Keith ‘Kikki’ Fleming is a Scottish Actor best known for his role as Lesley in the Starz hit show Outlander. We spoke of the path he followed towards a career in acting, stage work including touring with National Theatre Scotland, all things Outlander (costume, cast, South Africa, his character’s demise, singing in Gaelic etc.), how he got the nickname ‘Kikki’, music and more.
DB: You were born in Edinburgh: were you were brought there? What was it like growing up there?
KF: I suppose the purist in me should say I was born in Leith. Leithers tend to be very particular about Leith and Edinburgh being different places. I was born in Leith, brought up in Edinburgh and it was good, the usual kid things. I did a lot of drawing, was interested in animals, did a lot of football.
DB: Apart from yourself who was is your family as you were growing up?
KF: Me, my mum and my dad and then they separated so… my mum and myself, for a while.
DB: What was your experience of school?
KF: It was good. I suppose when you get a bit older, and you look back, it’s a cliché to say ‘the best days of your life’ but sometimes they are because I suppose you’re protected, you’re there for a reason, you know what you’re doing, you know where you’re going to be day-to-day, and you’re surrounded by mates. I had some good mates that I’m actually still in touch which is quite unusual for a lot of people, you know. I’m in touch with three or four on a regular basis.
DB: Were they from secondary school or from primary?
KF: One of them is from secondary but two or three are from primary; we went to the same secondary as well.
DB: That’s pretty unusual, especially when you’ve been away and then have come back.
KF: Yeah, and my best friend, I was his best man when he got married in America. When we were about 16 he said, ‘If I ever get married I want you to be my best man.’ When he got engaged at 27-28 he called me up and just said, ‘I don’t think I need to ask you, but just officially…’ That 16-year-old’s promise came true.
DB: In school what sort of subjects and activities were you drawn to?
KF: I was very into art. I really enjoyed science, biology and chemistry – I was really good at chemistry, so I think that’s why I liked it – history. My chemistry teacher, Miss Robertson, was a really good teacher. The physics teachers were stale, cold, boring guys who smelled of ham and mustard crisps or second-hand tweed. I think the teachers have a lot to do with it, especially in secondary when you’re becoming more of an adult, these are people that influence your lives. I was actually at a fundraising for my high school and some of the teachers there remembered me right away, obviously you must make as much an impression on them as they do on you. I don’t think there was anything I hated, you know.
English I really enjoyed because of Miss McCarry, she was the first person who got me interested in acting, purely by the comment that she thought I would make a good actor; I think just from my playacting in class. She was a real authoritarian and was great; she went beyond the lesson and gave you more information. Shakespeare, you know as it is taught in school, the problem is that it’s often seen to be something that is read, but there was a theatricality about the way she spoke and delivered it and allowed you to, and I think that’s very important.
For art we had Mr. Green, who was so camp, he used to break mid-sentence and would continue the rest of the speech he was delivering in French. He wore a different colour of matching clothes and frame of glasses for every day of the week. Miss Gage would let us watch Neighbours, as long as we started work at the bell; she wore tie dye and had punky hair and looked like she’d just walked out of art college. Art is a skive of a subject for a lot of people, whereas people who are more artistically inclined loved it and those were the kind of people that the teachers relished engaging with because they see that you’re not just there to fill your timetable.
DB: You gained a scholarship to Chelsea College of Art and Design: how long were you there?
KF: I was just there for a year. I kind of knew I wanted to do acting but when I was offered the place I went – I was told that because I had got into such a really prestigious place that it was a thing I should really think about. I was told by my head of department actually that I wouldn’t get in, so I kind of did it to prove a point. Somebody flippantly said to me, and I believed them, ‘Well you get four years’ grant money, so you’d only be using up a year of that, and the drama degree is three years,’ so I did the maths and I went. It was also an opportunity for me to get away from home and live in London.
DB: How did your mum feel about that?
KF: I don’t know. My mum knew that the worst thing to do with me is to try and control me, to tell me not to do something, because I tend to push against that or do it, twice. (Laughs) We didn’t really chat about it, she was supportive of me, she always has been. Obviously she would be lonely but she saw me off at the station. For me it was an adventure and it was just time for me to get away. I would have been 19 then.
DB: Compared with Edinburgh, what was it like going to London?
KF: It was amazing! You know it wasn’t that I was going to London to seek my fame and fortune or having to find a job, so I knew where I was going to be. I knew it was going to be tough and I’d always been quite independent. Actually I had always worked, when I was at school I had jobs from the age of about 11: a paper round; working in a shop; I worked in my friends’ parents’ restaurant for 4 or 5 years and I really enjoyed it. The first thing I did in London was find a bar job.
I met a guy, Bobby, who’s from Edinburgh, we were staying in the same halls of residence, we bonded very quickly over music tastes and things like that and we still are friends to this day.
DB: You did a year at Chelsea and was that followed by Guildhall School of Music and Drama?
KF: I took and year or two out after art college and worked, and as I was in London I soaked up theatre. I was told, because I had no previous experience, I wouldn’t get in [to drama school] or I would find it really difficult; I worked on stuff, found and read plays that interested me. I was into movies, so I spent a lot of time in the Prince Charles Cinema, just off Leicester Square. Even then, cinema was expensive but the Prince Charles would show 3 or 4 movies a day – never current movies, old films or cult films, independent movies, Mike Leigh films – and you could watch them for £1.95 or £2.50. You were just finding out what it is you liked, building up a personal taste.
I got into the first two drama colleges that I applied to; I worked quite hard to do so. I met this guy who I have to credit a lot, Andrew Joseph, (who’s an actor) and asked him if he would help me with my entry and audition pieces. He spent a lot of time with me, sitting chatting and sometimes we’d be there for 4 hours, talking about things. It was more about “this is your time”, getting me in the headset of taking my time, taking the room, “you are getting to meet me today” – which I think is a really important thing. With agents, casting directors, directors they’ve got the power because they’ve got the job, you might be the person that they meet but there has to be common ground. I think a lot of people abuse that power in this environment, but this is an opportunity for them to meet you.
It’s a privilege to be asked onto a programme, you’ve got the job but it doesn’t stop there, now you’ve got to do the job. It’s about common decency, treating people nice. There’s a danger sometimes, maybe young actors, they want to be superstars, especially this sort of culture that we’ve got nowadays where it’s just being celebrities, bragging about like they’re number 1 that they can talk to the make up girl, costume guy or coffee runner… everyone’s just doing a job, they’re part of a team. The way the system works is that the actors have to be treated well, people running about after you. (That’s in TV and film, it doesn’t happen in theatre! If you tried to pull that in theatre you’d soon get over yourself.) I get why, there was a guy on Outlander who kept asking me if he could get me a coffee and I’d say, ‘No it’s alright, I’ll get it.’ On one of the last days that I was filming in Scotland I said, ‘You know what? Yeah.’ He was delighted, ‘If nobody asks me to get them a coffee I’ve got nothing to do, so I might lose my job!’ They always need to know where you are because time is money but it is weird having people running about after you doing simple things. You see them carry things and you say, ‘I’ll help you with that,’ and they go, ‘Oh no no no no no.’ I had a girl in South Africa hold an umbrella in 36 degrees heat, on set – she was Cait’s stand-in actually – and I said, ‘I’ll hold that,’ and she was like, ‘Please no, if I get seen with you holding it then I’ll get into trouble.’ You can see how people get run away with themselves because it’s geared to that kind of thing.
DB: What was your first professional acting job?
KF: I think I did a theatre show called Room which was a huge success and sold out in London and then was brought to the Edinburgh Festival and sold out again; that must have been about 1998-99. It was great to be part of something that suddenly took off. In London it was the Time Out Critics’ Choice, as soon as that happened, bang, sold out. The producer who took us to Edinburgh, William Burdett-Coutts, he had let us rehearse at the Riverside Studios for free, so we got him a ticket (of course you would) but he had to sit on a cushion on the floor because there was no seat for him when he came to see the show! Clearly he was a guy who just had passion for it, he just said, ‘Fine, I’ll sit on the floor.’
DB: You spent quite a long time in London, nearly 10 years, and then you moved back to Scotland. Why was that?
KF: I came up to do a couple of jobs in Perth Theatre, and while I was there somebody at Dundee Rep had started an ensemble theatre company, as an experiment, and got funding for it. A couple of people who had signed up for it had left after a year or two and they were looking for somebody, someone had said, ‘Have you seen this guy in Perth?’ Hamish Glen, who now runs the Belgrave Theatre in Coventry, came to see me in a show and asked me to come to a meeting. They asked me to join for 6 months and that turned into a year and it ended up being 7 years. I had to give up my room in East Dulwich in London which I was renting off my friend Dave – after about 6 months I said, ‘I don’t think I’m coming back.’
DB: For those that don’t know, can you briefly explain what a repertory company is?
KF: A repertory theatre company is a group of actors and they’re brought in for a year or two (however long the contract is) and that same set of actors will perform different plays. They will put on a play, open it, and be rehearsing the next play. Sometimes you would do a repertory season where you would do two of the shows a week, after you had done a bit of a run. Basically it’s a permanent company, rather than people coming in and out according to roles. The more adventurous artistic directors will see that as an opportunity to stretch the actors.
One of the huge benefits that I had in my time up there was getting an opportunity to play roles that I would never normally be put up for in the business; I was lead in a few musicals and I would never get out up for a lead in a West End musical but they had facilities there to bring in singing and vocal coaches, so you had the support. The memory’s being stretched as well, there was one time where I was involved in 3 shows at one time: a one-man show, by Conor McPherson; another show called Danny Crawshaw which is a great play about the impact of television and social media on us, and I was rehearsing the Christmas show. I was finishing the main house show at 10 o’clock and at half-past 10 I was having to go back on stage to do a one-man show, which was an hour long, and in the morning I was up to do rehearsals for the Christmas show.
DB: Much more recently you were in The Venetian Twins with Grant O’Rourke: did you know Grant prior to doing that play together?
KF: I knew of him. Scotland’s small enough in the acting community to know who’s who. I think he had been to see a show and I saw him at the bar, after. I was in LA actually, doing a show, and I got a call from Tony Cownie (director) to say there was a small part in the play and although I wouldn’t be there for the full rehearsal period it was something that I could pick up quite easily. It was a small part, a servant boy, a funny character.
DB: What show were you doing in LA?
KF: I was doing Dunsinane, a show with the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre of Scotland, which was written by David Greig. It was basically an analogy about the Middle East, about going in to places that have a tribal and cultural heritage and another country coming in and saying, ‘This is what you need to do to run your country,’ and not really taking the time to understand the culture. It was also about what happened after Macbeth was killed, Lady M hasn’t killed herself, she’s run away and is in hiding, and the English powers try to tell Scotland what to do with its country, but there’s unrest growing because they’ve heard that the Queen is still alive somewhere. There’s tribal in-fighting, the super power is England, they’re unsettled but it’s because they’ve not taken the time to find out how Scotland works. It’s an analogy about the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq. If you don’t take the time to understand the people how are you ever going to win them over?
DB: Apart from LA, where else did you go with that production?
KF: We went to Chicago, North Carolina and Washington D.C. We were there in January and I had never felt cold or seen snow like it, until we had been to Chicago, that was something else! It was -26 or something like that when we were over there, Lake Michigan was frozen, there was like 3 feet of ice on the surface – that’s properly cold! We also went to China and Taiwan and to Moscow.
DB: They must have been very different experiences. Were the audiences very different from one country to another?
KF: Yes. In China people come in and out, late-comers, bus loads of late comers, seriously, mobile phones out. I’m not saying they’re not excited to see it, maybe they’re filming it… Russia is the home of modern acting techniques and they love their theatre. We were there for part of a Chekov festival (which is weird because we weren’t doing Chekov) but it was steeped in history and the arts are held in high esteem over there, they’re proper celebrities with integrity and skill. If someone likes you as an actor, they choose you for the curtain call, they give you flowers, chocolates, they applaud for ages, V.I.P.s come backstage and there’s an anteroom where you can go to be entertained and talk to guests. I got invited along to see a prima ballerina at the Bolshoi Ballet rehearsing in the afternoon. I wasn’t going to do it but then I thought, ‘What am I thinking? Of course I will!’ Standing in the wings watching her do her ‘thing’, it was incredible.
DB: Your first TV role: can you remember what that was?
KF: I did a half-hour film called Kings of the Wild Frontier which was about three brothers, there was a wee one and two older brothers and I was one of the older brothers and kind of brutal. I think our mum was gone and our dad had been a drunk and violent and it had knocked on to me; I was violent and angry and beat up my brother. I can remember a scene, running across a field, catching my brother and giving him a doing, just because he had upset me.
Oh, I did a film called Split Second with Clive Owen which was great, great fun. Helen McRory was in it, John Bowe (Coronation Street) who at the time was the voice of Sky Sports, Dawn Steele (Casualty) she’s a lovely Scottish actress and then a guy who’s become one of my best friends, Jamie Simmons, and Ann Louise Ross who played the boss’s assistant.
I ended up living with Annie in Dundee because she was in the ensemble and I moved in for three weeks and moved out five years later, we’re still dear friends. I actually saw a play that was directed by her son (Finn Den Hertog) last night. Her two boys became like my little brothers, I think when I moved into the house they were 14 and 11 (or just turned) and now they’re grown men in their own right. They are both very talented: one’s directing and the other’s done a Masters in Art – he does a lot of video and visual projections and music and sound for theatre and they collaborate on things. I’ve done a show with Finn and it remains one of my favourite things to have been involved in. I think for Lewis’s 11th birthday I gave him a Derek and Clive CD, as some part of his education, it didn’t go down too well with Annie initially, but I said, ‘He has actors sitting round this dining table until like 3 or 4 in the morning, slagging off the director, slagging off someone else, with a few choice words,’ the language was “colourful” at 3 o’clock in the morning.
DB: Moving on to Outlander, how did you get the role of Lesley?
KF: My agent got sent a breakdown and thought I would be appropriate for it, put me up and then we went in, got put on camera, met David Brown (producer), one of the directors, one of the writers and then I was asked back. There was a group of us – because they were looking for Lesley and Hayes – the director was there again, and a writer and someone was filming the auditions. I went in first, paired up with somebody, and they asked me to stay and then I read with another few guys and the director said, ‘Let’s keep you as Lesley,’ which I thought was really good sign, and then I left. I read with James Kirk actually and I was thinking, ‘This is favouring him more,’ he was facing the camera and I had my back to the camera for the shots, anyway I just thought that was fine because they had got me on camera when I had done the scenes with the other guys earlier on. But then I got a call to ask me to come back in again because they hadn’t done the reverse shot, so we were back in again. James found out he was doing it a couple of days later, I think (we had kept in touch) and I called my agent and said, ‘I think they’ve made a decision.’
Initially I thought it was just for 4 weeks. I think it was my first day on set and I saw Sam (Heughan) and I knew Sam from around, I said, ‘Alright Sam,’ and he said, ‘Alright. Are you coming to South Africa?’ And I had no idea! He asked, ‘Are you on the boat?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I think I’m on it.’ That was kind of the first I knew of it. It’s weird because my character isn’t in the books, so I knew there was a timeframe that I was being contracted for, but at the time I thought they might write me out of it, but I’d still get paid for between those dates.
DB: Once you got the part what prep did you do for the role before starting on-set?
KC: Well, as soon as I knew I was going to Cape Town I bought a book on Cape Town! I did what I normally do, if I get a script I’ll read it; I don’t want to turn up to the read-through and look like I’ve not done anything, which can come across as quite nonchalant and arrogant. I went to the gym, I quite like going to the gym. Obviously scripts, after the read through you get rewrites and suddenly find that 2 or 3 scenes that you were in aren’t there. There were a few scenes in the first episode where Cait appeared in, with me, and we had chatted about it in the end through… Boom! Gone. They could take two or three scenes off showing Lesley and Hayes doing something and they cut them by saying, ‘Where’s Lesley and Hayes?’, ‘Disposing of the body.’ There was a whole scene of us cutting up the body.
DB: Your costume: how did that help you get into character?
KF: This is an interesting one. There are all sorts of things that help you, you know, and it’s just about finding what works for you. There’s a tune and a rhythm in the lines and language, there’s intuition, there’s the wig, your costume which may affect your movement. The costumes are amazing, the costume department are incredible, the stitching, fabrics, everything like that is really authentic and it itches sometimes which may affect the way you walk. I don’t wear shoes like they did then, with a little heel, which makes you feel like you’re in Pirates of Penzance.
In TV you don’t get the luxury of theatre and rehearsal where you discover things, a lot of the work you do on TV you have to do yourself but it can go out of the window like that when you go on set. The characters like Sam and Cait play, obviously they are the story, there are books that are reference points, so you rehearse and talk to the actors because it’s very much part of the process, it’s an on-going thing. When you come into something, quite often, if you’re not one of the main characters, you’ll get direction if you’re not doing something right, if your instinct hasn’t been right; if nobody says anything you trust that you’re doing your job okay. Even if the scene is about you, the product is Jamie and Claire, people want to go, ‘Oh this is heartbreaking for this guy but let’s look at Jamie and Claire’s reaction to this.’ I said that one day, when Hayes was hanged, the director Julian came up and went, ‘Ah we’ve got some really nice close-ups of Sam there,’ and I said, ‘But he’s my friend!’ and he responded, ‘Yeah but they’re the product.’ I was like, ‘What was the point of me wrestling people through the mud? I could have just done an audio track, off.’ (Laughs) But people want to see Sam’s eyes going, ‘Ah, that’s heartbreaking.’ I am busting my arse out here, in the mud, fighting 3 or 4 stuntmen, it’s a lot of effort for minimum effect but, you know, that’s the truth of it.
DB: Obviously it’s an established cast that have been together for quite a while and you come in as the newcomer: how did that feel when you first came onto set?
KF: Obviously there were a few people there that I knew, like James Kirk – that was comforting that we were going in together – I knew Sam to say ‘Hi’ to. He didn’t recognise me the first day when we were in makeup and I saw him come in and said, ‘Alright?’ He was away at his seat at one end of the trailer and I was at the other end, and I’ve got a wig on. We went up onto the hillside and he went, ‘Kikki! What are you doing here?’ To be honest they were all fantastic. The crew are great, really down to earth. You know if you don’t want to be an arsehole in your life, or seen as one, be nice to the crew and civil to people; they are there earlier than you and they’re there after you leave and they are there to make you feel like you are the most important person but they have hundreds of other jobs to do to make the whole thing run smoothly. They are all really good at their job and I had a great time. Sam and Cait are great, they chat away, I mean they’ve got 101 things to do at any time, social media obligations, talking to the director and their own personal lives have got to be squeezed in at some point as well. I can’t say a bad word about anybody.
DB: I was thinking about when you first filmed in Scotland and then went to South Africa: how did those experiences compare? For instance in Scotland it looked like it was snowing and was genuinely cold.
KF: Do you know, that was actually these big, thick charcoal sticks, it was amazing because these guys waft it on with fans and it looks like snow – it’s the illusion of television and what they can do. It was cold at times though, definitely.
DB: Where were the Ardsmuir Prison scenes filmed?
KF: It’s called Craigmillar Castle in Edinburgh and the scenes in the cells were in the studios at Cumbernauld.
DB: The interiors of the jail actually look fantastic.
KF: Yeah, with some of them you go on a wee walk, they built a wee passageway and everything and you thought, ‘This is great!’ It was one-sided, it’s got an open wall and you’ve got the camera in there.
DB: Between your character and Hayes, there’s quite a lot of comedic scenes: did you enjoy doing those?
KF: Yeah, we would have liked a bit more to be honest but like I said, they had the product, the story, and it’s tough when you want more to do. Cait spoke to us and said sometimes, the workload that’s on them, they were maybe desperate for a wee bit of relief because it’s kind of relentless for them. They were great fun to do, if a little sparse. I got encouraged by some of the media coverage where Jamie’s in danger, although Lesley’s a funny and affable character, he has been in prison, he’s first to defend, and he and Hayes are there to defend the Fraser clan.
DB: What time of the year did you film in South Africa?
KF: For us it was just coming out of winter and for them it was just going into their winter, but their winter is like 24-26 degrees. We still got the summer. The famous scene 27 – still sends shivers – it was on the deck of the boat, 36 degrees and you’re in all that costume and leather, hessian, cloth shirt, breeches, stockings, wig, hat, a full 4 or 5 layers of clothing on. For makeup you can’t get any sun on you, so they’re constantly coming around with umbrellas and a break because their job’s made harder by the fact that you’re getting a bit burnt on your nose. Then the light changes, so they’re turning the boat around, and then people don’t remember their lines and they’ve got to retake it.
DB: What were the South African crew like to work with?
KF: Some of them are still on the job now. Mike (Michael Carstensen) the steady cam guy, brilliant guy, gorgeous man, a great professional, he came over after season 3 finished filming and he’s been on it since season 4, I think.
DB: It’s the same ships and set as they used for the Starz show Black Sails.
KF: Alicia Vikander was there filming Tomb Raider when we got there. They’re a world renowned film studios and big Hollywood movies and TV shows have been shot there. It’s got the locations, the sun, the climate, the technical staff and the facilities. There was a gym in one of the studios which I think Sam found out about after a couple of weeks, so if you were having a little break you could always cycle up to the gym if you wanted. We rehearsed some of the stunt things in there because of the crash mats.
DB: And they don’t stint on the food in South Africa either, do they.
KF: Yeah! Dinner was great because we all ate together. Often you’re in your trailer, we didn’t have trailers, we had dressing rooms in the studios which were fantastic, massive – bigger than my apartment – all the crew and that went to this one of these massive marquees with a huge line of all sorts of food. It was really nice to touch base with some of the people and have a chat with some folk that you don’t normally get to grab on set, because everyone is so busy. It was a really good time out there.
DB: The slave market scene, which is really emotive, where you’re walking through past the slaves that are going to be sold that are in all the wagons…
KF: That was a bit harsh filming that, obviously there are all these black slaves, in the story were waiting to be sold, or traded. The difficult part of filming is the extras, or the SAs (Supporting Artists is the correct term) they still get the shitty end of the stick. You get taken away to your privileged little tent or trailer, or somebody comes stands with a parasol over you in the heat, but all these men and women are just standing on the set a lot of the time during breaks in this baking hot sun, and you’re think, ‘God!’ I know people are getting paid but the slave trade one was particularly tricky, if you like, when ‘I’m getting taken away now to my little private, protected bits but you’re going to stay in that cage.’ Also being in South Africa, you know, it had more personal ramifications given the political climate that’s been there for the past couple of hundred years.
DB: Do you think those feelings are conveyed when it is actually filmed?
KF: The story is seen through Claire’s eyes and she voices the inhumanity – which is the point of that part of the story. Sadly society hasn’t changed that much, especially with the political climate the way things are now. Are things changing for the worst? They were hard scenes to actually let go of but that’s the way the business works.
DB: When you sing the lament to Hayes in the tavern: how did you go about learning that and did you speak any of the Gaelic before that?
KF: I’d like to say that I’m fluent but I’m not. They brought somebody in, Robert Robertson, to help me learn this thing. I was just like, ‘You sing it to me, I’ll record it and then I’ll learn it.’ I was given it in Gaelic and in English (just so that I knew what I was singing) then I basically just went away and learnt it. We did a wee rehearsal a few days later, just myself, Sam, César (Domboy) and Lauren (Lyle) were brought in just to sing with me, which was kind of embarrassing because I have to sing and they have to join in, and I taught them the song. I’m sure Sam came up with some detail that Jamie’s tone deaf in the books, so he said he wasn’t sure he had to sing and I was like, ‘Come on!’ (Laughs) One of those facts that becomes very useful. We went on set and sang it and then we had to go back in for some pickups at a later date, when you’re not going to be using lines anymore, you just tend to drop them and suddenly we were back singing it! One of the annoying things was the exec producers were like, ‘Oh man, if we knew you had this voice we would have made more use of it. What a great voice!’ I was like, ‘Well thanks very much, so don’t kill me, I’ll sing all my lines for the next three series…’
DB: Was that when having done the Dundee Rep helped as well, with the voice training?
KF: Yeah, I think it didn’t harm it. I had some really good singing teachers when I was at Guildhall, Patsy Rodenburg (just voice) one of the world’s leading authorities on voice coaching. I sang in the choir when I was at school but I only joined the choir so I could go on the school trip to Germany – at the time it was a great way of meeting girls, you know. You went on a trip, got out of school for 3 weeks, it was great! I ended up loving it, singing in the choir. I was only in it for about a year, if that, but it was amazing. I thought it was fantastic, singing “Carmina Burana” and Vivaldi’s “Gloria”. I’m a big music person and I was into my ‘60s stuff and classical music was just something that was ‘over there’ where I was into my Beatles and psychedelia but I did love singing. Having the support there helped as well because you don’t want to go on stage and absolutely honk, leading a musical.
DB: Talking of your character’s demise: when did you find out that he was going to die and the way it was going to happen?
KF: You get a hunch contractually, I didn’t initially know if I was going to be in series 4; I had no idea how long I was going to be in series 3 to be honest. If you upset the wrong people or they have to cut some scenes, suddenly you can be out. I made something of it at the first read through [for series 4] where they said ‘They slit his throat’ and I went, ‘Hah’ [sharp intake of breath] which was quite funny, the producers, the whole room laughed – how we laughed! I made out that it was a surprise to me… They went, ‘I’m sorry, so sorry.’ ‘I knew that was happening but why? Why? What about me? I’m a useful guy to have around.’ But there’s too many people for screen time, there’s a lot of stories they’re trying to cram in there, you’ve got Richard Rankin’s character (Roger) and Brianna, them coming onto the scene, Sam and Cait, wee John (ah, John Bell), Lauren and César and you’ve got Lesley in the background going, ‘Alright guys, going to help you out.’ They could shoot Lesley’s vengeful twin brother though…
DB: It could happen. The last day on set: how did that run as you were doing your last scene?
KF: I got “killed” and then was back in the next day or the day after because they didn’t do it in sequence, so the last scene was actually the tavern but I’m singing for my dead friend already knowing I’m dead, with bloodstained hands and neck, you know.
DB: How long were you actually filming in South Africa?
KF: We were there for three months, I think. Cait had been filming for two weeks by the time we got out there, she was full on and had had maybe two or three days off because she had that whole sequence where she was wandering about on her own – it was a really tough schedule for her.
DB: When you were off-set in South Africa were there any particular things you did?
KF: James, Gary Young and I, we joined a tiny gym that was not far from our apartment complex in Green Point in Cape Town, so we would go there. I always get really self-conscious (this fear) about being suddenly asked to come in (to set), so I don’t like to go too far. Quite often I would meet Lauren for brunch, then César would join. James does a lot of writing, so he would hook up with us after he had done a bit of writing, and Gary likewise. Often it would be myself, Lauren and César, we would take brunch somewhere and then take it from there with whatever we were going to do. You’d have lines to learn. There was Mr. Nigel Betts, who’s a glorious man – we’re still in touch actually – he and I would indulge in a little bit of lunch, sample some of the South African wines. We went to a vineyard one day, myself, Nigel and Lauren and we bumped into Maril (Davis, the producer), Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander were wandering around the same vineyard when we were there. Some of the South African guys, Nic (Rasenti), Karl (Thaning), Sam and Nick would train a lot together, they were gym buddies (Nic teaches at a gym). Sam also had a photo shoot with Men’s Health magazine so he wasn’t really socialising much, to get himself into even more shape for the front cover. I got dropped at the last minute from that photo shoot, you know, I was busy… I think I was watching the Hibs (Hibernian Football Club) game. Myself and Nigel got on really well and it didn’t take a lot of persuasion to indulge in a ‘little light lunch’. (Both laugh) The glasses of wine were like £2 for a really good wine! But then the whole culture and politics of South Africa plays in your mind. ‘Look at us sitting here privileged as hell, with our driver taking us back to work.’ It’s a powder-keg there, everybody’s got their own argument about injustice.
DB: Moving on from Outlander what advice do you have for anyone who is considering acting as a career?
KF: Be prepared for disappointment. It’s a very rewarding job, you’re getting to do something that you would do as a hobby anyway. It’s hard, it can be demoralising, it can be fabulously uplifting. A lot of the job is dealing with knock-backs. There are a lot of very lucky people in the business and it’s about luck, and then it’s about trying to stay there, to get the job and then do the job and never rest on your laurels. If you just want to dabble in it, I wouldn’t bother, you have to have a passion for it. It’s the time of “celebrity”, but don’t get into it because of that.
DB: The “Kikki” nickname, where does that come from?
KF: That comes from an actor who is a personal hero of mine, Jimmy Chisholm, he’s been in many things: theatre, TV and film. To me he is a giant: a small man in stature but a giant on stage. He was just repeating my name over and over again one day in rehearsal and because I was just about to go to Dundee he said, ‘Kikki Dee,’ for Dundee, and then he called me Kikki coming into rehearsal. People in the theatre scene up here know me more as Kikki than they they do as Keith.
DB: Do you often wear a kilt, for special occasions?
KF: I have done when I was best man for one of my best friends’ wedding, there was no family association with the tartan, it was purely aesthetic to match the green that was in the bridesmaids’ dresses. I can’t remember the name of the tartan but it was a green one.
DB: Who would you say has been the most influential person, or people, in your life and in what way have they influenced you?
KF: Oh my God, that’s a good question. I would say my mum would be one and my mates are really influential to me. I’ve got a lot of friends but a few that you can rely on, no matter what. They influence you, keep your feet on the ground, be there to pick you up, and know how to talk to you and be very blunt, not pander your ego or be soft around the edges with it.
DB: When you’re not working what do you do to relax? Have you got any special hobbies, passions or interests? Do you still paint?
KF: No I don’t. I’ve been painting people’s houses actually. (Laughs) I keep thinking about getting back into it, but I don’t know, it’s like you get the fear about it. When I was at art college I was kind of lazy and if I didn’t feel inspired then I wouldn’t paint and I would go and sit amongst the poppies on Clapham Common. I love music. I went to see Patti Smith a couple of weeks ago, my wonderful partner got me tickets for my birthday. I’ve discovered bikram this year, so I’ve been going to that and I like cooking.
DB: What about football?
KF: What Hibs? Yeah Hibernian, I’m a big fan. I go to matches when I can but I’ve not been that often recently, but I am going to go in a couple of weeks with an actor friend of mine. There’s nothing quite like being there. I was fortunate enough, Grant Stott (who was in episode 1 of series 4 as the captain of the wee tug boat) he’s a Hibs fan as well and he got me some very nice seats round the directors’ box for a Hibs vs Hearts match, which was great – it was full of Outlander actors and we won 2-nil. We beat Hearts, and it was a glorious day! If we’re going to beat the Old Firm (Rangers and Celtic) or the Hearts, it doesn’t get much better than that, you know. I like travel, going away whenever I can, just been to Barcelona a few weeks ago.
DB: Thinking of music: If you can cast your mind back, what was the first single or album you ever bought?
KF: The first single I think that I ever bought with my own money was Adam and the Ants “Stand And Deliver” and I think I bought “Green Door” by Shakin’ Stevens. But I had stuff that my parents had kicking about. My favourite was The Magical Mystery Tour book, the album that was the book of all the singles – it would be a collector’s item now but I don’t know where it is – I’ve still got one of the singles. That set me on my way, as a young kid, with The Beatles and what a way to enter, listening to “I Am The Walrus” when you’re 5 or 6 years old!
DB: What genres of music do you like listening to?
KF: I like everything. I’m a big indie and ‘60s man, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Oasis, Charlatans. I listen to things, hear something and go, ‘What is that?’ And I’ll record it, go into the shop and ask them what it is. I’m not resistant to any form of music, if something catches me I’ll probably buy it. I’m not too sure about grime or drum and bass or R&B, these days. I love soul music, Stevie Wonder, jazz, Chet Baker. One of my friends in London is a jazz musician and having somebody there who has a huge knowledge of jazz is absolutely great. There’s a bar in New York called Rudy’s which had a great jazz jukebox and it was great listening to all that stuff. But Beatles, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, you can’t go wrong, bit of Elvis, Frank Sinatra – I love a crooner. I love Kurt Elling who is a great jazz singer, I’ve got a live album by him from The Green Mill in Chicago; I had to go there, it’s a brilliant place, it still looks like it did during Prohibition times.
DB: You mentioned going to see Patti Smith, do you often go to see live music?
KF: Not as much as I’d like to, it’s just so expensive. I’ve done quite a few. Patti Smith was just epic, it was a really intimate gig as well. I saw the Stones last year, Noel Gallagher, Liam Gallagher, twice. I’ve see my friend, Dave, sing in London. I was actually at a wedding in London this year and my mate Dave sang; he’s a jazz singer and he’s great. He’s very supportive of me, coming to see stuff that I’m in, and likewise when I can get down to London.
DB: If you’re at a party and music is playing would you just get up and dance, or do you have to be dragged reluctantly onto the dance floor?
KF: I don’t go out of my way to dance to be honest because I’m not particularly good at it, but there are certain songs that before you know it you’re up and you’re gone, you can’t resist them. The one that always does that is “Temptation” by New Order, that goes back to school days with my best mate, dancing around, parties at his house when the parents were away on holiday.
DB: What about singing, if there’s a karaoke or something like that, would you get up quite happily and sing, or not?
KF: Hmm karaoke… You know I did a job years ago, I went across Europe working for a motor racing team. We were in Germany, this German TV presenter presented the awards at the end of the night, and for some reason I ended up singing a couple of Frank Sinatra songs at the end. He said, ‘Maybe you could come and do my show on television, come around with me,’ but I didn’t really want to. If I was going to sing it would probably be a Frank Sinatra because it sits quite well in my voice, or Proclaimers’ “Sunshine On Leith”, the Hibs’ anthem. My dad was always singing Frank Sinatra, if you walked on a building site you could normally hear him before you could see him, and he was a big man who thought he had a great voice.
DB: So that’s what you dad was, a builder?
KF: He was a joiner.
DB: Imagine it’s your final meal on earth, what would you choose to feast on and what would be your preferred drink to accompany that?
KF: It would be sea bass or bolognese but I’m very particular about my bolognese, not just any standard bolognese. The one I make is very good and I’ve attempted the Heston (Blumenthal) one which you have to cook for about 10 hours, so it would have to be in that kind of ball park. Drink: a cup of tea is one of my favourite things, I think it’s one of life’s luxuries, a cuppa tea. Cuppa tea and a biscuit and I’m happy. I always say, ‘Best drink of the day!’ I think booze and wine are great but it’s the company that makes it as well.
DB: Could you tell me about the book, or books, that you’re reading at the moment?
KF: The last book I read was Wonky Donkey which I read to my girlfriend’s kids – I highly recommend it, hilarious! I bought Just Kids by Patti Smith to look at because having seen her, and my partner keeps going on about reading the book, that it’s amazing, so she bought me it. I’m going to read that next just out of the sheer admiration and interest, having seen this 72-year-old woman on stage and blow me away; her voice was as clear as a bell, strong. I do have a novella which has been adapted into a show (I’m not sure I’m allowed to say the name of it) which I’ve been asked to do, hopefully for next year’s [Edinburgh] Festival.
DB: How would you describe your perfect day?
KF: My perfect day would be one with my best mates, ones you can have a good laugh with and my partner, so Charlene, Laura, Linda, Debbie, Bobby, Dave. I imagine we would be in some kind of bar, where one side you’re looking out and there’s a bay with whales breaching, to the other side there would be protected and flourishing rainforest, with a troop of gorillas leaping and frolicking freely and happily, birdsong, and Jennifer Lawrence. We’d be having drinks, hanging out and somebody walks in with the head of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump and says that Nature, the planet, has been saved and it’s all going to thrive. Somebody kicks on the jukebox, “Temptation” by New Order comes on and we all dance our socks off and then “Walk On The Wild Side” comes on. And Hibs would win the Champions League. We can but dream.
You can find Keith @
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Any opinions or views expressed within the interview are the subject’s own and publication does not imply endorsement of any such opinions or views by Absolute Music Chat or its personnel.