September 20, 2021

Outlander star Lauren Lyle talks about BBC Vigil role and her Glasgow Southside roots

Well, for a start, she’s been a busy woman. After almost five years on the hit US show Outlander – garnering a global fanbase for her role as fearless Marsali – we’re about to see a whole lot more of her on our TV screens.

The Glasgow-born actor is among a big-name cast for the much-anticipated thriller, Vigil, a gripping six-part BBC drama that begins tonight.

READ MORE: New trailer released for BBC One thriller Vigil starring Martin Compston

Glasgow Times:

Lyle will also play the lead in Karen Pirie, the forthcoming ITV adaptation of Val McDermid’s novels about a young Scottish police detective tackling cold case investigations, due to air in the coming months.

When we speak on a Tuesday morning in early August, Lyle is in good form and clearly still pinching herself at the impressive CV she is fast racking up. “That is my headline at the moment: ‘I can’t believe this is my job,’” she attests.

What else can I tell you about Lauren Lyle? She’s a former gymnast (good enough to represent Scotland and Great Britain), knows how to stitch a flesh wound and butcher a pig (a skill set learned for a role) and is on the radar of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (more of that in a minute).

And yet, Lyle still remains relatively unknown in her native Scotland. Possibly not for much longer, though. Chances are if you don’t recognise her, then that is about to change.

READ MORE: BBC thriller Vigil staring Martin Compston airing this month

Glasgow Times:

First up: Vigil. The dark and brooding thriller, produced for the BBC by World Productions (the same team behind Line of Duty and Bodyguard) packs a punch.

Its twisting plot centres on the disappearance of a Scottish fishing trawler and a death on board a Trident nuclear submarine as tensions build between the police, the Royal Navy and intelligence services.

Suranne Jones leads an ensemble cast that includes Rose Leslie, Martin Compston, Shaun Evans and Paterson Joseph, as well as Gary Lewis, Connor Swindells, Daniel Portman, Lois Chimimba and Lorne MacFadyen.

Lyle plays Jade Antoniak, a protestor at the fictional Dunloch Peace Camp close to the HM Naval Base Dunloch on the west coast of Scotland.

Sounds familiar? The show draws inspiration from HM Naval Base Clyde on the Gare Loch, commonly known as Faslane, which is home to the UK’s nuclear deterrent Trident and its four-strong fleet of Vanguard-class submarines.

Life on the base is a closely guarded secret. The same can be said of Lyle’s role in Vigil. The list of embargoed plot points sent over by the BBC to avoid spoilers before transmission means Lyle can reveal very little (although trust me when I say it will be worth the wait).

Glasgow Times:

Lyle herself was blown away by the stellar cast. “It was amazing,” she says. “I knew it was going to be a big blockbuster thriller extraordinaire, but when I turned up at the read-through, I didn’t know who else was going to be in it.

“I walked in and think I was one of the last to arrive. I looked round the room and suddenly saw Rose Leslie sitting opposite. I already knew Suranne Jones was going to be in it. I saw Gary Lewis, who is a friend from Outlander. Then Daniel Portman and Connor Swindells.

“I was like: ‘Oh my God, this is an absolutely unbelievable cast’. I didn’t realise how jam-packed with the best in the business it would be. That was exciting. From the get-go, the read-through was electric and you got a feel for just how tense it was all going to be.”

Suranne Jones plays DCI Amy Silva who is tasked with leading the Police Scotland investigation into a death on board HMS Vigil, with Rose Leslie as DS Kirsten Longacre, providing her eyes and ears back on land.

The UK’s nuclear deterrent must remain unbroken with the submarine continuing on patrol, meaning Silva has to board at sea. She only has three days beneath the waves to carry out her work.

With the death downplayed as an accidental overdose, Silva suspects foul play. As the crew close ranks to questioning, a new threat soon overshadows her inquiry.

How does Lyle’s character fit into this? She is keeping deliberately tight-lipped. “Jade holds a lot of secrets and information around what plays out in the series,” says Lyle, choosing her words carefully. “I am trying hard not to give anything away. There were a few people I got to work closely with – Rose and I, we do a lot together.”

Vigil was filmed in Glasgow and around the west of Scotland, with locations reported to include the isle of Cumbrae and the former coal terminal at Hunterston, both in Ayrshire.

“We stayed in a hotel on the coast at Largs,” says Lyle. “The views were insane. I always think that you can’t replicate Scotland. The landscapes used [for Vigil] were the vast, dense and dramatic landscapes that only Scotland has.

“We were around the coast a lot. Jade is in the peace camp. It was almost like two worlds, two casts at times, with the submarine cast and the on-land cast. My character’s world was this peace camp. They built a full peace camp in a big old quarry. It was almost like walking onto Mars. It was derelict with holes in the ground that went down for miles.”

Let’s dig a little deeper into Lyle herself. The actor speaks fondly about her Glasgow roots. “I grew up in the Southside,” she says. “My family still lives there. The best ice cream in the world is from The Derby Cafe. That is a little place in Netherlee. I go back there all the time. I absolutely love it.

“The Southside has got cool. Shawlands has got trendy. I love a good coffee shop and there are such great independent businesses everywhere. It is brilliant to see and really nice that my family are still there.”

The youngest of three children, she is reticent to divulge too many specifics about her family or her own relationships. The same goes for her age with Lyle saying only that she is in her twenties (Wikipedia states – unconfirmed – that she is 28).

Her parents, she says, are both retired. “My mother was a proud PE teacher and my father is a huge music guy and has a major/impressive record collection. He’s collected his whole life which is where a lot of my creativity came from”.

Lyle is sporty too. A promising gymnast who has represented Scotland and Great Britain, she started out in the artistic discipline (the kind Simone Biles does) aged six before moving into acrobatic (“where you are in pairs and trios”) and then display (“a lot of tumbling, pyramids and towers”).

She would love to use her gymnastics skills in an acting role. “Get me in a Marvel film,” laughs Lyle. “I went back to a gym last year and tested if I could still do some stuff. I was backflipping and somersaulting again within the hour. If you get me on a trampoline, I can still do all of it.”

In her teens, Lyle’s father got a job in New Zealand and the family spent several years living in Auckland. It was there that her love of acting blossomed. “I intended to continue with gymnastics and didn’t. I ended up going to a school that was massively focused on the arts.”

Lyle’s drama teachers regularly told her parents that she had something special. She briefly considered studying fine art or psychology before plumping for acting. Upon returning to the UK, Lyle applied for drama school but was unsuccessful.

It took several attempts to win a place. By then, she had been honing her skills in theatre and, in 2014, was among the cast for Yael Farber’s acclaimed production of The Crucible at the Old Vic in London. It marked her first proper professional acting job.

Lyle’s plans for drama school were shelved. Instead, she did a nine-month training programme with the National Youth Theatre Rep Company. In 2016, Lyle starred alongside Sean Bean in the Jimmy McGovern BBC series Broken, then within weeks landed her role in Outlander.

“Up until that point I had been a jobbing actor, kicking about, getting things here and there,” she says. “Outlander and Broken came around about the same time. It has not stopped since, which has been incredibly lucky. I feel like I have had a real range of work.”

Glasgow Times:

Lyle was cast as Marsali Fraser in Outlander, the TV series based on the best-selling books by Diana Gabaldon. “Outlander changed my life. I don’t think I realised going into Outlander how big a deal it was. How big a show, how popular it is and how dedicated the fanbase are.”

Lyle’s role in Outlander has seen her pick up some handy skills – everything from how to butcher a pig to the painstaking technique required for a perfect surgeon’s stitch.

So, if I ever find myself injured in a remote location, she would be the woman to call? “I could either cut your leg off and cook it or I could stitch it up again,” she confirms.

Her appearance in Vigil has felt like it has been a long time coming. The series was first announced in January 2020. Then came lockdown. Lyle was in the midst of a night shoot in March last year when word filtered through that production was being halted due to the pandemic.

“We had no idea what was going to happen,” she says. “We thought it would maybe be a few weeks but here we were, four or five months later. I had cut my hair. I had long hair and I cut my hair during lockdown which was a bit of a nightmare coming back.”

The continuity team must have loved her? “I had to get full-on hair extensions to mask it because it was quite a bit shorter,” she admits. “They made it work. But for a minute everyone panicked.”

When she’s not going stir crazy with cabin fever and giving herself DIY haircuts, Lyle is rarely idle. Lately, she has been dabbling in interior design at her new flat in London, where she is now based.

“I bought a place last year and I haven’t been able to live in it because I have been away,” she says. “Doing home interiors is the most fun hobby in the world. I am buying all this cool furniture.”

Her pastimes include running, painting and enjoying the occasional tipple. “I have got right into organic wine,” she says. “I am planning trips with friends around lots of vineyards and trying to see more of the UK.

“Basically, I am having a little holiday. I need to reset before all the Karen Pirie stuff kicks off. Life is going to get a bit more crazy at that point.”

Ah, yes, Karen Pirie. Another series on the World Productions slate, this one headed for ITV. It is based on Val McDermid’s novel The Distant Echo and has been adapted for television by Harlots writer Emer Kenny.

Filmed in St Andrews, the gritty three-part crime drama follows the eponymous police detective as she reopens a cold case murder investigation. It is expected to air later this year or early 2022.

What a role, Lauren? “I can comfortably say it was an absolute dream from start to finish,” she asserts. “When I got the brief through, I was like: ‘Oh my God, this is such a cool character.’ She is funny, she’s dry, she’s smart, she’s formidable and she’s young.

“She is a character you wouldn’t often, as a girl in her twenties, get to play until you were in your forties or fifties; someone with that many layers.”

Embodying the on-screen version of a much-beloved character from a novel – McDermid wrote the first Karen Pirie book in 2003 – can bring its challenges, but Lyle wasn’t fazed.

“They did say to me: ‘You need to be prepared, it is a book character and when you are announced some people may not like it.’ You never know what people will think if you don’t fit what Karen Pirie is in their head.

“I was prepared because Outlander had been books. I had gone through that process before with Marsali being someone that people would know in their heads.

“Nicola Sturgeon apparently has a mug that says: ‘What would Karen Pirie do?’ Her and Val message each other and Nicola was like: ‘She looks perfect.’ I thought: ‘Brilliant, if the First Minister approves, that is fab.’”

Lyle also got a big thumbs up from McDermid herself. “Getting to meet Val was amazing. She came to set,” she says. “Val is so cool. She couldn’t have been more supportive and indicated that she was always so thrilled it was me, which obviously gives you a lot of confidence going in.”

All in all, Lyle is a woman happy with her lot. “Vigil is going to be the big bad thriller that I hope everyone gets hooked on and can’t stop watching,” she says.

“I am dead excited to have done something with the BBC and then with Karen Pirie being ITV, getting to work across these two big dog amazing institutions of the UK.

“The last year, getting to do all this, I can’t believe the life I have got to live. I am so grateful. I can’t believe people are letting me do it. It is really, really cool. I don’t want it to end.”

Vigil will premiere on BBC One and BBC iPlayer tonight at 9pm, with episode two on Monday at 9pm. The series will then continue on Sunday nights, with new episodes weekly on BBC One and BBC iPlayer

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