EXCLUSIVE by Trevor Baxter
EVEN devotees of historical television drama Outlander could struggle to make the connection.
But underneath the period hats and wrapped in shawls and scarves is definitely the girl who once served you a beer or a meal at the White Hart in Lydgate.
That’s right – the teenager who used to join her mates for a drink at The Commercial in Uppermill or The White Lion, Delph really is a star of the audience-pulling series on both sides of the Atlantic.
The character is Lizzie Wemyss; the actress portraying her is Caitlin O’Ryan.
She is definitely not ‘Scottish’ as some biographies suggest. However, she is the 25-year-old daughter of a long serving Saddleworth primary school teacher.
And Caitlin is living the dream after 12 years honing her talents at Oldham Theatre Workshop and then landing her first professional job on Outlander six months after leaving drama school.
Now based in London but in limbo until the sixth season of the small screen adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s novels is filmed Caitlin gave an exclusive interview to the Independent. We started by asking about her family background.
“I am from Moorside and went to Our Lady’s School but spent a lot of time in Saddleworth,” she explained.
“My mum has taught at Holy Trinity School in Dobcross for 30 years. That is where I went to nursery, I also went to Stepping Stones nursery in Uppermill.
“All my best friends are from Saddleworth and went to Saddleworth School. The majority of them are from Uppermill so I spent a lot of time in The Commercial,” she laughed.
“When they went off to university, I spent my year off working at The White Hart.”
Describing herself as a “confident kid” she first appeared on ‘stage’ aged six in a production of Peter and the Wolf.
“I was cast as the granddad,” she recalled. “My granddad got me a walking stick and I remember mum saying for two weeks I didn’t drop character at home.
“I was about six at the time but she could see I really enjoyed it. And after attending a youth theatre group in Diggle for a few months I went to Oldham Theatre Workshop.
“That is the place I give all the credit to in terms of instilling a love of acting and a passion for it. It is amazing place.
“Going there twice a week gave me a sense of community and belonging It made people flourish.
“If I hadn’t had Theatre Workshop I don’t know what I would have had.”
Caitlin was in good company. Former Youth Theatre workshop alumni include Hollywood feted actress Olivia Cooke, Sam Glen and Emily Stott.
“The people who run it are fantastic in instilling a professionalism in children and young adults.
“They also never doubt you and make you believe in yourself and your own creativity.
“Oldham has its ups and downs but something like that should be celebrated for what it does for the kids,” added Caitlin whose dad is now a member of the senior workshop.
“Going to Theatre Workshop made it seem possible. I saw people older than me going there and then going on to do really well.
“I was fortunate I always knew what I wanted to do. I stuck with acting and my parents were always supportive.
“I didn’t have any difficult conversations with them. They just wanted me to do what I loved and they supported me.
“It is terrifying if it does not work out because I don’t know what I am going to do.
“I was always encouraged to follow this dream and run with it for as long as possible.”
Caitlin admits doubts appeared after leaving drama school. “I did face the possibility of having to come home,” she said.
“I had auditions but though they went reasonably well I didn’t get the part.
“Then my agent sent me an audition for the role in Outlander and it just went from there.
“I had heard about Outlander but I had not read the books. However, I loved the character Lizzie and she felt like me at that point.
“She felt quite naïve and trying to figure herself out. I was definitely at that point in my life.
“However, as the series progresses, she develops into her own woman and does surprising things. But it is above and beyond my wildest expectations.”
Caitlin joined the cast for series four in 2018. “When I got the job I just binge watched Outlander. It was very strange to watch something you know you are going to be in.
“The first day on set I was blown away by it. They had created this American town in the middle of a Scottish field.
“Even the shops had real vegetables; proper carrots! I felt like I had travelled back in time and I told myself never to take anything for granted.”
Caitlin has no immediate desire to follow Olivia Cooke to tinsel town.
“When I was younger, I always wanted to be in a BBC drama,” she said. “They remind me of being sat on a sofa with my dad watching Luther, Sherlock Holmes or Happy Valley.
“Britain has so much to offer and I would like to get my foot in the door here in that sense.
“Also, because Outlander is set in the 1700’s I would love to do something contemporary; perhaps in the theatre because that is what I trained in.”
So, what advice would she give to any youngsters with similar ambitions to become an actress?
“Follow your dreams you have as a kid because you never know. It is so much better to do something you love because life is too short to do a job you don’t enjoy.
“There is no right way to get into this industry. At the time I felt going down the drama school route was the right path.
“As a family, we had no idea about the industry and how to get into it. It made sense to go down that route.
“For a while I thought I had to conform. But your individuality is what makes you interesting to other people.
“So, for six months after coming out of drama school was all about me trying to rediscover myself.
“With Outlander, it was the first audition I just let myself enjoy it. I didn’t worry or over think it.
“In other auditions my nerves got in the way. Or I got in the way of me by thinking what they wanted instead of just being myself.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic filming for series six has yet to take place. But Caitlin and Lizzie are very much set for a return to your screens in 2021.