Outlander actor Keith Fleming shares more details about his acting and his last moments as Lesley in the gripping opening of Outlander Season 4.
Last time I talked with Keith Fleming was in the café at my favourite book store in Glasgow on a sunny day in May 2018. This time, alas, I’m back in the antipodes and he’s treading the boards in the highly acclaimed touring production of Cyrano de Bergerac, a collaboration between the National Theatre of Scotland, Citizens Theatre and The Royal Lyceum Theatre. So, we had to settle for a long distance conversation.
Keith took time out from the show and the social media frenzy to answer some questions from the other side of the world. Those of you who regularly take to Twitter and other social media platforms will know that there is a huge hullaballoo around Fleming’s performance as Lesley in Outlander Season 4’s first episode, “America the Beautiful.” From his loyal friend beginnings, his amazing lead in the lament for Gavin Hayes, to his agonizing end at the hand of Outlander’s new arch villain, Fleming is getting applause all round from fans and Outlander luminaries alike.
Keith’s replies to my questions reminded me that he is one funny guy with a real feel for creative and quirky plot twists. The first thing I asked Keith in our email exchange was how he managed to keep quiet for so long about his Outlander Season 4 role.
Last time we met, you were very close-mouthed about involvement with Outlander Season 4. Such discretion! Did you know at that point that you were in one episode only, and would meet a grisly end at that?! It must have been hard to keep quiet for so long.
I did know….and yes it was tricky but you get asked not to say anything so you don’t …. simple. There is a lot of deflection involved with fans asking I guess. My pals knew obviously, as I wasn’t going back into the studios, and I was suddenly available for other work — unfortunately!
How did you feel when you first heard that you would only be in one episode of Season 4, after working with the Outlander team throughout most of Season 3?
I was genuinely gutted. I got on great with everyone involved with the show, the cast and crew, and they seemed genuinely gutted when they found out. Sam had tried to find out if I was coming back to S4 when we were in Cape Town…there was a feeling of a good team happening and it would be a shame to break it up.
I just wished I’d had an opportunity to develop the character and get some proper meaty content in order to do so. But when yer time comes! There are a lot of characters and storylines to satisfy and as Lesley is not in the books, it’s tricky. I’m just grateful for the amazing opportunity I had and the most incredible time on such a fantastic production.
I was hoping for a spin-off series where Hayes and Lesley team up with Father Fogden, get blitzed on the yupa and end up being transported forward in time to the 1960s!
To Outlander fans, the book readers amongst us, your character Lesley is the archetypal “dark-horse” … we all knew what was coming for your pal Gavin Hayes, but, because your character was invented for the show, we had no idea what to expect. Fans were devastated that you met such a horrific end! Do you think that was a plot device to show early on what a horrendous psychopath Stephen Bonnet is?
I think it was an ideal opportunity for the writers to show how ruthless he is..Bang, there’s yer new character right there. What an entrance….just a shame it had to be Lesley that copped it.
But they could have gotten rid of me in the shipwreck. Instead they gave me a valiant heroic death at the hands of a pretty boy pirate…..that’s the stuff of fantasy is it not!!!!
By the juxtaposition of his charming interactions with the Frasers before, if he had only robbed them and beaten them up it wouldn’t tell such a powerful story about him. Were you sacrificed for the development of another character? …
I think I’ve kind of answered that in the last question. Perhaps…it cranks up the drama and establishes Bonnet as a ruthless dangerous guy.
I mean, I could argue he might have slit her throat to get a ring, but then that would not be gentlemanly would it? And he is a charmer, so there’s a great character to play and become intrigued by.
Were you prepared for the outpouring of support and reactions of fans on social media regarding Lesley’s untimely and heroic death?
Not really. It’s been so touching to receive the kind reaction. The social media angle is something I haven’t quite got my head round. It’s becoming a more important part of the business … free advertising. It also serves as a platform for like-minded people/fans to commune, discuss, feel the connection.
But there are people who seem to be Twitter careerists, with programs to find and follow more and more folk. I might be old-fashioned, but having 500,000 followers does not mean I can act.
On Twitter you said ….
Can you elaborate on the way you brought that man to life on our screens …. And can you explain what a “ding ding” is *wink, perhaps I can guess.
I approached him as I do any character….what does he do and say? And what do others say about him? Those are your basic clues. Then build from there. Be truthful in the scenes and we’re away.
Quite often, when you’re more of a secondary character, you get left to your own devices. The lead characters will have ongoing discussions with directors and writers about their storyline, the content, the emotional arc etc…that is completely necessary as it’s their story.
So often for me it was a case of stand there, walk at this line, then say your lines. You have to use your instinct, trust you’re making good choices, and they must be if the director isn’t questioning them…either that or you’re not in a shot and nobody is telling you.
The director will give you an overview of the scene you’re about to shoot and if you’ve done your work well, hopefully your instinct and skill will have guided you to the same ballpark.
Ding ding was something I heard Eddie Murphy use to describe the male groin area!
What was it like shooting such violent life-and-death fight scenes? I imagine it is both physically and emotionally grueling, as well as painstakingly detailed and choreographed. Can you describe that process?
It’s all detailed choreography, technical, physical and emotional….coming together. Work with the stunt guys/fight director first, so we get the shape and everyone feels safe. Then because it’s a confined space, the lights and camera and crew need to be added to the party.
My death scene took a fair time to film ….. there’s a lot going on there. So there was a fight rehearsal, stunt guys, choreography or blocking, Rollo, and then the acting to dae, eh. (translation, “to die, eh”)
The odd thing was doing the scene not in sequence…although I was being killed that day, later in the week I was to sing Hayes lament in the tavern! Was kinda hoping they would say “we’ve decided to reshoot, and Lesley escapes!”
I was fitted with a blood pump that came up my arm and stopped at my collar. There were a few funny moments whilst filming it, such as Bonnet’s pistol falling out at my feet in one take and I bent down and picked it up…could have been a whole new story right there!
Does it ever get easier watching other characters/actors have to break down over and over like Caitriona did in those scenes?
With reference to Caitriona, it is just the job. She is bang on every time. You know she is giving it her all, and the scenes are emotionally and physically draining, but that’s our job. And she is a very honest connected actor. Pleasure to have shared scenes with her.
Where were the boat scenes shot? Were you at the River Run location in Crieff or on the boat in the Cumbernauld studio car park? Or a mixture of both? Was the final scene shot on a studio set?
We filmed the internal boat scenes in a unit in Hamilton (near Glasgow) ….not quite as warm as Cape Town!!
You told me last time that you can act and paint, but I didn’t know you could sing as well! What a muti-talented artist you are. Can you tell us about that song and about filming that scene? It was very emotional for the viewers and there has been nothing like that on Outlander before.
Well I’m not a Gaelic speaker so Robert Robertson, who composed/translated the lament, met me to go through it. We spent an hour on it; then it was down to me to go learn it. I spent days singing it whilst cleaning the flat or the cat litter tray! I knew what the song said in English, so I was aware of the emotional content and could invest in it. Then I sang it with Sam, Cesar and Lauren. The structure of it indicating that they start to join in as the chorus is repeated and they become familiar.
Sam slyly pointed out that in an earlier book it said that Jamie confessed to being tone-deaf or not being able to sing….so he got out of a rousing duet with me!!
Then it was down to set a few days later and all the supporting actors in the tavern….so I now have to sing in front of all this cast and crew. By the end of the day, I think even Dave Stewart could sing it….I must have sung it 20 times that day!!
Your singing voice surprised viewers as well as Matt B. Roberts (he mentions it on the Podcast and that had he known you could sing he would have featured it more often). How long have you been singing?
Well I guess like most folk, I’ve had fun singing in the shower. I love music … I joined the school choir at 17 to basically go on the 3-week trip to Germany and Italy to experience different girls … hahaha! But I loved singing Vivaldi’s Gloria and Orff’s Carmina Burana.
I was eyed with suspicion when I first turned up to rehearsal with my friend Mark….we were not the choir “type” at school — we were the dudes not the squares — but it was incredible being in amidst that glorious sound. Since then I’ve been in musicals such as Mince?, Pants!, played Cliff in Cabaret, and was Davy, one of male leads in Sunshine on Leith…there are others such as Christmas shows. I also organised a fund-raising concert in memory of my late fiancée, who lost a battle with cancer, and I sang at that.
I remember last time you commented that as a supporting actor, you may be “acting your socks off” but that part may never make it to the screen. Were there any scenes that were deleted that you wish had made it into the cut?
There’s a scene where Lesley and Jennifer Lawrence make mad passionate love….I’ve no idea where that might be!
I watched the graveyard scenes you filmed at the park in Polmont. It was raining a lot, especially on the first night, and I marvel at how you cannot tell this on the show we see on our screens. We saw the actors with umbrellas held over them, and when “rolling” was called the umbrellas were whisked away. It seems incredible, and it must be really hard to act as if you are in a warm place when it is freezing cold and raining.
It’s all about the focus of the acting, pretending, and the longjohns/thermals under yer costume. And freezing fog becomes tropical mist!
Do you have any anecdotes about the filming, fun facts about your fellow actors and working together on Outlander? On Twitter you said Sam Heughan is a “fucking cracking lad” and Caitriona Balfe is “brilliant.” Anything more to add on that?
I’d not like to say anything without consent of others involved, but I loved minxing about with Cesar and John….proper like-minded sense of humour. Lauren and I got on great, as too with James.
We would often hang out in Cape Town during Season 3 filming and meet for brunch when not filming. Gary, Nick and Nigel were fantastic company …. I feel so lucky to have been part of a team that were good at their job whilst being good folk too.
Sam and Cait have such a heavy schedule, so they didn’t have as much free time, but when set-free, PAAAARRTTY. They are warm welcoming individuals despite the demands on them, and we keep in touch, which has been lovely for me to think I made an impression on them also.
You meet many people in this business and move on, but every now and then a few of them stick …. for the right reasons. That’s magic.
What are you up to these days? I know you are busy in theatre. What’s on the horizon for you after Outlander? There’s talk of you maybe coming to Outlander fan conventions – would that interest you?
I would love to do the conventions, but I’m not sure I’m pretty enough. The fans are also really loyal to the books and the characters, and perhaps not interested in a fictitious creation ….. I guess they all are that though! But, maybe I could come sing a lament and another few Scottish ditties I’ve sang in shows.
I’ve just wrapped up on Cyrano..an epic show where I played the arch English/French baddie De Guiche. I’m doing a wee show Aladdie for a week at Christmas. Then I don’t know. There is talk of a show I did last year, going to South Korea..I hope it’s South!! And another theatre show is possibly happening in Spring.
But ideally I’ll do more film/tv….theatre is amazing and you are very much part of the creative process and therefore feel an ownership of what you come up with. And I love that. But Outlander whet my taste for filming and I’d love more of that please. Lesley could have a twin brother seeking revenge!
What’s the most surprising talent we’d read on your CV?
Probably horse-riding…..every actor says they can…the last time I was on a horse was perhaps 20 years ago though. There was a cut away scene in 401 where you are meant to see me riding off from graveyard … but they used one of the stunt guys, as you didn’t need to see my face!
I know from our previous talk you are a strong supporter of wildlife causes, especially primates. Were you able to visit any animal reserves while you were in South Africa last year?
I went to a few rescue sanctuaries, and also hired a car to go try see some whales, but it was not the season. I went white shark cage-diving. But the most impressive sight was when Lauren, James and I went to Cape Point and saw a school of between 100-200 dolphins on the charge……they were perhaps hunting a shoal of fish but it was one of those beautiful breath-taking sights.
Just a few more quick-fire questions ….
Does Lesley have a first name?
His first name is a well-kept secret.
Does Mark O’Connor (Outlander key floor runner apparently there on set 24/7) ever wear a hat that is not red?
Mark has an amazing heid of hair… very silky and weel kept under those red beanies
And finally what is the meaning of “dundlejuice,” your Twitter handle?
To dundle is to walk aimlessly with no particular place to go, or time restriction…..like stravaig I suppose. There’s an element of Jim Morrison wandering the desert and encountering a native American …. Or did he…about the name …. one day I’ll tell you off the record!!
Do you have anything else you want to say?
I’d just like to thank the fans for their kind messages and support. It has been really brilliant to get such a response. I’m just sorry I cannot continue on the journey with you all…..but maybe I might make it to a convention one day.
And thank you Andrée for approaching me and making me feel one of the gang!x
Thank you Keith and hope to maybe see you at an Outlander fan convention one day.
Any thoughts on the untimely demise of Lesley in 401? Any questions you would like to ask Keith Fleming about his work on Outlander?
Thanks to the following for the images: Keith Fleming, farfarawysite.com and Outlander STARZ.
Andrée has been an Outlander fan/addict since December 2015 when she took a friend’s advice to watch this “great show.” Well that was great advice and since then Andrée has travelled from Australia to Scotland twice and spent lots of time checking out the Outlander action. You can follow Andrée on twitter @andree.poppleton and Instagram @AndreePoppleton for more Outlander action.