SHAUNA Macdonald is a natural-born storyteller. The Scottish actor has a knack for rattling off anecdotes that hold the listener rapt, making for gregarious company with her quick wit and no-holds-barred candour.

Over the course of our conversation, we will touch on her reputation as the nation's celluloid "scream queen" – thanks to cult horror favourites such as The Descent and White Chamber – as well as, in recent years, earning her comedy stripes with TV sitcoms The Scotts and Hold The Sunset.

First, though, we are here to speak about Outlander and her star turn as Flora MacDonald in the sixth – and current – series of the historical drama.

The episode, available to watch on streaming service Starzplay, opens with a depiction of the famed scene which saw Flora MacDonald help Charles Edward Stuart – better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie – flee to safety following his defeat at Culloden in 1746, escaping over the sea to Skye.

What was it like to step into the shoes of such an iconic figure from Scottish history? "We share the same last name – perhaps that is why I got the part?" says Macdonald, whose past TV credits include The Cry, In Plain Sight and Spooks.

"I have known Flora for a very long time. She is on shortbread tins all over the world. She inspired the Skye Boat Song, which is Outlander's theme tune.

"Obviously, she helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape. You see that moment as a flashback. Then it cuts to quite a few years later – you will be able to tell by my appearance and a change of wig – when Flora has become somewhat of a celebrity."

The Herald: Shauna Macdonald as Flora MacDonald in Outlander series six. Picture: Robert Wilson/© 2021 Starz EntertainmentShauna Macdonald as Flora MacDonald in Outlander series six. Picture: Robert Wilson/© 2021 Starz Entertainment

While Outlander was initially set against a backdrop of the Jacobite rising of 1745, as the storyline has progressed, the show's main protagonists – Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser and Caitriona Balfe playing his wife Claire – have upped sticks across the Atlantic for colonial America.

The action, although still filmed in Scotland, is set in North Carolina as the American Revolutionary War, fought between 1775 and 1783, looms large in the near future. The couple and their family are carving a new life on a stretch of land dubbed Fraser's Ridge.

It is here that fact and TV fiction begin to overlap. The real-life Flora MacDonald, born in South Uist, spent several years in North Carolina where she was caught up in the American Revolutionary War, before eventually returning to Scotland to live out her days on Skye.

In Outlander, we see her give a rousing speech at a party held in her honour. "She is a spokesperson giving, in the modern-day sense, motivational talks," explains Macdonald. "She has been invited to speak about the unrest and upset that is going on. She promotes peace essentially."

While many people are familiar with Flora MacDonald's role in aiding Bonnie Prince Charlie's escape, how her later life unfolded is perhaps less widely known.

READ MORE: Outlander star Sam Heughan on Scotland, future ambitions and filming the hit TV show

It was in 1774 that she and her husband Allan emigrated to North Carolina. According to some historical accounts, the couple – like many Highlanders – had to swear allegiance to the British Crown before being allowed to make the voyage from Scotland.

The juxtaposition between Flora MacDonald's sympathies to the Jacobites in Scotland, and support of the Loyalist cause in the build-up to the American Revolutionary War, is something Macdonald found fascinating.

It is a reminder that history is often more complicated than it seems. "It is quite hard to get facts, because there are a lot of stories about Flora MacDonald," she says.

"But it appears she sympathised with the plight of a human who was in dire straits and helped that human out because she felt the need to do the right thing, even though she did not agree with Bonnie Prince Charlie and what he was trying to do.

"I hadn't realised that, and I am Scottish," adds Macdonald. "I was appalled at myself that I hadn't realised that part about Scottish history because maybe we have romanticised it too much and so the actual politics got lost.

"Flora never saw him [Bonnie Prince Charlie] again, which is sad. It was an incredible, life-threatening and dangerous decision she made for someone who she did not agree with their politics. She put all that aside and it was on a human-to-human level."

The Herald: Shauna Macdonald as Flora MacDonald with the cast of Outlander series six. Picture: Robert Wilson/© 2021 Starz EntertainmentShauna Macdonald as Flora MacDonald with the cast of Outlander series six. Picture: Robert Wilson/© 2021 Starz Entertainment

Macdonald's brief for the character was to convey "a stoic strength and real courage", or as she puts it: "Courageous people aren't always the ones that are shouting and roaring and fighting. They are the ones that assist, even though they are terrified.

"That is what I tried to do. I don't think she wanted fame. But in this Outlander world and certainly how we remember her, she has become one of the most famous Scottish female figures ever. I loved playing her."

Macdonald, 40, clearly enjoyed her stint on the hit TV show. "Outlander has done an amazing thing for filming in Scotland and the Scottish film industry – it is huge," she says.

"I have known Sam [Heughan] for a long time – we actually have the same agent – and I was thrilled when he got the job. I have been up for various parts over the years on Outlander, it is something that does the rounds, and never been successful.

"When I got this part, I thought: 'This will be great fun, it will be nice to work with Sam.' And I was bowled over, gobsmacked and astonished by the sheer scale of what is going on in the Cumbernauld studios."

READ MORE: Gird your loins: A journey behind the scenes of hit TV series Outlander

I visited the set some years ago, I tell her, and was similarly impressed by the gargantuan set up at Wardpark Studios where Outlander is based.

"You enter into a machine which can be very intimidating," admits MacDonald. "I have done loads of films and worked with lots of people and been in intimidating situations.

"There is something about wearing a corset, though, because you can't take deep breaths. You have a wig on and don't look like yourself, you have no make-up on. I wish I had dyed my eyebrows and eyelashes beforehand, but I didn't get the memo," she jokes.

"There is nothing to hide behind. In my first scene I had to address a big crowd. There was about 100 extras and I thought, 'OK, this is what they pay you for, Shauna.'

"They are paying you to deliver. The crane is out. You've got a green screen. The main cast are in front of you and there are hundreds of extras. You are wearing a corset. I thought, 'Channel Flora MacDonald. Breathe deeply and it will all be fine.'"

The Herald: Shauna Macdonald (left) with Maria Doyle Kennedy (centre) and Caitriona Balfe (right) in Outlander series six. Picture: Robert Wilson/© 2021 Starz EntertainmentShauna Macdonald (left) with Maria Doyle Kennedy (centre) and Caitriona Balfe (right) in Outlander series six. Picture: Robert Wilson/© 2021 Starz Entertainment

Outlander is on an epic scale, she says, yet no tiny detail is overlooked. "You are entering a massive machine, but everybody is extremely welcoming, and the level of artistry involved – I think I had four costume fittings and three wig fittings to get it just right.

"I worked with a dialogue coach because I wanted her to be a bit more Uist sounding – my family are from the Outer Hebrides – and we agreed on an acceptable Flora voice. You are treated like a creative person in this massive machine; you are not swallowed up."

Macdonald is a bright and sparky and fun interviewee, although there is a moment – quite understandably – when her face clouds as we discuss her decision to skip the Outlander premiere in February as she grieved the recent death of her mother.

"My mum passed away in January and it has all been pretty awful," she says. "I have had a really horrible six months." There is a catch in her voice, a wobble, but she valiantly presses on. "It was a hard decision not to go down [to London for the premiere].

"I think it was maybe four weeks after she died, but it was just that part of your grief where I wasn't quite sure how I would be in a big crowd. It was very raw."

Macdonald was inundated with kind messages from the show's fans. "I didn't fully understand how huge Outlander is and how devoted the fans are. They have not only embraced me, they have also embraced the youth theatre I run, and they have sent countless condolences about my mum.

"That is really lovely. They didn't give me a hard time for not coming [to the premiere]. They have been understanding. There is a connection."

Macdonald has had a busy year. Alongside Outlander, she has racked up parts in Alibi crime thriller Annika, as well as the debut run of BBC Scotland comedy The Scotts and a role in the next series of drama Shetland, due to air later in 2022.

The Scotts is set to return for a second outing in the not-too-distant-future. Styled as a spoof fly-on-the-wall documentary, the sitcom is the brainchild of Burnistoun co-creators Robert Florence and Iain Connell, drawing tongue-in-cheek inspiration from glitzy US reality shows.

The Herald: The cast of The Scotts: Louise McCarthy, Robert Florence, Lee Greig, Shauna Macdonald, Taylor Stewart, Sharon Young and Iain Connell. Picture: Martin Shields/The Comedy Unit/BBCThe cast of The Scotts: Louise McCarthy, Robert Florence, Lee Greig, Shauna Macdonald, Taylor Stewart, Sharon Young and Iain Connell. Picture: Martin Shields/The Comedy Unit/BBC

It chronicles the hilarious antics of a dysfunctional Scottish family, complete with frank confessionals and access-all-areas to their lives. Macdonald plays Vonny Scott, the martini-swigging and uber-glam partner of Florence's character Vincent, an egotistical cosmetic surgery guru.

"The Scotts was great fun," she says. "With both The Scotts and Outlander, it felt like I was doing work that didn't feel like my usual gigs. I am booked a lot of the time to either be in peril or to have nervous breakdowns."

Macdonald smiles, reflecting on her "scream queen" mantle. "That is my bread-and-butter money. 'Can we torture Shauna? Yes. Can Shauna be beside herself with some sort of emotional breakdown? Yes. Let's book her …' It was nice not to have to do that for The Scotts and Outlander.

"Before The Scotts, I had done Hold The Sunset with John Cleese and Alison Steadman, so that is similar in terms of a sitcom/comedy.

READ MORE: Burnistoun stars Robert Florence and Iain Connell on their new comedy series The Scotts

"Rab Florence and Iain Connell are brilliant. I thought The Scotts was genius and I am very happy that it is going again for another season. I am going to have to think about Vonny's hairdo. When I was filming Outlander, luckily, I had wigs on …"

Macdonald trails off. "That's my dog about to pass through …" she says in warning before the connection on our Zoom call is lost. A few moments later, she pops back up on the screen. "I am so sorry. My dog stood on my keyboard."

She seamlessly picks up the thread. "Under this amazing Flora MacDonald wig, I had a horrendous, over-the-top, Anna Wintour-like fringed bob, red hair, Vonny creation, because I wanted Vonny to look severe and cutting edge but not quite right.

"I am going to have to think of my next hairdo for Vonny because she has had short peroxide blonde and then this kind of Lego hair. I don't know what I am going to do for the next one. It was great to have so much fun with the character, to be big and not have to be subtle."

The Herald: Shauna Macdonald and Robert Florence as Vonny and Vincent Scott in BBC Scotland comedy The Scotts. Picture: Martin Shields/The Comedy Unit/BBCShauna Macdonald and Robert Florence as Vonny and Vincent Scott in BBC Scotland comedy The Scotts. Picture: Martin Shields/The Comedy Unit/BBC

Nor does she stop at hair. For Macdonald, creating depth to the role was paramount. "I did have a conversation with the whole team on The Scotts after the pilot and said, 'She's got to be not necessarily likeable, but she has got to be a full person, you can't just have her be mean or bitter the whole time.'

"You have got to have a chink in the armour. She has to want something desperately. They did listen, and I was really happy with that. I bullied them into making her a bit more layered."

What else is in the pipeline? "I have started to write a feature film," she says. "I have this plan. I have also got a massive trump card which is that The Descent girls have all said they will be in a film that I write.

"I have got it in WhatsApp messages, so therefore I say it is in writing and that's a legally binding contract," jokes Macdonald. She has a WhatsApp group with her former castmates? "We do – it is called 'Six Girls Go Caving.'"

Macdonald is married to fellow actor Cal MacAninch and the couple live in Portobello, Edinburgh, with their daughters, aged nine, 12 and 15.

In addition to her acting work, she has been co-artistic director of Edinburgh Youth Theatre for the past seven years and recently enrolled at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where she previously studied acting, to do a master's degree centred on learning and teaching in the arts.

The Herald: Shauna Macdonald in 2005 horror film The DescentShauna Macdonald in 2005 horror film The Descent

Grassroots theatre is vital to the arts in Scotland. Is Macdonald seeing exciting new talent coming through the ranks? "I do see talent, but to be perfectly honest with you, my focus on my work at the youth theatre is really about creating confidence," she asserts.

"It is about giving young people the skills of communication and meaningful sustained experiences in the arts. You nurture their minds and allow them to know their voice has importance."

When I interviewed Macdonald in 2009 – tied to the release of The Descent: Part 2 – I asked about future aspirations.

She told me then: "There's nothing I would call a dream part – for me it's more about getting the main roles over men. There are so many brilliant roles for men. It's about getting those roles with a journey, lots of layers and where no-one is bothered what you look like."

I remind her of that statement. "Wow. That's a cool thing to say," she says. "I think things have changed. Things have definitely shifted in terms of the scripts I am reading and the parts for females of my age. I do feel there is more out there.

"It starts with who is producing it, who is writing it and who the creative team are. If it is all white, cis, middle-aged, middle-class men, then what are you going to get? But that is all changing and shifting."

Has she experienced that first-hand? "Oh God, yeah. It is very different to when I started. I am hopeful about how things are going. I don't know, ask me when I am 50. Maybe I will feel differently.

"I will see what my forties bring me. I am ready to work hard. My kids are of an age that I can go out and do stuff. Maybe nobody wants me now. Wouldn't that be ironic?"

READ MORE: Outlander star Sam Heughan on Scotland, future ambitions and filming the hit TV show

Macdonald recently tweeted about one of her daughters enquiring how many auditions she had been on lately. "What a cheek," she says, with mock indignation. "They have no idea what actual success is.

"And also, because they have seen their dad on the telly quite a lot recently, they think: 'Oh, dad is successful.' I'm like, 'Will I just force them to sit down and watch my horror films, so they know?'

"Success is such a transient thing, though. I am ready to work hard. The passing of my mum made me realise I want to keep being creative. I am an actor; I am meant to be acting."

Outlander series six returns to Starzplay next Sunday, catch-up on previous episodes now