Tobias Menzies’ Reaction To Praise Is As Outstanding As His Performance

British actor Tobias Menzies isn’t a new face on American television screens; you’ve seen him before on shows ranging from Rome to Game of Thrones to Doctor Who. But it was his outstanding performance as the dastardly Black Jack Randall in the sixth episode of the hit Starz original series Outlander that stirred up a storm of praise on Twitter Sunday. Despite the fact that everyone else is just catching up with something I already knew (see our episode recap, as well as this and this), Menzies’ reaction on Twitter seems to suggest that he was taken aback by the praise for his intense, complicated, and incredibly rich depiction of a thoroughly depraved villain.

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On the show, Menzies plays both Claire’s husband Frank, left behind in 1945, and his 18th century ancestor, Randall. So what about Black Jack Randall resonated with viewers so strongly? For one, antagonist roles are meaty. Actors often say that the key to playing a villain is not to play them as purely evil. Nobody sees themselves as the bad guy in their own story, after all. (For a prime example, see Tom Hiddleston’s turn as Loki in the series of Avengers films.)

But Randall is a bit different; he sees the darkness in himself, and he sees himself turning towards it, and he actively chooses to embrace it. This type of character requires a different balancing act, and Menzies managed to let Randall’s former humanity seep through, but in such a way that it was clear it was irrevocably poisoned. Menzies achieved this by giving Randall a measured, piercing intensity coupled with a physicality where every movement seemed deliberate. We saw nothing superflous, nothing accidental in Randall’s standoff with Claire.

(Incidentally, Menzies has as much skill in selecting projects as he does acting in them. Now, really, if you haven’t watched Menzies as Brutus in HBO’s Rome, go do so. And then go watch Shadow Line. And The Honorable Woman. I’ll wait.)

In response to an avalanche of tweets lauding his work in the episode, Menzies made sure to give his co-stars and crew their share of the credit:

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And Menzies is absolutely right – the entire cast and crew did phenomenal work on the episode, taking what has been an already excellent series and elevating it to a level amongst some of the best shows on television. If they can sustain this level of artistry, Outlander is primed to explode. And if it raises Menzies up along the way to the current heights of fellow talented Brits such as Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Tom Hardy, more’s the better.