'Outlander' postmortem: Jamie's baby mama speaks

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Hannah James as Geneva in “Outlander.” (Photo: Starz)

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the “Of Lost Things” episode of Outlander.

The grand romance between Jamie and Claire Fraser may represent the beating heart of Outlander, but the red-hot couple had other between-the-sheet experiences during their enforced 20-year separation. Case in point: In Season 3’s fourth episode, “Of Lost Things,” Jamie has a brief but significant encounter with Geneva Dunsany — the headstrong 18-year-old daughter of Lord and Lady Dunsany, who own the Helwater estate where Jamie lives and works in lieu of being exiled to the colonies. Promised to the elderly Lord Ellesmere, Geneva decides she’d much rather have Jamie as her first bedmate, and settles on blackmail as a “seduction” technique.

It goes without saying that Geneva’s actions don’t exactly endear her to Jamie, not to mention Outlander fans. But their one night together does result in the birth of Jamie’s only biological son, William, who continues to be a presence in Diana Gabaldon’s novels. Unfortunately, Geneva’s lifespan doesn’t last beyond this hour. Halfway through the episode, she dies in childbirth and is pushing up daisies. That’s sad news for Hannah James, a self-professed Outlander fan who landed the one-shot role of Geneva. Funnily enough, James reveals to Yahoo Entertainment that she was previously in the mix of actresses under consideration to play Jamie and Claire’s daughter, Brianna, a role that ultimately went to Sophie Skelton. Instead, she went from their baby to Jamie’s baby mama.

“The baby mama!” James exclaims with a laugh. “I’m sure fans will jump all over that.” Read on for James’s account of having Sam Heughan as her partner for her first sex scene, and why she’s ready to be the character that everyone despises.

Yahoo Entertainment: Geneva occupies a controversial place in Outlander fandom. Were you aware of what you were getting into when you accepted the part?
Hannah James:
I was, actually. I’ve read the books and watched the series, so I was really familiar with the world of Outlander. One of the first things that Maril [Davis, one of Outlander‘s executive producers] said to me was, “You’re going to be a fan favorite!” And I said, “I don’t know about that — I think I’m going to be someone everyone despises.” [Laughs] It’s been interesting; I’ve seen some comments from people on Twitter expressing a mix of feelings. Someone wrote that they were going to be so angry when they saw me on set. I thought, “Are you going to be angry, or are you going to be envious? I think it’s the latter!”

On a broad spectrum, people refer to Geneva as this selfish, spoiled, and manipulative girl. I understand where they’re coming from, but as the actor [playing her], I also had to come at it from Geneva’s perspective, and obviously she wouldn’t say those things about herself. I think she’s very misunderstood and grappling with a lot of difficulties that people don’t give her credit for. They are obviously focused on the characters they love, and they absolutely should. Who isn’t in love with Claire and Jamie’s storyline?

Geneva certainly has a petulant streak, but it’s also clear in the episode that this is her way of expressing her independence at a time when that wasn’t encouraged or even permitted.
Absolutely. She’s an 18-year-old girl, and during that time period she was seen and not heard. She’s about to be married off to some man as part of a business agreement for her father to get more money. The only sort of control she has is reaching out to Jamie, and she knows she shouldn’t target him, but she does. Maybe you don’t forgive her for it, but at least you understand where she’s coming from. I had to look at her and say, “What would you do if you felt your fate was out of your control? Maybe this is the one thing she can hold onto.” Jamie maybe even understands that somehow. I think that he ends up feeling protective of her in some ways. She has his son as well, so that carries on through the story.

Jamie maybe even recognizes some of what he loves about Claire in Geneva. She’s also a very independent woman who pursues her own desires.
Geneva is strident, but also spunky. And she’s a lot younger than Claire too, so maybe she’s like a younger version of Claire [to Jamie]. A lot of people think I look like Caitriona [Balfe], and wonder if [the producers] meant to do that. I don’t think it was an intentional thing, but it is interesting to have that underlying it.

I was getting a very strong Princess Bride vibe off of the early scenes with Geneva and Jamie when she’s ordering him around. I half-expected her to call him “farm boy.” Was that movie a reference point for you?
[Laughs] It wasn’t! I get the Vivien Leigh comparison a lot — the Scarlett O’Hara thing. But I haven’t gotten The Princess Bride. I’ll put that back in my back pocket for sure. I like that.

Do you think she decides what she wants from Jamie the moment she lays eyes on him, or is it more of a gradual realization?
It’s gradual. I don’t think she preconceived this idea of, “I’m going to find a man that’s going to take my virginity before I get wedded off to this other guy.” She lives on this estate and is obviously quite sheltered. There aren’t loads of people around, or eligible bachelors that her father is introducing her to. So she sees Jamie and, of course, there’s going to be some interest as well as excitement. She also knows that she’s not allowed to go there, and that’s intriguing. What do people who have no control like to do? They like to break rules. So she goes on these rides with him, and falls for him a little bit and wants to be with a man like that. That’s why she goes after him so hard.

Hannah James as Geneva and Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser in “Outlander.” (Photo: Starz)

Is there any guilt on her part for essentially blackmailing him into sex?
There’s absolutely guilt! When he comes to her bedroom there’s guilt, but there’s also a lot of nerves. No matter what, there’s an intimacy there. She understands him and maybe what he needs on a certain level, but she’s young, so she doesn’t understand completely. [As an actor] it’s good to have contradictory feelings and emotions you’re grappling with in your head.

Jamie may be a reluctant sexual partner, but when the lovemaking begins, it’s clear there’s consent on both sides. And there’s definitely something timely in the idea of Geneva taking the decision of when and how she loses her virginity into her own hands.
Technically, she’s not supposed to have that freedom to choose who or when. The fact she’s taken it into her own hands is very, very rare. But I think it’s an interesting thing to bring to the forefront and have people talk about. I am glad they changed the love scene — it was necessary to change for TV. There are a few lines in there that make it clear that we aren’t dealing with the rape controversy, which was a relief for me to see.

Read Outlander author Diana Gabaldon’s take on Geneva and Jamie’s sex scene, and the rape controversy it inspired, below.

Was this the first sex scene you’ve filmed?
Yes, it was! I was incredibly nervous. For the first 10 minutes I was like, “I can’t believe I’m actually jumping into this!” But I knew even before I got the role that it was something I’d have to do, and the way Outlander does its sex scenes is very sensitive to all parties concerned. Sam does them all the time, and I think he may have been a little nervous because he does them all the time with Caitriona! All of a sudden he had this other girl he has to do it with. Every time I got nervous, I just focused on him and I was fine. I don’t know if he knows this, but I definitely used him to ground me and bring me back to reality every now and then.

What were the mechanics of filming the scene like?
We talked through it with the director, [Brendan Maher], so we knew what it would look like. Still, you never really know until you get there on the day how the clothes come off and who goes where. It’s very technical, and not what people think. We’re both just trying to figure out how to make the other one comfortable, and I wanted to sit there and have a good laugh about it [with Sam], which we absolutely did! What people don’t know is that we filmed that scene on Thanksgiving Day, so I had to skip out on Thanksgiving feasting and instead be in the middle of Scotland doing a sex scene with a stranger! It wasn’t the worst way to spend Thanksgiving, either. I was doing what I love, and I was working with an incredible actor.

It’s not going to be easy for Outlander fans to watch Jamie in a passionate sex scene with someone other than Claire. Are you prepared for any blowback?
Someone tweeted the other day that they’re going to close their eyes through this episode. And I said, “Don’t do that, you’ll miss all the fun!” I don’t think Sam had a terrible time shooting the episode — hopefully he was able to enjoy it a little bit. [Laughs] So yes, I’m ready to field all the fan questions. It’s fun to be part of a heated conversation instead of one that’s dry and dull. People just need to remember that it is just a story and she is just a character. But she’s also a character who represents a human who is dealing with struggle and turmoil. Maybe it’s a good thing if people can relate to her in different aspects of their lives.

Had Geneva lived, do you think she would have encouraged the relationship between Jamie and William?
Having his child creates bonds that are unbreakable. So she’d want him to be a part of their son’s life, although I think that probably would have caused more heartbreak for her, because it’s something she couldn’t have and would desperately want. I’m sure she would have tied herself to Jamie, but not actually be able to be with him.

Would she have been able to keep the secret of William’s real father?
I don’t know! Knowing Geneva the way I do, or the way I created her, I think she would have wanted to stir trouble. She would have wanted people to know somehow, and make Jamie know and make him feel he should be a part of this child’s life. In a Geneva-esque way, she would have stirred the pot of trouble for sure.

Do you ultimately think of Geneva as a tragic figure?
That’s such a dramatic word to use. It is very sad how much she was not able to speak her mind. She had spirit and spunk, and was able to do a lot, whether it was right or not. She knows she shouldn’t have blackmailed Jamie, but in the end is she glad she did it? Absolutely, because she shared this night with a man who actually shows her kindness, and made her feel precious — not just a piece of property to be sold off to another man. She would have been one hell of a girl if she had been born in 2017, let me tell you.

Since your time on Outlander was short-lived, would you like Geneva to come back as a ghost?
Yes! Get Geneva to show up as a ghost. I would absolutely love that. I don’t know if it’s even possible — probably not. Poor Jamie, if she does. He’s got another thing coming. [Laughs]

Outlander airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.

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