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Outlander is a big swing for the premium cable network, which currently houses originals Da Vinci’s Demons, Black Sails and Power, as it seeks to launch its own buzzy series a la Game of Thrones. Adapted from Diana Gabaldon‘s best-selling novels and executive produced by Battlestar Galactica‘s Ronald D. Moore, Starz is rolling out Outlander with a split-season strategy for the 16-episode freshman season.
Outlander revolves around Jamie (Sam Heughan), who ignites a passionate affair with Claire (Caitriona Balfe), a married combat nurse from 1945 who is mysteriously swept back in time to 1743 and thrown into an unknown world where her life is threatened. Claire is pulled between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
Outlander has been a hot property ever since Gabaldon published the first book in 1991 and the prolific writer mentioned the failed attempts at bringing her series to the big screen to an intimate crowd in the tiny Room 6A. Liam Neeson and Sean Connery were floated around as being possible Jamies.
Moore was first interested in the series six or seven years ago, roughly when Battlestar Galactica was winding down. Getting the rights proved difficult, as attempts to turn it into a two-hour feature lagged. It was Moore’s interpretation of her words that ultimately got Gabaldon to bite. “This is the only thing based on my work that didn’t make me turn white and burst into flame,” she said.
There had been much interest from Outlander fans over the casting of Claire and Jamie and Gabaldon even admitted that Balfe and Heughan “don’t look anything like the image she had in her head.” She recalled Googling and IMDBing Heughan ahead of his audition and not being impressed. Five seconds into his tape, she was sold. Balfe promised that the character of Claire that people “fell in love with first will always be there. … Hopefully I do it justice.”
Heughan was aware of the fans who have gravitated toward the evolving Claire and Jamie courtship. “We didn’t want to enforce anything on this relationship. [We wanted to] discover what was between us in the moment,” he said of the pair. “There’s so much in this relationship — it’s not just blind love. They fight like cat and dog and it’s constantly tested. … They learn from each other and that’s what makes their relationship stronger and they love each other even more.”
Tobias Menzies, who plays the dual role of Frank, Claire’s husband, and Black Jack Randall, was noticeably coy when speaking of Black Jack’s difficult history with Jamie. “They’re challenging and they feel really deep in the muscle of the piece, especially the backstory with what’s happened with Jack and Jamie before [Outlander] starts.”
At first glance, it’s easy to label Outlander a “romance,” a category Gabaldon isn’t a fan of — “I guess there is that perception in the marketplace,” said Moore, who looked at it as an adventure story. After all, it centers on a woman who’s literally caught between two men. Moore, meanwhile, is hopeful the show aims at women and men. “I just don’t think it’s a man’s show or a woman’s show,” he said. “It’s just a ripping good yarn.”
And when will Gabaldon release the next novel in the series? “If I were not here talking to you, I’d be home writing,” the author said.
Outlander premieres Aug. 9 on Starz.
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