Sam Heughan is Jamie Fraser in OUTLANDER - Season 3 | ©2017 Starz

Sam Heughan is Jamie Fraser in OUTLANDER – Season 3 | ©2017 Starz

OUTLANDER is now in its third season Sunday nights on Starz. Twentieth-century nurse-turned-surgeon Claire Randall, played by Caitriona Balfe, was forced to leave eighteenth-century Scotland by her great love, Highlander Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), before the Battle of Culloden. After a sojourn raising their daughter in England and America through the 1960s, Claire has found her way back to Jamie. Even though twenty years have passed for both of them, their passion remains true.

Ronald D. Moore is the executive producer/show runner who adapted OUTLANDER from Diana Gabaldon’s series of best-selling novels. He talks about what the show has in common with another series he developed, the Syfy Channel BATTLESTAR: GALACTICA, and about OUTLANDER’s connection to Starz’s now-concluded pirate series BLACK SAILS, among other things.

ASSIGNMENT X: Is OUTLANDER shaping up pretty much the way you expected? If not, what have been some of the surprises?

RONALD D. MOORE: I’m not sure what my expectation was this far down the line. I had an expectation of what I thought the first season would be like. It changed under our feet and varied a little bit, but not in dramatic ways. You have an idea, you read the book, and I formed pictures in my mind about what it’s going to look like and how it’s going to feel and the rhythm of the production. And then you do it, and it just inevitably shifts and changes. I didn’t anticipate we were going to do the way we did the ending of the season, or that we would spend two episodes in Wentworth Prison and all that. When I initially pitched the series, it was going forward. And then beyond Book 1, I really only had the vaguest ideas about how it would feel or what it would really be like, and I’ve kind of approached each season one on one. We’re working on [Season] 4 right now, haven’t really given much thought to 5, 6, 7, or 8. This is the one that’s right in front of me. I’m familiar with where the story goes and I get the basic plot threads, but it’s more about, “Okay, where am I right now,” and you just try to move forward.

AX: The Loch Ness monster shows up somewhere in the books. Does that get represented in the show?

MOORE: Well, there was a scene in Season 1 that was in the book, and we cut it. So we’re not playing that. Some things are not going to work on camera as well as they work in the book.

AX: The scene of Jack Randall, played by Tobias Menzies, torturing and raping Jamie in Season 1, were fairly extreme. Were you surprised at how that played out, or were you able to envision it before you shot it?

MOORE: We didn’t really envision it until we sat down and had to write it and figure out how we were going to do that. If you remember the book, a lot of it is told in flashback, and it’s all from Claire’s point of view. So it was all her relating what Jamie said or thought or felt, either after the fact or what she observed from a distance. So with the TV show, we had to break away from that. At the beginning, we weren’t quite clear – “Well, how are we going to do that?” And we just thought, “All right, when we get to that episode, we’ll figure it out.” So it wasn’t really until we sat down to start breaking that episode and actually writing that episode that it became clear how we were going to execute it.

Caitriona Balfe is Claire Randall Fraser and Sam Heughan is Jamie Fraser in OUTLANDER - Season 3 | ©2017 Starz

Caitriona Balfe is Claire Randall Fraser and Sam Heughan is Jamie Fraser in OUTLANDER – Season 3 | ©2017 Starz

AX: Have there been any other aspects of OUTLANDER where you thought, “I wonder how this is going to work,” where you had to get up next to it to figure out exactly what it was going to be?

MOORE: Yeah. Season 3, what we were going to play for Claire and Frank [Claire’s twentieth-century husband, also played by Menzies] was not clear at the outset, because that’s not really in the book, but you kind of knew immediately as you read the book and analyze it, “Oh, there’s a whole Jamie story here – there are five episodes’ worth of material for Jamie, because it’s very episodic, and it’s going to go from here to here to here.” And Claire didn’t really have a journey, because it was mostly about her in 1968, looking back to try to figure out what happened with Jamie, and we had already stolen certain elements of that for the end of Season 2. So we knew we needed a whole new Claire story for Season 3, but until we really put it up on the board and tried to figure out what that was, we didn’t have a clear idea of what it was going to be.

AX: Claire’s twentieth-century story is very different from the romance and the life-or-death drama of the Jacobite/Scotland/Jamie-Claire stuff. Did you have any concerns about taking the show into a realm that it hadn’t been before, or did you feel like the fans would follow it because it’s beautifully acted and it’s still Claire?

MOORE: I think the fans trust us as a body, basically, and that they’re willing to go with us on the journey. And I think the people that don’t know the books won’t know the difference. They’re just going to go, “Okay, this is the new story,” and go along with it. So I feel confident. I think that the story’s well-told, well-acted, well-delivered, so I think it works.

AX: Is Diana Gabaldon now working on Book 9 in the OUTLANDER series?

MOORE: Oh, yeah. She’s writing the next book.

Tobias Menzies is Frank Randall) and Caitriona Balfe is Claire Randall Fraser in OUTLANDER - Season 3 | ©2017 Starz

Tobias Menzies is Frank Randall) and Caitriona Balfe is Claire Randall Fraser in OUTLANDER – Season 3 | ©2017 Starz

AX: Do you have any concerns that this might be like GAME OF THRONES, where you run out of published novels while the series is still going?

MOORE: We’re never going to catch up with her. No way. She will end this when she’s ready to end it. We’re on 4, she’s on 9. There’s no way to catch up. It takes us a full calendar year and then some, let’s just say for the sake of argument, a full calendar year to do a season of the show, so we’ve got five years to go. That’s more than enough time for her to write a couple more books.

AX: You have a lot of characters who we see at quite a range of ages throughout the series. What age do you tend to cast for?

MOORE: I kind of cast for who they are right now. So you cast them at their ages currently, so the young Roger [played as an adult by Richard Rankin], young Brianna [Claire and Jamie’s daughter, played as an adult by Sophie Skelton], and you just feel like you can always age up. They can act a little older, you can do tricks with hair and makeup to make them feel older. It’s hard to dial it back the other way. It’s hard to have an older actor and believably make them twenty years younger.

AX: Have you decided to keep the OUTLANDER production base in Scotland, even though you’re going all over the world with the story now?

MOORE: Yeah. We did look at moving the show, and there were a variety of reasons to keep it in Scotland. There are financial considerations. Also, we’ve built this big infrastructure in Scotland, and the thought of walking away from that entire complex and starting from zero somewhere else, and then having to build an entire new crew, was really dispiriting. We have a family in Scotland, essentially, that’s been producing the show, and it was financially going to be difficult. We felt like what we were going to lose was outweighing the benefits we were going to get.

AX: There is some seafaring in Season 3. Did you have a moment of panic, or did you go, “Starz did BLACK SAILS, we’ll just borrow their pirate ships”?

MOORE: [laughs] I knew [BLACK SAILS executive producer] John Steinberg casually and he’s a friend of mine, and so Season 1, I was on the phone with John and I said, “You know, we’re going to come and steal your ships at some point.” And we maintained a friendly joking about it for awhile. And there was a certain point in Season 2, I realized, I have to get serious about this and really talk to John about that and Starz. It was the obvious answer so early, we all said, “If we get to Season 3, we have all this ship stuff, where are we going to get that? Hey, Starz has all this stuff in South Africa [where BLACK SAILS has its production base], we should start talking about that.” We did look at other options around the world – other tanks, other ships, other places – nothing ever came close to all the things that we’d have at our disposal at BLACK SAILS. So it was always Choice A.

AX: Did you go in while they were wrapping up their fourth and final season, or did you go in afterward?

MOORE: We went in after. They had a clean break and then we came in.

AX: So they just kind of kept everything on ice for you?

MOORE: Yeah. It was good that we’d had the conversation, so they weren’t dead-striking it all, and knew that we were going to want to use it. We started talking to their technical people, and their consultants, their producers, fairly early on, to get a sense of what of their assets we would need, and what kind of shooting we were going to do, and what our requirements might be, so that they could preserve those elements, or at least have them available to us.

AX: Are there any similarities whatsoever between OUTLANDER and other projects that you’ve been a creative force on, like STAR TREK or BATTLESTAR: GALACTICA?

MOORE: There are certain similarities in terms of producing a show that does not take place in today’s reality, where literally everything has to be invented, made, created, digital or practical, and it becomes hard – you can’t just go down the street and shoot a scene or rent some clothes. So the production aspect of it is actually quite similar. It’s actually a lot of the same problems come up over and over again, about budget, the practicality of doing things, how long it will take to create certain things. The fandom is very similar, even though demographically you can say the fan base of OUTLANDER skews more female and a probably little bit older than the STAR TREK or BATTLESTAR fan bases, as a whole, they still act in very similar ways. They still have very similar interests in the show, they organize themselves, they talk to each other, they write fan fiction, they want props and they want merchandise from the shows, they want to hear all the behind-the-scenes stuff, they want to argue about good scenes and bad scenes, they want to tell me all kinds of stuff about the show that I don’t even know about the show. I mean, there’s a lot of similar fan behavior in any kind of fandom.

Creatively, writing it on the page, they’re very different pieces, they’re very different properties. Doing an adaptation is a very different game than it is writing something original that you don’t know where it’s going to go and you can do anything you want. So this is a much more guided road map of what you’re trying to do. So yeah, there are a surprising number of similarities, but a lot of obvious differences.

AX: Well, in BATTLESTAR, certainly, you looked at all the different points of view on the warring sides, whereas OUTLANDER seems much more weighted toward the Jacobites …

MOORE: It definitely is, but I said from the beginning, I did not want to demonize and vilify the British. They had a point of view, too. And even though they’re clearly the villains of the piece, and Jack Randall is the obvious villain of the piece, I did want to humanize them, I did want to not portray them as just jackbooted thugs. It was like, they had an idea of their empire and their version of destiny and what they were trying to accomplish, and even someone like Jack Randall was a human being who had feelings and emotions and a psychology. And so I thought that was an important thing to still bring to OUTLANDER that was somewhat similar to what we did in GALACTICA.

 AX: With Jack out of the picture after the Season 3 premiere, are you concerned that there’s going to be a villain vacuum?

MOORE: It’s hard to say. Because if you really look at the show analytically, he’s not in that many episodes overall. Even in Season 1, which is probably the season that he’s in the most, he’s a specter on the horizon for a lot of things, but he’s not actually a week to week antagonist. And in Season 2, he’s not even in the show for a big chunk of the time, and then Season 3, he’s just in the beginning. As a character and as an actor, he’s cast a very long shadow, because Tobias is so good in the role that you’re definitely going to miss that presence in the show. But as a story, the story actually, if you think about it, hasn’t relied on Jack’s presence that much. It’s been important, but it hasn’t been the dominant factor that they’ve been dealing with over and over again. So I do feel comfortable that we will, as a story, will continue on without him.

AX: And do you want to keep OUTLANDER going as long as it will go?

MOORE: Yeah. I want it to go as long as it can go. It’s a great story, I like the characters, I think it’s a fun tale, I think it’s unique, and it would be great to see it go all the way.

This interview was conducted during Starz’s portion of the Summer 2017 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.

Related: OUTLANDER: Exclusive interview with OUTLANDER executive producer Maril Davis on Season 3

Related: OUTLANDER: Exclusive interview with Tobias Menzies on Season 3

Related: OUTLANDER: Exclusive interview with actor Sam Heughan

Related: OUTLANDER: Author Diana Gabaldon discusses the move to TV – exclusive interview

Related: OUTLANDER: Ronald D. Moore talks the second part of Season 1 – exclusive interview

RelatedOUTLANDER star Caitriona Balfe trapped in time – interview

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ArticleOUTLANDER: Exclusive interview with OUTLANDER showrunner Ronald D. Moore on Season 3

 

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