Fan Forum Hero
Joined: Nov 2002
|Meet ‘Jenny From the Broch’: ‘Outlander’ Actress Laura Donnelly on Playing Jamie’s Feisty Sister
After last week’s intense “Outlander” episode, in which Claire (Caitriona Balfe) was nearly burned as a witch by the God-fearing ignorant villagers of Cranesmuir, it goes without saying that the time-traveling nurse and her Highlander husband, Jamie (Sam Heughan), won’t be returning to Castle Leoch anytime soon. So, with nowhere else to go, the Frasers arrived at a new destination tonight – Jamie’s ancestral home, Lallybroch.
It is at the Fraser family estate where we meet Jamie’s older sister, Janet “Jenny” Murray, played by Irish actress Laura Donnelly. Although this was not our first brush with Jenny – she appeared briefly in flashback during the first half of the season, as the intended rape victim of Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies), the events of which set off Jamie’s four-year exile – tonight’s episode, appropriately titled “Lallybroch,” served as our formal introduction to the next formidable female character in the “Outlander” universe. Now that Geillis Duncan has bowed out of the story line for the time being, Jenny is a welcome new foil, and eventual ally, for both Claire and Jamie.
While actors Balfe and Heughan may have incredible on-screen chemistry as the Fraser newlyweds, there is also a distinct, sibling-esque bond between Heughan and Donnelly, which can be chalked up to the fact that they went to school together at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. “It’s such a lovely thing being on set with a friend,” says Donnelly, who has been nicknamed “Jenny from the Broch” by devoted “Outlander” fans on Twitter.
Donnelly also has the honor of uttering the best line of dialogue – which in turn conjures up a fascinating image depending on one’s imagination – from tonight’s episode: “Do I have to do what I did when we were bairns?” she says to her incensed brother. “Grab you by the bollocks to make you stand still and listen to me?”
The London-based actress was just wrapping up her Broadway run in “The River” opposite Hugh Jackman when she took some time to chat with Speakeasy about Jenny’s long-awaited reappearance in “Outlander” over a sushi lunch a couple of months ago. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation:
What drew you to the role of Jenny Fraser?
Her strength, really. It’s not often that you get to play a woman who can absolutely fend for herself, who’s feisty, who’s capable. And, for that to happen in the 1700s, you know, you rarely get to have those qualities in a female character, full stop, never mind in a corset! And, of course, when I discovered afterward that we would be shooting in Scotland – and the fact that I have an ongoing love affair with Scotland, because I studied there – it was the perfect job.
One of the many things I love about “Outlander” is, even though Jamie is always swooping in and saving the day, if push really came to shove, your character and Caitriona’s character are such strong women that you don’t necessarily need him. Have you two bonded over that fact?
Absolutely. We have a great time on set. You’re right, Jenny, for example, has been running Lallybroch for four years. It’s not something a woman back then would’ve been used to doing. And she’s taken it all on herself, and it’s a big task! Then, of course, as the episodes go on, then Jenny and Claire have to essentially go on a “Thelma and Louise” mission, and so Cait and I got to go and be in the woods doing all this stuff and riding horses and gun-slinging, and it was such fun! We had a long time where it was just the two of us doing scene after scene out in the wilderness and we had an absolutely lovely time. Cait is such a nice person to work with.
Jenny is very protective of Jamie – what is it that she fears the most about Claire?
I would say that she’s worried that Claire may be a usurper. That she is coming to Lallybroch with a naiveté about how these things are run, and that she’s really going to mess that job up. And also, there’s the knowledge that she’s English and, with those old rivalries, it’s in her blood to distrust the English. So it takes her a little while to come around – and I also don’t think she really trusts her brother’s judgment very much, with fairly good cause. He’s not had a history of making all the right choices [laughs]. She’s just being the protective older sister. And, she comes around, not very quickly, but soon enough.
Because Jenny has been running for Lallybroch for four years, and because she’s such a strong character, what should Claire try to learn from her?
Well, I think that Claire learns that she’s not the only woman that’s able to stand up to Jamie, and I think that’s really good for Claire, to see somebody else that can take on that role, and to see another female that he listens to. That gives Claire a bit more confidence. And then she also just has to go about learning how to be the lady of an estate. There are the practical things that she learns – the day-to-day running of the household, sewing, mending, washing, cooking, all that stuff. And then she and Jenny also have a bond over the fact that when we first meet Jenny, she’s very heavily pregnant. And as the series goes on then obviously she goes into labor and Claire is able to be there to help. She learns a lot about her womanhood, I guess, at that time. So they’re able to bond over that. She learns quite a lot from Jenny over that.
Speaking of Jenny’s pregnancy, you not only had to walk around in uncomfortable 18th-century attire, but with a pregnancy belly as well! What was that like?
To say it was cumbersome would be an understatement [laughs]. But, it was good in a lot of ways because we’re up in Scotland and it’s not the warmest place on Earth, and it did add some extra layers that kept me warm. You’ve got a pad, then you’ve got petticoats which are very heavy, and skirts, and then you’ve got the corset. I mean, those poor women in those days were in corsets while they were pregnant. I looked at some photos of clothing from the actual time, and they were so restrictive, even for heavily pregnant women. But that all helped at the same time in the physicality of the character, because very often if you are playing pregnant on TV, you’ll be in much more comfy clothes and you’ll just have a very light bump that looks like a baby, but really not that difficult to wear, to maneuver. But in this case, because it did add a difficulty to the movement, it just really helped get the physicality of what Jenny has to put up with.
A main character trait for Jamie and Jenny is the fact that they’re both quite stubborn – is that an asset or a hindrance?
Oh, I think mostly hindrance. They get beyond it eventually – at least they’re not so stubborn as to let these things draw on too long. But, yeah, it’s a family trait, that’s for sure. They’re both incredibly headstrong, very opinionated, they like things the way they like them, and that does result in a clash of personalities a lot of the time. But I would say that that would mean that whenever they would get together, on the same side, nobody would reckon with them. So in that sense it could be an asset [laughs].
Who do you think would win in a fight – and it can be any kind of fight: hand-to-hand, sword fighting, battle of the wits – Claire or Jenny?
Oh, gosh! I think punch-up it’d be Jenny [laughs]. I think Jenny’s scrappy. Battle of the wits – that’s very evenly spread, that one, isn’t it? Claire, she’s very good at improvising, so possibly Claire, because of the way she has been able to adapt to her surroundings – that’s taken some wit and really paying attention to what’s going on around her. Sword fight, I’m not sure, but I do have sword training, I don’t know if Cait does – I won an award in my fencing, so I’m gonna go with Jenny on that one [laughs].