‘Outlander’: Tim Downie says Governor Tryon’s demand of loyalty from the Frazers intertwines their destinies

‘Outlander’: Tim Downie says Governor Tryon’s demand of loyalty from the Frazers intertwines their destinies
Tim Downie as Governor Tryon and Melanie Gray as Margaret Tryon (Starz)

While playing the villain can be fun, it is a bit different when you are playing a historical character on the wrong side of history. In the current season, the saga of the Frazers is set in one particularly explosive time of North American history, just before the American War of Independence. Governor Tryon, played by Tim Downie, is their benefactor but is also a dangerous ally being one of the British "Red Coats" who impose oppressive taxes on the commonfolk settling in the colonies, which sparks the Regulators Movement.

In an exclusive interview with MEA WorldWide (MEAWW), Tim Downie spoke at length about how he approached the character, especially since Governor Tryon was someone real who, in hindsight, is the villainous representative of the British Crown in America. "I would say my story arc is most exciting. There are so many differing, strong forces that want to be heard and need to be heard and [Governor] Tryon is kind of in the middle of it all. He is very Machiavellian in the story that is exciting and great fun to play. There is a lot at stake as well. That makes it exciting," Downie said.

According to Downie, he tried to find the "truth" of the character in that particular moment in time. "There are a great many things that happen in history. But at the time you don't know if you are on the wrong or right side of history. There is a lot of talk about that at the moment, even in Britain, about being on the wrong or the right side. At the time [of the American Revolution], the British did think they were on the right side of history, having dominated the world in war and politics for a great many years. So they firmly believed that what they were doing was right."

"The character Tryon is born and bred and educated in that mindset. So it is very very difficult [for him] to see the wood for the trees; to see any other side or to see any other argument apart from his own. I think that makes it very interesting. I think the parallel between then and now is very pertinent. You really have to question authority, question these things that you are told are right, that you do because that is what has been decided," he added.

"Tryon does [what is decided] and he is also very ambitious and he wants what he can get out of the situation, which is very dangerous. As soon as you start putting ego  into positions of great power then you have a recipe for something you might not necessarily want, need or have planned for." 

Speaking about the parallels in history, Downie spoke about how certain right-wing thoughts and ideas have again gained momentum now, years after WWII. "We are talking about the rise of certain right-wing action again. We would have never thought, even 20 years ago, that we would be in a situation where this is something that is actually on the table. So History does repeat itself. And this [American Revolution] is even further back," he said.

"Humanity doesn't learn very quickly it takes a long time to move on and learn from things. That moment was just another lesson from history -- too much power in one person's hand and things will start to happen. In a king's hand [back then] it was an especially dangerous thing. If someone thinks they have the God-given right to do what they want, then no one matters as long as they get to where they are going.  Maybe, with hindsight, I probably did look at my character with that [knowlege] but that just makes the drama even richer. There are layers to it that strike a chord with today as well as then," he added. 

In 'Outlander' Season 5, Governor Tryon and the Frazer's destinies are intertwined and complicated. Downie revealed some juicy tidbits about what viewers can expect from this complex dynamic. "They are intrinsically linked. They have been since the moment the Frasers arrived on the Ridge. They owe a lot to Tryon whether they like to admit or not. He is the power player in the area. What he says is the law. That is never far from Jamie's mind or the Frazer family's mind. It is a time of upheaval, historically, when the British are being pushed and questions are beginning to be asked about them as the ruling power; about what they do and what they give -- the idea of the rule of law. The fight twists and causes seismic changes within this small family grouping as well as the whole. As we now know, it is the spark that is going to ignite [the American Revolution]."

While Jamie Frazer might be plotting to keep his godfather Murtagh Fitzgibbon safe, Downie explained that, given the unequal power dynamic between Tryon and Jamie, the governor isn't really worried about Jamie betraying him: "I don't think Governor Tryon sees them [the Frazers] as a threat. He might be wary of them because he is probably wary of people who are Scottish because of the history between the English and the Scots. But he knows he has got something on them. He can take away their house, land, family within a heartbeat if he wanted to. So he has demanded loyalty."

"He has created loyalty but hasn't earned it. He has given with one hand but he can take it away in the next moment. How he would have been brought up and the society he would have come from was very classist. So he would have thought that his superiors and contemporaries were people who should be treated like humans and everyone else is not anywhere near that. It is very interesting how that power dynamic works," Downie added. 

Downie has been in period pieces before, most notably in 'Drunk History', which was a comedy. But he finds that the line between comedy and drama is a blurry one. "It is tricky. It is whatever the script demands. When you are coloring a character, layering characteristics, it is more fun to give it more levels. I think in a drama, adding a bit of comedy creates a conflict with the viewer because even if you laugh at it, you are also thinking but 'I don't like him but now I'm laughing at him'. So it creates more levels to relate to."

He added, "You know that he is bad or not likable but there is a human aspect to the character as well. No one is 100 percent evil or 100 percent good.  How boring it would be if they were just that. You need that light and shade to bring him alive as someone people can connect to."

'Outlander' airs on Sundays at 8:00 pm ET/PT. The episode will be aired on STARZ, the STARZ app, and STARZ On Demand.

Share this article:  Outlander Tim Downie on complex power dynamic between Governor Tryon arc and Frazers exclusive