I had the pleasure of interviewing James McAnerney, actor on the Outlander series. He appeared in Season three, episode 312 “The Bakra”, as Kenneth MacIver, Jamie’s cousin Jarod’s plantation overseer.
Q. Could you give us a little bio and how you got into the business?
James: I got into acting when I was at high school, when a new priest came to the school. He asked why only a small amount of the class went to mass. A brave pupil said because it's boring, the priest replied, fair enough but is there anything we could do to make it less boring? The class came up with the idea, rather than just saying the readings and the gospel, we could act it out. That was it. We acted it out and started a drama club at school. The rest is history. We were 14 years old.
Q. How did you get hired on Outlander?
James: I got hired on Outlander as, over the last five years I’ve had a few meetings with the brilliant casting director, Simone Perrier Hinde for different parts. Can you believe I was up for Dougal all those years ago? Graham McTavish is perfect and nothing like me, but because, it was a brand-new show they were looking at different options. I guess I was on their radar, so they asked me to send a tape of myself doing some of the Kenneth MacIvor scenes.
Q. How long is a typical day on set?
James: An average day on set for me was about 10 hours.
Q. Are you hired per day or told how long you are needed in advance?
James: I was hired for a period of time. A couple of weeks in Scotland then a couple of weeks in S.A
Q. Best thing about being an actor? Best day on set?
James: The best thing about being an actor is getting to do different jobs all the time with different people, whether it be theatre, TV or film. One of the best days on set was at the studio in Cape Town. We were outside, with the full-scale ship in the harbor, surrounded by about 10 cranes dangling with massive green screens, about 150 supporting artists busying about. It looked so much like a real Jamaican harbor, from all those years ago. The detail the art department goes to is unbelievable. An amazing experience.
Q. Worst thing about being an actor? Worst day on set?
James: I’ve been really lucky that I've not had any bad days on any set. The only bad thing about being an actor is the unpredictability of the next job.
Q. Are you allowed to engage with the main actors, like Sam or Cait off set?
James: In-between takes I would hang out with Sam & Cait, as most of the time it was just three of the main cast in the scenes. There was a green room for us to rest near the set. Off the set, I hung out with a few of the other of the main cast. Sam & Cait were there first thing most days and I had so much to learn I didn't really see them away from set.
Q. Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
James: In 10 years’ time I hope I'm still making a living from acting and that it has taken me to more unforgettable places and jobs.
Q. Do you have other acting jobs you’ve done or any other work you do to supplement your income?
James: If I have any gaps between acting jobs, I do DIY for friends and family. I'm your guy if you need shelving or tiling done. Jack of all trades master of none.
Q. How did it feel to work in South Africa?
James: South Africa was an amazing place to film. The studios where just outside Cape Town. They are purpose built and the faculties they have are incredible. They had 8 massive sound studios on the one location. There was an American 1950’s diner in one corner, a Second World War U-boat and the Outlander galleons in other corners. These studios clearly get used for lots of different productions. Makes me realize Scotland really needs to get its own studio.
Q. How long did your scenes take to film?
James: Each scene I was in took about two days to film. All of the scenes I was in were on location, so it always takes longer, as the crew doesn't have the controlled environment of being inside a studio.
Q. What do you do in between takes or when not filming or on a break?
James: In between takes, we would go back to the green room resting area where you would read a book, have a drink, or like most people, the first thing we would do is check our phones.
Q. Do you know in advance if you will be featured prominently in a scene?
James: You usually don't know how much of each scene they will use, and from which angle they will use in the final cut. It's just a waiting game to see if you make the cut.
Q. Do you get a copy of your episode to watch prior to it airing? How does it feel to actually see yourself in the final cut?
James: I never got to see any of the stuff we filmed before it aired, but to know you made the final cut and see the scenes come to life is a great feeling, especially when you hear it from the fans of the show, who watch every episode and know it inside out.
Q. Any funny stories or antidotes you can share with us?
James: One of the funniest days on set, was the ballroom scene. My character and his wife were in line to meet Lord John Grey. We had to do this scene many times as there was so much going on, but every time we got to Lord John at the front of the line, we had to do quiet, unscripted dialogue as the focus was on Jamie and Claire behinds us, but Dave, who plays Lord John, was always asking how much bevy my character was bringing to the ball. The amounts of bevy and the type of bevy changed every time and he would tell us what that amount of drink would do to him. You can imagine some of the answers. Very funny, but brilliant from Dave, as he kept it fresh at every take, which made our reactions genuine.
Q. Who is your favorite actor to work with in Outlander?
James: Most of my scenes where with Sam & Cait, who were both great to work with. As was Dave Berry. Gary Young who played Mr. Willoughby, off camera was a joy to be around.
Q. Can you take us through a typical day on set from beginning to end?
James: A typical day in South Africa would be, getting picked up at 5.30 am from hotel in Cape Town city center, drive the 40 minutes to the edge of town to where the studio is. Be met there by the 2nd assistant director who would take you to your trailer. Get breakfast then go to costume, wig fitting then 15 minute later, makeup. After that, transported to the exterior location within the studio grounds. Go on set, with just the main cast, director and cinematographer. Walk through the scene. The director would give me some notes, do it again, then the 1st assistant director would get all the other crew and supporting artists in their positions, ready to shoot. This would be repeated for each new scene until wrap time 10 hours later. Back to costume and make up, to get it all off, then back to hotel and repeat again tomorrow.
I want to thank James McAnerney for taking time from his busy schedule to be interviewed here. Bravo James, great acting!!
Stay tuned for the next blog in this series coming soon.