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Outlander - PaleyFest Panel and Red Carpet Interview

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I had the pleasure of attending the red carpet and panel for Outlander at Paleyfest on Thursday. Paleyfest is a 10 day event in Los Angeles celebrating some of the top shows on television put on by the Paley Center for Media. You can find out more information on this great event at the Paley Center website. There are spoilers contained within the article, so do be warned.

Showrunner and Executive Producer Ron Moore lead the way, followed by Diana Gabaldon the author of the novels. Moore has some wonderful comments on fans. Stars Tobias Menzies (Frank/Black Jack Randall), Sam Heughan (Jamie Fraser), and Caitriona Balfe (Claire Randall) were also in attendance. Being true was the phrase I heard most during the evening. What follows are the questions they were gracious enough to answer on the red carpet. After that, you’ll find a brief synopsis of the panel event which was moderated by Kristin Dos Santos. The event also included a screening of the new episode “The Reckoning” which will be airing on April 4 on Starz.

Ron Moore

Q: You have some difficult scenes coming up. How do you approach those scenes that are difficult for the fans to watch?

RM: I approach them in the same way I approach the sex scenes, the romantic scenes. Ok. Why are we showing this? And what’s the purpose of it? To find the truth within that scene. I’m going to take you down this harrowing journey and some of these dark things that are going to be horrifying. At what point am I showing you something that’s distracting you from the story. At a certain point, you’re watching it and you can’t watch anymore and you’re not even thinking about it anymore and you’re disconnected emotionally from the character’s dilemma, and that’s always the point. The only way that I can describe it is, I have to start using my own internal guide on it at the point where I check out is where I say okay we won’t go any farther, but I do want to take people up to a certain line. I want them to feel uncomfortable, I want them to feel the fear and terror and all that kind of stuff without moving them into the place where they go, I just can’t watch this.

Q: What has been the most surprising part of making Outlander for you so far?

RM: That we were able to do it as well as we did it. It’s a big challenging project and I had a lot of faith in our cast and our team but you never really know until you put it all together and watch it. And I was just very proud of it. You shouldn’t be surprised but you always are kind of surprised when things turn out good. You’re always hoping for that but a lot of times it fails, and oh man, that didn’t work. So when it does work, you’re always pleasantly surprised.

Q: You’re no stranger to working with properties that have a passionate fanbase, so did you find this a different experience with the fans of the books?

RM: No. This feels very familiar. A fan is a fan as far as I can see. Whether it’s Star Trek or Star Wars of Battlestar, or Outlander, fans, in my experience, all proceed from the same place, which is from love. It’s all about how much they love this material, how much they love these characters, and everything is an expression of that love. They want to immerse themselves in it, they care about it so passionately about it that they’ll tell you you’re screwing it up or you didn’t get that right. That’s because they love it so much they want it to be great. I think when you realize that about fans, it all kind of becomes okay. Yes, there’s always the caricature of the fans who go too far, that become the crazy fans, but by and large, they’re lovely people, and their hearts are in the right places. That’s really the story that I’ve found with all the fans in all the different properties.

Diana Gabaldon

Q: The second half is much darker than the first. Can you talk about balancing the light and dark? Can you talk about how it was to approach the sexual assault on Jamie?

DG: You’ll probably have to talk to Tobias and Sam about how challenging it was, but I expect it was pretty hard on both of them. I was actually on set at a table read for those and I talked to them together and separately and said to them, Look, whatever you can make work between you is fine by me. And they did a wonderful job. I’m sure it was hard.

Q: There’s the famous spanking scene, and adjusting your thinking about time periods. How difficult is that to do when you’re writing, going back and forth between two time periods?

DG: It’s not difficult for me at all. (laughs) It’s very difficult for Claire on occasion. I was a research professor, that’s why I chose to write historical fiction for my practice book because I knew how to use the library. It’s just not a problem to slip into the eighteen century timeframe. I read a lot of stuff that’s written by eighteenth century writers. I understand how they think and what was going on to make them think that way.

Q: Have you caught anything as a consultant?

DG: Yeah, occasionally, that’s what I’m for because I know a whole lot more about eighteenth century Scotland because I’ve spent the last 23 years writing this stuff, whereas they’re all pretty new to it, and do a really good job. But every now and then, I’ll read something in a script and I’ll say, well, I see what you’re trying to do with this scene but you can’t do it that way because this wouldn’t actually have existed in eighteenth century Scotland. Like the wool-walking scene where Claire falls in with the women and they’re meshing the wet wool back and forth. That was originally in the script a scene where she’s strolling through a village of jovial cobblestoned houses and so forth and she gets invited into a house by some woman and then they are playing bridge and drinking tea and I said no. And I told them what it would be like, and I said it was a really hard scrabble life in the eighteenth century, especially for a woman. They worked dawn to dark. But I can see you want her to be embraced by this feminine society for a little bit. Have a nice break from these grouchy men that she’s travelling with, and you can do that by having her help with chores that they would actually be doing. And so I told them specifically about wool walking and the traditional songs, and I said, you know that’s a very intimate kind of thing and so they promptly went off to the Highland Folk Museum and found re-enactors who would do that. It was just fabulous.

Q: What are you happiest about with the adaptation?

DG: How faithful it is, and at the same time, what a good adaptation it is! Because when I’m writing a novel, I can have climaxes or low points any time I want, and they can’t really do that because they’re limited to 55 minutes at a time, and that 55 minutes has to have its own little story arc. It has to be thematically unified and come down in a satisfying place. Whereas the book isn’t that rhythm at all. So they do what they call break script, which means they take the book apart and they have little signs with magnetic pieces with all the different scenes and partial scenes on them. They have a list of all the lines of dialogue separate from the book and they shuffle the pieces around. We can do this and have this happen over here, but we can’t use that part of it so let’s put that over here. And then we need to write a little bit to explain how we got back to there. So, it’s fascinating to watch and they do just a fabulous job. I’m really impressed.

Q: Would you change anything?

DG: I don’t think I would change anything. It’s always been my motto, do the best you can every day.

Q: You have a lot more male fans now because of the show.

DG: Yes. I think that’s very gratifying. I’m thrilled.

Q: Were you surprised?

DG: No, I wasn’t because the books have never been women’s fiction, let alone romance novels, and yet, the way publishing works, especially before and on-line publishing, it had to have a label that would allow you to put it on a shelf in a bookstore, and romance was by far the biggest market it could fit in. It fit in five or six genres and nowadays if you search any of those genres, it will pop right up for you. So I had steadily increasing male readership as they encounter it in a context where they feel safe in reading it, but putting it on tv is much more effective.

Tobias Menzies

Q: Tell me what you think the redeeming qualities that Black Jack has. Does he have any or do you have to create something for yourself?

TM: I think he has redeeming qualities. I think he’s charming. I think he’s honest. You may not like what he has to say but he’s… it’s the truth. And I think he’s a man of parts. He has great taste in music… I think that’s what’s interesting about him. He’s not just a brute.

Q: What’s your process to get into Frank and then into Black Jack?

TM: It’s hard to articulate really. It feels sort of subconscious really. I mainly try and focus on what the scene needs. I was keen not to think too black and white about them. Make them really, really different, or doing a different physicality. I found that the different costumes for the different periods already gave me a different physicality, so there’s a bit of that. But in a way, they’re differently written and how they, just how they are in the stories is different, so mainly, I think, a lot of it was simply trusting the writing and the costuming and the drama to do a lot of the work for you and not kind of overwork it in a way. I felt like it was more exciting to see the difference in his eyes rather than in a walk or a limp of something.

Q: This is a fan question, and I think I know the answer to this, but who is more enjoyable to play, Frank or Black Jack?

TM: I’ve really enjoyed playing them both and having the contrast between the two, but I guess if I was pushed, I would miss Jack a lot.

Sam Heughan

Q: So how did you prepare for the really, really difficult scene that we can’t discuss openly?

SH: There’s some quite heavy stuff towards the end of the season. It’s there in the books and we wanted to deal with it and make it as true as possible, shocking as it is. We’re very lucky we’ve got a fantastic crew, writers, and director and we rehearsed it, went through the scripts, and worked out how we wanted it to feel. It was a very intense couple of weeks. I had a crazy amount of prosthetics. The makeup team was incredible. I’d be on set at 4 am and finish at 10 or 11 at night and do that for two weeks. Everyone was tired, but it puts you in a great place to go to the place for the show.

Sam interrupts the next question to admire the Game of Thrones shirt being worn by one of the interviewers.
SH: We’re all Game of Thrones fans! That starts soon as well, doesn’t it? Right… don’t need to talk about that!

Q: How would you describe the relationship between Claire and Jamie?

SH: In the second part of the season, their relationship is tested… a lot. And made stronger through the challenges they face. Black Jack is involved, of course, but you also see a lot more of James’ side, his past, he hasn’t dealt with his family, his stubbornness, his pride. And Claire, ultimately, is his sound board, and guides him through. It takes him to a really interesting place by the end of the season.

Q: Quick question, fan question, what was more difficult the weather, the kilt, the horses, or the Gaelic?
SH: The weather, the horse, the kilt… the weather was cold. Tough for the Americans. The kilt was a joy. The horses, obviously, I’m a huge fan, and the Gaelic was just a really important side to Jamie and the whole culture. I hope we see a lot more.

A short conversation in Gaelic occurs between Sam and one of the other interviewers.

Q: Do you have one word to describe the finale?

SH: Spectacularrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Lots of ‘r’s’ for the Scottish roll.

Q: Jamie’s sister is in the second half, isn’t she?

SH: Yes, she is. Jamie ultimately can’t go home. He feels he can’t because he feels responsible for what happened to her, what happened to his father. And ultimately, he has to take his new bride back and deal with that and the repercussions of that. And he has not only his sister but his best friend and his father. So he grows up a lot as a young man just trying to work out what he wants to be in life, where he wants to go, and he has to confront those. It’s like everything, those questions and challenges of who do you want to be.

Unfortunately, the press line was so long we were unable to speak with Caitriona Balfe. She and Sam had great chemistry on the red carpet, often holding arms and joking around.

        The panel discussion was lead by Kristin Dos Santos who tried to keep things interesting by beginning with a drinking game using Outlander whiskey. She also had Sam and Caitriona play the Newlywed Game – with Sam and Tobias hilariously sharing the task. I did find myself wishing we’d had more time for questions, however.

When asked if there was a moment they recognized the chemistry between them, Caitriona answered from the moment they met at the chemistry read. Sam pointed to the scene when he found Claire at the barn and took her back.
Ron commented that they knew they had the right actors from the moment they saw each of them on tape, and Diana said she was astonished on both counts, though she also said she thought Sam was better looking than Jamie. She watched a taped scene and when they got to the end of the scene, she just wanted them to keep going.

The audience at the PaleyFest was enthusiastic and almost unanimous in having read (and clearly loved) the books. Everyone there was aware of the darker arc that is coming in the second half of the season. Ron commented that it was really an unusual place to take the story, but that there is a satisfying ending to the season. It’s an ending worthy of the story. It will take you some place that you’re not expecting to go.
Of Sam and Tobias, Diana remarked that she’d never seen two people do such courageous things on screen before. Tobias said that he hadn’t read the books, so he was a bit surprised and joked he probably wouldn’t have signed up if he’d known.

For Diana, her favorite thing from the show is Rupert and Andy who she described as the eighteenth century version of Laurel and Hardy. When asked if anything had been left out that she was disappointed in, she said that the scene which ends with, “You need not be scared anymore as long as I’m with you” originally cut off before that line, but when she pointed it out, Ron had the scene re-filmed with the line included. Lines may be flipped to a different character or appear somewhere other than where they appear in the book, but the important things are all there.
Ron says the plan was always to stick to the book, but because television and books are different forms, they may occasionally follow a thread that isn’t in the book or take a thread to a slightly different direction while still maintaining the overall groove of the book. The intent is to stay as true to the story as possible. Ron compared Outlander to Game of Thrones.

Tobias revealed that there will be no Frank in the second half of the season, but he’ll be back in season two. Ron was interested in how Frank and Black Jack were similar as much as different. Tobias remarked that he was keen for it to be a subtle difference and that it was a very intuitive process. Costuming – done by Ron Moore’s wife, Terry Dresbach – helped define the characters. Ron mentioned seeing Tobias in Frank’s wardrobe and returning to see him in Black Jack’s and how he stood quite differently with a different posture in the uniform.

They were asked if they could switch roles and Sam picked Black Jack. Ron was asked if he could switch shows and he picked Vikings. If you could do something with all your other cast mates was asked and Sam answered the Scottish play. (Macbeth – which is bad luck to say in a theater) Caitriona answered The Sound of Music and that she’d make the rest of them all play the Von Trapp children. Tobias went for Singing in the Rain.

Diana said she did anticipate the fan reaction because the fans had been lobbying for it for 23 years. Caitriona had no idea what she was getting into, but said it’s been incredible, especially the generosity of fans, and mentioned fans supporting their charities. This lead to a question of whether Sam would run the marathon. The LA marathon is on this weekend and Sam WILL be running in it – for charity. He’s already raised $50,000 or $60,000 for My Peak Fitness.

When asked if we – Diana or Ron – know how time travel works, Diana replied, it’s not magic, it’s science fiction. The characters will have to work in out be trial and error.

When questions turned to the audience, Kirstin had Sam making key rings on stage to give to those who asked questions. Diana revealed that she wrote Outlander as a practice novel to learn how to write a novel. She never said that it was a trilogy, but each time she completes a book, she realizes there’s more story to be told – and that holds true today! There’s more!

Sam does his own stunts. He did all the fights and riding. When asked if he had a butt double, Ron revealed that that is all CGI! (laughter) The first 8 episodes are out on DVD now, but with no commentary. The collection of the entire season will likely include Ron’s podcasts as commentary.

Ron was asked if it was a deliberate choice to have a woman write and direct the Wedding episode. He says it was. And that she did get paid the same as the men! Anne Kenney was also in the audience, which was great. He said that he wanted to try to make the episode true. So they gave the actors space and rehearsal time to get it right. It’s about a night of two people getting to know each other, of learning about each other. It’s not just tv sex. Ron finished the panel by saying, “When you do something truthful, it becomes the female point of view.”

This was a terrific event. I highly recommend PaleyFest for anyone whose favorite show has a panel. Oh, and did I mention that we screened the next episode? Look for Claire to learn more about Scottish traditions, and for Claire and Jaime to come to an understanding. Also look for Claire to explain some of the twentieth century “isms” that she uses…

About the Author - Lisa Macklem
I do interviews and write articles for the site in addition to reviewing a number of shows, including Supernatural, Arrow, Agents of Shield, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Forever, Defiance, Bitten, Glee, and a few others! Highlights of this past year include covering San Diego Comic Con as press and a set visit to Bitten. When I'm not writing about television shows, I'm often writing about entertainment and media law in my capacity as a legal scholar. I also work in theatre when the opportunity arises. I'm an avid runner and rider, currently training in dressage.

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