Skinny Dipping and the Darkness Ahead: Secrets of Outlander at Paley Fest

Outlander PosterStarz/Jason Bell

Cutest thing you’ve ever seen, was it not?

The cast and creative geniuses behind Outlander just finished up their epic panel at Paley Fest, and it was a glorious time – and not just because of the whiskey.

First things first, how splendid was our very own Kristin Dos Santos as moderator? She got all of the panelists, including Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies, executive producer Ron D. Moore, and author Diana Gabaldon, drinking, playing games, and just generally having a good time while also managing to extract a few important secrets and important Outlander insider info.

The premiere of the second half of season 1 is still a little more than three weeks away, but we almost have enough goodies to tide us over until then. So here’s what we learned:  

—       Ron Moore and Diana Gabaldon required very little convincing once they saw the screen tests of Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe. “We saw the tapes and we said, ‘that’s Claire and Jamie,'” said Moore. The only real test was making sure they were great together, which was obviously not a problem.

—  Author Diana Gabaldon obviously needs to get her vision checked, because she originally thought that Sam Heughan looked “grotesque.” She says it took her ten seconds to believe that Heughan was Jamie Fraser, but “the first five seconds was, ‘oh he looks nothing like his photo – he looks much better.'” She tried to clarify that to her, “grotesque” meant “odd-looking,” but the hilarious damage had already been done. 

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—  The second half of season 1 heads to some very dark “harrowing” places, which is part of what drew Moore to the series. “I think if you haven’t read the books, I think you would be surprised by the direction it takes. I’m very proud of the way we realized it,” Moore said of what’s to come, before getting a little cheeky about the end of the season, “I think the finale is a satisfying ending. There’s a sense of completion to what we’re doing. It culminates…” Gabaldon had nothing but praise for the actors involved. “I’ve never seen two people do such courageous things on screen before,” she said, after making a joke that we won’t repeat here so as to not spoil you/make you very sad.

—  Tobias Menzies was unaware of the horrific, evil future of his character when he signed onto the series, and joked “I probably wouldn’t have signed on if I had known.”

—   Heughan sped read the first book and googled the others, but said that “Actually living it is interesting.” Jamie and Claire’s relationship will be in a “strange but interesting place” by the end of the season, he says.

— There will be skinny dipping in a later episode, and you will not be disappointed by who takes part in it.

—  Gabaldon’s favorite thing about the show that she didn’t write is the “1800s version of Laurel and Hardy,” also known as Angus (Stephen Walters) and Rupert (Grant O’Rourke). 

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—  The first episode almost didn’t include a famous line from the books, where Jamie tells Claire that she doesn’t need to be scared when she’s with him, but Gabaldon made sure that was remedied.

—  Moore tells us that for the most part, the show will stay true to the books, but the show will eventually begin to take its own path. “You naturally start to make changes,” he says of adapting a story to a new medium, and when a choice is made on the show, you’re obligated to follow where that storyline or character choice leads. “Our show has to serve both masters,” he says of both fans of the book and fans of just the show.

— Menzies doesn’t make too many changes on his own in terms of character when switching between Frank and Black Jack, but lets the writing, costume, and production mostly take care of that. At the beginning of the series, Moore told him that he was equally interested in what was the same about the two men as he was in what was different about them.

—   When given the choice to kill, marry, or screw any men on the show, Balfe had some interesting choices: Kill Father Bain, Screw Jamie (Sorry Frank!) and while it seemed that she was going to say she wanted to marry Frank, Menzies interrupted: “Black Jack Randall!” She just went with it.

—  Menzies would do excellent work as one of the witches from Macbeth. 

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—   Gabaldon was not surprised one bit by the passionate fanbase. “They’ve been wanting a visual version for twenty-three years at least,” she said. Balfe was a little less prepared. “If I had known about all of you people, I would not have shown up to work on the first day quite as calm as I did.”

— The time travel in the story is not magic, it’s science fiction. Gabaldon knows how it works, but the characters only know by trial and error. She also does not keep a family tree of the Randall family, and leaves that to the nitpickers in her audience.

—  The series was not originally written to include so many books (11 so far). Gabaldon originally wrote the book as practice writing a novel, and then kept realizing that there were more. Her publisher asked for a trilogy, but she just kept saying there was more to the story. And there still is!

—  If there were a blooper reel on the DVD, it would mostly be a lot of Balfe swearing, laughing, and falling over, according to Heughan. Yeah, we’re going to need that blooper reel ASAP.

— Heughan feigned shock and Gabaldon blushed adorably when a fan asked what it was like to play a character who had been a sex symbol for so many for more than two decades. “We don’t tell him those kinds of things,” Moore said, and Heughan went on to say that Jamie is a “wonderful character,” and that we start to find out who he really is as the show goes on.

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— Heughan prefers not to use a stunt double, and do as many stunts as he can by himself. He did injure himself once, but he was determined to do it, “probably due to pride.” And for the record: he does not use a butt double. Though if you ask Moore, it’s because he’s all CGI’d.

—  Most of Balfe’s family has watched the show, but her dad has stayed strangely quiet about it. She had to find out from her sister that he had enjoyed the show.

— A fan asked about the wedding episode, which has garned a ton of praise for showing lengthy sex scenes from a more feminized point of view. Moore says that was not done on purpose, but he did specifically ask for a female director once he realized the episode was being written by a woman. Moore did confirm that the director and writer were paid just as much as a man would have been paid after an audience member asked, and then explained that they intended to make the scenes, in which Claire taught Jamie how sex works, “authentic.” “Let’s just make this true, let’s make it authentic, let’s try to realize a wedding night and sexuality between two people who are learning about each other over the course of the night,” Moore said. “Ironically, when you do something truthful, it becomes the female point of view.”

Outlander returns Saturday, April 4 on Starz

What was your favorite part of the panel, other than anytime Balfe and Heughan shared a kiss or a hug or a significant look? Let us know in the comments! 

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