Thursday, April 7, 2022

“The McCallums of the Ridge are here!” An interview with Joanne Thomson and Caleb Reynolds

Outlander Homepage Originals 

From the moment that viewers watched Jamie Fraser stand at the top of a mountain envisaging a new life in North Carolina, they knew that something special would result. That something special was “Fraser’s Ridge”:  a sprawling estate that quickly became a home not just for the Frasers, but also for many other families who came under Jamie’s protection at one time or another. 

Among the new residents this season are the McCallums: widow Amy McCallum and her two young children. We were thrilled here at Outlander Homepage when Joanne Thomson (who plays Amy) and young Caleb Reynolds (who plays Amy’s eldest child, Aiden) agreed to talk to us about their time on the Ridge.

We began by asking the pair a little about themselves and how they came to be involved in Outlander. 

Well, I am Scottish, which definitely helps,” Joanne began. “I’m an actor, writer and director from Glasgow and I trained here at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (the same as Sam!)  I’ve been an actor for around 10 years now and I’ve done a lot of theatre - y’know, the old Shakespeare and things - and so I came to TV a little later. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of some great BAFTA-winning and BAFTA-nominated shows, but they were limited series. Outlander is very much the biggest and longest-running thing I’ve been part of so far. 

It’s a whole other world being on something this huge with these kind of production values and such an incredible fan base! I genuinely think that it’s everyone in the industry at the absolute top of their game, so I’d always wanted to be a part of it.” 

When it came to the audition process itself, Joanne had a funny story to tell. 

"This is actually my fourth time auditioning for the show,” she said. “I’d first auditioned all the way back in Season 1 for the woman that leads Frank down a fake trail to find the Highlander in the 40s timeline. Unfortunately, it also goes down as my worst audition for anything ever.”

Naturally, we were curious and asked her to elaborate.  

“Well, usually you do self tapes for first rounds, but I was in the room with the casting director for that one,” Joanne explained. “In the scene, the character had to get choked up against a wall, which meant I had to choke myself. So I did that, but I stepped back mid-choking and accidentally stepped onto the backdrop - which fell. Then the scaffolding fell. Then the huge pole holding the whole thing up fell - and landed right on my head! The best part is, it’s all on tape somewhere. (So ten points to Gryffindor for whoever finds it!) Yet somehow I was let back into the building several times, which I can only assume is because they forgot that it was indeed me who ruined their studio!

I also auditioned for Morag MacKenzie back in Season 4. That part was also a young mother with a baby who had a connection with Roger, a connection that others assumed to be whatever the 1700s version of flirting was. Bloody Roger eh? He’s forever getting himself in trouble with the maws. Total liability!”

(For those who are curious, “maws” is a Scottish colloquial term for mothers. We looked it up!)

“I first auditioned for Amy around February 2020, right before the world broke,” Joanne continued. “I’d sent in a tape from LA and didn’t hear back for ages, so I just assumed I hadn’t got it. Then in November I was asked to audition again and it seemed that they’d just had to push everything back because of “le ‘vid.” Before I knew it, I was knee deep in mud, donning a corset and had inherited two children.”

One of those children is young Caleb Reynolds, who portrays Amy’s eldest son, Aiden. Just nine years old, Caleb lives with his parents, big sister Molly and dog Oakley. When not donning 18th century garb, he loves Tae Kwon Do and Hip Hop dancing. So how does a young Tae Kwon Do and hip hop enthusiast become involved in Outlander, we wondered? 

“Last year, when I was 8, my mum had signed me and my sister up to join a local Performance Academy but due to covid, it was closed,” Caleb said. “My mum was following their page to keep an eye on updates, when she saw a post looking for an 8 year old Scottish boy for a TV show. The show was Outlander.”

So how did the two prepare for their roles?

“Mum sent in my photo and they sent back a short script for us to do a self tape,” Caleb said. “I had never been to an acting class or done a self tape before, but I just did my best and had fun. It was very surprising when I was told that they wanted me to play the part of Aiden!”

Fun was also high on Joanne’s preparation routine.

“I am a genuine fan of the show, so prepping didn’t feel like work,” she said. “At the time I had a wonderful flatmate, Shanae’a, who’s from Texas (and also an actor) and she was a fan too. In fact, one of the first things she asked me when we met was if I’d ever auditioned for Outlander and I was like, “YES. THREE TIMES OK AND I’M VERY BITTER ABOUT IT.”  But she read in for me on my last tape and she was with me when I got the part, so she was just the best person to freak out about it with! Next, I read book 6 and watched the whole series, this time with her basically sitting there next to me watching me watch it, which was so lovely because she was getting to enjoy it all over again. Reading the book was so helpful and now I definitely want to read the rest of them. I knew things would eventually differ, but before I got the full scripts I wanted to get an idea of what I was dealing with and wanted to try and keep some of what I knew the fans of the books would have been imagining. I’m not surprised there are so many of them too. Diana’s writing is incredible and we all really owe her a lot for creating this beautiful world and what I believe are hands down THE best fictional couple ever. 

Plus,” Joanne joked, “the books can also double as weapons if you ever have a home invasion, so win-win! If a redcoat ever storms into your living room looking to take your honour, hit him over the head with one of those bad boys and at the very least it should put him into a long coma!”

Not content with reading the books and watching the show, Joanne took her preparation one step further.

“I’m not method at all, but I am a complete geek, so I even started trying to learn Gaelic!” she said. “I was terrible at it, but I’d always been fascinated by it and it’s something Amy would have known, although she ended up not speaking it in the show. * Spoiler Alert* - It’s really really hard. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to learn it, but I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s pretty counterintuitive. For example, the word “beag” actually means small. And the animal “cù” (pronounced coo)? Obviously that’s cow isn’t it? No no, it’s dog!”

Next, we asked Joanne and Caleb if they could describe their character in three words.

“I'd describe Aiden as hardworking, protective and fun,” Caleb said.

“When we meet Amy in the first episode, I’d say she’s definitely lost, frazzled and homesick,” Joanne replied. 

And what was a typical day on set like for the pair?

“Well, depending on where we were shooting, sometimes it’d mean setting an alarm for 3 or 4am,” Joanne said. “Usually I’m going to bed at that time so that definitely messed with the old body clock!  A very lovely driver (who'd had to get up even earlier than me – seriously, the people behind the scenes are the absolute backbone of our industry and we need to look out for them in any way we can) would take me to what is often the middle of nowhere and I’d get popped into my trailer - a phrase which I don’t think will ever stop being cool! Then a nurse would come in and stick a stick up my nose (remember when that wasn’t a sentence we were used to?)  A wonderful runner would grab me some breakfast while a dresser got me into some serious LAYERSSSS: including thermals, because believe me, we need them! Sometimes we’d have heat packs in amongst our corsets too, stuck to various parts of our bodies! 

After that, I’d be called into makeup with the incredible hair and makeup team - who, I’m sure you all know, literally do God’s work on this show. They’d pop my bonnet-clad hair up and put a dab of concealer on whatever new zits I happened to be sporting that day. I’d wait for them to add more, but invariably they would tell me that nope, that was me done. Then I’d stare into the mirror in horror, coming to terms with the fact that I’d be displayed in HD into millions of people’s homes with no mascara on, looking like a little bald-eyed bonneted alien! 

While I was waiting to be called to set, I’d take a million trillion behind-the-scenes snaps that mainly consisted of me being a general idiot! But it’s all because I’m still new and a small enough part to be excited about donning that sweet corset/fingerless glove/shawl combo - and so naturally, I want as much evidence as possible that I got to wear it at all!  For the majority of actors, we spend so much time unemployed and endlessly auditioning, that I think it’s important to know how lucky we’ve got it when we are working - especially when this pandemic threatened our entire industry. It felt very special to be working at all.”

Caleb didn’t mention his alarm time, but his days on set would begin the same way.

“I would get picked up by a driver and my chaperone,” he said. “and we’d drive to either the studio or to a location. First thing was a covid test, then it was off to my trailer to get changed. I would get some time to run my lines or play games on my phone, then I’d go and film. There was often lots of waiting around between filming, when I would eat, play games, make tik toks and drink hot chocolate!”

And what was it like working with each other? How did they manage to create that mother-son bond?

“We actually met for the first time over a Zoom call,” said Caleb. “I remember that I wasn't really up for running our lines that day! On set, Joanne always looked after me. She made sure that I was warm enough and that I had enough to eat - just like a "real" Mum would! She was also happy to learn and record a Tik Tok with me, which I loved.”

“I’ll always remember learning that!” Joanne laughed. “Caleb keeps me young!”

(And for those fans wondering what that Tik Tok looked like, wonder no more! )

With early starts, covid tests and lengthy waiting times on set, we wondered what a perfect day off set would entail.

“My idea of a perfect day is a super sunny one,” said Caleb. “I'd get up early and go to the beach with my family. Then I'd come home and go out on my bike with my sister. I'd play the VR Headset and Roblox on my PC. There’d be lots of Irn Bru and snacks too!”

“What a question!” Joanne said.  “Perhaps with friends, eating cake in the sun and laughing so hard that cake comes out our nose? I really don’t know why that was the first thing I jumped to, but one day my friend Shona and I were laughing so hard while eating spaghetti that, no joke, an entire string of spaghetti did come out her nose! It was pretty traumatic, but all in all, a very good day!  So yeah, a day where my sides hurt from laughing. That’d be a perfect day.”

Finally, we asked Joanne and Caleb where they would want to go if they could travel through the stones. 

“Well as we’ve learned from Outlander, things just get worse for women the further back you go,” Joanne said. “But if I had to choose anything, it would be the early 1910s probably. Then I could don a Votes for Women sash and give the patriarchal government a right good (and most likely militant) seeing to!

Caleb too, would choose to travel into the past, but a lot further back. 

“If I could travel through the stones, I'd like to see what dinosaurs really looked like,” he said. “I've heard people say that they think some of them may have actually had feathers and stuff. I'd also maybe like to see what the very first day on earth was like!”

We’d like to thank Joanne and Caleb for taking the time to answer our questions. We’re certainly looking forward to seeing more of the McCallums on the Ridge. In the meantime, you can also follow Joanne on Instagram and Twitter @joannethomson22

This interview was compiled by Susie Brown, a writer and teacher librarian who lives in Australia. She doesn’t have a Tik Tok account - but is a little tempted now! She has also tried to learn Gaelic and is also terrible at it!

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