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.
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.
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 Cait, it’s rare. Cait 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.