Reveals from the Outlander Emmy Panel: How Caitriona Really Got the Job, Who Knows What About Ghost Jamie, Stolen Souvenirs and the Murtagh Dilemma

The red carpet backdrop at the STARZ Outlander FYC Event

Sunday, March 18, Los Angeles—Just before the Outlander panel is about to begin, an announcement comes over the PA system inside Hollywood’s Linwood Dunn Theater: “Will the person who owns the white SUV, license plate number xxxx, please return to your car. You left the motor running.”

This makes perfect sense, of course—that’s how excited members of this select audience are, that someone would be in such a hurry to get inside, they’d forget to turn off their car. There is knowing laughter as a flustered woman tears up the aisle, and out the door. It’s a small venue (it was chosen based on availability), so small that STARZ had to make the unusual decision to schedule a second panel to accommodate the demand from Television Academy members. Tickets were coveted and hard to come by, the kind of panel people want to earn plus-one status for.

Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe

It’s Outlander weekend in Southern California, and STARZ has brought stars Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan over from Scotland, along with some of the producers, to do as much For Your Consideration press as they can pack into three days before they return to Glasgow to continue shooting Season 4 of the time-traveling hit show.

A little more Emmy love would be an important score for the second most popular scripted series among female viewers (Game of Thrones holds the top spot). But even with that enviable standing, Outlander fans have been nervously awaiting word of a Season 5 (and perhaps, beyond?) pickup.

This evening, Twitter news flashes through the crowd: Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore has told Entertainment Weekly magazine during the red carpet media scrum that the show’s coming back, but despite his remarks, it’s still not official, and fans need it to be.

Chris Albrecht, CEO and President of STARZ, tried to quell the unrest at this past summer’s Television Critics Association tour: “I wouldn’t worry,” he said when asked. “I think our biggest problem will be making sure we don’t kill Caitriona and Sam…We have joined legions of fans for Outlander around the world and our partners at Sony and we are having very productive discussions around the future of the show.” The translation: it’s always about money, and it’s likely business negotiations are the only thing standing between Ron Moore’s tease and the imprimatur of a joint SONY/STARZ press release.

(L-R) Gold Derby President Tom O’Neil, Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Executive Producers Ronald D. Moore, Maril Davis, Matthew B. Roberts, Toni Graphia and Production Designer Jon Gary Steele (All Photos by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for STARZ, or STARZ unless otherwise noted)

Tonight’s event begins with a Season 3 compilation reel, which highlights the twenty years that have come between 18th-century Highlander Jamie Fraser (Heughan) and his wife, time-traveling 1940s nurse Claire Randall (Balfe). Claire has returned through the standing stones to her own time at Jamie’s insistence: he’s most assuredly going to die in 1745’s Battle of Culloden, which she knows will not end well for his Jacobite clansman, and he’s at peace knowing she will safeguard their unborn child, under the protection of her first husband Frank (Tobias Menzies).

Yes, Outlander requires a suspension of disbelief, but it’s the foundation of novelist Diana Gabaldon’s writing (there are eight books—the first of which was published in 1991—and Gabaldon is busy finishing the ninth) that keeps this long-anticipated television adaptation on track….though the book fans and the TV fans don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to which scenes are cut and which are included in the show.

L-R: Insley, Executive Producer Toni Graphia, Barad

Two women who have been invested in the series since it was first announced are book disciples Heather Insley and Leona Barad, who arrived early for the evening’s panel and are seated up front. They are the co-founders of the fan group Outlander SoCal Edition, which numbers over 2,000 members. Early on, they supported the idea of Gabaldon’s work being translated to the small screen, which delighted and encouraged STARZ execs. Insley praises Heughan’s embodiment of warrior James Fraser, a hero so strikingly attractive and principled, he has been jokingly referred to as “the king of all men” by the show’s writer/producers and some fans. But Insley admits Caitriona Balfe’s casting was a bit harder for her to accept, noting book Claire is short and not exactly a waif. “But I got over that real quick,” she adds. Insley believes “the book is one thing and the show is something different. I can separate the two and enjoy the show for what it is. It’s pretty darn good television…and it’s a great opportunity to get together with a bunch of friends at least once a week, so I’m grateful for that.”

Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall Fraser

Her friend and colleague Barad, who Insley says is the Outlander savant between them, didn’t have the same issues: “When I read, I see the faces in my mind, but they’re not exact. When Caitriona was cast and I saw her picture, I was really in favor of her. She looked very close to how I imagined Claire. When I reread the books, I don’t see Sam and Cait. It’s almost like having two sets of Jamie and Claire.” She admits: “I get that you can’t copy books for a TV show. But I miss the smaller moments from the books that don’t make it on the screen. That’s what makes the Jamie and Claire relationship so strong.”

Both hour-long panels, led by GoldDerby founder Tom O’Neill, also included audience Qs and As. The topics were wide-ranging and revealing [For full coverage of panel one, click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUXV_KXM4jM ]: why Season 3 was seen as transitional in terms of character development, Heughan and Balfe’s takes on how Jamie and Claire changed in the two decades they spent apart, how the hurricane that almost costs Claire her life was created, the theory that costume is character (including the Claire’s hand-sewn Bat Suit), and the nearly impossible task of creating bigger and better sets for a show that switches course each season. As expected, book-to-series discrepancies are broached and explanations requested.

Heughan as Jamie Fraser

When asked how those decisions are made in the writers’ room, Moore jokes: “There’s this big dart board…” But he underlines how important the text is to his team: “We always start with the book…At the beginning of the process we have assistants and researchers…who literally break down the entire book, chapter by chapter and then scene by scene…you put the whole thing up on these big white boards that essentially lay out the plot and the story. Step one is to break it down into thirteen hours [the basic equation in almost every season has been thirteen episodes to cover each book]…and you quickly realize what’s going to get condensed and moved around. Once you’ve decided these are the thirteen hours, then you go deeper into each individual show.”

Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore

Given that Gabaldon’s books often number more than 900 pages, it’s inevitable there will be some moments that simply can’t be lifted directly from the source material. “Some things that are iconic moments to the fans, whether it’s a line of dialogue or a scene or even just a visual doesn’t fit, we’ll sort of set it aside and figure out a way to work it in later,” Moore acknowledges, “even if it’s next season or two years from now…so there are certain things that feels like maybe we’ve forgotten, but we never really forget and we’re always looking for ways to work them back into the narrative.” But he goes on to stress: “It’s a very subjective process, and in all honesty, every show runner and every writer would do it differently. We approach the books with a lot of respect and a lot of love, but as the series goes on, year by year you are essentially creating a certain reality for our characters and our version of this story you have to honor.”

Duncan Lacroix as Murtagh

Such is the case of the much beloved character of Murtagh, Jamie Fraser’s clansman and godfather played by Duncan Lacroix, who Gabaldon kills and Moore and the writers decided should live. The subject of Murtagh’s resurrection comes up in both panels. Moore explains the writers all agreed: “We all felt we didn’t want to let go of him, that he was part of the family.” Moore says they used the TV Murtagh differently than Gabaldon, especially in Season 2. That’s when Moore realized Jamie, Claire and Lacroix’s taciturn Scotsman had become a trio in Paris. “Once we decided to bring [him] into the secret that Claire was a time traveler, we were now committed to a Murtagh who is different from the book… [He] was really part of the inner family structure…I didn’t want the show to take that kind of a loss at that point.” Moore adds, “Our stories are taking you down a path you need to keep going down. You’re always trying to honor the spirit of the book. You’re not trying to violate the fundamentals of the characters and what a great story Diana has laid out for us. It’s always with the intention of what is the best version we can do on television.”

One of the other oft-discussed Outlander moments involves a mysterious scene early in Season 1, and an audience member references it this night as well. It is a rainy Scottish evening, before Claire travels back in time. She and Frank are on a second honeymoon post-World War II, and as he is headed back to the inn where they are staying, he spots a man in full Highlander regalia staring up at Claire, who is visible in a window brushing her hair. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6pdbEZBZ8E When Frank approaches the man, the Scotsman sweeps past him and disappears into the mist, leaving Frank shaken and not at all sure he hasn’t seen a ghost.

Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon has weighed in on the mystery: Is the Highlander beneath the window Jamie? Will he time travel back to Claire? Somewhat cryptically, the author has said that Jamie will not travel back in time, and “The ghost is Jamie—but as for how it fits into the story, All Will Be Explained—in the last book.” So when the question is raised in the second Outlander panel, Executive Producer Maril Davis confirms again, yes, the ghost is Jamie. “It hasn’t been explained and hopefully we get to that point where we can explain it.” Sam Heughan chimes in, and reveals: “Diana has written that scene, and she showed it to a few of us…to be revealed.” To which Caitriona Balfe exclaims: “Oh, really?”

Balfe and Sam Heughan speak on stage

Balfe may have been teasing about the ghost scene pages, but there was one true revelation for her during this night…the truth about how the producers found her.  When she is asked where she was in her career four years ago when she first auditioned for Outlander, Balfe laughs ruefully: “Well, I didn’t have a career. I was a struggling, jobbing actor in Los Angeles. I had bits and pieces of jobs every now and then, but I was going through a particular dry spell. You get sent to these auditions through your manager, and a lot of the time you put yourself on tape and you send it off and generally, you never hear anything back.” That was true of the first Outlander tape she sent in. For that audition, she had been given a two-line description of the character. “I didn’t even know it was a series of books,” Balfe admits. “It was… a nurse from the 40s, she’s confident and she does something …so really you have nothing to go on.” When no word came, Balfe says, “I was just like, well, that’s just another one.” But a resourceful UK agent thought she should give it another go, and got his hands on a more extensive breakdown of the part and an extra scene. “I re-taped [my audition] and that got sent off and I think Toni Graphia…[was] trolling through tapes and came across [mine] at the last minute.”

Toni Graphia

But Executive Producer Toni Graphia interrupts Balfe with a completely different story of how it happened. “Actually, we didn’t come across [the tapes],” Graphia says, and shared for the first time how the actress, who had never done television prior to Outlander, came to her attention. “Maybe it’s the first time anyone’s heard [this story],” Graphia says. “I’d been up all night Googling things like ‘undiscovered acting gems in the UK.’ Yeah, I put that out there….You were being interviewed about a web series you’d done, or something. It was a personal interview… And I…was just watching you naturally, who you are as Caitriona. I went, ‘Oh my God, I think that’s Claire.’ I knew it was risky…but I sent it to Maril and said we should look at this girl. And [they told me], ‘She’s sent in a couple of tapes.” You know, you didn’t have a lot of credits at that time. But we went back and looked at them and thought, “Wow, she’s pretty good.” Adds Graphia: “We got really lucky because you were the perfect Claire. I can’t imagine anyone else doing it.”

As the night comes to a close, an audience member asks each of the panelists if there is anything they’d fallen in love with and took home from set or wardrobe.

L-R: Executive Producers Moore, Graphia, Roberts, Davis

Even though Davis dutifully states, “We’re not actually allowed to take things from set, quite honestly,” they all spill the beans. She says that hanging in their Cumbernauld office in Scotland is one of the original Fraser family paintings that graced the walls at Lallybroch: “It’s the picture of Jamie and his older brother.” Production Designer Jon Gary Steele chimes in, “Everyone wanted that particular painting because it was a mistake. Instead of all the fingers, his hand looks like a claw.”

Production Designer Jon Gary Steele

Steele was surprised by his carpenters, who installed all the panels that were inset in the columns of Castle Leoch’s Great Hall on the back wall of his office. Executive Producer Matt B. Roberts claimed the A Malcom print shop sign. Toni Graphia’s souvenir is from “Faith,” the episode where Claire loses the baby. She says: “Catholic girl that I am, I decided to smash the Virgin Mary statue, which I’m sure I’m going to hell for. Matt brought back the head…I loved it, it’s the best present ever. I have it on the top of my computer, just sitting here… It inspires me every day. It’s one of my most treasured possessions.” Sam Heughan admits he wanted Jamie’s sword, but admits “they quite wisely said no.” And Caitriona Balfe put Outlander Costume Designer Terry Dresbach on notice: “I’ve been promised many outfits…I’m still waiting.”

 

 

[NOTE: I’m not sure if /when the second FYC panel will be posted by Starz/TV Academy, and I couldn’t post every story that was told, but if you have specific questions, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment, and I will be happy to supply whatever answers I have from Sunday night’s event]

 


51 Comments

  1. Dianne Scarchilli

    Great synopsis! We love them so we are biased;but, you seem to have a good understanding of the story of Claire and Jamie! It’s their intimacy of mind body and spirit that has us all enthralled!

    • I really appreciate that you took the time to read and comment. This is a new site and I welcome all visitors. Given how devoted and knowledgeable Outlander fans are, I am pleased that you liked the feature. I loved covering the event. I hope to post my exclusive chat with EP Toni Graphia today, latest tomorrow. Please feel free to share the link. The more support I get from fans, the more access STARZ will give me, which is invaluable so I can get more info out to people who want it.

  2. I’d like to know how the chemistry between the actors was in that’s wxond panel. Someone said it was pretty tense. Is that true?

    • Thanks for visiting my site, Mariana. I’ve covered TV for many years, and it’s my profession, but this is a new site and I so appreciate your support. Re the panels, I saw the first online and I was at the second panel, and frankly, I thought they were all absolutely exhausted—from jet lag and a tough production schedule. STARZ wanted to utilize the time they had with them over the weekend so there was a photo shoot, red carpet interviews, the back-to-back panels, and the LA Times interviews on Monday. I actually thought since they’d obviously had dinner and a few whiskys between panels they were livelier in the second FYC panel, and I thought the moderator improved between events. I honestly saw no tension, just flagging energy, which I suppose could have been misinterpreted as tension.

  3. Abigail Thompson

    Loved your article, hope to read more.

  4. Christine fellowes

    Thank you Theresa for this article. I watched the panel discusssion and thoroughly enjoyed it as well. I too am disappointed that we haven’t seen the second round panel. Hopefully it will come on line soon.
    Your article was a great breakdown. The story of how they found Claire was obviously from the second panel discussion as I didn’t pick this up from the first. Thanks again

  5. This was a remarkable post to come upon. Love this. Thank you for all the filling in …… and bits!

    • Thank you, Becky. I am so glad you enjoyed the read. My site is fairly new, and I was very happy to have the chance to cover the Outlander event, the first since I created checkyourlocallistings.com. I love to write about TV—I’ve spend my whole professional career working in it—so it was especially fun to get a chance to write about my new favorite show, and doubly thrilling people are responding to the piece. Thank you to the broken ankle that allowed me to catch up with the first 3 seasons.

  6. Theresa, what a wonderful article! I love the anecdotes and details you put in. I feel like I was there at the conference! Thanks for sharing this article with us.

    • Thank you, Karen! I figure if I like the details and anecdotes, perhaps the reader will too. I especially love to ask questions that elicit original responses, so I was lucky on the Cait question, and thought dedicated Oultander fans would appreciate hearing something they might not know. Will post Toni Graphia exclusive today or tomorrow latest!

  7. Great article!

  8. Cathi Hodil

    Thank you for this great article! I would love for the 2nd panel to become available to watch, but it is so nice to have someone care enough to give those of us who cannot attend something like this a blow by blow! Especially loved hearing Toni Graphia’s story about Cait!!

  9. Great coverage, and I’m sure “Outlander” fans will be pleased. Nice layout, glad there are lots of photos. Was there any mention of Bear McCreary’s terrific score?

    • Jon, I am so honored that you came to the site and read the piece. Outlander fans seems to like it, and that’s very encouraging to me. I didn’t mention Bear since he wasn’t at the panel and oddly, the music didn’t come up in either panel. I wish I had had the chance to ask more than one question and that would’ve been a good one. I am hoping his publicist might respond positively to this piece so I can do a feature on him.

  10. Thanks for sharing this. You did a great job covering this event, and I appreciate all the details you provided. If you write more, I’d love to read it!

    • Thank you so much,Jenny. I appreciate that you read the piece and commented. I’ve been covering TV for a long time for various outlets, and just decided to strike out on my own…and Outlander was a joy to cover. Please come back. Re Outlander, will be posting a Toni Graphia interview, and I’m considering posting additional Qs and As from the panel since it’s not been posted yet. Not sure it was recorded, so fans may be curious about what else was said!

  11. Lovely read! Thank you.

  12. Rebecca Jallings

    Yes, this is a wonderful piece. I was so unhappy that they didn’t live stream the second panel, so hearing about it through you is pretty darn nice. And it was nice to not have an obsessed fan (like so many of us) doing the reporting–seemed a bit more balanced. Well done–and thanks so much!

    • Rebecca,thank you so much for visiting my site and reading the piece. I appreciate the warm welcome. I have been working as a reporter and TV critic for some years, as well as a TV executive (check out my bio) so while I have only recently discovered Outlander and have enjoyed it, I am a reporter first. This was fairly straight-forward coverage of a PR event, but I try to write with enthusiasm for what I’m covering, and I’m pleased that seems to have come through to the readers. I can’t always promise there won’t be criticism, especially when Season 4 rolls around. I see evidence of thoughtful honesty in the fans I have met and interviewed, so I am sure if I can back up my theories as to why things work/don’t work as Outlander continues, people will still enjoy reading what I write!

  13. Patrice Fagan

    This was a very good read. I appreciate the detail you provided. Glad I came across this article. Thanks

    • Thank you so much for the feedback, Patrice. May I ask how you found it? My site is fairly new, and I am trying to use social media to get it out there, so it’s really gratifying Outlander fans have found the piece, and have been so supportive of what I wrote. I write about all things TV, film, books, food, and travel, so I do hope you will check in again and again! More Outlander to come!

  14. Susan Gajderowicz

    Thank you, Theresa, and you are a welcome addition to the Outlander ‘fanmily’! I enjoyed your take on the panels; I especially am appreciative of your tidbits re the second panel and your perception that exhaustion may have come across as tension. I look forward to your future posts. Kind regards,

    • Thank you so much for your comments, Susan, and I’m glad fans have enjoyed my reporting on the Outlander panel. I’ve been writing about television for some time (links to my other work is on the site), and I will post additional Qs ad As since the second panel has yet to be posted. Not even sure when/if it will be. Please, come back!

  15. Wonderful piece. I love Outlander and can’t wait for the next series. Love from Liverpool

    • Thank you, dear Jackie! So nice of you to read and comment. I’m very excited to have a place to talk about entertainment and all things related…which means I must do a feature on you very soon in my travel section!

  16. Thank you for writing about the second panel. I know I was very curious how it went and I’m sure most Outlander fans were also. Very interesting about how Claire was discovered. I had never heard that story before! And I am always trolling Outlander information on the Internet in my spare time. (lol). It did seem they were very tired in the panel that was streamed, so it’s good to hear they were more animated in the second one.

    • You are welcome, Debbie. Hoped the stories I included would give readers a feel for the panel, and was excited to have new, never-before-heard info to share. So glad for the positive feedback. On this show, that’s hard to do! I am sure they were running on fumes. To see that Cait is running the London marathon today after this weekend blows my mind!

  17. Great article! I’m an Outlander fanatic and certainly appreciate your efforts, in bringing the fandom a fresh perspective! It’s always welcoming, when someone can give us insight into the event’s we can’t be part of. Really looking forward to more check your local listings report’s from the glorious world of Outlander ! Can’t wait for more information on the second panel discussion.

    • Thank you so much for the kind words, Susan. I really wanted to share what it was like to be there and offer info that might be new or interesting. Thanks for coming to check out my site and please come back for Outlander posts, and non-Outlander posts too!

  18. Enjoyed reading this. How will you share your interview with Toni Graphia? Twitter? Or on this page?

    • Hi Connie: Thanks for the positive feedback. I will post the Toni interview tomorrow (I hope) here and link to it on twitter. Additional panel Qs and As over the next few days too which may be of interest. You can also follow me on Twitter: @TerriOnTVPlus

  19. Thank you so much for sharing this!!
    I enjoyed it so much!
    Looking forward to watch the second panel… I’m from Germany and watched the first one live in the middle of the night!! 😁

  20. I watched the full panel (not usual for me…short attention span) and read your article and I believe I enjoyed your article the most. I also thought they looked tired. One question…was anyone else bothered by Sam’s shirt buttons gaping? We all know it’s not because he’s a little plump around the middle…I wanted to fix it. He’s just always so put together and stylish. My bad for noticing that one imperfection. Thanks again for your well written article.

    • Thank you for the big compliment, Lisa. Glad the article held your interest. I wouldn’t say I’m a fashion expert, but yes, the gaps are there and I did wonder about that. I’m sure his stylist will see the photos and rectify that in the future. More to come!

  21. Brilliant article and nice to see some new and interesting information. Thanks !

  22. Enjoyed your recap – and hope you will post Panel 2 Q & A. Thanks.

  23. Thank you for a lovely article. It was very insightful. Hope to see more of your work in the future.

  24. I thoroughly enjoyed your synapses of the panel discussion. I appreciate your taking the time to give the fans of the series insight. I can well imagine their exhaustion!
    I’m a new outlander fan, and I am fascinated how the producers of the show chose how to condense the vast books. I think they did a superb job.
    Does Sam’s demeanor and looks differ greatly from Jamie’s?

    • This is first time I’ve seen Sam in person, but I think he becomes Jamie on set. Otherwise, he’s very different, including his voice and physicality, which makes the characterization that more impressive.

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