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Outlander and A Discovery of Witches star Steven Cree: ‘These shows have the power to unite people’

Outlander actor Steven Cree talks fantasy, fandom and food poverty as new film The Twin reunites him with his A Discovery Of Witches co-star Teresa Palmer.

Fantasy, sci-fi, historical fiction – of all the television genres, these might just have the biggest, most vocal, most committed fanbases. So having starred in both Outlander and A Discovery Of Witches, actor Steven Cree knows a thing or two about fandoms.

Cree’s role in Outlander, as Ian Murray, ended (though never say never is the watchword) in 2017. And when his ADOW alter ego, lovelorn party animal vampire Gallowglass, rode off into the sunset after centuries of helping historian Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer), it was a beautiful, heart-wrenching moment. Duties completed – even if it did mean that his secret love for the time-travelling witch, which had endured through the ages, would forever remain unrequited.

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Or would it? Because new film The Twin reunites the actors from A Discovery Of Witches. As the film is released, Cree reflects on fame, fandoms, fantasy and the future…

The Big Issue: How did it feel to leave A Discovery Of Witches in such style?

Steven Cree: I really loved that character. And because he was such a beloved character from the books, I knew you’re never going to please everyone all the time, but I did feel a sense of responsibility to service the character. I put a lot of thought into Gallowglass and in season three it is gratifying to see that it seems to have landed and resonated with fans.

The great thing about this genre is – I’ve often likened it to Shakespeare. I’m not necessarily the biggest Shakespeare buff, but you have absolutely epic storylines.

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And it has been amazing to get the opportunity to play a vampire that’s been alive for about eight centuries and who’s been harbouring a secret love for somebody for 400 years – that nothing can ever happen with because she’s already mated to his vampire uncle!

Cree as Gallowglass, with Teresa Palmer as Diana Bishop in the final series of A Discovery of Witches. Image: Sky UK Ltd

Gallowglass is written as a hero. He puts others before himself all the time – that’s why there’s a sadness about him as well. The book fans want to find out that one day he finds his own happiness. When he rides off again, I like to think he’s going to go off to Barbados or somewhere for a little while – getting back to having fun and maybe meeting someone himself.

In your new film, The Twin, you and Teresa Palmer play husband and wife. How different are your characters in that?

So in The Twin, Teresa and I play husband and wife – so a lot of the fans will enjoy seeing that we are actually together. The dynamic of the relationship is so different but there is an instant chemistry there.

Steven Cree is reunited with A Discovery Of Witches co-star Teresa Palmer in The Twin

It was weird as well, playing two completely different characters in a film about a couple who move back to Finland after one of their twins dies to try to piece their lives back together. It’s a horror or psychological horror, playing grief like that – I find it horrific enough saying goodbye to my daughter going to the airport to go off filming.

Are you a fan of the fantasy genre?

Fantasy is huge now, isn’t it? I’ve always been quite into sci-fi and fantasy. I grew up watching Star Trek. And I love Game of Thrones. I think what appeals is the complexities and the taboo-ness, if that’s a word. I like to watch stuff that shocks or challenges me.

I’d never heard of Game of Thrones until it came out on TV. And no one could have predicted that a show about dragons would be so popular.

You also see it in the way the Marvel films are cast – in the past, superhero films didn’t necessarily get the biggest stars of the time. Now they get the biggest movie stars on the planet.

Do you feel there is more space and more respect for these fandoms now – because they can become huge parts of people’s lives…

I have been to a few conventions for Outlander. It has its own huge fanbase and seems to exist slightly in its own world. I have to say it is fascinating. I think Andrew Scott said he views them as almost like football fans who travel the world, dress in their colours, sing their songs and pay lots of money to follow their team. How is it different if a TV fan wants to go to a convention and see the shows that they love?

I’ve met such interesting people – and the Outlander fan community is such a strong and loyal fanbase. A fascinating cross section. I think I’ve met people from every continent apart from Antarctica. Most of us are still jobbing actors, so it is a good way to keep busy between roles. And it is a great way to have that connection with the fans. And I’m always fascinated meeting people from Japan or Brazil or Kansas and hearing their story. There’s an anthropological aspect that is fascinating.

I made a short film a few years ago on the subject of mental health. I funded it by a Kickstarter campaign – basically the Outlander fans raised about £13,000 pounds and we made it.

Steven Cree in The Little Princess – a short film crowdfunded by fans of Outlander

They were real champions of it. It got screened at a couple of Outlander conventions and a lot of people have come up to me and opened up about their own mental health struggles and how becoming part of this fandom or Outlander community has helped them in so many ways.

These shows have the power to unite people. There’s the idea that people are there just to see the actors, but a larger part of it is to come together as a community.

How does it feel leaving a show like Outlander (although I guess you could go back one day) or A Discovery Of Witches behind?

Weirdly, even though I haven’t been in Outlander since 2017, I still feel part of it because of the conventions. I was supposed to go back for Season Five but we couldn’t work it out scheduling-wise. So I’ve never entirely felt it is totally over yet.

And with A Discovery Of Witches it is another mixed bag. I made so many great friends. By the end of season three, it was so tough. We were one of the first shows to go back after the pandemic. And we had a few Covid stoppages, so there was a feeling of, let’s get this finished.

We moved house just before the pandemic. Then our industry shutdown. So on a very basic level of just having a job I was very grateful to just have work. When we go to these conventions, we get put on a pedestal, but I always say I’m just the same as everyone in the room. I’m just in a TV show you happen to like. I still worry about paying my bills or whatever. I’m a freelancer ultimately.

There’s a sadness about a job finishing when you don’t have another job lined up. But there is also an excitement about what might lie ahead?

At that point I had The Twin come up. Which was great. I think the film is really good and I’m glad I was asked to be a part of it. I’ve also just been asked to narrate four epic fantasy novels where the tagline is Die Hard meets Game Of Thrones!

And outside of acting – you’ve been volunteering recently?

I do these Cameo videos. Again, it’s another offshoot of fantasy shows and it’s personal greetings for fans. At the start of the pandemic, I thought I’d like to try and do something to help or give back. I started to use these personal greetings to make money to give to Cash For Kids charity. And it’s been amazing doing that for Cash For Kids, who even asked me to be a patron.

It’s been great being able to help them in that way. But I was speaking to David Morrissey recently saying I wanted to do something more hands on. It’s great raising money – and again, it’s such a bonus of being in a show like Outlander where people want you to record personal greetings. And David told me about The Felix Project. It is an incredible charity.

Steven Cree (left) and David Morrissey (centre) join volunteers at the Felix Project

Felix was a 14-year-old kid who was always asking his mum and dad why are there children that don’t have food? My daughter is the same. Why are they homeless?

Felix had always been asking this and then at 14 years old, he contracted meningitis whilst on holiday and died which is just horrendous. His parents raised millions of pounds through this campaign in the Evening Standard and set up the Felix Project because millions of tonnes of food goes to waste every week so they set up this project dedicated to getting that food to the millions of people who still every day are going without food.

It is a terrible tragedy to lose your child’s but an amazing legacy. It’s incredible.

How did you find the volunteering?

They’ve got a few different places, but the one we went to last week was in East London, and it’s a great facility. David and I went in for the day and just helped chop vegetables. They really rely on volunteers.

Things get cooked and sent out to schools, to the community, and the next time you get to go out and deliver the food to the people that need it. You get to see where it is going. I think in the last couple of years we’ve all struggled and maybe all grown even more of a social conscience in a way.

All three series of A Discovery of Witches are available to watch/binge on Sky Max and NOW. The Twin is out in cinemas now.

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