For over three decades, PaleyFest has held panel sessions that connect the worldwide community of television fans with the casts and creators of their favorite TV shows. One of the drama series celebrated at this year’s festival was the international sensation Outlander. Collider was there to get the scoop on what’s to come for the second half of the season, which returns to Starz with new episodes on April 4th, as well as a look ahead to Season 2, currently in development.
While there, we got the opportunity to chat on the red carpet with actors Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies, along with executive producer Ronald D. Moore and author Diana Gabaldon, about what fans can expect form the second half of the season, how much darker things will get, that the relationship between Claire and Jamie will really get tested, a final finale confrontation between Black Jack Randall and Jamie Fraser, the 25-year wait to finally bring this story to life, how they’re feeling about where Season 2 is headed (they’re currently in script development on it), and how the tone will be shifting with the change in setting to France. Be aware that there are some spoilers, especially if you have not read the books.
Collider: What can you say about what fans can expect from the second half of the season, with both the romance and with how much darker things will get?
CAITRIONA BALFE: It really does get a lot darker, this season. It gets more intense. The action really ramps up. And we see Claire and Jamie’s relationship really getting tested, not only by outside forces, but internally. They really have to deal with this friction that’s caused by being two people from different times. Even though they may not be able to accept each other’s actions, it’s about them learning to be able to understand where they’re coming from. It’s all really exciting, as well.
Things are building to a final confrontation between Jack Randall and Jamie Fraser. What can we expect from that?
RONALD D. MOORE: You’re going to get to a place where that finally comes to a head. All that stuff that’s been building over years in the story, and for episodes in the season, will come to a head in the finale. It goes dark, it’s harrowing, it’s interesting, it’s psychological, and it has a lot of depth. I’m very proud of where the show finally ends up with it.
TOBIAS MENZIES: From filming it, if half of the stuff ends up on the screen, I think it will be suitably uncomfortable. I hope it’s emotional, as well, and not just shocking. Maybe it will be saddening that these two people are both destroying each other and discovering each other. I hope it’s psychological, rather than just violent.
Tobias, how has the experience been, playing both Frank and Black Jack Randall?
MENZIES: I love playing them. I think they’re both really great characters. I really have enjoyed bringing them to the screen. People wonder about Jack and what it’s like to portray some of those things, but what’s exciting about acting is that there’s such relish and enjoyment in saying and doing these things that one can’t do in one’s own life. That’s why we watch drama, to see those things. It’s incredibly enjoyable.
Jack Randall is an equal opportunity sadist. Do you have to just totally jump in and not worry about justifying his actions?
MENZIES: He’s an amoralist. He’s without morals. I think he has his own code of honor. It doesn’t bother me.
Diana, over the years, there must have been a number of times when you were approached about bringing this story to life. How has the actual reality of this experience been?
DIANA GABALDON: Oh, it’s terrific! It’s much, much better than I ever imagined, believe me. I have friends, who are writers, who have had movies made of their books and they are almost uniformly horrified about what’s been done, or at least dissatisfied. That’s why we’ve been so reticent about giving people options. If the option comes to fruition, then you have nothing mor to say about it. It’s pretty risky, so we were very careful.
What was it about this particular proposal that sold you on these people getting involved, and was it always important to you to be so involved?
GABALDON: Well, I can’t say that. I didn’t expect to be involved, at all, so it’s been a really nice side effect. In fact, I had nothing to say about it. We’ve optioned the book only four times in the last 25 years, so we were very careful. The last option was with a guy named Jim Kohlberg who, like everyone else, wanted to make a feature film of it. He renewed his option three or four times because he was very stubborn about it. We trusted him. He was in love with the book, so we decided to take a risk. He stuck with it, and he hired very respectful screenwriters whose names you would recognize, if I said them. But when I read Ron’s pilot script, I told him, “This is the first thing I’ve ever read, based on one of my books, that did not make me want to turn white or bust into flame.” You cannot make a two-hour movie of that book. It can’t be done. I’ve seen many people try, but it can’t.
While Jim was struggling with this, Ron had finished Battlestar Galactica and was looking for a new project. He was talking with his wife and production partner, one night, about that, and one of them said, “Have you read Outlander? It’s just the sort of story you like.” They started talking about it, and he said, “Okay, can you give me a copy of the book.” One of them reached in her purse, pulled it out and handed it to him, and he took it home and read it all that night. He fell in love with it and said, “It never goes where you think it’s going to. More than that, I saw how I could make a TV show out of it.” So, he went looking for the rights holder, which is Jim Kohlberg. Jim said, “No, I want to make a two-hour movie out of it.” Every six months, they would check back, and finally Jim said, “I’m beginning to think you’re right. It might be a TV show.” At that point, there was 18 months of negotiations, and we ended up with this contract between Sony, Ron, me, Starz and Jim Kohlberg.
Caitriona, what’s the most emotionally difficult scene you’ve had to shoot?
BALFE: There were a few. One of the scenes that was quite challenging was Claire telling Jamie the truth about where she’s from. It’s such a crazy line to say. “I’m from the future.” That was tough because so much hangs on that. You really want to be able to show her desperation and her heartbreak, but also her hopefulness that he will believe her. And then, at the very end, some of the scenes between Black Jack and Jamie, I found those to be very tough scenes, but they’re good.
What’s it meant to you, as an actress, to play such a real and full portrait of a woman on television?
BALFE: It’s great to be able to exercise so many different sides of you. She is a fully realized person. It’s funny, some days. Some days, it’s heartbreaking. Some days, she’s so angry. It runs the gamut. It’s just a gift. It’s incredible. I feel very lucky, every day.
Ron, you still have the second half of the season to air, but you’re also knee-deep in the development of Season 2. How are you feeling about where things are headed, beyond the second half of Season 1?
MOORE: I feel good. The second book is very different from the first book. It’s structurally more complex. The storyline is more complex. It’s taking more work to figure out how we adapt it in the writers room, but I feel good about where we are. We’ve made a lot of progress. We’re getting scripts in. I’m starting to see it and say, “Okay, yeah, this is all going to work.” We still want to maintain as close to the book as we can. We want to keep that story alive. It’s just a bigger challenge with the second book than it was with the first book, just by the nature of what it is.
Is there a big tone shift, as well?
MOORE: Probably. I haven’t thought about it, in terms of tone. I think there is because the world is different. Suddenly, we’re in Paris in the 1700s, so the tone is different. You’re in an urban period setting with a different culture. You’re in France, all of a sudden. If you were looking at stone walls and wooden tables in the first season, suddenly you’re into gilt work and fine candelabras and silken fabrics. It’s a whole different method of carrying on life and social mores. So, it is a very different thing.
Outlander returns to Starz on April 4th.