Well, that was luath, which I’m pretty sure means “quick” in Scottish Gaelic. The new Starz series Outlander, which got more than 5 million views across all platforms in its first week, has already been renewed for a second season — before a second episode has yet to air (that’ll be on Saturday night at 8).
Starz officials say each season will be based on a single book of Diana Gabaldon’s hit eight-book series, which debuted in 1991 (the first book is now back on the best-seller lists, no doubt because of the frenzied attention to the TV series). She’s currently in the early stages of writing Book No. 9, and says she has no idea how many there will eventually end up being. The series has sold more than 20 million copies.
The first book, Outlander, tells the story of English nurse Claire Beauchamp Randall, who while on a “second honeymoon” with her husband Frank after World War II, has an “encounter” with a humming, standing stone in a Stonehenge-like circle and finds herself transported back to 1743 Scotland during the Jacobite rebellion. The first person she meets there? Frank’s lookalike ancestor Jonathan Wolverton Randall, known as Black Jack (for entirely uncomplimentary reasons), a captain in Her Majesty’s dragoons.
For complicated reasons, Claire ends up marrying a young Scottish warrior named Jamie Fraser, Black Jack’s sworn enemy … and, that’s all I’m going to tell you. Season One is a split between eight episodes this fall and eight next spring.
The second book, Dragonfly in Amber, like the first, takes the characters across both geography and time, and the main actors will have to do some serious aging. Both Caitriona (pronounced like “Katrina”) Balfe (Claire) and Sam Heughan (Jamie) are now in their 30s, playing characters in their 20s, so it seems entirely feasible that next season they’ll be playing people in their 40s. The second season will be at least 13 episodes, according to a Starz press release.
A couple of weeks ago, I talked with Sam Heughan, who plays Jamie, and showrunner/producer Ronald D. Moore (of Battlestar Galactica fame, among other shows).
Heughan, 34, grew up in New Galloway in the Lowlands of Scotland, and was in Glasgow when we talked, “about to have a quick beer with a mate.” He says he’d never heard of the Outlander books before being called to audition, but read “went online and read about it in a whirlwind, and quickly speed-read the relevant sections of the book.” Ironically, the series has been compared to Game of Thrones, and Heughan had auditioned multiple times for that show without success. (We who adore his portrayal of Jamie are admittedly glad of that.)
Since then, at San Diego’s Comic Con and in other cities, he’s had a crash course in Jamie-mania. Outlander fans are, shall we say, a bit obsessive — there are “Pocket Jamie” cutouts available online and fans carry them around with them in a sort of adult version of Flat Stanley, taking pictures with them on outings and travels. If you want to get in on the discussion, just search for Outlandish Texans, Heughan’s Heughligans, Caitrionation or any of many other fan outlets on Facebook and Twitter.
When Diana Gabaldon was in Dallas in June to promote the newest in the book series, Written In My Own Heart’s Blood, at the Dallas Museum of Arts’ Arts & Letters Live, she had her biggest crowd on the book tour, with more than 1,200 people turning out. They often cheered so loud she couldn’t be heard over the fan-demoniumn.
Heughan says all the attention is “certainly flattering,” although he had not yet invested in any “kilt security” to preclude fervent women fans from getting a little too up-close-and-personal. (We suspect he may have hired burly escorts since since Comic Con.) About those kilts: Each character has one with specific modifications according to the characters’ and actors’ preferences. The “great kilt” is actually a piece of tartan fabric anywhere from 7 to 10 feet long, and it’s “used like a tool — it can be a coat, camouflage, a bed, whatever,” says Heughan. The Victorian-style kilts that one sees mostly today, in British regimental attire and at cos-play events, mimic the original idea with built-in pleats, but are much quicker to get into. Hueghan says he can don his great kilt in about three or four minutes now; at first it took him 15 minutes or longer.
After living in Los Angeles for some time, he says, he’s glad to be back in Scotland for filming. “This is my home and I’m proud of it; it’s a joy to come back. I’m seeing parts of Scotland I hadn’t seen for years and years.” He says working with Caitriona Balfe is “just terrible, awful, couldn’t be worse,” before he breaks out laughing and corrects himself. “Honestly, she’s brilliant. I couldn’t be more blessed with a co-star. We laugh a lot, maybe a bit too much.”
What’s something most people don’t know about Sam? He plays the trumpet. “I started when I was about 18. I’m looking at it right now, and it’s got a lot of dust on it. I need to get back to it — I love jazz music and the blues.”
Heughan says it’s interesting to be playing the “other side” in the Jacobite rising of 1745, which was a movement by the Highland Scots to put Charles Edward Stuart, or “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” of the exiled House of Stuart back on the British throne. “My family were lowland Scots, and lowland Scots saw themselves as really a different race, more modern. Lowlanders thought the Highlanders to be quite backward. It was sort of like the American Hatfields and McCoys, and it was horrible when the Highlanders were defeated at Culloden — it was the end of the Highland way of life, the clans, the tartans.”
Even though born a Scot, Heughan had to learn a different accent for the show, and also to speak Gaelic. “It’s amazing that we’re only talking about a difference of 100 miles or so, but Lowland and Highland accents are completely different.”
As for the supernatural aspect of the show (time travel, the occasional ghost, the appearance of the Loch Ness monster in an 18th-century scene), Heughan says he spoke with Gabaldon at length about that, and he thinks he has had his own such experience. “My grandfather had bought me a metronome for my music. He and I were very close, and when he passed away, it had been sitting on a shelf for maybe five or six years. It hadn’t been touched in all that time, was totally still. And after he died, suddenly, it started to tick.” Oooooooooh.
Heughan says he looks forward to taking Jamie forward through the years. “He’s got a lot of secrets about him that make him intriguing. Everyone who’s read the books has their own idea about him, but I hope I can make them see new things, and of course bring in those who are completely new to the series.”
Ronald D. Moore was in LA when we spoke, just back from shooting in Scotland and getting ready for Comic Con. Moore, 50, said he heard about the series five or six years ago at a dinner with his wife and his producing partner in Vancouver, just as Battlestar Galactica was winding down. “They were such big fans, I immediately grabbed the book and I could totally see it onscreen. I like interesting female characters, and Claire’s amazing. It’s just a great story. I could see how to break it down into episodes, the sweep of it, everything.”
For Gabaldon’s part, she’s said that Moore’s treatment of the story (which had been considered for movies or mini-series for years) was the only one she’d seen that didn’t want to make her hurl the script against the wall, or to literally hurl.
Moore says Gabaldon has been instrumental in the TV series (she even has a cameo role coming in Episode 4), making sure that the spirit of the book remains true even as adaptations are made for the sake of working in a different medium. For instance, a scene where Jamie early on tells Claire that as long as she’s with him, she’ll be safe, was originally cut. Gabaldon lobbied for its return, as it’s a favorite scene among book fans. Back it came.
Moore says some people seem to think the timing of the series was intentionally aimed to coincide during the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence from Great Britain, which Scots will vote on Sept. 18. Internet rumors are circulating that the show hasn’t been bought in Great Britain for that reason, the idea that it’ll turn some people toward independence who might have been on the fence (which is odd, because the Jacobite rebellion wasn’t about Scottish independence, it was about the restoration of a certain king to the entirety of Great Britain, but whatever). Bollocks, says Moore. “It’s coincidence, nothing more, and there simply hasn’t been a deal made for Starz to distribute the series there yet. We’re pretty sure that’ll happen, we just don’t know when.”
Moore says he and his family have immersed themselves into the feel of ancient Scotland, renting a 400-year-old house to live in while filming. Hiring the three main actors — Heughan, Balfe and Tobias Menzies (Frank/Black Jack) was almost too easy, he notes. “We knew almost immediately with all three of them, oh, that’s Claire, that’s Jamie, no doubt about it. With Tobias, it was really hardest, because he has to play two completely different roles, and he’s jut perfect. The body language, the way each speaks, there are such fine shadings.”
Moore and the crew are also committed to as much perfection in 18th-century and mid-20th-century detailing as possible, he says. In a weird sort of dichotomy, he says, “If you’re going to tell the audience a fantastical tale, you should make it feel as real as possible. Then they’ll go along with you for the emotional ride.”