Author Diana Gabaldon showed up in the episode, "The Gathering" as Iona MacTavish, a wealthy merchant's wife. She said two lines in what she (accurately, probably) refers to as a "very correct Scottish accent." Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore also appeared in the same episode, but had no lines.
Despite the dreamy setting and lots of references to witchcraft, the story of Outlander is more scifi than fantasy. At PaleyFest, Gabaldon explained that the time travel is science fiction and not magic, and that she alone knows how it works. The characters have to figure it out as they go along, and apparently we do too. Aside from the time travel, the story is set entirely in the real world, based on real world history. That world history will especially come into play towards the end of the first season and throughout the second, as Jamie and Claire become deeply embroiled in Scottish politics.
Outlander has an interesting connection to the Sony hack, when emails were leaked that revealed that UK Prime Minister David Cameron met with some Sony execs to talk about delaying the show's release in the UK, due to its politics. The show deals with Scottish rebels fighting against British rule during the Jacobite risings in the 1700s, and in 2014, Scotland was voting on whether or not it should become an independent country from the United Kingdom. Cameron apparently wanted to delay the show's release until after the referendum in September, which makes sense given how very pro-Scotland and anti-England it is. The "no" side won with 55% of the vote, meaning Scotland will continue to be a part of the United Kingdom, and UK viewers can now watch the show on Amazon Prime.
They may be a lot of fun to watch, but sex scenes actually sound pretty terrible to shoot. Despite the fact that those scenes are on a closed set with a skeleton crew, that's still 8 or 9 people in the room, and actors have to get almost completely naked. The scenes in the show are also very specific and intricate because they're meant to convey something about the relationship between Jamie and Claire as opposed to just being gratuitous sex or soft-core porn, so you're basically doing a choreographed dance with another person while naked with a group of people watching...and filming.
Before having to film their sex scenes in the pilot, Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies wrote each other letters as Frank and Claire to help create some intimacy between actors who had only just met. Despite the fact that we are firmly Team Jamie, that's definitely very adorable.
Most of the stars of the show are from the UK, where the show has only just started airing. That means they've recently had to start tackling the big question: Do they let their parents watch? Particularly for the three leads, family dinners could get a bit awkward after their parents have watched them enage in explicit sex and torture scenes on a weekly basis. At PaleyFest, Balfe revealed that she had heard from various sources that her dad had seen the show, but she got the news that he liked it secondhand from her sister since he refused to actually discuss it outright with Cait.
We asked Tobias Menzies if he would let his mother watch the show, and then we felt bad for making him feel uncomfortable: "Weirdly I hadn't really thought about that. I feel a bit odd. My tummy's doing a funny thing thinking of my mum watching it, so I think I might have to warn her. Yeah, you're right. I'm glad we had this conversation."
"This was years ago when I was first approached about adapting Outlander, when it was a feature film," author Diana Gabaldan tells us. "But Liam Neeson and Sean Connery were the first contenders for Jamie." Gabaldan admitted that when she was first approached with Sam Heughan as a possibility for Jamie in the new Starz series, she found him "grotesque," but now she thinks he's perfect. "People say, ‘Do [Sam and Catriona Balfe] look just like your imagination?'" Gabaldan muses, "And I'm like, ‘Well, how could they?' But they don't need to. What an actor does is magic."
Producer Ronald D. Moore admits that finding Sam Heughan for Jamie, and Catriona Balfe for Claire, did not go as expected. "At the outset, I told everyone that we would find Claire first and then Jamie would be the last one cast, and of course it was exactly the opposite," Moore tells us. "It was really hard to find Claire. Sam came in really early in the process and he was literally the first one we cast. We saw the tape and we were like, 'Oh my god, there he is. Let's snatch him up now.' And then Claire just took a long time. A lot of actresses, a lot of tape, looking for really ineffable qualities. She had to be smart, she had to have a strength of character, and really, she had to be someone that you could watch think on camera. But then suddenly Caitriona's tape came in and we had that same light-bulb moment."
The line that convinced Ronald D. Moore that Caitriona Balfe was "the one" was when she was testing with the scene from the pilot in which she's on a horse with Jamie, who's injured. She says, "Help, stop, he's going over" as Jamie is falling off the horse. "We heard that line so many times we wanted to cut it from the show," Moore told us, "but when Cat did it, we all just suddenly were engaged in the scene again, and we all just went, "oh my god, there she is, that's Claire."
When author Diana Gabaldon first saw pictures of Sam Heughan, she did not approve. As she said at PaleyFest, her first thought was "grotesque." Regardless of how positive she then tried to make that word sound, it's still not a word you would think when you read about how attractive Jamie Fraser is in the books. However, Gabaldon's mind was totally changed when she watched his screen test, and we now we're not sure we could point to anyone who doesn't think Heughan is absolutely perfect for the role.
This season we get to meet Jenny—Jamie's spunky younger sister who's currently in charge of the Fraser estate. She's played by Laura Donnelly, who happens to already have a history with Sam Heughan. They acted together in a 2014 movie called Heart of Lightness, about a group of British actors who follow their narcoleptic director to the Norwegian Arctic Circle to film a play before they're overwhelmed by tension among the cast and also the fact that the sun never sets. Constantine's Matt Ryan also appeared in the film! Unfortunately the movie was released in Norway and is not on Netflix or any other US streaming sites that we can find, which is a shame because it sounds intriguing.
You know how Catriona Balfe (Claire) looks jaw-droppingly radiant in every single scene, without, it seems, a single stitch of makeup? Well, we asked Outlander's makeup supervisor, Julie Kendrick, how we can copy that look, and apparently, all you have to do is get a time machine, go back, and be born of her mother and father! "Catriona is naturally beautiful and has lovely skin," Kendrick says. "That's always a help when as a make-up artist your canvas is a good one! If we were to give away all our trade secrets, then unfortunately, they are no longer secrets! What we can tell you is with the long shooting hours and not that much sleep, you can never drink enough water or have too much blusher." BRB, running to CVS.
The 34-year-old native Scotsman admits he was "desperate" to get cast on Outlander, in part because of executive producer Ronald D. Moore's work on Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, and he even managed to get some time on the lunch break during his screen test to talk to Moore about Captain Kirk. Heughan is also obsessed with another little time travel franchise known as Back to the Future. "I think that is one of the best trilogies ever made," he told us, and Caitriona added, "Sam tries to talk about it every day, if he can."
As you'll see, Sam's back scars (from flogging) are shown pretty often. Which means he actually spends the most time out of anyone in the makeup chair. "Sam has the unfortunate task of having a prosthetic back applied every time his 'taps aff!' as the Scots would say," makeup supervisor Kendrick explains. (‘Taps off' means to take your top off in Glasgow, by the way.) "The whole process for Jamie's back scars and many other scars is 2 hours 30 mins and it takes three of us to do. There are two large prosthetic pieces to apply and some smaller ones, and every single section needs to be glued onto Sam's skin, blended and coloured up. However the upside of having scars on, is getting the scars off at the end of the shooting day, this takes roughly 45 mins with oils and lavender flannels, Sam usually enjoys this process!" Somehow we can't feel too sorry for the makeup artists either…
No Velcro, no zippers, not a lot of shoes, and kilts are worn as kilts are supposed to be worn – with absolutely nothing underneath. These are true Scots! What's not authentic are the effects of war and journeying through the highlands. To achieve the look of well-worn clothing, the costumes are attacked with cheese graters, burned with blow torches, and aged by tying them up with string and baking them.
"All of our actors wear their kilts just a bit differently from each other," Outlander's costumer Terry Dresbach tells us. "They personalize them and make them very much their own. We are talking about 12 yards of fabric that has to be belted and tucked by each actor, and they have developed their own ways of wearing them that belongs very much to them. It is incredibly important that they FEEL like their character, and helping them to find that place is an essential part of our job."
"Sam/Jamie wears his with almost a long skirt hanging down the back that swings beautifully when he moves," Outlander costumer Terry Dresbach says. Sam himself told us that he hates wearing trousers and finds kilts "liberating" and "freeing"…Especially while riding a horse. [See the video.] And now we forgot what we were saying.
"Graham McTavish (Dougall) wears his pinned at the shoulder and worn across his chest, very aristocratic," said Dresbach. "Grant O'Rourke (Rupert) tucks a corner of his plaid into his belt to create a pocket to carry his hat in. Steven Walters (Angus) uses a special rock to clasp his plaid. It is used to create what is called a pauper's knot in the Highlands. At one point his rock was lost and he panicked as a Highlander told him to keep it safe and never let it leave Scotland. We found it and keep it very dear."
"We did add some scenes and some extras," Lotte Verbeek (Geillis) explains. "Even though it's quite truthful to the book, there is still some freedom." And apparently, it's the character of Geillis who is changed the most. "I have not read all the books, but I know that particularly for my character Geillis, that they do take some freedoms with what happens and how it happens and when it happens, so it's very intriguing for me, too. It's hard to talk about my part without giving away spoilers." Graham McTavish (Dougan) adds cryptically: "Yes, she has the hardest job from the point of view, actually." Color us intrigued!
While most of the show is lifted straight out of the books, author Diana Gabaldon has said that of the things she didn't write, her favorite has to be how Rupert (Grant O'Rourke) and Angus (Stephen Walters) went from being very minor characters to "the 1800's version of Laurel and Hardy." We're glad for the slight change, too, since as much as we love Jamie and Claire and watching them go through incredible adventures and horrible tragedies, we also welcome some much-needed comic relief.
People in the Scottish Highlands didn't have much access to proper medical care of the time, so they relied, as Claire discovers, on some interesting local remedies. People were whipped with nettles to relieve aching joints. Cow's dung was used to clear scabs or blotches on the face. Epilepsy was treated by drinking water out of the skull of a person who had committed suicide, and yet a person with knowledge of germs and anesthetic might be suspected of witchcraft.
While Scottish dialect has had sort of a revival from being thought of as slang, Scottish Gaelic of the 1700s is very different from anything anyone speaks today. It was not easy for the actors to learn, especially since they had to get used to a whole new set of sounds and had to learn to loosen their throats. One Gaelic word you'll hear a lot on the show is "Sassenach," which means "outlander." It's supposed to be a slightly offensive term for someone out of place, but it also becomes Jamie's affectionate nickname for Claire.
Get ready to learn a lot about Scottish politics in the 1700s! That may not sound exciting, but it is when you consider the fact that Claire is from a future where things don't go so well for the Highlanders she comes to call her friends (and more-than-friends). "I think it's a really interesting time that we're setting the show in," Heughan tells us, "the second or third Jacobite rebellion, the battle at Culloden, which was sort of the end of the Highland way of life, so they banned the use of Gaelic language and kilts and the playing of pipes, and all of that kind of culture, so it's kind of like a doomed race that we meet in the first series."
"There's this group, The Outlander Bakers," Catriona tells us, "and I do not know how they do this, but we shoot in the most remote locations up in the middle of mountains in the highlands. And they will find us and they will bring us not only amazing cakes and cookies but gluten-free stuff. It's quite amazing." And apparently they take orders! "Sam has been very smart about it," Catriona says with a laugh. "He just sort of tweets his love of all things peanut butter and there it arrives!"
The show is almost entirely shot on location all over Scotland, with very little green screen. "I think when people watch the show, they'll fall in love with Scotland," native Scotsman Sam Heughan tells us. "You'll be amazed." Caitriona Balfe agrees, saying, "There's such a harsh climate there, and I think that really affects how people are and the realness and rawness of the story, so I think it was very important to everybody that we have that as an element in our show as well."