: food banks, peo­ple, fam­ily, dogs …

“I do like a bis­cuit, but not quite to the ex­tent that these guys who are run­ning the ‘Roger likes a bis­cuit’ cam­paign think. That was a hash­tag on Twit­ter.”

Rankin glances over my shoul­der at his pub­li­cist. “I don’t want to talk too much about bis­cuits,” he laughs. “I can see Jenny look­ing at me like ‘cut the bis­cuit story short’ be­cause that is go­ing to be the head­line.”

We move swiftly on. Although by the time Rankin stops talk­ing, I have an inkling that poor Jenny may well be wish­ing he had stuck to bis­cuits.

The sec­ond el­dest of four sons, he grew up in Glas­gow. His fa­ther Colin, now re­tired, was a po­lice of­fi­cer while his mother Mar­garet con­tin­ues to work in the ho­tel in­dus­try.

Rankin spent his early child­hood in the west end, where the fam­ily had a flat on Byres Road, be­fore mov­ing to King’s Park on the south side (not Ruther­glen as Wikipedia states) when he was 10.

His par­ents had their work cut out. “It was chaos with four boys in the house,” he says. “I was al­ways run­ning away when I was younger. I was brought home by my dad’s col­leagues a cou­ple of times for run­ning off on mad ad­ven­tures.”

Where did he go? “About 300 yards. I used to run away from home be­cause that seemed a very ro­man­tic idea. I don’t even think I was par­tic­u­larly run­ning away from any­thing. I was just es­cap­ing.”

Once Rankin was found hid­ing un­der a parked car in a nearby lane. An­other time he made a break for free­dom from his pri­ma­ryschool class­room. “I had two teach­ers run­ning af­ter me,” he says. “Again, I didn’t get very far. I tripped up and hurt my knee quite badly; it was all grazed and bloody.”

As we probe deeper into his past, there are mo­ments where it feels like I’m play­ing ama­teur psy­chol­o­gist. Why did he run away? Was it about at­ten­tion? Did he do it be­cause he was bored?

“I think I was just ad­ven­tur­ous,” he shrugs. “When­ever there was any scaf­fold­ing up you could of­ten find me at the top of it – or on ten­e­ment roofs. I would climb any­thing.”

He’s not kid­ding. While try­ing to avoid a telling off from his mother for some es­capade or an­other, a young Rankin pro­duced a ma­noeu­vre that Spi­der-Man would be hard-pressed to fol­low.

“The walls in the hall of our flat were quite close to­gether,” he ex­plains. “When I was younger I used to be able to put my hands and feet on each side and climb up.”

Hav­ing shim­mied to the ceil­ing, Rankin re­mained there si­lently poised. Well, al­most si­lently. “My mum was wan­der­ing up and down the hall look­ing for me and I couldn’t help but snig­ger. When she looked up, her face had this amaz­ing mixed emo­tion of

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