Jonathan Rhys-Meyers was born to play Jonathan Wolverton Randall. Although some of you may not have considered him for the coveted role of Outlander’s arch-villain, I’m here to convince you that he could do the job.
Black Jack Randall has a sneer; I see it with Diana Gabaldon’s every word. His calm, gentlemanly exterior conceals a steel-trapped mind and a dark, insatiable monster. This sneer erupts as if by compulsion, contorting his otherwise handsome features into the face of evil and then, all of a sudden, the sneer vanishes…
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers has been sneering for a decade. He has full, sensual lips which, in ordinary circumstances, deem him eligible for pretty boy status, but so often in films, I’ve seen those lips pulled back into a rictus of contempt. Out of any actor in his generation, he excels at the cold, merciless stares, the smiles of dubious intent. His role as the ambitious Steerpike in Gormenghast (2000) is one of the best movie villain performances since Anthony Perkins in Psycho (1960). Jonathan Rhys-Meyer’s Steerpike simultaneously garners our hatred and sympathy; he commits cruel, unspeakable acts, yet he manages to illuminate his humanity with an animal howl of desolation.
I liked Black Jack Randall despite what he did to Jamie Fraser. There were parts in Outlander in which I despised him, but toward the end of Dragonfly in Amber, Diana Gabaldon pulled a fast one on her readers by revealing some of Jack Randall’s redeemable features. He’s not your typical, mustache-twitching villain, but one who is textured and undeniably human.
As the series’ main villain, Jack Randall creates perfect melodrama; he’s the lingering presence pursing Jamie Fraser across the four corners Scotland as diligently as Inspector Javart pursued Jean Valjean throughout France. If you consider how much of the first book is dedicated to escaping Jack Randall, you’ll realize what an important character he is to the series and how casting him is a decision not to be taken lightly.
The actor who plays Jonathan Wolverton Randall has a daunting task ahead of him: he must be able to play a believable, multidimensional villain and then turn around and play the thankless role of Frank Randall. I handpicked Jonathan Rhys-Meyers mainly on the basis of his immense acting range. Although I haven’t considered his physical resemblance to Jack Randall, I have to admit that Jonathan Rhys-Meyers does have Black Jack’s lithe, tennis player physique.
Some of you may be tempted to write Jonathan Rhys-Meyers off as being too much of a pretty boy, too androgynous, or too slight in stature for the role. But if you measure him against his towering Scottish foil, you’ll come to realize that a little bit of androgyny may be necessary to accentuate the differences between Black Jack and Jamie Fraser.
The important part is capturing Jonathan Wolverton Randall’s sneer. If casting directors can only get the sneer right, audiences will know we’ve got a villain to reckon with.