Press Tour: 'Outlander' not 'reinventing' beloved books
Fans of the beloved "Outlander" historical novels may be anxiously awaiting the new Starz series of the same name, or they may just be anxious. With fans having their own ideas about what Claire and Jamie should look and act like, a TV show runs the risk of disappointing. Fortunately, all those involved who came out for the "Outlander" panel at press tour made it clear they intended to stay true to the spirit of the books, despite some minor changes.
"In order to encompass the entirety of the first book, we decided to go forward with 16 episodes," said Starz managing director Carmi Zlotnick, adding that the series is currently shooting in Glasgow, Scotland. An official air date for the series has yet to be set.
Diana Gabaldon also talked about how executive producer Ron Moore approached her about adapting the books, explaining how impressed she was with his understanding of the story. "Ron [Moore] said, 'Obviously, Claire is the focus of this entire story. It all rests on this character. We need to appreciate who she is immediately.' The book starts rather slowly, and you can do that in a book because the prose will draw people in, but we need to see Claire in her element. 'So what I would like to do,' he said, 'is start with maybe a two minute prologue set in World War II where we see Claire in a World War II field military hospital doing what she does, blood spurting, sewing people back together, being the very competent and resilient person that she is, and I was going, Yeah, yeah, sounds great."
Moore was quick to add, "I mean, I saw my role from the beginning as, you know, not reinventing this material but adapting it and sort of delivering it because there is an audience for it. There is a dedicated base of fans who love these books who have read them for many years, and it’s the favorite book to a lot of people, that book that sits on their shelf that’s dog eared and they’ve read it many, many times, and I take that obligation seriously. I want to give them their story, but I do have to translate it into a different medium because there are differences of being a reader and being a member of an audience. So in writer’s room, we always start with the book."
For fans wondering if the most controversial scene, in which Jamie strikes Claire, will make the small screen, that appears to be the plan. "It’s in the book, and it’s in the show. I mean, we’ve read the script, and it’s certainly an explosive scene that we’ll have to… we’ll cut it and play with it and have to be on the set with the director. It’s down the road a little bit for us. We know we’re going to do it. It’s integral to the story. It’s a shocking moment, but it’s an important part of the development of one of the characters, so we’re going to go for it.
"Yeah, just to clarify, he doesn’t beat the crap out of her," Gabaldon said, in response to one journalist's description. "He spanks her bottom with his sword belt, and she doesn’t like it."
Moore also discussed how much screen time per book might be scheduled. "I think, generally speaking, the one book a season is roughly what we would do, but I don’t think we’re really locked into that because some of the books are much bigger than other books. Some might require more than a season. Sometimes you might even want to start a season here and bleed it into there. I hope I have such problems."
Someone who won't be worrying about such problems is Gabaldon, who says she's leaving the screenwriting to screenwriters. "Well, I don’t actually write scripts or direct or anything. I will get two lines in one scene as a cameo. That’s the extent of my actual personal involvement. However, they have been very kind in involving me. They show me scripts."
On a lighter note, the conversation turned to kilts, which both Moore and star Sam Heughan wore on stage. Heughan gave an in-depth explanation of the history of kilts, while Moore talked about how they'd grown on him. "I rented a kilt and wore it to the first table read for the show as a deal like, oh, I’m going to do this, and then I sort of started to like it, and I said, 'Well, I need to get a couple of these for myself,'" Moore said. "Yeah, it’s kind of cool."
Caitriona Balfe, who plays Claire and wore a pair of black leggings to the panel, joked, "Well, we all know who wears the pants in this relationship.
About shooting in Scotland, Balfe said, "We had this incredible cold, you know, because it’s Scotland, but incredibly bright, sunny days and, you know, we were up in a certain place called Loch Rannoch, and we shot some of the standing stone stuff, and it was this really strange thing. Whenever we would do you know, there’s a point where Claire hears a noise, and the wind would just whip up every time I went to do this certain point in the scene, and it really felt you know, the hairs on my arm would stand up. It just really felt like there was something kind of there, you know."
"It was the scenes — every time they’d do your close ups, it was sunny, and every time it was mine, it rains," Heughan sighed.