‘Outlander’ EPs Ron D. Moore and Maril Davis on Keeping Claire and Jamie Apart
The Starz series Outlander is currently in its third season, and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is struggling to navigate life without Jamie (Sam Heughan) and instead with her first husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies). As the years pass, Jamie and Claire attempt to make a life apart from one another while each are haunted by the memory of their lost love, and resentment builds in Frank over the fact that he will never fully have his wife’s heart.
During this interview with Collider, showrunner Ron D. Moore and executive producer Maril Davis talked about why Season 3 is such a strong season, what they’re most excited about fans getting to see, being at such a transitional point in the story, the shift in the relationship between Claire and Jamie, the dynamic between Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and Roger (Richard Rankin), what Season 4 will look like, whether they might split up or combine some of the books for future seasons, and what they’re most proud of with this series. (Book spoilers about the location of the story after this season follow).
Collider: Fans had to wait a long time for Outlander to return. Why is this season worth that wait?
RON D. MOORE: I think it’s a very strong season. We’re very proud of the way it turned out. All of the episodes hold together really well. I think it’s a really good, engaging story. The adaptation process was pretty good. It was a much easier adaptation than the second season, for a variety of reasons.
What are you most excited about fans getting to see in Season 3?
MOORE: There’s a lot of big elements.
MARIL DAVIS: There’s the print shop, turtle soup, and so many good scenes. Seeing Claire and Jamie on their own separate journeys, while hard because they’re still separated, to me is so interesting. It’s so interesting to see and chart their character development and see what has happened to them, over those 20 years. This book broke down a lot easier than the second book, and there were almost too many stories to tell, in some ways.
What have been the biggest challenges, specific to this season?
MOORE: Most of it was logistics and production. It covers a lot of ground, a lot of time periods, a lot of time passages, and a lot of big shifts of location and scenery. We have the whole adventure on the ships, and then Jamaica and the Caribbean, and ship chases and storms. And then, there’s the normal time travel stuff, and Boston and Scotland. From a production standpoint, it was a very complex season. That was probably the biggest challenge, overall.
DAVIS: In the first five episodes, there were so many hair changes for 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s Boston, and Jamie has a different look. For every episode, there were multiple looks. From a production perspective, that’s incredibly challenging because you also don’t film things in a complete linear fashion. And certainly, the reset to South Africa was tough. It’s not just going down to Prague for a week, or England for a few days. That is a long journey.
When you started doing this show, did you realize just how big and all-encompassing it would be? Did you have a good sense of just how epic this would be?
MOORE: I think we knew it was a big challenge, but even then, it’s proved to be a much bigger challenge than we thought, from the outset.
DAVIS: It takes a village.
MOORE: That’s a big reason of why it takes us so long to shoot the show, and why it took us awhile between seasons to get there.
You’ve described Season 3 as a transitional season. Why is that a good description for this season?
MOORE: If you know the book series and you know where the story is going, you really do look at this season as a pivot point. It takes it pretty much out of Scotland and transplants the major storylines to North Carolina and the colonies. There’s always a foot in Scotland that’s still a part of the show, after this point, but it will shift the focus of the storyline into the American colonies, from this point forward. It chronicles a literal pivot point in how the story is moving.
How will that affect things for Claire and Jamie, and what are the biggest challenges in that shift?
MOORE: It’s a reset for the show. The series is continually evolving and changing. It’s always been, “Well, the next episode is nothing like this one. The next season is nothing like this one.” You’re constantly looking ahead to the horizon. It will change the show in fundamental ways that we’re not even cognizant of yet. Now, instead of talking about the Jacobite Rebellion, the history of Scotland, the clans and how all of that worked, we’re gonna be dealing with the colonies in America, but not the classic ones you’re used to seeing on film, which are Boston, Philadelphia, and all of that. We’re in the Carolinas, which is a lesser known story in pop culture. It’s really out on the frontier and it’s going to take us in a very different direction. Costuming, location and everything will change.
DAVIS: We call Outlander a traveling show because every season is a complete reset. Starting with Season 4, it will be the first time we’re actually in the same place, from then on. That will be unusual for us ‘cause we’re not really used to that. In Scotland, we’ve been so lucky because, if a location falls out or we can’t build a set in time, you can go find a castle. We won’t really have that luxury in the colonies. We can’t just be like, “Oh, we’ll just go down the road.” Everything takes a little more extra thought.
Where are you going to shoot Season 4?
MOORE: We’ll continue to shoot in Scotland, and shoot Scotland for America, and then we’ll go to Eastern Europe and do some exterior work for the mountains and rivers.
When you do a show that has such a beloved relationship at its center, but you know that you have to keep them apart for a bit of time, how do you figure out exactly how to handle that?
MOORE: It was fairly easy because we took our cues from the book. Jamie’s story was episodic. He’s at Culloden, he’s in the cave, he’s in the prison, he’s at Bellwater, and he ends up at the print shop. That just broke out, really naturally, into five episodes, and then we said, “Okay, let’s give Claire a parallel story that we can follow with her, and track the relationship with her, Frank and Brianna through that same period of time. That just meant that [Claire and Jamie] were going to reunite [after that]. Once we put that structure on the board, it just never varied. It was a fairly easy decision that made sense.
DAVIS: I don’t think we ever aimed to keep them apart as long as possible. You want to know what’s going on, those 20 years, and how they got from A to B. Without seeing those tentpole moments, and Jamie was the guide for that, I feel like you don’t understand how they got to their 20-year place and why they are the people they are now.
MOORE: The only way to have gotten them together sooner would literally have been to say, “We’re gonna pull one of these chapters out of Jamie.”
DAVIS: Or show it in flashbacks.
MOORE: You would have had to have really truncated it to almost nothing. That’s the only way you could have gone through it faster. It’s 20 years of their lives. It wasn’t like in Galactica, where we jumped ahead a year and you can just fill it in. There was still a big amount of backstory and interesting things to talk about that happened in one year. This is two decades of their lives, so why would we cheat that? We wanted to give you a sense of a big passage of time, in these characters’ lives.
What are the challenges in having the same actors cover that 20 years?
DAVIS: To me, that’s an actor’s dream. Unless we were gonna do heavy prosthetics, which take a lot of time in the chair and look very fake, a lot of that has to be internal character work. For Caitriona and Sam, I think they relished the opportunity to do that work and show different sides of their characters, and the weight and gravitas of losing each other, and how that plays out in different chapters of their lives. As actors, they really dove into that and appreciated the challenge.
Another relationship that people will get to see more of this season is Brianna and Roger. What can viewers expect from that aspect of the story?
DAVIS: In some ways, we’re getting to see young love. With Jamie and Claire, they have a love that we’ve seen from the beginning, but this is from the perspective of seeing a parallel relationship of two people that have been together and have been separated, and then this budding romance. Roger is obviously so smitten with Brianna, and Brianna is taken with Roger, but is so hesitant because she doesn’t want to be hurt. It’s the parents and the children, and seeing those two parallels and how those relationships are going to grow, as the seasons move on.
You’ve said that you’ll continue the show, as long as books keep getting written. Is it daunting to know that you still have so much material?
MOORE: I know. I try not to think about that. I just think about one season at a time.
DAVIS: It’s a high class problem to have, though. I hope we do. It’s not like George R.R. Martin. We have not surpassed Diana [Gabaldon].
Do you plan to continue doing one book per season, or do you see that not always being possible?
MOORE: You never know. We approached this season, at the outset, thinking that maybe we’d split this one in two. But when we started putting cards up on the board and analyzing it, it made more sense to do it in one. I could easily foresee situations where we split books or combine books. I think you have to just be open each season, to look at the material and decide what the best flow and rhythm of the episodes is.
With everything you’ve gotten to do with this show, what are you most proud of?
MOORE: It’s hard to say. I’m proud of all of it. It’s a remarkable show, in almost every aspect of its production. I think the story is well told, the cast is amazing, the production values are top notch, and the score is great. It’s a polished, beautiful product that’s very entertaining and means a lot to people. I think it delivers on the promise of adapting these beloved books. I don’t know that there’s an aspect of the production that I’m not proud of, really.
DAVIS: Honestly, we’re telling the story that we want to tell. We don’t worry about the pacing of episodes. We let scenes take their time. We’re doing things that we’re just incredibly proud of, instead of taking our cues from external pressures. We can tell stories that we want to tell, and we’re very proud of that.
Outlander airs on Sunday nights on Starz.