NYCC 2013: Starz “Outlander” Interview with Ron Moore and Diana Gabaldon

More NYCC coverage coming your way! I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing the awesome Ron Moore (executive producer and writer of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica and several Star Trek series; I love him so) and super cool author Diana Gabaldon, who has written eight Outlander books so far. Starz picked up Outlander as a TV series, and it is currently in production and slated to start in the spring/summer of 2014. Ron and Diana made a great team, and both were so excited and enthusiastic about bringing this beloved series to life.

How did you and Ron start working together, did you seek him out?

Diana Gabaldon: No, he came to looking for me. Someone else, Jim Kohlberg, who is now an executive producer for the show, had an option on my books and I liked him and, as far as it is possible to use to the word “trust” with the world of showbiz people (laughs) I trusted him. He’d read the books four times before coming to talk to me, and in the midst of negotiations he called me up to tell me he felt like he was channeling Murtagh. He originally wanted to make a feature film. He tried – he had the scripts prepared by very good scriptwriters but you just can’t make a two hour film of that book. It just can’t be done and resemble the original in any respect. Eventually, Ron was familiar with the material and interested, but Jim kept wanting to making a feature but he finally gave up, and the time was right.

Ron Moore: I kept meeting with him, and he kept saying he wanted to make it a feature, but I kept telling him “I don’t know what the two-hour version of this is. I just think it’s a TV show.” And he said, “well we’re going to try the feature.” And every year, we literally would check back in and say “how’s that feature coming?” and he’d say “we’re getting there,” and a year and a half ago he finally came in and said, “you know maybe it’s a TV show.” And I said ok! And I called up Sony television, and told them that they have to read these books, and that we were interested and the stars just lined up.

Do you think something like Game of Thrones set the stage for something like this to be able to be made?

Definitely. Existing fanbase, epic story, recognizable material, multiple books, it’s all there.  

I’ve read about Diana’s academic background and how much research she did and does for all of the books – do you draw on that for the show at all?

DG: They do ask my opinion once in a while, although they are under no legal obligation to take it. But, I’m very impressed  by how involved I’ve been, people come and show me this or that about what they are thinking of using and usually I just say that’s great, or that’s wonderful! There are small details that we discuss, like in the car this morning we were discussing flowers and what flowers would be in that land there were – at this point I know what they are now.  The small details really make the world – I am really impressed with the level of details so far, and the concept art I’ve seen.

RM: We have a historian who reads all the scripts and works with the writers, there’s an herbalist, there’s a Gallic speaker who teaches the cast to speak Gallic. There’s Gallic and Gaelic, and Gallic is what they speak in Scotland. We have classes – the actors go and take classes to learn this language. We speak this language in the show and we aren’t going to be subtitling it, because it is from Claire’s point of view and if she didn’t understand it, the audience won’t either. But it was important to have the actors speak it correctly, and we have a dialect coach for the specific dialect of the region. All the departments, from the set designers to the costume design, spend a lot of time researching the things that were used in the period – what we know, what we don’t know – really getting into the fine detail work of getting into the 18th century. Our mandate, my mandate – was that I don’t want to reinvent the 18th century. This is not our cool, new, hip version, just play it for what it was. It’s already a bizarre new world, it’s an alien culture to all of us. We don’t have to put a new spin on it, the 18th century is a new place to us, so we want to convey the idea that the audience needs to believe Claire’s journey. When Claire goes through the stones, we want the audience to believe it really happened to this women. It needs to have a sense of authenticity.

You mentioned your concept art – have you shared any of that with the actors, or the writers?

RM: I think so, all the art is in the production offices and they’ve all been through and hang out in there. We built a studio facility outside Glasgow, and the sets are going up there. The cast really knows a lot and are involved in a lot of this stuff.

Diana, which piece of art is something that you said, oh my gosh this is what I had in my head? Which rang the most true for you?

DG: Wow, a lot of it really did. The castle did specifically.

With the time travel – how much of a focus on it, and how much of a focus on Claire’s present day life?

RM: There isn’t a lot of time travel in the first book, she just goes through once, but it is a pivotal, key moment for everything that follows, so it’s important. She’s desperately always trying to get back in year 1, and that’s a big part of her story – she’s always trying to figure out how that’s possible and what the stones are, so that is playing out. In terms of her life in the 20th century, we open in 1945 after the end of World War II and go from there. We follow the books pretty closely until she goes through the stones. We go slowly and try to set up the character, and we really try to establish her relationship with her husband, Frank, because she is going to be trying to get back to him for quite some time, and if you don’t invest in that relationship as an audience and if you don’t understand why Claire’s trying to get back to him, you are going to get frustrated, saying oh just stick with Jamie! Who doesn’t want to be with Jamie?! You have to understand the triangle of it all. One of the things I did add in the show that isn’t in the books is that I added some flashbacks of Claire and her life with Frank, so you see them and are reminded emotionally of that relationship, what that marriage means to her, why she’s driven constantly to get out of here.

What is it like using the books as a guide, as established material?

RM: It’s a different process than creating a series from scratch – years of material, years of story, which is easy sometimes because you know where it’s going and you know what it’s all going to be, it’s just about doing it. But an adaptation is a specific art form – it’s a different exercise in the writer’s room to figure out ok, this is the story, this is the tale, now we’re going to cut it up into pieces. What are the 16 hours of the story – where do you make ins and outs? Then each episode needs a certain shape, as an hour of television. So it kind of requires an in, even though it may not be structured that way in the book – now you’re taking this section of the book and turning it into its own structure. What is the theme of this episode, what is Claire doing in this episode that makes it different from the other episodes. It’s really an intellectual challenge. It’s really fun, I really enjoy it. It’s kind of like exercising a different muscle in your head as you go through.

Is it going to work out as the first season equals the first book? The books get larger and larger throughout the series.

Yes, this one is 16 episodes. Not sure about future seasons.

Jamie and Claire relationship is obviously key – can you talk about the casting process and finding the right Jamie and the right Claire to have that chemistry together?

RM: It was hard, I think going in to the project, I thought we would find Claire first. There’s probably several English actresses who can play this, and I thought we’d find her right away and that Jamie would be the toughest one to cast since he’s Jamie. In the writer’s room we call him The King of Men – the King of Men is the hardest one to cast! Who’s the King of Men? And of course Jamie was the first one cast! We just saw his tape and said, oh my God there he is, and we called Diana and told her we found him.

DG: I got the photos, and then I was traveling and when I finally got to my computer and watched the video, I thought he didn’t look anything like his photos, he was great, and five seconds later he was gone and Jamie Fraser was right there on the screen.

RM: Now the process was about finding Claire, and now that we have Jamie, who is a good match for Jamie? It took a long time, it was hard because it is her point of view, it is her story, the show sits on her shoulders in a profound way, so it had to be a very special actress. When we saw Caitriona (Balfe)’s audition we said, oh look, there she is, that’s Claire! And then we tested her with Sam (Heughan) and there it was, the relationship was right there.

Thanks to Starz, Ron Moore, and Diana Gabaldon for a fantastic interview about this exciting new series! I, for one, can’t wait to watch. I love Scotland, and the time travel/romance/swashbuckling is right up my alley. If you want to read the Outlander series before the show or find out more, visit Diana’s website, which is updated frequently with news about the series and all her other creative endeavors. 

Written by: Amy Imhoff

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