Outlander Secrets, Part 5: Can You Really Blame the Comte St. Germain?In the fifth installment of Outlander Secrets—our weekly sneak peek at all things season 2—Stanley Weber explains why the Comte isn't entirely a "baddie."
By ELLE Magazine
BY ANDI TERAN
MAY 13, 2016
TO READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AND OUTLANDER SECRETS:
I'm ready to give Stanley Weber an earful when he arrives. As Outlander's newest villain, the dapper French actor plays Comte St. Germain, a sadistic courtier who shrewdly terrorizes the show's protagonists, Claire and Jamie Fraser. I've binged on the second season of the Starz series in anticipation of meeting Weber, and when he arrives at the nondescript office building in Beverly Hills, looking scruffy and suspenders-clad, I'm somewhat disappointed—there's nary a floral waistcoat or curled ponytail in sight.
Well, somewhat disappointed. Instead of the Comte's clean-shaven sneer, I'm greeted with a warm handshake and stubbly smile. 29-year-old Weber is an extremely nice guy, not to mention a skilled actor, and as we sit outside on a patio decorated with sparse, potted cacti—a far cry from Versailles—we discuss his first day on set, making the Comte human, and what it was like filming an extremely intense (and journalistically embargoed) scene with co-star Caitriona Balfe.
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'Outlander,' as you know, has a rabid fan base. Were you daunted when you got the part?
I was really excited. I felt very blessed. I didn't realize straight away that it was this big, but then I started to watch season one, and I was like, this is a really good show. The chemistry between Cat and Sam [the show's stars, Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, who play Claire and Jamie] was so incredible. A lot of people were asking me about the fan base, if I was scared, and all of a sudden my Twitter and Instagram went crazy. [The fans] have been so nice and have sent supportive messages.
Which is encouraging considering you're playing a dastardly villain.
Yes, exactly. They all have loads of expectations I guess, but you have to withdraw yourself from it in order to do sincere work. On the other hand, you have the responsibility to bring this guy to life and be as faithful as possible to the book and the scripts, which are really well written, so it wasn't hard to do. I'm still realizing how big it is.
What was your first day on set like?
I was wrapping up a movie and two days later I was in the Comte St. Germain suit, so it was a bit overwhelming. You never know when you arrive on such a big set with people who have been working together for so long how it's going to go or if they're going to be nice to you.
The first person I met was Cat. I was very anxious. I hate first days—they are the worst. I was in front of my trailer smoking a cigarette—because this is what you do when you're French and stressed, you smoke cigarettes and drink coffee—and Cat arrived with cupcakes for the crew—so lovely! She saw me, came up, and gave me a hug.
It's a very English or American thing to do but in France we're like, hello [pulls a face], and try to be cool. The feeling I got on the first day being surrounded by these lovely people—from the crew to the cast—and Cat and Sam spreading this charming energy around made everyone very comfortable. It was something I was really impressed by. The first day became my favorite day.
You play the fictionalized version of an actual person. How did you go about researching and developing Comte St. Germain as a character?
I watched the entire first season and read the second book as fast as I could. Then I started to do research on the real character. I said to my dad, who is a stage actor in France, 'I'm going to play this guy; have you heard of him?' He said, 'Actually, I met this guy.'
What? Did your dad go back in time to 18th century Paris too?
He used to go to this nightclub in Paris a lot, Castel, and there was this guy walking around calling himself Comte St. Germain. I think he must have been related somehow because he kept talking about things that were happening back in the 18th century. [Laughs] But I think what's important as an actor is to free yourself from that. It's like you eat as much information as you can, but then you stick to the script.
Even though the Comte does very bad things, you bring levity to him that's quite human.
Bless you for saying this, because I've been asked this question about playing the baddie [so many times]. When I read the script, I said, 'Of course this guy has done terrible things, but he's a human being first,' and that's what I'm attracted to in a part like this. It doesn't make any sense if all of a sudden the guy is horrendously bad and that's it. You can't relate to him or understand him.
I think he had many reasons to be angry with the Frasers. My main focus was with the first scene I have [in the show] when I see my boat burning. That was a key thing that I anchored myself to. I love sailing myself and I love the ocean, so imagining this boat burning was heartbreaking. It was the key to everything that would happen afterwards. You don't wake up in the morning and think, I'm going to be so bad today. I'm going to be a nasty villain to everyone. No, you just wake up and do your own thing. St. Germain is definitely mean but he's doing what he needs to do to achieve his goals. The Frasers are a threat but are also good enemies, and I think he likes the challenge. They're up to his level.
JAMIE AND CLAIRE FRASER FACE OFF WITH THE COMTE (IN BLUE)
You have a pivotal scene with Claire [Caitriona Balfe] in an upcoming episode that's intensely emotional (and journalistically embargoed). What did you tap into in order to get to that place?
You do this job for intense scenes like this—you dream about them—and you get scared until the day it finally happens. But when you feel safe with your partners, the crew, and your director who all did a wonderful job, you get into the zone quickly. I know a lot of actors must do their jobs really well by saying all the people [they work with] are wonderful, but actually it's quite rare. This energy that I was talking about from Sam and Cat, it's rare. Cat helped me so much on that day. She gave everything, and I will always be grateful for that.
Seeing as how we're all enjoying going back in time to France along with the characters in the show, what would you say you miss most about the U.S. when you go back to France?
I miss the positivity. I miss the kindness of people being very warm and friendly. I love my country and love going back there. I think I've met every casting director in London and a lot in America, but there are so many I haven't met in France because they don't do general meetings. I've always looked a bit older. In France, the parts I could go for are reserved for major actors that are already famous. You lose a lot of confidence in your ability to play a character as opposed to being completely yourself. I don't want to do this job to be myself. To me the most important thing is to serve the author and not to try to get all the sunshine. It's about sharing, listening, and responding to the other person. You want to be in the moment and in the present.
If you could visit the past, though, what time period would you travel back to and why?
I think I'd go back to 18th century Paris because of the Lumière philosophers, that period of free-spiritedness and the French Revolution. I think it's so defining and such a strong symbol of us as a French people. [Smiles]
Or I'd just be a pirate on a boat.
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