Before Her ‘Outlander’ Debut as Brianna, See Sophie Skelton in ‘Ren’

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Sophie Skelton as Ren in ‘Ren: The Girl with the Mark’ (Photo: Ren Studios) 

Outlander’s passionate fanbase has extra incentive to be excited about the Season 2 finale of Starz’s hit highlander series, which airs July 9. Titled “Dragonfly in Amber,” after the second book in the series of Diana Gabaldon-penned novels that inspired the show, the super-sized 90-minute episode brings red-hot lovers Claire and Jamie (Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan) to the fateful battlefield of Culloden, where the Jacobite rebellion met its bloody end in 1745.

But the finale represents a beginning as well as an end; the present day sequences — in this case, “present day” means the ‘60s — introduces a pair of characters who will be vitally important to the series when it returns for a third and fourth year. Technically, we’ve met these folks before during the course of Season 2, but it’s only in “Dragonfly in Amber” that their role in the show’s future becomes clear.

Richard Rankin and Skelton as Roger and Brianna in ‘Outlander’ (Photo: Starz)

As book fans will immediately surmise, we’re speaking about Roger and Brianna, who represent the next generation of Outlander adventurers. Roger is the adopted son of Reverend Wakefield, the man who hosted Claire and Frank at his Inverness home before the time travel madness started. Brianna, meanwhile, is the baby that Claire had in her womb when she left Jamie and traveled back through the stones. Both characters appeared as children in Season 2’s first and seventh episode, respectively. But “Dragonfly” represents the first time viewers will meet them as grown-ups, and anticipation is running high — high enough that Starz refrained from announcing the actors who had been cast in the roles until Season 2 was well underway. The part of Roger went to Scottish actor Richard Rankin, while Cheshire-born Sophie Skelton will take on the challenge of playing Jamie and Claire’s daughter.

Both performers have been working steadily in U.K. television, but Outlander is their most prominent series to date, and the eyes of an international fandom are most definitely upon them. That’s something that Skelton is keenly aware of. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, the actress — who already dyed her brunette hair a fiery red after her onscreen father — talked about the ways she expects Outlander fans to place her performance under a microscope. “There are things like eye color. I think people are expecting [me to wear] contacts because Bri’s eyes are blue [in the books]. Everybody will have a different view,” Skelton said.

(Photo: Starz)

Many of Skelton’s pre-Outlander roles on shows like Waterloo Road and So Awkward can be hard to find in America. But there is one series that’s easily binge-able: Ren: The Girl with the Mark, a fantasy web serial that premiered online in March 2016. Created by Kate Madison and Christopher Dane and directed by Madison, the series casts Skelton as the title character: a 17-year-old girl in a magical realm of Alathia who inherits the mark, and powers, of a centuries-old spirit. Produced with the help of a massive crowdfunding campaign, Ren’s first season consists of five 10-minute episodes that hint at bigger adventures to come… depending on Skelton’s Outlander shooting schedule, of course. Here are four ways that Ren, the Girl with the Mark, is related to Brianna of Clan Fraser.  

They Both Have Unexpected Brushes with the Supernatural
At Frank’s request, Brianna was raised not knowing anything of her mother’s time-traveling exploits. Ren is equally innocent to the ways of magic, until it literally bumps into her in the form of Lyanna (Dita Tantang), the nomad who currently bears the titular mark. At that point, the mark and its accompanying magical abilities leap to Ren, which proves seriously disruptive to her peaceful existence. How disruptive, you ask? Let’s just say the last episode opens with her tied to a stake, enduring the sadistic threats of a glowering military man (Richard Zeman). We seem to remember Jamie Fraser being in a similar situation

They Both Have Daddy Issues
Like all rebellious teenagers, Ren frequently clashes with her well-meaning, but safety-obsessed widower father, Dagron (Nick Cornwall). His fears only grow more pronounced after she inherits the mark and, unfortunately, tragedy intervenes before they can fully get back on the same page. As for Brianna, she’s been brought up thinking of Frank as her only father. So just imagine her reaction when she learns of her actual origin story. (Hint: It’s not great, Bob.)

(Photo: Ren Studios)

They Both Have Little Time For Love (For Now)
Book readers know where exactly the Roger/Brianna relationship is heading, but we’ll allow viewers to discover it in their own time. When they first meet, though, he’s much more overtly into her than the other way around. During the course of Ren’s first season, Ren has no immediate love interest, as she pursues her own independent path. But there’s some definite tension generated with freelance warrior Hunter (Duran Fulton Brown), who gets sucked into helping the marked girl despite his reservations. Expect that chemistry to keep bubbling in future seasons.    

They Both Have Great Costumes
There are a number of reasons for actors to be excited about joining the cast of Outlander. But chief among them has to be the opportunity to get your own Terry Dresbach-designed wardrobe. Outlander’s terrific costume designer, and deserving Emmy hopeful, spent Season 2 creating everything from red dresses to swan nipple rings. Obviously, as a web series, Ren can’t boast to having Outlander’s budget for frocks and kilts, but costume designer Miriam Spring Davies brings the right fantasy flair to Ren’s outfits. Just wait until Skelton encounters a Ren cosplayer at Comic-Con…

Ren: The Girl with the Mark is currently streaming on the show’s official site. Outlander airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.