Each season, Outlander delivers us villains that are not easily forgotten, and this season’s stand-out is Jessica Reynolds, who plays Malva. Up there with the likes of Blackjack Randall and Stephen Bonnet, Malva was a different type of villain. Yes, she tried to break up (and possibly kill) Claire and Jamie, but, the one difference was that Claire and Jamie cared about her. Reynolds chatted with me to break down her character Malva, season 6, and the killer ending to her character — and also let me in on what lessons she’s learned from acting alongside powerhouses Caitríona Balfe and Sam Heughan. Plus, she lets us in on what it was like to be slapped by Balfe on television!
In Reynold’s big episode, “The World Turned Upside Down,” Claire found Malva dead, with her throat slit. Murder, she wrote! Okay, yes Malva did make her own bed by trying to come between Jamie and Claire, but technically Outlander author Diana Gabaldon wrote her murder years ago! Malva, and most importantly Reynolds, is now among the Outlander legends. Bye, Malva. We’ll never forget you — because you live in our nightmares. But is this the last we’ve seen of Reynolds on Outlander? Maybe not…
Read on for our full chat.
Reshma Gopaldas: First of all, congratulations! You play such a duplicitous, multi-faceted character. And this episode, wow, I hated you and I felt sorry for you all at the same time. So that is a testament to your brilliant work. Let’s start at the beginning: how did you prepare for this role? I know you read the book, but did you binge-watch the show? And if you did, what scene really stood out to you?
Jessica Reynolds: Because I read the book, I was having to get through a 1500-page book within like a couple of weeks, because I only got the part a month before we started shooting. So I just watched season one and season five. There are 16 episodes in the first one and it’s so much! The one that stood out for me — I think it’s a classic answer — is the Blackjack Randall and Jamie scene. My goodness! And that’s when I realized what Outlander was, why it stood out. It just pushed the boat out as far as it could go. I’ve never seen anything like that on screen before! I thought it was so brilliantly done and oooh, hard to watch.
RG: So when you have some time, did it make you want to watch seasons 2, 3, and 4?
JR: Yeah! I mean yeah! It’s kind of annoying, because now I’ve watched like one and five. But it’s funny, when I’m talking to the other members of the cast who are like, “When we were in South Africa…” And I’m like, “What?!” With all the time travel, I still don’t really know when they go back and all that!
RG: So you have a fun binge ahead! Do you remember what scene and with whom you auditioned?
JR: All of my auditions were on Zoom, so I didn’t have anyone to read with. I was reading with the casting director, Suzanne, and the director. And then I met Maril (Davis) and Matt (Roberts) after I got the part. But the auditions — I had three scenes. I had the big accusation scene, which is such a long audition! And then there was the one where Claire tries to get the truth from me, and I break and I almost tell her. Then Allan interrupts. And then the other scene was the scene in ep one with the Lucifer.
RG: Wait a minute, that’s a lot to do on Zoom!
JR: Oh yeah! My first tape was those 3 auditions, and they might have given me an extra one. I guess they needed to see that someone could do the full extent of Malva.
RG: Congrats, because that’s hard in a normal audition. But to do it on tape and Zoom, forget it. Let’s break down the big scene: the big pregnancy reveal and accusation. Tell me everything about it.
JR: It was a long day. A really fun day. But it was probably the longest. The amount of takes we did, we did a lot! Rightly so, for such a pivotal scene. It’s the pinnacle, the explosion, and the decline of everything. We did like 20 or more takes. It was a six-page scene, so it took a while. It was brilliant. Often in film and TV, things can become a little mechanical. But this was the scene that most felt like we were all so involved, living and breathing through it — it kind of felt like theater almost. And I loved it actually, because I’ve only just seen it there, and haven’t even seen the full episode in its entirety.
RG: Oh you have to watch it, it’s highly stressful! But it’s very good.
JR: Yes, I do! But I loved the way it was filmed, almost handheld. It was a hard scene for me, and I wanted to make sure I got it at the start, because with emotional scenes, it’s hard to maintain the level of stress, emotion, and intensity. It got to a point that I was laughing every time. I don’t feel anything [laughs].
RG: What did it feel like to have Caitríona Balfe fake slap you on national television?
JR: Yeah, that was great! I loved every moment of that! I loved those bits because it’s so calculative and manipulative, but also sad, because she loves Claire. I believe she really does. And I think, you know, when she’s saying, “I’m sorry, we did this,” it’s just like [covers her face], “Oh, stop it, stop it! You don’t need to do this!” But yeah, I love, I love. Caitríona’s just so brilliant, holding the audience with her and kind of sharing what’s going on in that brain.
RG: It was hard to focus on who we should be watching. How mad Jamie was getting, how outraged Claire was. Were they believing each other? Were they turning on each other? And you just kept going and going. It was brilliant. The other big scene was when Caitríona was cutting into you like a birthday cake when you left this world. Was that hard to film? Assume that was a prop knife, prosthetic belly.
JR: Yeah, I had like an actual little baby under the prosthetic belly —
RG: Not an actual live baby everyone! A “prop” baby!
JR: Oh yeah! It was [a prop]! It was quite tense. It was quite sad. I mean, it was funny at the start because it was a sunny day. There are pictures of me with sunglasses on, lying down and I was just like, this is the easiest work I’ve ever had, just chilling. But the blood was very sticky. Edible blood. But after all that fun, it was sad, watching Caitríona’s beautiful performance, she was just crying so much. I was like, “This is so tragic.” These circumstances and, obviously, I know we’re acting, right? I know I’m Jessica, you know, doing this. But when you sit in it and realize what this poor character’s going through, it really gets you. When you see Caitríona, Claire, during this incredible performance, above you, it was like, “Oh my God.” And Caitríona was pregnant at the time as well. It was just so graphic and intense and tragic.
— Caitríona Balfe (@caitrionambalfe) April 11, 2022
RG: That seemed like an exhausting scene to film.
JR: Yeah… we had a doctor on set to make sure Caitríona was doing the Caesarean (cut) correctly.
RG: Yeah, Claire went in deep with that knife! I was like, ‘Oh gosh.’ It made me so nervous! What did you think of Malva giving Claire the worst haircut? What was her motivation?
JR: I think this is one of the more — I don’t like to use the word evil, but the more manipulative actions that Malva’s taken. I like to understand that in terms of her level of desperation. And I think it’s quite like a childish, young girl thing to do. You know, you cut someone’s hair, then he’s not going to love her anymore with her hair short!
RG: Yeah, that’s what I thought! She was thinking, “Oh, I’m going to make her less appealing to him,” as if that’s what their attraction is to each other.
JR: Exactly! I guess the motivation is to tear her away and cause some sort of divide between them. But I think through all of this, she still loves Claire. But the desperation just takes over.
RG: Can you talk a little bit about your first day on set? Your first scenes with Caitríona and Sam, what were your impressions of them? Were you nervous?
JR: So my first scene was when Tom’s getting his hand looked at and I want to stay, and then he says, “Go off.” A very tiny little scene. And I was nervous, I was absolutely losing my mind, obviously. I think most actors are, even the most established actors are on their first day, it’s just terrifying. I remember meeting them, thinking [looking up]. “They’re just so tall!” I’m 5’1”. I’m tiny.
RG: They’re giants.
JR: These are supermodels! And they were just so beautiful, attractive, and wow! That was kind of my first shallow thought. But they’re just so funny and chill! And I suppose maybe you assume that people who have such an accolade, maybe they’re going to be a certain way. Not that I assumed that, but just to see how funny, and goofy and stupid they both act, it’s just like the best thing to come on to, because it’s like, “Oh, well, I’m an idiot as well” [laughing].
RG: What a great tone for them put on that set. Fans would like to know: what have you learned from each of them?
JR: Caitríona, one of the main things is seeing how quickly she can flip into character and how present, how quickly she’s able to listen. I mean, obviously there are seven years of being Claire behind that, but she’s so present. I’m at a stage where I’m like, “Okay let’s do some breathing exercises. What’s the intention here?” [laughs] I’m quite slow. She’s also just bubbly and has the most infectious laugh ever, she just keeps it nice. She’s got a lovely relationship with the cast and crew. And Sam, he’s just a very kind man. When you have the energy and atmosphere on set, you get what you give. So you support the crew, they help you out. You know, he’s just a really great person.
RG: Is there a favorite blooper you can share? It can be with anyone.
JR: I can’t even remember! But I just remember, so many times, I corpse. In one of the big massive group scenes. In ep 1, whenever Allan’s getting whipped — Oh no, no, no, sorry. An even better one, in the church, the granny Wilson scene. I was actually supposed to be a little bit more visually present in that scene. I had to behind Mark Lewis Jones (Tom Christie) the whole time because he was just cracking me up. I had one line. I say, “The sin eater.” [laughs] I must have had to make them retake it about five times because I couldn’t hold myself together. And everyone’s like, “Ughhh.” It’s all Mark’s fault, it always is. He just gets me every time.
RG: I can’t wait to see the bloopers! We’re going to play a little game for the fans. It’s called “Malva, Marry, Murder.” And Malva just means “date.” I just called it that for the alliteration. So: Claire Fraser, Brianna, and Jamie Fraser.
JR: Oh my goodness! Right. I know, I would — it’d be a bit rude, but I’d murder Jamie. Because I’m a woman’s woman. And I’d have to marry Claire, because she loves (her). Malva would love to live in a house with Claire and learn everything. And then date Brianna (Sophie Skelton). She’s gorgeous.
RG: Roger, Young Ian, or Claire? I knew you’d pick Claire, so I’m going to keep her as the consistent.
JR: Death and murder, Roger (Richard Rankin). Sorry, we don’t see eye to eye, do we really?
RG: You were enemies! You became enemies!
JR: As soon as he sees me in the church, I’m like, “Yeah, don’t reckon with me!” I’d definitely still marry Claire. I’d date Ian. I think Malva really liked Ian.
RG: I think they had good chemistry, and if she didn’t go through what she had, they may have worked out.
JR: I think so….
RG: I know Vanessa Coffey was the intimacy coordinator. For your scenes where Tom beats Malva, was Vanessa involved in that? Can you explain to people what an intimacy coordinator does in a scene like that?
JR: So an intimacy coordinator is a voice for the actor that has to do an intimate scene, whether that be nudity or a sex scene. And she’s there to kind of communicate between actor to actor, actor to director, etc. just so the actor feels safe. They’re there to protect the actor, because there have been so many years of actors not being protected in that way. Vanessa was with me for the whipping scenes, and she’s amazing. She’s a saving grace. And she’s also with me through the scene with Henderson. [phone ringing] That was my mom. Let me double-check that she doesn’t ring me again!
So Vanessa was there, because Henderson grabs my breast and we had just met each other that day. It’s useful to have someone treat it as choreography. So Vanessa was there to say, “First step, you’re going to do this, then you’re going to do this and then you do this.” It just takes all the awkwardness and fear out of it. Then once you rehearse it, it turns into a bit of a dance and you just do the scene. It takes the taboo, stigma, and weirdness out of the way.
RG: Now that you are part of the Outlander family, and one of the standout characters, how would you end Outlander? How would you end Jamie and Claire’s story as Jessica?
JR: Oh my goodness. That’s such an interesting question. I want them back to Scotland, I think. I haven’t read past my book . So I’ve no idea what happens. But yeah, get them back to Scotland!
RG: Yeah! America shmamerica! Scotland!
JR: Season one, Jamie and Claire, kind of a full-circle moment. Maybe get like Jenny (Laura Donnelly) back. Just kind of a wholesome…
RG: You and Laura Donnelly are actually very similar!
JR: I always get that!
RG: You can play young Jenny! Okay, fan questions! A lot of the fans just want you to know that you are phenomenal in this role, and Twitter fan Naleke, said to tell you, “You are exactly who I had in mind when I read the books . So bravo!” So I think she’s saying, congratulations on being born, basically. Next question: What is something that people would be surprised to know about Caitríona that you learned while working with her?
JR: I don’t know if this is surprising at all, but she’s got a lot of knowledge just about like a lot of things! We would have a lot of conversations about gut health, Irish history — she’s very clever! She reads a lot! I feel like she’s taught me quite a lot of things like what to eat and what not to eat, in terms of your gut microbiome. We’d have constant discussions about gluten and how it’s bad. And Irish people, I remember she told me once, three out of four Irish people are gluten intolerant and don’t know! And it’s specific to Ireland, because we’re both Irish.
RG: Oh wow, was just going to ask, did you bond over both being Irish? And it’s hilarious that you’re like, “Yes, and also G.I. health.”
JR: Exactly! And she’d just done Belfast, the film. And I’m from Belfast, so we talked about that. Yeah, beautiful film! We talked loads about the history and Irish stuff.
RG: A lot of the fans also wanted to know: did the idea of joining a popular series with such a passionate fan base make you nervous, especially because you were coming on to play this character? Did the show warn you about it in any way?
JR: Yeah, they actually did. I think maybe close to the time that I was going to be announced as playing Malva, I was warned, you know, that this happened with Laoghaire (Nell Hudson), with Nell and everything. I was briefly warned, but I don’t know, there’s something that excites me about that. I like to think I wouldn’t take anything to heart, especially if it’s about my character. I like that passion if it’s about a character. Because I’ve been here, like when I was younger, I used to get very obsessive and infatuated with these things. That’s kind of cool, yeah.
RG: I think it’s a testament to your performance, too, because we all know you’re not doing that! Someone retweeted my call for questions for you and just wrote, “Evil.” So I’m going to take that as a compliment for you.
JR: That’s what I mean, when I get those comments, I’m like, “Yeah, I’m doing my job!”
You know @jesssreynolds_ is an amazing actress because Malva had to tell Claire she was old and dried up with a straight face and pretend she believed it. The skills. #Outlander #outlanderatmidnight pic.twitter.com/ovqSmeoHsU
— call me v 🐉🔥 (@senoritav76) April 10, 2022
RG: Twitter fan Laura asks, “I love that you read the books to prepare. What was your favorite part of the books?” And was there any scene in the book that you wished had made it in the television show?
JR: Oh, my favorite part of the books ? She’s so multifaceted. I think she’s pretty close to what she is in the scripts and the book. She’s quite annoying and kind of popping up everywhere in the book. It’s similar in the TV show. The way that Diana writes her is so brilliant. She does kind of get under your skin, but then you’re like, “Oh, she seems quite pleasant now.” It’s a constant battle between whether you like her or not.
RG: Did you talk to Diana about her?
JR: It was never offered to me or anything like that, but a lot of actors, I guess, don’t read the book, because they just go off the scripts. But having all the source material, I was like, “Yes!” Just having the commentary of Diana as the author, what she was saying about Malva. I think there was a scene that we filmed that was in the book that was cut. It was quite a sweet scene with me and Caitríona. I think it’s being put in the deleted scenes.
RG: Can you give a tease?
JR: I think the scripts are out there. Episode 3, and it was about how we bond over the way neither of us had mothers growing up. And that’s the point where I’d kind of deciphered that Malva realizes she’s pregnant. It’s a lot of metaphors, it was a very last-minute scene that they wrote, added in the last minute. We shot it, but it didn’t make the cut. But yeah, I would have liked to have seen it.
RG: Hopefully we can see it in the deleted scenes. Twitter fan Kathy Taylor wants to know, “If Malva could tweet. What would she say?” What would she say to Claire, after this!
JR: I loved you. I really loved you.
RG: #TweetsFromMalvasGhost. So, everyone loves compliments. What’s the best thing about working with your cast mates? You can say a word or phrase that you think describes them best. Alexander Vlahos?
JR: Nut job [laughs].
RG: Lauren Lyle.
RG: Mark Lewis Jones.
RG: John Bell.
RG: Richard Rankin (Roger Mackenzie)
JR: Great man.
RG: One last thing: since the season was truncated, had you filmed extra stuff? Was Malva’s storyline going to be extended one more episode?
JR: Yeah, there has been some filmed. [smiles] That may or may not come later. We just have to see.
Before you go, check out the all-time best ‘Outlander’ episodes you need to watch.