Despite being cast as the romantic antagonist, Laoghaire (Nell Hudson) on Outlander has always seemed like a tragic figure to me.
After all, if Claire (Caitriona Balfe) hadn't shown up back in Season 1, Laoghaire would most likely have married Jamie (Sam Heughan), her childhood crush, and had lots of red-headed babies. Would they have been happy? Who knows. But she probably never would have experienced the sexual trauma — inflicted by one of her two pre-Jamie husbands — that would later make her unable to be touched by a man without flinching. So, all things considered, her ending up married to Jamie anyway kind of seems like poetic justice. What's a little plotting to have an innocent woman burned at the stake when it's done for true love?
Nell Hudson, who I was lucky enough to meet while on a visit to the Outlander set in Scotland last October, feels the same way. "I thought I was going to have this big romance with Jamie!" she said to a group of reporters during the visit.
"Before I read the third book, people had said to me, 'You know Laoghaire comes back in Season 3,' and I was like, 'amazing,' And then they were like, 'and she's married to Jamie,' and I [said], 'even better.' In my head, I had this vision of us being happily-ever-after married, and obviously that's not the case. It's rather more complicated to than that. Laoghaire has rather let herself go, and Jamie doesn't love her, and not much has actually changed between them."
It's ironic that when Claire last encountered Laoghaire, she felt self-conscious of her age (she was in her late twenties) when confronted with the youthful 16-year-old. This time, the tables have turned. Claire has spent the last 20 years benefitting from the modern conveniences of the 1950s and '60s (skincare!), while Laoghaire has lived through the famine and hardship of post-Culloden Scotland. At 26, Hudson is only two years older than Lauren Lyle, who plays Laoghaire's daughter Marsali. To make Hudson believable as a mother in her mid-forties, she was given Mrs. Fitz' wig from Season 1 to wear in the scene. "I've grown into my granny," she joked.
The series does a good job of giving nuance to a relationship that's largely there to keep things interesting in the wake of Claire's monumental return and the big print shop reunion. In Voyager, the third book in Diana Gabaldon's series, Laoghaire is portrayed as a shrew who will stop at nothing to make Jamie's life hell after her leaves her. Hudson's portrayal goes much deeper. Jamie and Laoghaire met at a time in their lives where they had both survived unspeakable things and were in desperate need of genuine human tenderness. They were lonely, and for a while, they helped each other fill some kind of need. Even once things turned sour, it would never have occurred to Laoghaire that her husband's first wife would come strolling back into their lives.
"I feel like if Facebook was around, she would have obsessively been looking at photos of Claire the entire time," Hudson said. "When Claire arrives, the feeling is that she's a ghost. She was dead! That's literally how I played it. So, it's a huge shock. It's like [Laoghaire is] being punched in the gut when she finds out Claire's back. Even if I didn't have any previous beef with Claire, I sure do now."
With Claire back in the picture, Laoghaire's future is bleak. She loses her husband, for one thing, but even beyond that, she's back to being a single mother, which is far from ideal in eighteenth century Scotland. Without Jamie's financial support, she likely wouldn't be able to survive for long, which explains her outrageous financial demands. What makes their parting so bittersweet is that despite all her faults and misdeeds, she's really the victim here.
As for that whole shooting Jamie in the arm thing? Hudson likes to think there are no hard feelings between them. "I think Laoghaire will always love Jamie, for sure, and I do think there's a tenderness on his part for her," she said. "Jamie's such a good man, and I think that part of him feels a lot of compassion for her."
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