Lauren Lyle is having a dream worthy year, filled to the brim with artistically satisfying roles in big name dramas like Outlander, Vigil, and Karen Pirie.
Lauren Lyle has the type of career many actors lust after but never quite possess. She has beautifully portrayed an array of dynamite characters, each of which inject a unique set of traits and skills into their respective environments. Lyle is perhaps best known for her role as Marsali Fraser on Outlander, a character who is the embodiment of the phrase “a force to be reckoned with” and has been a fan favorite since her introduction. The experience of filming Outlander is one that Lyle speaks about fondly, with an immense sense of gratitude, as she recognizes the gift of belonging to such a ferociously loyal fanbase.
In addition to starring in the sixth season of Outlander, Lyle is tackling two incredible new roles in 2021. First, she’ll step into the shoes of Jade Antoniak in BBC’s Vigil, a character so deeply imbued with secrecy that Lauren is forced to sidestep several conversational minefields as I ask her to tell me about the project. She has also recently completed work on ITV’s Karen Pirie, an adaptation of the beloved thriller series penned by author Val McDermid. These projects have allowed Lyle to blossom as an actor and as an individual—she speaks highlighly of the collaborative efforts of both shows, and how she was able to exercise her love of photography while filming for these roles.
When you watch Lauren Lyle’s work, you are immediately struck by the realization that you’re watching someone special, someone who is so profoundly talented that you find it hard to focus on anyone else.
1883 Magazine spoke with Lauren Lyle at length about the filming process of both Vigil and Karen Pirie, the inspiration behind her incredible podcast She’s A Rec, and what it means to film in Scotland as someone who was born and raised amid its beautiful landscapes.
I feel like you have so many exciting things going on! I want to make sure we touch on everything. So to start—I just saw the trailer for BBC’s Vigil and it looks super intense! The trailer really builds that level of mystery surrounding the events that are taking place. What can you tell us about your role in the show?
[Laughs] I can tell you so little! So, I can tell you she’s called Jade Antoniak, and she is a woman that lives in a sort of peace camp near the nuclear submarine site where they keep nuclear weapons onboard submarines. So it’s sort of like a play on like places that do exist around the world of peace camps where people try to protest nuclear weapons, and the Navy using them and things like that. So I play a woman that lives in one of these camps, who is regularly protesting nuclear weapons, and the Navy, and their use of them. And she sort of basically becomes intertwined…her story follows how she becomes intertwined with the investigation that the death the show opens with, and who she is, sort of in that world. But she’s very much involved in what’s happened, but you don’t know why, or how.She basically holds a lot of information around who the person is that died and why they did, and knows things that the police need her, in a way. And so she gets caught up, sort of involuntarily, in a lot of it. She has a lot of information to give that a lot of people need, but she’s not willing to give it away. I’m sorry, it’s really hard to explain! [Laughs]
[Laughs]. No, it’s okay! I figured it would be an interesting thing to ask because I couldn’t find anything, anywhere, about the role you play so I was like, Oh, I wonder if you can even talk about it, but at least we’ve got the parameters of what was going on!
It’s because….so, we almost had like two casts on Vigil where you have the guys on the submarines, and then you have the guys on land, on HMS Vigil, and on land with the peace camp and police and things. So I was on land, really. And so, it’s kind of how the two worlds collide and she’s [Jade] a massive part of the on land team and how that collides with the submarine team. So, in the end I did meet them all at dinners and things like that, and we all became friends via that route, but like a lot of the time we didn’t work together. But it’s really strange because you were kind of focusing on your side of things, and then having to not really…like, you had the script so you knew what was going on but not really like how it was shot and things like that. There were a few days where I was on set on the submarine, like in the studios where the submarine was, so I could see stuff but it was almost quite separate, and then they all explode together, in the story of it all..in the thriller that is Vigil.
Is it a different filming experience when it’s that type of approach where you’re not seeing everybody every day—where it is separate until this catalyst happens? Is that different from like, when you’re in an ensemble cast where you’re actually in the group all the time?
Yeah, totally! Like Jade, as a character, is a very solo storyline which actually was something I was really excited about. Because I hadn’t done that, like on Outlander, as the ensemble cast, we’re all like a family on Outlander, we’re like together all the time, I’m always with César who’s my husband on the show, I’m always with Caitríona, we probably worked with each other most of anyone on the last season. But yeah, we’re always together so you’ve always got your buddy and your people and you’re bouncing off of each other and you got your, your partner. Whereas on Vigil, it was a lot more like Jade’s on her own. She’s like a bit of a lone wolf as a character. And so it was really cool. I really…I kind of didn’t realize until I got the number of drafts through, how much she was doing on her own. And like you follow… because it’s all quite secret, what’s going on with her. It’s like she’s full of secrets, so she has to be on her own quite a lot. That doesn’t make any sense, but it makes for a good sound bite! [Laughs].
[Laughs]. I’ll make sure to highlight that.
Yes! But yeah, it was great. It was just like a totally different experience. And I loved it equally, it was just very, very different. And it was also really nice to not be in a corset for a while, and to be doing thriller stuff!
Yeah, like a contemporary atmosphere! I feel like you…you’ve done a little bit of both contemporary and period, which is nice to have that mixture of roles but to be able to be like, I can breathe freely the entire time I’m filming this must be nice!
I’ve done stuff before like, contemporary wise, but with Outlander you just spend so long in dresses and hats and bonnets, and like, in fields, and it’s great! But I’m butchering animals. So, to then be able to go on to something where I could hold a phone! That was really cool.
When you got the script for Vigil and you saw the cast and everything that was going on in the story, was there a specific interaction or scene you were most looking forward to filming? I know you can’t give specific details! But like, you were saying you were on your own a lot of the time because of what’s happening with your character, so were you excited for the challenge of focusing primarily on what was happening with her internally?
I was excited!There’s a lot of…she’ll have conversations or like moments with a lot of people. But then it’s like all the gaps are filled in by all the stuff that she does on her own, which I did really enjoy and it was quite a cool opportunity to work really closely with the director to figure out just me and him…I mainly worked with James [Strong] and Isabelle [Sieb], actually, I got to work with both of them on filling in the gaps, rather than it being about a scene so much. And there were times where I was working with Suranne Jones and Rose Leslie. I worked with both of them and that was great! That was amazing like that when I found out…I didn’t know who the cast was, I knew Suranne was going to be in when I got the part I didn’t know Rose [Leslie] was going to be in it, and then when I got to the read through and I saw Gary Lewis, who had worked on Outlander…
I made a note to ask you about that! [Laughs].
[Laughs]. He’s like my uncle, and I was like, “Gary!” And he was like [imitates Gary’s voice] “Lauren! I didn’t know you were going to be on this!” and that was amazing, because he’s amazing. We know each other pretty well now. We didn’t even work together in Outlander, we just did press stuff together, and that was exciting. Dan Portman, who also is Scottish royalty. I knew him a little bit, and then I didn’t realize Rose [Leslie] was on it and I was like, Oh my god she was like one of my favorites on Game of Thrones! She is just like the most wonderful, wonderful, lovely, kind person. So we got to work together quite a lot. I mean, Rose is probably the person I worked with most on it, and Suranne as well. There was a day where we had to like sit in a little trailer…we were on location and we had to sit in a little trailer for like three hours as it rained, and we got to have lunch together and I got to just pick their brains about what it’s like being actresses in their worlds, and Suranne especially in her experience in her life. So it was a joy. It was a complete pleasure, so that sort of stuff…as much as my character is on her own a lot, getting to do some days with them was really, really cool.
It’s incredible to hear that it was such a surprise to see all of these people! I can’t imagine walking into a room not knowing who’s gonna be there and being like, Oh that’s Rose Leslie! I need to compose myself, I can’t look directly at her.
I just had the sheet and I was like Oh, wow! This is a really good cast!
And also people like Paterson Joseph, who’s been on Peep Show, like a complete legend! And seeing him do something really serious was amazing. Like, it’s an amazing cast. I looked around the room and James Strong, one of the directors, stood up and was like, “This is one of the best casts I’ve ever had, thank you everyone for doing this.” And the casting directors thought the same thing.
Even watching the trailer, people would flash by and I’d be like, I know this person! You wouldn’t think all of these people would be there. And so many people from Game of Thrones, too!
Yeah! And like we talked about that, about how we’ve got someone from everything. We had Connor from Sex Education, we had Outlander including Gary [Lewis] and myself. We had Game of Thrones covered, Gentleman Jack covered, Peep Show covered. Like we had everything from every angle!
The casting directions were like, We’re gonna take you from here and you from here to here and hope that the chemistry works.
I’m very intrigued by that, because obviously you’re Scottish, and I feel like a lot of your roles end up filming in Scotland. So, as an actor and as somebody who’s from there, what is the importance of being able to shoot in your home country? What does it mean to you to have that opportunity so frequently?
Well, I live in London so I get the best of, like, all the weather and the fun. And I’ve lived in London for years, so London’s like my home now. So, it’s cool to go back to my home, my childhood home. And I get to see my parents and my nieces and nephews, which is amazing, but then also just being able to…I’ve seen so much more of Scotland than I ever would have, because we have locations everywhere. I’ve been all over. Like, for Karen Pirie we were all over the east coast up in St. Andrews, which genuinely has sunsets that I don’t think you get anywhere else on this side of the world. incredible northern sunsets that you like, drop down the side of the Earth.
That sounds amazing.
Yeah, the landscapes of Scotland, like, one minute you can feel like…there are places in St. Andrews where you feel like you’re filming on Mars, and then other places where you’re on like a tropical beach. I mean, the water is freezing! But that’s what it looked like. And then we also got to film in Glasgow. Like there were a couple of times where we’d be on locations like a five or even an eight minute drive from my childhood home, which is where my family still lives. So, that was amazing. It’s so weird to film like, two minutes from where you were born.
That must be weird to be like, Oh, I know this and I recognize this place, and that person lives here.
Yeah! I’d be like, “That’s the best cafe to go for an ice cream. That’s where I used to go when I was 10.” And I used to go there and get my usual. I would just walk in and be like, “I’ll have my usual ice cream”, and I would get it and everyone was like, “Okay, yeah, we’ll go there!”
I love places like that.
That was really cool. We’ve been out loads on the west coast as well. We went up to Sterling, which is gorgeous. Just getting to drive home at night through these unbelievable landscapes. There’s just nowhere else, I think… you really can’t replicate Scotland. If you want to film and make it look like Scotland, you have to be there. I don’t think you can fake it, because it’s just so specific and the light of everything like it’s so stunning to shoot in the light there. And the sunrises and sunsets that we got. I can’t…I mean, I feel like all I talk about are the sunrises and sunsets! But that’s what we all talked about quite a lot on set. After night shifts, you just watch the sun come up and it’s like…you don’t get that in England. I mean, I love living in London! But, yeah, it’s been really special and really cool to have the opportunity to work in Scotland.
It’s nice that all of these shows serve as a testament to the landscape. In the States, a lot of the time they’ll film somewhere and pretend it’s somewhere else because it’s sort of interchangeable. I love a good sunset though, I’ll make a note of those places in Scotland!
Vigil’s were beautiful too. I have loads of little film cameras…I’ve got a Super Eight Camera, I’ve got a Canon A-1, I’m very into film. And there would be times on Vigil where I’d just be sitting against, I don’t know, a police car or whatever’s going on that day, and taking photos of what could be, like, a really normal moment. Like, open expansive space of location, but the light and composition of everything was just gorgeous. Everywhere you went it was just like free beautiful composition without having to try too hard. So, from an art perspective, it was magical. Amazing. Yeah, magical.
Are you really into art and photography in general? Or is this something that developed when you started spending all this time on these different sets?
That’s a good question! Well, I did fine art at school. At A Level I did painting, so I can paint! And I love painting, so composition wise, I sort of understand that. And then when I left school…yeah, I suppose when I started working, I think I’d maybe, like, watch the cameraman. I’ve always said if I wasn’t an actor, if I had to go into the technical side of things…I’m definitely gonna direct, but I’ll do that at some point anyway. I have already produced films, but I would love to do something where I would be the DP.
So, I have a Super Eight camera, and for all of Karen Pirie I was filming…I had that on set with me the whole time. I was trying to make a little film, and like Ryan, our DP who was amazing, he would catch me sort of trying to figure it out and he’d be like, “Oh, looks like you’re having some trouble with it” and he’d help me and show me ways to do things. So yeah definitely working on this has made me really interested to understand technically how it works. I feel like I have a much better understanding technically because of Vigil, but I have always been really naturally inclined to art and picture having done painting since I was like 16. I’ve just ordered a load of pictures, actually. I’ve just got my own place in London really recently so my next job is to decorate. Like, you can see my bare walls on camera! I’ve hardly lived here because I’ve been away working.
It’ll be nice to have that nesting period where you can be in the house and personalize it the way you want to! I wanted to say as well that I didn’t realize you had produced as well. That’s amazing. Is that something you want to continue doing?
I produced a lot of short films with a production company that I used to have. And I haven’t done it in a while but I am good at it, but I don’t love doing it. I’m organized and I can be really good at details when I care, and have done like…we’ve put films on at BAFTA and really cool places. So I can do it! But, I just haven’t in a while because I’ve been working as an actor so much, but I’ve got two films I’ve written, but I haven’t really…I have a friend who’s an amazing producer and she and I are gonna do it, and I’ll do it again, because I kind of know what to do now but I’d love to direct as well, so I’ll need someone else to help me along. I’ve done loads! I like to be…sort of in control [laughs]. I definitely think I’ll end up, at some point, with my own production company doing that sort of thing because I’m really ambitious! But I’m enjoying the break.
That’s a good idea to take a little break before you go and conquer the entire film world! Speaking of all the projects you’ve been doing at once, I wanted to discuss your podcast She’s A Rec which I absolutely love. I think it’s so important that you want to use the podcast to highlight the importance of work created by women. And obviously you’re starring in these two different series now, Outlander and Karen Pirie, which are based on works by female characters, so, what does it mean to you to be able to bring these female created projects to life?
Thank you! I mean, the podcast all kind of stemmed from realizing that I wasn’t as aware of my female influences as I was of my male influences. So, like all my favorite bands and films and things were often directed by men or were male bands or whatever. And I just kind of wanted to tap into and try and…and see what was out there and what was going on. And I just kind of wanted to tap into that and try and see what was out there, what was going on, and it’s gone really well. And yeah, with Caitríona [Balfe], she was almost the guinea pig because I had gotten the deal to do the podcast and then I said to her, “Would you like to come on as the first guest?” and she was like, “Oh my god I absolutely would love to!” and then I got Wolf Alice on and afterwards Caitríona was like, “Oh my god, I LOVE Wolf Alice!” and I love Wolf Alice. I’ve had some really unbelievable people on. Like, to have a United Nations bomb disposal expert, which is insane. And that came about from, it had already come out and people had gotten in touch to say I should interview this person because she’s so amazing. And her stories of like…her song that she chose was after she evacuated a warzone and this other woman had shown the song to her. Yeah, the podcast has been amazing and I’m going to do season two. I have an idea of kind of doing it with, like, not all men but like getting some guys on as well and having them tell me about their female influences. That’s what I’ll be doing now, I think in the next month or so. It’s been sick! I didn’t really expect it to go as well as it did. I don’t know! I just had never done it before.
It’s a fantastic first attempt! You would never be able to tell that you didn’t have experience with podcasting before this.
I mean, it’s so much work but it’s really fulfilling and to have this great feedback coming in. I just think it’s important. The idea of…like, I kind of get a bit bored sometimes of talking about like, Oh, let’s put a female director. She’s a strong female character. I think it’s just more interesting now that we talk about directors and they happen to be women, or she’s at the forefront of a TV show but it’s not about being a strong woman, that’s just what’s going on. It’s just normal now.
It would be nice for it to just be normal without there being this emphasis placed on gender where you could just be like, This is the best director for the project. And not have to stress the “female” part. Because that’s the whole point of equality is that it’s just supposed to be something you’re not even noticing or thinking about.
Isabel Sieb, who was one of the directors on Vigil, like she’s a huge advocate of women and she was there like directing a massive budget BBC blockbuster series, and she’s absolutely amazing. And to be surrounded by people like her and to feel so supported, to be surrounded by people like Emer and feel so supported, like the production team on Karen Pirie, loads of the Vigil team were female producers. It’s just it’s such a great vibe around that like having Suranne and Rose at the forefront of Vigil. It’s just a cool thing to be around, and it makes me excited thinking that that’s the way forward. And I want to be a part of all of that, and just hope that I can, because you sometimes wonder like…what are you doing to help the world, but maybe this is my thing where it’s trying to just give people a platform, having a platform, and being able to use it to put the right people forward feels like a good way to spend your day.
That must be fulfilling, because I think that’s what anybody would want to do. To not only do what you want to do and what you’re passionate about, but to know you’re giving other people a platform, or you’re contributing to something where this is at the forefront of what’s going on. It can be lost in the fray sometimes where people are only focused on what they’re doing.
And who doesn’t love film, music, and books?
I loved the concept of it because those things feel so personal.
Yeah! And everyone is always looking for a recommendation. I’m always asking people, “What should I watch next? What should I read next? What should I listen to?” and so to have that going on, everyone is always looking for that. And it’s a good excuse for me to meet really cool people and get the chance to talk to them. [Laughs].
I think that’s a good way of getting to know people, because it facilitates conversation because you’re allowing them to discuss it on a more personal level and they’re sharing exactly what it means to them.
Exactly! What it means to them.
I wanted to quickly ask you about Outlander as well because it’s such an important part of your career and we’ve barely even touched on it! What were you most looking forward to about starring in the show when you were told you got the part? Was there a specific element of the character, or even of the time period, that you were most excited about?
When I got the brief through I was like, “This is really right for me”. Marsali becomes a lot nicer, she becomes a lot more accepted by the family and becomes part of the family. And she’s a lot more kind, controlled, and she likes Claire, basically. I do always like to try to keep a bit of a bite to her because she’s still the blood of Laoghaire. I was really excited about that when I joined. And also the world of a period drama is so unique. The scale of Outlander is so massive, that I do think there are few period dramas where the budgets are really massive. To be a part of that…you really do walk into a world. It’s like walking into a whole theme park when you walk onto set. The sets are so detailed and dense.
This season, me and César built our own house. We built a house! And it’s full detail, down to everything like the children’s toys. Marsali’s learning to butcher…there are just layers to her skills. She’s one of the few female regulars who’s actually like a woman from that time who has to learn how to live, how to protect herself, how to protect her family, genuinely. So I learned a lot of stuff as Marsali, things like I genuinely learned how to butcher a goat. I had to learn how to do it with a butcher and guys who reared the goats. I had to learn how to stitch like a surgeon because I became Claire’s apprentice. I genuinely have learned loads of the stuff that I have to do on the show, which is such a unique opportunity because I don’t know how many shows have the means to go into that much detail, but we do. The scale is so cool to be part of. Getting to work with some incredible actors who come in and out to be on the show like Gary Lewis and people like that. It’s amazing. When I joined I don’t think I quite realized it would be like that. And the fandom is such an amazing thing to be a part of and to have such dedicated fans that you feel like will never really go away, that is really cool.
I didn’t realize they would actually make you learn how to do all of those things!
Everything you see me do in the show I had to learn to do. What can I say about this season? Like, we shot in snow this year and it’s all real snow! I can’t really say the stuff that goes on this season, but in the past, any skills you see Marsali doing, I have to do in full dress. Like, I’m in a corset, and I’m pregnant all the time, so having to do it pregnant. But how cool, on the topic of women? It’s been a real pleasure and a real honor to play a woman that would do exactly as women would have to do at that time. And at a really brutal time to have to live. To portray a woman who would do everything you’d have to do to survive at the time, plus also be heavily pregnant because you have to continue to do it while heavily pregnant, with all your other kids, with all the bad guys coming in all the time! There’s just always bad guys in Outlander coming through, while being part of a really dramatic family and Marsali really being a huge part of now having proved herself as a big protector and showing off that it’s not just the guys who have to do that. You are living it all the time. Like, Fraser’s Ridge is an actual ridge, there’s a full ridge, there’s a whole big house, there’s a campsite, there’s the river. So, you’re filming in the mud and the cold and the forest is right there. You’re living the life, like it’s really hard to get away from it. Which is amazing! A total gift. For 16 hours a day, it’s intense. You’re exhausted all the time, but I feel really lucky. I feel lucky to have done such a mixture of stuff.
Vigil begins at 9pm on Sunday 29 August on BBC One and BBC iPlayer, with episode two airing at 9pm on the Bank Holiday Monday, 30 August. Vigil will then continue weekly each Sunday at 9pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.
Interview Sam Cohen
Photographer Jonnie Craig
Stylist Aldene Johnson
Stylist Assistants:Beth Lloyd, Mini Kane, Matilda Holtom
Top image credit
Yellow dress Ganni