On the day of Sophie Skelton’s final audition for “Outlander,” everything seemed to go awry. She had caught a cold on her flight to Los Angeles, which left her with a ringing in her ears. Her Uber was involved in an accident, and to top it off, it was raining, an unusual occurrence in LA. Skelton humorously noted, “Everyone kept saying, ‘It never rains in L.A.’ But that seems to be my thing now. Anytime I go to Los Angeles, it rains. I always bring that with me.”
Recalling the audition, Skelton acknowledged that it was a chemistry test with actress Caitriona Balfe, who portrayed Claire Randall Fraser in the series. Skelton auditioned for the role of Claire’s daughter, Brianna. Despite the unusual circumstances, the audition felt surprisingly natural to her, even though she found audition rooms typically tense and unnatural.
Skelton firmly believed that despite the mishaps on that day, something good had to come out of it. And, indeed, a few days later, she received the news that she had secured the part. This was especially sweet for Skelton, as she had previously auditioned for the show years before but hadn’t received a response. Her persistence paid off, and she mentioned, “I think the first time I auditioned for Brianna was about 2014, and then I didn’t hear anything for a year.”
The producers hadn’t overlooked her, but they had decided not to introduce the character of Brianna until a later season. Skelton was relieved to learn this, understanding that the casting process involves many behind-the-scenes considerations.
In the “Outlander” book series by Diana Gabaldon, Brianna is described as exceptionally tall, with red hair and deep blue eyes. While Skelton doesn’t precisely match this physical description, the producers focused on her acting abilities rather than her appearance. Executive producer Maril Davis explained that they were looking for the best actor for the role, and Skelton’s performance stood out.
To transform Skelton into the character of Brianna, the hair and makeup team used a wig to give her the iconic red hair described in the books. Skelton’s natural English accent was concealed for the role. She hails from a village near Manchester, England, and her upbringing included activities like ballet and horse riding, which proved beneficial for her role in “Outlander.”
Skelton’s journey to “Outlander” was swift, as she deferred her university acceptance to pursue acting full-time and quickly landed the role. The show marked a turning point in her career, transitioning her from small parts in British TV series to fame on a global scale.
While Skelton’s life in Glasgow, where the show is filmed, remains relatively unchanged, “Outlander” has garnered a passionate international fanbase. Skelton and the rest of the cast have great respect for these dedicated fans, who discuss the series in detail on social media and sometimes express their protective feelings toward the characters.
However, Skelton has also faced criticism from some “Outlander” fans, particularly concerning her character, Brianna. Unlike her on-screen parents, Jamie and Claire, Bree isn’t universally adored. Her storyline with her husband, Roger MacKenzie, is tumultuous and realistic, which has led to varying opinions about her character.
Skelton acknowledged the connection that some viewers make between her and the character, even when it’s unwarranted, saying, “People sometimes equate you to the character, and it’s like, ‘Dude, I didn’t throw a fire poker through a window.'” She’s mindful of the responsibility she has to portray her character authentically, especially in scenes related to sexual violence.
The “Outlander” series has been both praised and criticized for its portrayal of sexual violence, a topic that is prevalent in Diana Gabaldon’s books. Skelton emphasized the importance of accurately depicting the aftermath of sexual trauma, as well as the long-term effects such as PTSD. She believes that the show can provide a cathartic outlet for viewers and that it helps to raise awareness about these issues.
Despite the challenges and intense themes in “Outlander,” Skelton remains committed to delivering a powerful and authentic performance. She and the show’s producers understand that while “Outlander” presents complex and sometimes difficult subject matter, it can also be a source of comfort and connection for its viewers.