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