Scot­land THE Brace

As Out­lander re­turns to the screen, Tara Bennett finds out what makes this most un­usual of genre shows tick

SFX - - Outlander -

Last year’s fall TV sea­son saw a heap of hype for new genre shows fea­tur­ing comic book char­ac­ters, su­per­heroes and the un­dead. But there was an­other se­ries that de­buted last Au­gust that didn’t fit any tra­di­tional genre cat­e­gories, mash­ing to­gether time travel with an epic ro­mance wrapped in a his­tor­i­cal pe­riod

piece. Out­lander, the big- bud­get adap­ta­tion of nov­el­ist Diana Ga­bal­don’s book se­ries of the same name, crept in un­der the radar and man­aged to gain the kind of crit­i­cal ap­proval and main­stream buzz most genre shows can only dream about.

Ex­ec­u­tive pro­duced by Bat­tlestar Galac­tica’s Ron D Moore, the se­ries aired eight episodes that laid out the un­likely plight of Claire Randall ( Caitri­ona Balfe), a for­mer com­bat nurse cel­e­brat­ing the end of WW2 with her hus­band, Frank ( To­bias Men­zies), in In­ver­ness, Scot­land. On a trip to visit some lo­cal stand­ing stones, Claire is freak­ishly trans­ported back in time to 1743 where she has to use her wits and skills to sur­vive sus­pi­cious clans­men, a masochis­tic English sol­dier who is the an­ces­tor of her hus­band and a forced mar­riage to Jamie Fraser ( Sam Heughan), a loyal young clans­man who takes her un­der his pro­tec­tion.

While Ga­bal­don’s books have sold mil­lions, some dis­mis­sively as­sumed only women, or fans of the nov­els, would bother show­ing up for the se­ries. But when Out­lander de­buted in the US on Starz more than five mil­lion men and women tuned in for the pre­miere episode, with the num­bers climb­ing un­til it went on its win­ter break. That’s no sur­prise to Moore, who knew

Out­lander could, and hope­fully would, cross over. “It was all there,” the kilted showrun­ner says over a cup of tea in Los An­ge­les. “It’s the same chal­lenge that Diana had with the books. She talks about how she strug­gled with book­sell­ers who were con­stantly stock­ing it in the ro­mance sec­tion and she hated that be­cause guys never go down that aisle. If they ever read the books, it’s not just a ro­mance. I call it an adventure and I knew if we were able to just do what was there it wasn’t go­ing to be ‘ just’ a ro­mance. It was al­ways go­ing to be this big­ger, more in­ter­est­ing piece.”

Clearly au­di­ences agreed, only to dis­cover the sec­ond half of the sea­son would re­turn six long months later in April 2015. A savvy mar­ket­ing de­ci­sion and an op­por­tu­nity for the show to get pro­duc­tion for its sec­ond sea­son un­der­way with some pre­cious lead time, Moore says he’s ex­cited there’s so much an­tic­i­pa­tion for what’s to come.

With the nar­ra­tive left on the pre­car­i­ous cliffhanger of Claire about to be as­saulted by sol­dier Black Jack Randall ( Men­zies in a dual role) and Jamie ar­riv­ing with a raised pis­tol, Moore says the se­ries comes back with changes. The en­core episode, for in­stance, will be told out­side of Claire’s point of view. “As we got into the sto­ries, we wanted to restart the show and I didn’t want to just pick up the cliffhanger in real time,” Moore ex­plains. “It was an op­por­tu­nity to pivot and now in­clude [ Jamie’s point of view] be­cause as the se­ries goes on, it’s re­ally about the two of them. This was an op­por­tu­nity to bring him into the point of view and gives you per­mis­sion to cut to his sto­ries sep­a­rate from hers and open up the show.”

The back half of the sea­son will also ex­plore the strange cir­cum­stances that al­lowed Claire to travel through time. “It was nice,” Moore says of their choice to fo­cus first on char­ac­ter rather than cos­mic an­swers. “We stayed away from the science fic­tion as­pect and it was im­por­tant to me that it didn’t be­come a time travel show. I wanted to keep it on a low boil and re­mind the au­di­ence enough that she’s from the 20th cen­tury and that she’s try­ing to re­turn to it. But I didn’t want to talk about time­lines and chang­ing the timeline be­cause that be­comes an­other show.”

Now with Claire and Jamie’s bond of trust strength­en­ing, Moore teases an im­mi­nent mo­ment of con­fes­sion from Claire to her new hus­band re­gard­ing where she is re­ally from. Just how you con­vince any­one that time travel ex­ists, and you’re the prod­uct of it, is a tricky one in any era, but Moore says he loves the way Jamie pro­cesses the rev­e­la­tion.

“Af­ter think­ing about why [ Jamie] would be­lieve her and how would he chal­lenge it, we started to re­alise he is a man of this time and place,” Moore ex­plains. “The key lines came out of ‘ The Way Out’, when the boy was sick and Jamie and Claire have this con­ver­sa­tion about su­per­sti­tion. [ Jamie] is a man of the 1700s who on a cer­tain level is ed­u­cated about the world but does live in a world of su­per­sti­tion that still be­lieves in witches. So the idea of some­body trav­el­ling through time, in a weird way, is less crazy to him, and them, than it would be to us. That’s the an­gle we took on it and he might have trou­ble be­liev­ing it on some level but he doesn’t think she would lie to him. If she clearly be­lieves it, he’s go­ing to go with it so it’s a leap of the heart. “

Out­side of that, Claire’s mys­te­ri­ous healer friend, Geil­lis Dun­can ( Lotte Ver­beek), will also play a part in un­cov­er­ing more an­swers about the stones. “Geil­lis is a mem­o­rable char­ac­ter in the book,” Moore shares, “so we

“we feel a lit­tle more con­fi­dent go­ing into the sec­ond sea­son”

wanted to bring her for­ward a lit­tle more to put more at­ten­tion on her be­cause she is go­ing to play such an im­por­tant role as we go for­ward.”

weav­ing it to­gether

In a short lull be­fore pro­duc­tion starts back up this spring, Moore says he’s got a much bet­ter hold on how to man­age such an am­bi­tious se­ries now. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons and have a bet­ter sense of the scale of the show and what it takes to pro­duce it. We can plan ahead a lit­tle bet­ter and plan our prep pe­riod smarter be­cause we can ad­dress the chal­lenges.

“Lay­ing out the story was rel­a­tively straight­for­ward,” he con­tin­ues. “It broke down into 16 pieces fairly eas­ily. There were chal­lenges in do­ing an adap­ta­tion which is dif­fer­ent mus­cles than do­ing some­thing orig­i­nal and that was a learn­ing curve. But the phys­i­cal pro­duc­tion was very dif­fi­cult,” he em­pha­sises. “It was a big pro­duc­tion with two time pe­ri­ods. We were shoot­ing on lo­ca­tion in Scot­land and fly­ing to the UK. There was post pro­duc­tion in Los An­ge­les. The fact that it’s a trav­el­ling story means there weren’t any stand­ing sets per se, which cre­ated enor­mous lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges.

“And now,” he pauses, “I get to add Paris which is go­ing to be tricky. But we feel a lit­tle more con­fi­dent go­ing into the sec­ond sea­son even though it will be more com­pli­cated in the sense of story.”

Bas­ing the next run of ad­ven­tures on Ga­bal­don’s novel A Dragon­fly In Am­ber, Moore is look­ing for­ward to craft­ing a nar­ra­tive that will please both diehard read­ers and the un­spoiled view­ers of just the TV se­ries. “We will play with the struc­ture of the book a lit­tle bit,” he teases, “but we are still do­ing the story which is set in the 20th cen­tury and in the 1700s. I think it works be­cause it’s un­ex­pected. It’s not what the au­di­ence, who doesn’t know the book, thinks is go­ing to hap­pen next and that’s great. I want to pre­serve that.”

Out­lander comes to Ama­zon Prime this spring.

No mat­ter what the cen­tury, red shirts al­ways draw the short straw.

It’s not cheat­ing if it hap­pens in an­other cen­tury, right?

Those can­dles had pushed him too far this time.

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