TV Heartbeat Interview! 10 Things To Know About Outlander From Diana Gabaldon & Ron Moore! NYCC 2013 Goodness!

Another special edition of TV Heartbeat – the NYCC interviews! There was so much great stuff at NYCC this year, but this is personally my most anticipated edition since I’ve been waiting 17 years for this. (Boy that makes me sound old!). Today I’m sharing the goods on the panel and my interview with the creators of the new Starz series Outlander.

outlander signed autograph postcard rare ron moore

As a long-time fan of Diana Gabaldon’s best selling books, I’ve kept up with Diana’s updates on turning Outlander into a movie. I was pretty skeptical about that until I heard the magic words “Ron Moore” and “TV series.”

Whoa! Ron Moore is the man behind the reinvented Battlestar Galactica series and suddenly I can’t wait to see Outlander in a new medium which will allow the breadth to really capture the books.

Even though the show started filming just days earlier, Diana and Ron generously took time out to greet the fans and media to tell us what they’re up to. Here are the 10 things you need to know about Outlander!

Outlander has a big, rich world to explore.

The Outlander books tell the story of Claire Randall, a former WWII combat nurse. The story begins after the war has ended and Claire is vacationing in Scotland with her husband Frank. She mysteriously finds herself in 18th century Scotland and meets a whole host of interesting characters including a man named Jamie.

I don’t want to say much more than that, but the story is filled with plenty of action, romance, politics, history, laughter and tears. It’s such a mix of genres that the author herself calls them “big weird books” and you may find the books filed under fiction or historical fiction or romance or fantasy or mystery.

Outlander books

The eighth book in the series, Written in My Heart’s Own Blood is eagerly due in March 2014. Diana also promises that it “isn’t the last book” (!!!) so there is plenty of material to work from.

In fact, there are also other books in the Outlander world including an encyclopedia (The Outlandish Companion – and Diana’s working on a second book), a spinoff mystery series focused on Lord John Grey and a graphic novel with an original story that takes place during Outlander (The Exile). Regardless of what you pick to read, they will suck you in so make sure you clear some time out for reading!

It’s been a long road to get Outlander the series going.

The saga to bring Outlander to the screen has been nearly 23 years in the making. Diana has been very careful about whom she trusts with her baby, but also the pieces of the puzzle were never quite right: “The first book was published in 1991. People have been trying to make a movie from Outlander since almost the beginning. We would get 2 or 3 inquiries a month saying ‘Do I want to make a movie?’ These were mostly people with no experience and no money. So it makes it an easy decision. But we also thought we’d like someone who’s read the book and a lot of people with no experience and no money had read the book and most of the people with experience or money had not read the book.

Outlander panel 1 nycc 2013 ron and diana

“Then they said ‘this is getting popular and you have a fan base so we’d like to make a movie,’ but they weren’t actually interested in the story. You don’t what to do an option with someone you don’t more or less trust. And so we didn’t for a long time. We’ve done an option 4 times in the last 23 years and we seemed to have some fairly good prospects but it never came to anything. It became apparent to us that it’s impossible to make a 2 hour movie of that book. It can’t be done.

“The last option and the present one is with a guy named Jim Kohlberg who was bound and determined to make a movie of it. And he kept renewing the option and hired several very reputable screen writers (Randall Wallace and Ann Peacock) and it became apparent you just can’t get there from here.

“Meanwhile Ron had become familiar with the books and was interested in doing a TV show and would check back periodically and would say ‘Are you ready for TV yet?’ And finally the answer was yes.”

Ron talks about how he entered the mix: “My wife is a fan of the books. My producing partner, Meryl Davis, is a fan of the books and they realized that they share this interest and said you’ve got to read these. I read them and was like ‘Wow. These are really great. It’d be a great show.’ We called Jim who wants to do a feature. So we said, ‘Ok. I don’t think it’s a feature.’ Every year, we made a yearly call: ‘Hey! How’s that feature going?’ And they’d say ‘We’re getting there. We’re getting there.” And then last year he said ‘Yeah okay, maybe it is a TV show.’

Outlander panel 1 nycc 2013 ron and diana

Outlander will be a faithful adaption of the books.

Recent TV adaptations have ranged from faithful (Game of Thrones), to modified (The Walking Dead) to, well, a general source of inspiration (True Blood). Where will Outlander fall? Never fear folks – this is going to be a faithful adaption of the books!

“I live with a fan,” Ron stresses, “My wife is a fan. My job is not to screw up the book. I hear a lot about the fan perspective.”

Outlander panel 1 nycc 2013 ron and diana

Also, the president of Starz has mandated that the series should be “for the fans of the book. Trust the material.” So rest assured that he is staying true to the books!

Diana has also read the first 6 scripts and says that she was “very impressed.”

Ron is keeping true to the book’s narrative: “There’s something intuitive about it that just feels right. I maintain Claire’s point of view and first person narrative for the show. So we literally have her voice leading the way with voiceover and dialogue so you’re with Claire all the way through the journey.”

For instance, we’ll meet all the characters through Claire’s eyes:

The writing has been a smooth process for Ron: “It was somewhat facile as I went through it…I had one of my assistants pull [laughs], a very tedious journey, to pull literally every line of dialogue out of the book and put it in a separate file so I have that that I can go to. [Diana laughs]. And I can write a scene and take the actual scene’s dialogue and play with it and how it fits the structure. It was a fun process and wasn’t really torturous. The story is laid out really well.”

Just to prove how close an adaptation the series will be, here’s a sneak at three pages of the script, including the scene were Claire first meets Jamie:

outlander script pages 1 nycc 2013

outlander script pages 1 nycc 2013

outlander script pages 1 nycc 2013

Outlander the book uses a lot of anecdotes to illustrate character and to explain some of the clan politics – which Ron promises will also be included: “We do use a lot of flashbacks. In fact we use flashbacks to her [Claire’s] life with Frank in the 20th century as well. To keep him present in the show and understand why she’s constantly trying to get back to him, I thought that was really important.

“It’s important for the audience to connect with why she’s trying to get back. Everyone is going to want her to stay with Jamie. ‘Stay with Jamie!’ Her character, Claire, is very driven to get back and she has somebody back there that she cares about. As a result, in the show, you want to see him. So you will see more of Frank.

“But, yeah, we do flashbacks for Jamie’s life and we’ll continue to do that through the series.

Outlander panel 1 nycc 2013 ron and diana

“The biggest part in adaption was in the opening episode of transitioning her from the 1940s to the 18th century that was probably the place where we moved part of the puzzle pieces around, but even that just felt like that yes, this is basically what was in the book, but truncating events and short-handing some other things. The story was there to be done which is how we did it.”

This tweak has Diana’s approval and also helped her realize that Ron was the right person to lead the series:

The creative team is excited about the cast.

Casting this show was always going to be very difficult since readers have been imagining these characters for 23 years. Press releases went out after the casting of major characters including Caitriona Balfe as Claire, Sam Heughan as Jamie, Tobias Menzies as Frank Randall/Jack Randall and Graham McTavish as Dougal McKenzie.

The casting process didn’t exactly proceed like Ron thought it would: “It was difficult to find Claire and Jamie for different reasons. I thought going into the project, ‘Oh Claire is going to be the first one cast and Jamie will be the toughest because Jamie is the King of Men’ – which is what we call him in the writers’ room. [Diana laughs.] Claire needs a smart, capable English actress. We’ll find a smart, capable English actress and Jamie will be a nightmare. And, of course, Jamie was the first one cast and Claire was almost the last.

Outlander panel 1 nycc 2013 ron and diana

“And Sam, we had no expectation we were going to land on him that quickly, but we saw his audition tape and just went ‘Oh my God! There he is! That’s Jamie!’ And we called Diana…”

Diana describes how she first learned about Sam – I’ll let you watch the video and you can hear her talk about his “dangly parts” in her own words :

Diana is in agreement with the casting: “Actors have their own kind of magic. What they do is embody somebody they aren’t. So what they look like isn’t all that important. It’s important that they have the vague, general outline, but beyond that it’s do they understand the character? Can they be that person? And he totally could.”

Outlander panel 1 nycc 2013 ron and diana

After Sam was announced, the world still waited for word on the lead character of Claire. Ron describes the final steps to find Claire: “Once we had Sam in place, then any actress we were considering seriously would then do a test with Sam. We were looking for that chemistry since is this is the central relationship and Caitriona’s audition tape was like ‘Oh my God! It’s Claire!’ And we all got really excited and we hoped she was going to work with Sam and we put them together and they just clicked and it was all set.”

Sam and Catriona outlander promo still

Ron also builds on the magic of seeing an actor in their role: “It’s interesting to note that Tobias Menzies who plays Frank Randall and Jack Randall. Tobias, just in the production offices, was standing around going to costume fittings. It’s really interesting – he literally stands and talks differently when he puts on Frank’s suit than when he puts on Jack Randall’s uniform. And he’s not being the character, he’s not like trying to be ‘Now I am Jack’ – he’s not super method guy doing that. It’s really subtle, but he’ll put that red coat on and look in the mirror and you can just tell that his posture changes and he holds his head slightly differently as he’s talking to you about whatever and then he goes and gets the fedora and he’s just a different guy. There’s something about – there is that moment of an actor and the costume and the makeup shifting him into this other person that is not them. It’s fascinating to watch with Tobias. It’s really great.”

They won’t be holding back on the violence (or nudity).

Ron Moore promises we’ll be seeing it all, true to the book:

Ron: “We’re going to play it. Play it straight up. Do it. Go for it. I mean, that was one of the reasons I wanted to pitch it to a place like Starz. You want to go to premium cable because premium cable would let you do what the book is. It was a really good match of material and network. They like the material. They like having those elements in their shows – because that’s part of the reason why you’re buying premium cable is to see things you can’t see everywhere else. And this is a property you don’t have to add that into. You don’t have to say ‘well, God, let’s throw some nudity in here.’

Diana: No, there’s enough going around!

Ron: There’s plenty of nudity. We got it. We’re okay on that front.

Hmm…I guess the show will be showing us what men really wear under their kilts!

Speaking of….Diana mentions that the scene she is most looking forward to seeing is [SPOILER ALERT] the wedding night:

The design and tone is very authentic and grounded in reality.

They aren’t skimping on the design with many of the tartans being woven especially for the show. Ron shared some of the concept designs (the photos were taken from an off angle so they look better than these photos!):

Castle Leoch in 1940’s (Frank and Claire will sightsee among the ruins):

Castle Leoch in 1940sI

The courtyard of Castle Leoch in the 1740’s:

Castle Leoch in 1940sI

Castle Leoch back then 3

Castle Leoch back then 3

The surgery at Castle Leoch (where Claire spends a lot of time):

Castle Leoch back then 3

The stables at Castle Leoch:

Leoch stables 1

Leoch stables 1

The 3D mock up of Great Hall at the Leoch and Claire’s room:

outlander Set - Leoch great hall

outlander Set - Leoch great hall

outlander Set - Leoch great hall

The 3D mock up of the crofter’s cottage where Claire first meets Jamie:

Set - Crofter's cottage outlander Set - Leoch great hall

Lallybroch:

Lallybroch 1 Set - Crofter's cottage outlander Set - Leoch great hall

Lallybroch 2 Lallybroch 1 Set - Crofter's cottage outlander Set - Leoch great hall

And a mood shot of a romantic pasture:

Romantic view Lallybroch 2 Lallybroch 1 Set - Crofter's cottage outlander Set - Leoch great hall

Diana gives her blessing on the concept design: “I think they’re fabulous. They’re very close to the actuality in my head.”

But not everything in the writer’s head can be easily translated to TV. It can be difficult to have the right level of fantasy when the show is grounded in reality. Case in point: the standing stones.

Diana: It’s easy when you’re writing a book…

Ron: The journey through the stones is interesting. We’ve had a lot of conversations about how to realize that and we landed on something that is kind of cool and I think people will enjoy. It’s a different way to go. The challenge of playing visually what that would be, like every time travel trope just goes through your head. It’s been done so many times so we opted to go a different way. (To Diana) Do you like it?

Diana: Yeah. I like what you did.

Ron: I think it’s a good way to do it.

Diana: It’s sort of a metaphorical thing done visually which is not easy to do.

Outlander panel 1 nycc 2013 ron and diana

Ron: You just don’t want it to be a big light show. The light show becomes the sci-fi thing and it will take you out of the story. I did not want the audience to. We’re taking pains to make it as real as we can, authentic as we can. I didn’t want something at a key moment like that to sort of pop you out. So we opted to go a different route.

The series will focus on one book per season …until we get to Voyager (maybe).

With 16 episodes for the first season, Ron’s plan is to cover book one: “Generally speaking we said let’s do a book a season. I’m pretty confident we can do the second as a season. And for the third book… there be dragons. [Diana laughs.] We’re trying to figure it out. That might have to be two seasons. But I should have such problems! We’ll get to that when we get to it.”

Outlander panel 1 nycc 2013 ron and diana

Diana talks red carpet fashions with George RR Martin.

Ok, that’s not the only thing they talk about! As friends and colleagues, George RR Martin (who’s A Song of Fire and Ice book series is better known as Game of Thrones these days) is uniquely able to offer Diana some advice about this experience of translating her books to TV.

[Diana laughs] “Yes, he [George RR Martin] was sort of saying ‘What are they going to be doing for the premiere? Do you have something to wear for the red carpet?’ I said no. He said ‘Have you ever been on a red carpet?’ And I said ‘Yes, actually in Bavaria about 8 years ago.’

“No. Mostly he tells me anecdotes about the actors they had, the difficulties in getting people to play the Hound and the Mountain. You need people who are 6’8” and how there are maybe 12 people in the world who are 6’8” and can act, and so forth which are not actually my problems. So it tends to be an exchange of anecdotes but occasionally we’ll compare notes. ‘Do any of the actors talk to you as the author of the original source material?’ Some of them do and some of them don’t.”

Diana isn’t worried about the fan reaction.

“It’ll be the same way it is when a new book of mine comes out — Huge enthusiasm and so forth, but there’s always this 5% minority who’s going ‘I wasn’t expecting that. I’m so disappointed. I wanted to read Outlander again – why didn’t you write that?’ But then it wears off and they read it again and they read it again. I actually get letters apologizing to me.”

Diana signing outgraphs outlander booth nycc 2013

Right now, all the stars are aligning on this show so I don’t think that’s going to be an issue…

Outlander will air on Starz in 2014.

The exact date hasn’t been announced yet, but it looks like some time later than spring, maybe summer.

(Why isn’t it summer yet?!?!?)

Want to learn more?
Want to see a quick clip?

Here’s a link to the Outlander fan event which also includes a behind the scenes look (starts at 2:07 if you want to jump straight there):

Thanks to Starz for bring Outlander to NY and reaching out to the fans.
Special thanks to Ron Moore and Diana Gabaldon for, well, everything and being so generous with their time at New York Comic Con!

Stay tuned since we’ll be giving out some of the Outlander swag we picked up over the weekend!

outlander t-shirt oversized postcard rare promo

Comment below with your thoughts or email me at Erica@MikeTheFanboy.com

For more adventures, follow me on twitter: @Cambear

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