Scott Kyle is a Scottish actor best known for his portrayal of Ross ‘The Smith’ on the Starz hit TV show, Outlander. Scott and I spoke about his life and career, being in Outlander, music, kilts and much more.
DB: You were born in Rutherglen.
SK: Yes, I was born in the Rutherglen at the maternity hospital. At the time it was classed as part of Glasgow, but it is now part of South Lanarkshire (not sure why). The town is known as a “Royal Burgh”, so I’m actually from “The Royal Burgh of Rutherglen” (laughs) – my grandmother (Sadie the Lady) used to always say it’s “The Royal Burgh of Rutherglen”. My gran believed that because the town was known as a “Royal Burgh” that the local council got more money than other towns to keep the streets clean and to make sure that everything looked nice. I think my gran thought that the Queen personally wrote a cheque. (Laughs)
DB: Can you describe growing up there? What was it like as an area?
SK: I grew up there with my mum, Joyce, and my older brother, Craig. My mum worked incredibly hard bringing us up, she juggled three different jobs to ensure that we never went without anything, and that we had just as much as the other kids who had both parents to support them, so Craig and I were very fortunate
Rutherglen is my hometown and I’m very much a proud “Ruglonian”, my wife, Karen, and I are looking to start a family here too, so we obviously love the town.
DB: How much older is your brother?
SK: My brother Craig is two years older than me. I feel very fortunate to have had an older brother. He very much paved the way for me when we were growing up. When I went to school, he introduced me to his friends and made sure I was always okay. Throughout my life he has always been there for me, so I’m very grateful to him for that. The same with my mum, she is a total legend, in the sense that she brought up two boys on her own and did a smashing job.
DB: You’ve travelled a lot in your work.
SK: Yes, theatre has taken me to various countries, I have performed with the National Theatres in Italy and Finland, but not Scotland believe it or not. (Laughs) While filming Kajaki / Kilo Two Bravo we were in Jordan for six weeks which was incredible. I have delivered my acting workshops all over the world (France, Canada, USA and throughout the U.K.).
The first professional job offered to me was touring Scotland with a theatre company called Baldy Bane Theatre Company, who delivered road safety shows and workshops. These tours are known as ‘Theatre in Education’ (TIE) and most actors in Scotland started out on them, Richard Rankin was on a different team from me, but he started out doing the school tours too
DB: He was at school with you wasn’t he?
SK: Richard and I both attended Stonelaw High school and were taught English by Gary Lewis’s brother Mr Stevenson. (Laughs) Small world, eh.
I think we were at college at the same time, but went to different colleges. I remember seeing Richard and a few other actors who have also been in Outlander performing in the student festival at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow. I was also performing (in a different college production). It was after we both graduated that Richard performed in two different NLP Theatre Company pantomimes (Cinderella and Aladdin), he did a great job on both.
One day when I was working on Outlander I got into a car that was sent to take me to set and both Richard and Gary Lewis were already in the car, that’s when we discovered that Gary’s brother was our English teacher at Stonelaw.
Fast forward to 2019 and I walk onto the set of a new BBC show called Trust Me and guess who is going to be playing my best mate on the show? (Laughs) Yep, Richard.
DB: For those people who don’t know about the Highlander Flings could you describe them?
SK: A ‘fling’ in Scotland is a dance or a big party, so that’s what I promise people; I try to under-promise and over-deliver. This year we have over 200 people coming to Glasgow from all over the world. At other events people have to queue up and pay for photographs/autographs, but not at the Fling, it’s a huge party and everybody’s in there together, no allocated seating, no VIP area, everybody’s a VIP. This year we have Flings in Canada, Holland and France and I’m speaking to some people in America, who want to do one.
DB: I wanted to ask you about the short film animation Cunningham Scrap.
SK: I was on set for Outlander and Fraser Murdoch came up to me. Fraser was the visual effects guy who would make ten redcoats look like a thousand – all his stuff was green screen – Gary Lewis’s legs, Steven Cree’s leg. He was handing out leaflets saying he was doing this project, so I said I’d try and give him a hand if he wanted.
I was very naïve, I thought animation would be done a lot quicker. We workshopped it, created a new script, recorded the voices, filmed it and then he used all that footage as reference to make the animation. He’s screened it at various festivals all over the world and has won awards for it.
DB: Did Gregor Firth work on that with you?
SK: Yeah, I met Gregor on Outlander. That’s the funny thing, when you form an instant bond on-set when you meet someone. Obviously, the bond’s on paper, and you’ve got to artificially make that bond real, but we did that – and with Fraser – on Outlander. Fraser was saying to me about getting Gregor in to work on Cunningham’s Scrap and I said, ‘Well I’ve worked with him before and he’s great, so yeah.’
DB: How did you get the role of Ross on Outlander?
SK: I got a phone call from my agent saying, ‘Can you get to London tomorrow? There’s a show called Outlander and they’re looking for a big, giant, hairy Highlander, called Angus.’ I read the script and I thought, ‘Why are they even seeing me? I’m not a man mountain.’ I went down to London and auditioned for it. Unfortunately, that day it never went my way.
I got another phone call from the agent later in the year, she said, ‘There’s a part in Outlander, called Ross.’ By this time, they’d made the first season, so I went home and Karen and I started watching it. She said, ‘This is brilliant! Even if you don’t get a part in this I’m going to keep watching.’ I went to Edinburgh to audition, it was only a three-liner and it’s difficult because how do you show variety, or emotion, with only three lines? I storyboard all my lines, because it’s easier to remember pictures than it is words, so I storyboarded my lines for Ross and drew pictures. It was a campfire scene so I sat there and was looking at the politics of the scene, ‘Why would Ross be getting involved in this with Angus? Because Angus and that lot are all crazy, they’re all fighters, he’s not a fighter, he’s a blacksmith.’ Thankfully all my homework must have worked because I got the part.
DB: Did you have a backstory in your head for Ross?
SK: Yeah, I think you always go to home, what I mean by that is I think you always dig deep in yourself. Ross didn’t have any kids, I thought, ‘Me and Karen don’t have any kids (yet) so I can imagine myself in Ross’s shoes. You’re going to war, you’re worried about dying, but at least you don’t have any kids.’ He’s a blacksmith, back in those days a blacksmith would have been a really good job, he would have been poor because of the times but he had a business, so he had a few quid. I thought, ‘I’m going to put a wee bit of weight on.’ I knew that everybody would be going to the gym, they’ll want to be this big, hairy Highlander that’s going to murder all these redcoats. I thought, ‘I’m going to try and play the opposite. I’m going to play a guy who’s carrying a bit of weight, shave and try and make him look young and as if he shouldn’t be in a battle.’ If I did that, maybe he would stand out, so when the camera pans across all these big, hairy Highlanders there’s this young lad and you’re going, ‘What the hell is he doing there?’ I think that’s what happened when people started saying, ‘We’ve got to save Ross, make sure he’s okay, see him home safe.’ When Sam’s character says that he’ll see him home safe I thought he would definitely go home to Lallybroch because he had everything to lose and nothing to gain.
DB: How did the costumes and the weapons help you in getting that character?
SK: I’m very much a costume actor; I like putting a costume on. I love getting the armoury, meeting the weapons team, getting taught how to do things, that really helped me put the layers on. I was wanting to get familiar with the swords, not really to be a sword fighter, more just to be really comfortable handling one, because he would have been throwing them about for fun, if he was making them all the time.
When you’re filming in Scotland the weather is freezing most of the time – I was in the costuming department and I was taking anything that I could get, so actually when we’re outside I’m quite warm. There’s a scene where we meet John Grey for the first time – he gets pulled into the cottage – that was filmed inside the studios at Cumbernauld and I’ve got all these hats, scarves and gloves on, so that went from being a really good idea to being a really bad idea because it was absolutely roasting! (Both laugh) I’ve got as many layers under as I can, that’s also why Ross looked a bit heavier on the screen. It worked to my advantage because you’ve got to remember there’s been hundreds of amazing actors on that show, but a lot of them haven’t got the support that I’ve got, or even the recognition, you know. The fact that I’ve been invited all over the world to conventions, that’s a really nice thing because it means that, whatever the reason, they’ve remembered your character – and that’s a compliment.
DB: There’s a few scenes where you are with Angus and Rupert who also have a cult following.
SK: When Angus died it was a shock to everybody that read it but later in the script, Ross becomes pals with Rupert and I was like, ‘Oh shit, people are going to be like, ‘Is this the new guy?’ Oh don’t hate me, it’s not my fault.’ Because Stephen Walters is such an amazing actor and amazing guy, he’s very popular amongst the cast and crew.
DB: I think because you’ve also had a loss of your own it’s almost like they have this mini bromance going on, supporting each other.
SK: If you remember one of the scenes earlier at the campfire where Angus is spitting on Kincaid and there’s a nastiness going on, it’s funny in that way that ‘you used to be the bully’s friend and now you’re having to come together’. The nice thing in that is to find true friendship at any time is very rare, so you can imagine the devastation of losing someone, but both of them go through it at the same time so they’ve got that horrible thing in common which would draw them together.
DB: You have the song “Down Among The Dead Men” [Episode 10 Prestonpans] with Grant O’Rourke. How long did you both work on that?
SK: The song was difficult actually. I looked up the song and emailed in to ask, because there’s different versions of it online, and they sent me a few suggestions.
DB: You played a bit of shinty with Romann in one scene.
SK: That was one of my first scenes, and it was nice because there were no lines. It’s hard when you go onto one of the biggest shows in the world, it’s the best day of your life and the worst day of your life. The best day, you’re thinking, ‘This is great!’ But on one of the biggest shows in the world you’re worried they’re thinking, ‘How did this guy get in?’ I shared that thought with Stephen Walters and he said, ‘Scott every movie I’ve been on, every project I’ve been on, everybody’s always thinking, ‘how did I get this? I’m so lucky’.’
DB: You did a few night shoots on Outlander. How do you and night shoots get on?
SK: I worked night shift for years, so I’m used to going without sleep. (Laughs)
DB: That scene in Prestonpans, where it’s really foggy: how did they do that?
SK: That was the biggest marquee I’ve ever seen in my life – they pumped it full of smoke, so it was all artificial. It was a really clever idea and people were running in, doing their scene, and running out to get fresh air.
DB: When you come into the scene where Kincaid is dead: were you actually carrying him?
SK: This is hilarious! I have to carry Gregor’s dead body in in my arms – that’s how they described it in the script – some of the cast thought I was a fireman, because of the way the script said I needed to carry him. I put him over my shoulder in a fireman’s lift and I bring him in. I think we did it 8 or 10 times, and I just stand him up, they cut and do one [later] where he’s sitting back. But about the 8th or 9th time I bring the Gregor in, I stand him up, look at him and he looks a bit away with it and he had to sit down – he fainted. What he’ll tell you is, ‘Because Scott kept giving me the fireman’s lift, he kept knocking the wind out of me every time he was picking me up, and I’m supposed to be dead, so I didnae want to take a big breath. I couldnae breathe, and then however long it took Scott to get me in and stand me up and they’d shout ‘Cut!’ was before I could breathe.’ At the same time you can imagine me, I’m sitting there going, ‘He’s fainting, it’s me that’s carrying him 10 times!’
DB: The cast is absolutely phenomenal, were there any cast members that struck you in particular?
SK: There’s a really nice scene where you’ve got Graham McTavish’s death and I got to sit and watch it all because I had one line in it. I watched them stage the fight, rehearse and practice – it was his last day as well, which meant it was quite emotional. He is a phenomenal actor, you know. You wouldn’t be on the show if you weren’t among the best in the world, they’ve got the budget and they can pick the best people in the world, and that’s why to be involved in any shape or form is amazing. But big Graham McTavish, with years and years of experience. Stephen Walters the same.
DB: If you could go back through the stones to the 18th century, how do you think you would fare?
SK: I don’t know. I mean like everything in life you just adapt but I don’t fancy it though; I like our WiFi, our central heating, our television. I don’t think I would want to be in any other time because of the advances in technology, the health care. I think I do alright in life in this time, so I imagine that you’d do alright in any other time.
DB: As a Scot what were your feelings when you were taking part in real, historical events like Prestonpans and Culloden?
SK: At the time you’re not thinking as a Scot, you’re just thinking about the character and to try and get in touch with the world and the human aspect because war can be glorified. What you try to do is get the real, human feeling of ‘being at war is not fun.’ I think for the guys involved it would have been more about their being part of a clan. It’s really funny because historically we look back at these things, and always think of everybody signing up and being desperate to go and fight the redcoats. Now the reality was the redcoats, they’re the most equipped army of the time, the best professional soldiers. You’re talking about blacksmiths and farmers taking up arms to go against them, so I don’t think there would have been as big a willingness as we like to glorify. They were tough times and people would probably have been told, ‘If you don’t come to war you’ll get thrown off your land.
DB: Do you have any advice for anyone who is considering acting as a career?
SK: Go out and learn about the industry, remember that it’s a business. It might feel like it’s a hobby but it’s not, it’s a profession and it’s a ruthless profession – if you’re not at the top of your game you’re easy to replace. Try and enjoy it but work hard. For me I look at acting as being one of the things I do, it doesn’t have a hold on me, it doesn’t hold me to ransom. What you’ve got to remember is, what you do doesn’t define you.
DB: On Twitter you do ‘Shine a Light’.
SK: It was something that started because every day I would get somebody asking whether I could support a charity or do this or that, and it was taking up a lot of time. I know when I’m promoting stuff I’m always asking for people’s help, and it’s the nice thing to do and the right thing to do. I’ll promote anybody’s business but then I do encourage folk to try and support my workshops, and if they do, I always appreciate that.
DB: You’re correct about social media, it takes a lot of time.
SK: To be honest I have had to try and reduce the amount of time I spend on social media, with over three-quarters of a million followers it’s very time-consuming trying to get back to everyone.
DB: I think some people have an aversion to self-promotion.
SK: That’s interesting because I spoke to Stephen Walters about this. We sat one day on the Outlander set and and he said to me, ‘Scott, I’m rubbish at all this social media because we came from a generation where it wasn’t cool to self-promote, it wasn’t the done thing, you didn’t tell people you were doing a play, you let the grapevine do the work.’ Now it’s the opposite, it’s encouraged to self-promote and share your achievements on social media, so you’re absolutely right, it’s a new and ever-changing aspect of the business.
DB: You and Karen have had an invitation to go to one of the Queen’s Garden Parties haven’t you?
SK: Yes, we have. And we both have our outfits picked and ready to go. We are travelling to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in a private car that has the Highlander Fling advertised on both sides. Can’t wait to share the pictures with you all.
DB: Did you get married in a kilt?
SK: I did, yes. We looked at places in Scotland and just felt that it was an awful lot of money for not guaranteed nice weather, so we also looked at Cyprus and thought we could take the family away for a couple of weeks and get married down on the beach.
We went to Cyprus and the only issue with that was I wanted everybody to wear a kilt and Cyprus is very, very hot! The nice thing was that everyone was there for the two weeks, so it was a very relaxed wedding.
DB: Do you wear the Kyle tartan?
SK: I like to wear lots of different tartans, I don’t like to be pictured in the same kilt too often, which can mean spending a lot of money of expensive new kilts. (Laughs)
I’m excited to be wearing a new tartan when we meet the Queen in June, it’s something to tell the grandkids. The garden parties are a way for the Queen to speak to a broad range of people from all walks of life, who have made a positive impact upon their community and I was awarded the Pride of West Lothian for my contribution to the local community, so now because of all of my hard work, Karen and I get the chance to meet the Queen – I’m very, very proud of that.
DB: When you aren’t working what do you do to relax?
SK: I play football a lot; I love it when you get a phone call and are asked to go and do the celebrity football matches or the Old Firm Legends.
I love going to the theatre, I love cinema, I love anywhere where I get to turn my mobile phone off. Karen and I went to a safari park recently and had a great day out. I love sitting in the back garden as well and I like my reading, mostly spiritual books. I love going on holiday.
DB: What was the first single or album that you ever bought with your own money?
SK: It was Will Smith “Boom! Shake the Room”, it was a cassette.
DB: Is there a song, or songs, that take you back to a special time in your life?
SK: Lots! The funny thing with my music taste is, I grew up with a single mother, so I’ve got her taste in music. I like my Rod Stewart and Tina Turner and all the stuff that I grew up with at my mum’s. When I went onto my night shift the guys would swap the minidiscs (remember them), so I would be down the aisles, singing Rod Stewart or something and the guys would come in and say, ‘Scott, what is this crap that you’re singing?’ They would say, ‘Try this, they’re called The Rolling Stones.’ And I would be, ‘Wow! I like this!’ Bruce Springsteen, all these different artists, I started to discover for the first time. I think my music taste now is a bit more balanced, but still I love a bit of my mum’s music. I think that’s why I connect with Outlander fans so much, a lot of them are her age – she is a young mum so I’ll not be offending anybody. (Laughs)
DB: What would you say is the best concert that you’ve been to?
SK: It would be Tina Turner. We went to see her, I was 16 and it was when I was first dating Karen – I didn’t go with her, she was going with her friends and me and my other mate tagged along because Karen was going – but Tina was fantastic on stage.
DB: If there’s a party and there’s music playing will you just get up and dance or do you have to be dragged up there?
SK: Celine Dion has a certain song that Karen and I love to dance to, it’s the one from Stuart Little, “I’m Alive”. We get up to Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long” and normally at parties, when my mum’s drunk, she pulls me up to Rod Stewart.
I like to sing to karaoke, and I’ll sing the Stereophonics’ “Dakota” or something like that.
DB: Imagine it’s your final meal on earth what would you choose to feast upon and what would be your preferred tipple?
SK: Well I’m off alcohol just now because I’m trying to keep fit and we’re hoping to start a family, so I’ve got to say water. Karen and I like going out to restaurants, dining out, so it would depend on my mood. I eat the same meal at each restaurant, but we go to a lot of different restaurants, so that’s how I get my variety. I’m not too fussed about what I eat, it’s more the company.
DB: Is there a certain book you return to again and again?
SK: I try not to. I don’t like to go on the same holiday location twice, I like to go and do everything once. I’m the same with books.
DB: What book are you reading at the moment?
SK: It’s called The Night Boat by Alan Spence. I was told by the girl [in the book shop] that it’s about a businessman who goes to Japan and goes on a spiritual awakening.
DB: How would you describe your perfect day?
SK: Sitting in the back garden with Karen and Jess, the cat. The thing is we are very lucky, we’ve been all over the world, done loads of different things, we’re going to meet the Queen, we get to meet a lot of different people, been to movie premieres, BAFTAs with Sam and Cait and other people, and sometimes you want to just sit in the back garden. Sometimes, when you strip it all back, a day in the garden with the sun shining and the person you love, and the neighbour’s cat, that’s being blessed.
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