A Wee Chat with Emma Campbell-Jones, on Playing Mary McNab

One of the highlights of Episode 302, for me, was the Mary McNab scene with Jamie. I thought it was played perfectly by Emma Campbell-Jones, and by Sam. That scene had to be portrayed just right to make it believable, and it was. Sam was convincing as a heartbroken, soul crushed, aggrieved man, while Emma was the right combination of courageous, yet subservient and worn down with a humble, soft, and yearning heart.

As it turns out, I’m on an OutlanderBTS Adventure, in the UK with Mom just now. I met Emma and had a brief chat with her about her role as Mary McNab. We’ll do a more extensive interview later, but I’ll share this one now. 

Mom and I rolled into London on Wednesday afternoon after many hours of travel; we managed to stay awake until about 9:30PM that night, and then hit the sack hard. During the night, I woke up and reached for my cell phone with the intention of listening to Yoga Nidra for Sleep, (so soporific for me, the lady hardly gets to her third sentence before I’m out). I noticed I had a message from Emma. I’d done a piece on Emma back in January, and contacted her about an interview. Starz had not officially announced her yet, so she dutifully said she could not confirm her casting for Season 3, but we stayed in touch. She’d been given the go-ahead last week to go public, and thoughtfully contacted me to confirm she had indeed played Mary McNab.

The Outlander Effect was in full swing, as I was in fact, in London. Our initial plans included arrival the following day, but had to be changed, so voila. Emma was appearing in The Best Man in Windsor – a Gore Vidal play created in 1960, which is extremely reminiscent of our political situation in the US today, our story having had a different outcome.

At around 6:15PM, I hopped off a tour bus with Mom, popped her into a taxi for our hotel, and reacquainted myself with the subway system in London. With much maneuvering, I traveled from the Temple stop in London to the Windsor stop and then dashed through the shops, and up the hill. There, I was greeted by a giant Barbourous Sam, and a sign post that said the theatre was down the hill. I dashed down the curved hill, Windsor Castle looming to my right, and into the charming local Theatre Royal, Windsor. I arrived late after having missed one of my tight connections and having not taken time to stop in the Ladies room 😬, I stood at the back of the theater for the remaining 40 minutes of the first act. 

I found the Ladies room and my (very good) seat for Act 2, and enjoyed the rest of play. Emma played a female reporter. The play is about an American election in which a scoundrel with a trashy wife and an old school moral guy with a classy wife are up against each other in the primary. It was disturbingly familiar, and I squirmed in my seat. Here is a clip from another version of the play, including lots of familiar faces…

 

After the play, I bought a program, and went around to the stage door and waited for Emma. I had messaged her that I would be coming. Actors emerged at intervals, and eventually Emma came out with a group of friends. I introduced myself, and she stayed back to chat. I told her I really liked the play and how it was at once disconcerting and comforting for me (because we’ve been here before, and we made it through last time, so…).

She was staying in local “digs” (a rented room), and had done two performances that day. The next day she had rehearsal for two understudy parts and the evening performance to do, so I was aware of not keeping her too long.

Our conversation soon turned to Outlander. Emma, who is half Scottish, half English, grew up part time in Edinburgh and had a Scottish Grandma who was a former headteacher. Her father is British former F1 racing driver, John Campbell-Jones. (The “Campbell” in her name is a dead giveaway!)

Photo: Facebook, F1 driver John Campbell-Jones

When we talked about her scene with Sam in the cave, (which neither of us had seen yet), Emma was quick to praise Sam’s work in his role, portraying “the shell of a man.” 

She said they both lost weight for their roles, she getting down to 110 pounds, from her usual 8 stone, 7 lbs, or 119 pounds, as Mary is described in Voyager as: “small and fine boned” and also “thin, but all our clanswomen are these days…”

And even though Sam was still getting up at 4:00AM to work out every day, he was eating the smallest portions, even smaller than her own, she said.

She laughed and said, “I didn’t have cakes for weeks!”

I asked her what kind of makeup they used for her character.

She said: “Make up wise, they did very little – just stippled a tiny bit of brown to break up the tone – where she’d get sun damage from working outside, a little pink around my eyelids and nose and then my hands were made ruddy around the knuckles and dirty around the fingernails from all the cleaning and cooking Mary does. She’s had a hard life.”

Hair was a simple bun with a few wisps.  

About her make up process, Emma said: “About the shortest time spent in a makeup chair so far!” 

Emma is a beautiful woman off screen.

 

I asked her if it was uncomfortable filming intimate scenes with Sam, having just the one episode to work together, and she said the scenes were “beautifully done” and handled by the crew with “extreme sensitivity.”

I would agree, of course. The right touches all around, and a job very well done. Heart breakingly beautiful by both actors.

 

Emma hadn’t actually seen the episode yet, and she remarked, “Hmmm, how can I see the episode…?” Emma, if you’re reading this, (or anyone else in the UK), you can now order Episode 302 (and 301 – new episodes come out on Mondays) from Amazon Prime UK (click here for the link).

Eventually we said our goodbyes, as Emma needed to go home and run her lines for her understudy rehearsal the following day. I thanked her and wished her luck, and she wished us a good trip. 

I trained and subway’ed back to our side of London, communicating with Mom by text along the way. She, not being familiar with public transit in London, was worried about me out alone so late. I had not had time for dinner, so I asked her to order room service. I arrived at the same time as the food, at about 1:00AM. Mom ordered a steak sandwich and I had ordered a burger. I liked hers better, and being my mom, she switched with me. We sat up eating and gabbing away for another hour or two.

Here is a little more information on Emma…

Emma’s CV includes lots of television work, including Dr. Who – a running theme for Outlander (as most of you know). Diana’s inspiration for the character of Jamie came from Frazer Hines’ portrayal of a Scottish character named Jamie on Dr. Who.

       

Photo: Emma on Dr Who                                                          Photo: Sam, Diana, and Frazer Hines

 

John Bell, who plays Young Ian in Season 3, made his television debut on Dr. Who – CLICK HERE for more on John Bell.

Here is a video interview with Emma about Dr. Who, by Flicks And The City 

Also on Emma’s list of works is Royal Wives at War, a BBC/PBS period piece for television.

There’s a crossover with BBC One Doctors, which both Sam and Emma played on, but apparently without overlap. Sam played Scott Neilson in 2009, and Emma played four different roles, in 2008, ’10, ’11, and ’16. 

Photo: Sam as Scott Neilson on Doctors, with his costar Sophie Abelsohn

Emma has also appeared in EastEnders, where our Mrs. Fitz, Annette Badland played evil Aunt Babe. 

SPOILER ALERT**** non-Book readers proceed with caution

Those of us who’ve read the books knew that we’d be seeing Jamie in some extra-Clairital sex scenes this season. I did tell Emma (jokingly) that she may be chased by women with pitchforks after her episode aired, and that’s when she let me know that we’d be seeing Mary and Jamie in more of a “lovely preamble.” She laughed that the “other girl” (Geneva Dunsany) is more likely to get the pitchforks, a sentiment I have to agree with!

A warm welcome to Emma, you and Sam were excellent together, and I’m sure I’m not alone when I say your Mary McNab was right on target. 

I’ll end with a wee quote from Voyager, part of which was spoken by Emma as Mary to Jamie in the cave in Episode 302.

“I ken weel enough what ye’re thinkin’. For I saw your lady, and I know how it was between the two of ye. I never had that, not wi’ either of the two men I wed. But I know the look of a true love, and it’s not in my mind to make ye feel ye’ve betrayed it.”

— Mary McNab, Voyager
 

16 comments on “A Wee Chat with Emma Campbell-Jones, on Playing Mary McNab

  1. Lovely article. This is perhaps my second favorite scene so far…the fist being Rupurt and Jamie’s parting. Your writing gets better & better, Court…I felt like I was right there with you.

    Love, Linda

    • 😘 Thank you my friend – means a lot. Yes, There was something about that scene which made me really stop and take note. Not sure if it was the direction, the combo of those two, the moment, the fact that it came almost straight from the book, not sure, but something. Thanks Linda xo

  2. I was particularly struck by this:

    She said they both lost weight for their roles, she getting down to 110 pounds, from her usual 8 stone, 7 lbs, or 119 pounds, as Mary is described in Voyager as: “small and fine boned” and also “thin, but all our clanswomen are these days…”

    And even though Sam was still getting up at 4:00AM to work out every day, he was eating the smallest portions, even smaller than her own, she said.

    I get that everybody is supposed to look a bit starved during the difficult times after Culloden & all, but I can use my imagination for that. I certainly hope Emma, Sam & the other actors weren’t starving themselves for effect! I love Outlander, but they don’t need to go this far for me to love it!

  3. So I’m guessing that in the play The Best Man ( if it’s reminiscent of present politics in the US ) the good guy with the classy wife wins? Cool!
    Loved Emma as Mary McNab! Great job!

  4. Loved the article, very well written. This scene was so poinient the emotions so raw very well played by both actors. I cried through the whole thing .

  5. ” I think it was beautiful and well done!” Sam’s emotional state was set in perfect essence with her nervous approach to him which allowed for it to hit the mark exactly!! Congratulations to both of them on a job extremely well down!!

  6. Great article. I also really enjoyed that scene. It was poignant but sweet. You could really see the despair, the sadness in Sam’s eyes. They both did a great job. I hope Sam wins an award this time.

  7. It was a beautiful scene. We have heard how “big” Sam Heughan really is and these still pictures really show how true that is. Wonderful.

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