Photo: Outlander Starz Ponytail and grizzled beard anyone? (Goodwin second from right)
RONNIE B. GOODWIN: MAD HORSE SKILLS, A GREAT FACE, AND ONE ITCHY WIG
For bewhiskered Ronnie Goodwin, or “Dougal’s Uncle” as some fans call him, becoming one of Outlander‘s four “heroic Highlander” extras might be seen as a boon from the faeries, the dumb luck of a keystroke, or perhaps a combination of both. “I was browsing Facebook and saw an ad pop up for ‘Horsemen Wanted’, so I clicked on it and got a reply almost immediately. Next thing I know, Seoras Wallace (Scottish author, film historical-consultant, weapons expert) was asking me if I still had a beard and telling me that the riding testing was just two days later! I think 18 were tested and four of us were chosen.”
CASTLES, TREES, AND AN ACHING HEAD
Goodwin said the people auditioning the wannabe extras were looking for guys with riding experience, of which he had plenty since he’d spent years shepherding a flock of 500+ sheep from atop his 17hh horse (that’s 5’6″ at top of the shoulder), with his Border Collie “Belle” running alongside. And then there is his horse-expert sister Sylvia — the one who taught him to ride years before — who just happens to run the Highland Pony stud at Balmoral Castle for Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. When Goodwin did his riding test The Boss was in the house: “Ron Moore looked at me and said ‘Really great, REALLY great!’ so I felt I had a good chance” he said.
Not only is Goodwin one of the most recognizable extras in Outlander, with his craggy face and animated acting, but because of his riding skills, the Outlander Starz actor was assigned a gorgeous Hanoverian from the Steve Dent Stunts company named “George,” who came in at a very tall 17.2hh. Add six-footer Goodwin in wig and bonnet (a Scots beret), and it is no wonder he had a few unexpected encounters. “I’m wearing a wig and hat, and when I rode up the ramp into Doune Castle, I clobbered my head on an archway,” he said, laughing. “And one time out on location, even though I ducked, I caught on a branch and lost my hat and moved my wig.” That same wig was sometimes itchy on his balding head, but Goodwin said he was always grateful for its warmth in the cold Scottish weather.
Appearing in eight episodes of Outlander Season 1 (and in upcoming Season 3) Goodwin said the days in the saddle were great but could be challenging. “Very long and very cold sometimes,” he said with his soft Scots burr. “I could leave home at 4:30 in the morning, arrive at the studio or location and have a light breakfast. Then we’d wait for our turn to lie down on the trailer floor to get kilted. It was a tight squeeze in there with all the guys,” he chuckled. Then it was off for a “big feed” of real breakfast, then wigs and weapons. “Then we are off to the set or to the buses to our location.” Occasionally, extras could drive themselves if horses and equipment were being shipped out to location. Each horse had its own groom, so the actors didn’t have to do anything, not even tightening the saddle girth.
STOP! HELP! HE’S GOING OVER!
Funny location mishaps weren’t limited to Goodwin’s head. “One night, in full rain, I was basically jumping back up on the horse. I made it and I hauled up Roy (Ramsay) behind my Portuguese saddle (distinct for its deep seat and straight pommel and cantle), but the girth slipped and Roy’s huge bulk pulled me over. We both landed upside down, pants-in-the-air.” Even with both men under his belly, their steady steed stood his ground. “George — who’d been in the movie War Horse — didn’t move, he didn’t step on us. Someone grabbed for him quickly, and I’m very grateful he didn’t stomp on me!” Fortunately, the kilted riders had adopted bicycling shorts under their costumes to better pad their saddle-worn backsides. “They made a helluva difference to all our sore bits!” he said, big grin flashing.
But even the best-trained horse has a mind of its own. One day during Doune Castle filming, “Young Thomas” had a runaway moment. Goodwin couldn’t ride after him for fear of causing an unexpected stampede of horses and startled actors: “Sam and Cait are confident riders, and even Graham, but the rest not as much. Tom’s horse grabbed the bit in his teeth and just took off across a field. I felt bad but I had to wait and leave poor Tom to ‘die’ in the field by himself,” Goodwin said, chuckling. “Luckily, (after a spill in the mud) Tom jumped up, waved his arms, and shouted, ‘I’m okay’.” Ahh, the actors life.
“YOU LOOK KIND OF INTERESTING …”
Although Goodwin cleans up into a handsome guy, actor Stephen Walters, who embodies Outlander Starz Angus Mhor like an angry leprechaun gone off his meds, sat down next to costumed Goodwin one day on set and said, “You look kind of interesting. I want to see what your life is like.” So, lifelong fly fisherman Goodwin — who is also an award-winning filmmaker and photographer in his own right — obliged, taking Walters out on the water. A day of fishing led to a charming short film, melded with an original song by Stephen Walters called Betty Blue. (<-YouTube at this link.) “Stephen is a talented singer,” Goodwin said, “but he’s even better as an actor. He’s almost psycho, how as soon as he gets into the character he becomes that character.” Now good friends, the pair hope to make a film together in the future.
Ronnie Goodwin has been called for Outlander Starz Season 3 — he says his face looks entirely different when clean shaven and without his long gray ponytail (see below). He lights up when talking about all aspects of Outlander and the production team. On horseback one evening while filming, he said to Graham McTavish who plays Dougal MacKenzie, “THIS is one of the highlights of my life.” When McTavish asked “what is?” Goodwin answered: “This moment. Riding along at sunset at Doune Castle with Graham McTavish on my left side and this magnificent scene on the right!”
JUST WHO IS BEHIND THOSE FOSTER GRANTS?
As for life away from Outlander, Ronnie Goodwin keeps accumulating awards for his short films: FLY, A LEGACY which qualified for 85th Academy Award contention, as well as his films SHOOTER and KING. He also served as the edit consultant on 2016 Academy Award nominee, AVE MARIA, while fighting of a bout of Lyme disease, after being bit by an infected tick. Even so, Goodwin was in awe of Ronald D. Moore from the moment they met. “I went home and researched him and saw he is just a MONSTER in the world of television. It blew me away when I realized it was him behind all these amazing television series” he said. “Ron Moore makes things the way I love to make my material — beautiful, slow, and in a way that you can see everything. They used just candles to light some scenes. That takes balls. I do hope Ron Moore will see my material (short films/photography) at some point.” That admiration extends to Moore’s Costume Designer wife, Terry Dresbach. “I get on really well with Terry. She is just great! She invited me to do modeling with her mannequins,” he said. “When the press came to see, I moved around a little since I was standing among the dummies (and didn’t want to be mistaken for one)!”
A dummy he is not. Goodwin is currently doing temporary work, helping out at the ticketing gate at the Balmoral Estate, as well as spending time doing his photography and riding horses. When told he may face an influx of Outlander fans seeking him out this summer at Balmoral to say “hi,” he smiled and said he hopes they do. “One person almost figured it out. The man said ‘I know you. You look like Dougal!'”