WHEN Richard Rankin signed up for a role in Outlander, it was in the knowledge that he would be committing the next decade of his life to the hit TV show.

His character Roger Wakefield MacKenzie features in all eight instalments – and counting – of Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling book series, so you don’t need to be a maths genius to deduce that the Glasgow-born actor should remain an integral part of the small-screen adaptation for some time yet.

It’s already been a wild journey. The incarnation of Roger in series five, which begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video tomorrow, is a far cry from the bookish, Oxford don we first meet in the 1960s, back in series two.

Having time-travelled through a mysterious set of standing stones to 18th-century Scotland and then sought passage to colonial America, the adventurous, history-loving professor could give Indiana Jones a run for his money when it comes to heart-thumping close shaves.

Already Roger has survived a transatlantic crossing with a villainous pirate, been wrongly accused of rape, sold to the Mohawk people as a slave and ended up estranged from the woman he loves after uprooting his comfortable 20th-century life to be with her.

Rankin, 37, clearly relishes the role, one that sees him based in Glasgow for eight months each year (while later series of Outlander are set in the rugged, untamed backcountry of North Carolina, the show is still filmed on location in Scotland and at purpose-built studios in Cumbernauld).

He was in his mid-twenties when a chance conversation with a Hollywood producer while on holiday in Los Angeles planted the seed to swap plans of an IT career to pursue acting.

Early roles included meeting a grisly end on Taggart – a rite of passage for any actor cutting their teeth – before becoming a regular on cult BBC Scotland comedy sketch show Burnistoun in 2009.

Rankin toured with the National Theatre of Scotland’s globally acclaimed production of Gregory Burke’s Black Watch in 2010 (more of that in a minute) before building his CV with roles in BBC series The Crimson Field, The Syndicate and From Darkness.

More recently, he has starred alongside Morven Christie and Vicky McClure in award-winning drama The Replacement, had a part in medical thriller Trust Me and joined the cast of BBC Radio Scotland cycling-themed comedy Saddled.

Here Rankin talks childhood heroes, life passions and being part of a global TV phenomenon.

How Outlander has changed his life

The biggest thing has been the commitment. We film for eight or nine months of the year. Staying focused and committed, keeping track of where the character is at and where he is going is a lot of work.

When you have such a long-running show, it is easy to lose track of things if you don’t stay on top of it. That is one of the biggest challenges and, at the same time, one of the most rewarding aspects.

Outlander is in my life pretty much every day, which I certainly can’t complain about. We have a great fan base and it seems to be getting more popular as we go on.

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Roger is in all 10 of the books, apparently [Gabaldon is expected to publish book nine, Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone, later this year]. Season five is book five and it also incorporates some of book six.

I’m speculating here, as I have no idea how they are going to adapt it, but I would imagine that season six would be book six and a little bit of book seven.

In terms of keeping the show in line with the books, it would probably be either season eight or nine [when it draws to a close], but it could go up to 10.

The evolution of his character Roger Wakefield MacKenzie

It changes with every season of the show. The fact it is so different from season to season is one of the great things about playing that character. It was initially all cosy jumpers and fireplaces, shooting in manses and libraries.

When we were filming those scenes set in the 1960s and 1970s, it felt like two different shows because in season two and three, I didn’t have anything to do with any of the 18th-century stuff and wasn’t integrated with the rest of the cast.

I remember often saying how I was excited and couldn’t wait to join the rest of the cast in the 18th century. I would say: “I’m done with libraries and fireplaces and sipping whisky by the hearth …” I instantly regretted that when I got to the 18th century scenes with the muck, rain and cold.

Roger has a strong arc through season four and an even more powerful one through season five. Obviously, I knew that well ahead of time because I had read the books and that’s why I took the role, knowing what was coming from season four/book four onwards.

It is such a shift in the character. He is a mild-mannered, unassuming history professor, but he changes so wildly from that over the course of the following seasons. That is interesting to play.

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A reputation for being the cast comedian

That tends to be me on set. I’m not sure how well received it is all of the time, especially when people are tired, it’s been a tough shift and I’m still dancing around at the end of the day in high spirits and generally being a bit of a goofball.

I think it is a good motivator. I like to have a bit of a laugh and keep spirits up on set. I would say that is my role among the cast, clowning around, although within reason. I still do my job and like to think I am good to work with.

Childhood heroes

Billy Joel was huge for me when I was young. Probably my earliest memory of music was listening to Uptown Girl when I was four and trying to play my dad’s vinyl.

When my dad was in bed, I would sneak up and try to play music on his record player. I destroyed a lot of records. 

I also used to try to play bread in the video player, which doesn’t work, by the way. To be honest, I don’t know if I was trying to toast it or play it.

I was fascinated with John Travolta and Saturday Night Fever when I was younger, too. I don’t know why. That is a bizarre thing for a wee boy to be interested in. I was always singing and dancing. I wasn’t doing much acting then.

The other role that changed his life

Black Watch. Dramatically so. I would say more than anything else. So much happened around that time. I had to change physically and mentally to be able to take on that show. It opened so many doors and presented so many opportunities.

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I would say that show started my career. I have a huge love for Black Watch. It was one of the best times of my career and I don’t think anything like that will ever come along again. It jump-started the careers of quite a few actors.

Passions away from work

I like my tech. That was probably going to be my profession if I wasn’t an actor. I like to keep on top of what is going on in that industry and sector.

I have a horse. Her name is Bianca. I had been riding for a few years and decided I might come along a bit more if I got my own horse. She is a Dutch Warmblood, an ex-showjumper, a big 16-and-a-half hands, and 11 years old.

Recently, though, I haven’t done anywhere near as much riding as I had been. Bianca has also had a couple of injuries, so that has slowed things down a bit.

When she is on form she loves to jump and I like to do some flat work with her in the arena. I love going out for a hack round the fields and through the woods. When I get a break from filming, I go out riding. Well, that’s the theory …

Being a sharpshooter

I have been doing photography for years. It was something I started when I did [the international tour of] Black Watch. I had only really been doing theatre at that time, so I was on a theatre wage and not travelling very much and with not much opportunity to travel.

When I booked that job and realised all the different places around the world we were going to be travelling to, I wanted to take advantage of that. It was the first time I went out doing any photography. It was very amateur, and I wasn’t very good at it.

I brought everything back and uploaded it onto my computer. I thought I had taken millions of amazing pictures. I remember thinking: “I can’t wait to see them; they are going to be great.”

There was all these pictures of Chicago, New York and South Korea – but 90 per cent were garbage. I wanted to know why they were so bad. I spent a lot of time figuring out where I went wrong and how I could improve.

That motivated me and inspired me to learn more about the practical craft of photography, the technical aspect and the creative side in terms of what makes good composition, light and subject.

I put a few random shots on Instagram and some people got in touch to say: “Have you ever thought about doing an exhibit?” I said: “No, not really.” The pictures I had put on Instagram, I actually didn’t think were any good. I said: “Hold fire, because you haven’t really seen my work.”

I sent some examples that I thought were half-decent, we talked and they helped me put on an exhibition [at the Littlefield Gallery NYC] in Brooklyn last year.

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Photography is a passion and I’m mainly trying to keep it that way. I’m not trying to go super commercial with it. I’m not going down that road at the moment. I don’t know if it will go anywhere in the future, but it is something I very much enjoy.

Other projects in the pipeline

I hear there is a second series of the radio show [Saddled] coming up. I’m not sure when we would record that or even if I will be available to do the second series.

I haven’t done anything this hiatus [from shooting Outlander]. I wanted to have a proper break and spend time doing photography and other things outside work.

In the hiatus between each of the seasons over the last few years, I have done some drama or other which fills that gap quite nicely but last year I was constantly on the go and it was stressful and tiring.

I thought: “Next year I am going to take it a bit easier.” That was my intention and it is going quite nicely. We don’t have a confirmation on an official start date for filming season six but it will be at some point soonish.

Flexing his comedy muscles

I would love to do more comedy. You never know what is going to happen or what role is going to be around the corner. It is something I haven’t done for a while so I would like to get back in there and sharpen up that skill set.

I would like to go back and do more theatre too. I feel like there are certain areas of my work that I haven’t done for a while that I would certainly like to jump back into and sharpen up.

The perils of social media

I have mixed feelings about social media, depending on how it is being used. It is a great platform for professionals and promoting your work. It is a funny thing, though, where I can’t quite decide how I feel about it.

It is weird when you are on such a big show because you can’t really use it as personally as you used to. The vast majority of my followers now are Outlander fans. It has created its own Twittersphere.

The myriad fan accounts paying tribute to his eyes, eyebrows and beard …

That is hilarious. I think that is very funny. It has become its own theme. I don’t want to get into what body parts may or not be missing. I haven’t gone through the list – not that I will.

Filming the latest series of Outlander

The first episode of season five sees all of the family together. There is a big celebration, everyone is having a good time and enjoying life, their time in the 18th century and at Fraser’s Ridge.

They all have a bit of respite. It is a little glimpse of what it could be like in a more peaceful time – or in a different genre perhaps that isn’t a big period drama.

You know something is looming, even in that episode where everyone is enjoying themselves and spending time together as a family.

There are whispers in the background and shadows lurking, so you know things aren’t going to remain good for very long and, certainly, there is going to be a bit of conflict around the corner for some, if not all of them. It is well-written and a good foundation for what is to come.

I got to work more closely with some new people this year. Sam [Heughan] and I have worked a lot together. That was a good laugh because a lot of the time Sam doesn’t take himself too seriously either.

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It was nice being able to have relationships with characters and actors that I haven’t done previously.

Season four was different because Roger ends up being sold off to the Mohawk but in season two and three I only really worked with Sophie [Skelton] and, at times, Caitriona [Balfe]. In season five it was nice to be working with a few of the other big players on the show.

Outlander series five begins on Prime Video tomorrow, with new episodes weekly