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FeaturesSeptember 7, 2014

On Set: Time Traveling through Scotland with Outlander


Matt Suddain visits the set of the epic new fantasy show Outlander. //

Scotland is no stranger to glamour, as you know. My taxi driver tells me he once gave Charlie Sheen a lift from the airport. “He was nay bother really. Very friendly. Full of energy.” He gets so engrossed in his stories he misses our exit, gets us horribly lost. He’s forced to turn to an antique sat-nav he claims has not been activated since the early ‘00s. It has none of these new highways in its system, so for a while our vehicle is just a tiny, triangular spaceship sailing through an empty Glaswegian wasteland.


Now I’m standing in a converted former circuit-board factory where they’re making the fantasy series based on author Diana Gabaldon’s wildly popular Outlander books. They’re about a nurse who accidentally travels through time and gets captured by a gang of Scotsmen (Possibly because she tried to take a taxi from the airport). They’ve sold 67 ba-jillion copies, or thereabouts, and penetrated popular consciousness so deeply that they were recently name-checked by Taystee in the second series of Orange is the New Black.

‘Lady travels back in time to Scotland, hooks up with this big, sexy outlaw type, and they be gettin’ it day in and day out. Yo, it’s HOT!’ Damn straight. Today a pack of international journalists are being given an inside look at the making of this steamy melodrama. Our tour-guide is executive producer Ronald D. Moore, creative powerhouse behind such blockbusting franchises as Star Trek: the Next Generation, and Battlestar Galactica. He’s calmly outlining the day’s itinerary. “First off we’ll take you through the workshops, plastering, construction. You’ll get to see the prop rooms. Then we’ll take you to the armourer, because we have a full armoury here with all the weapons.”
I’m sorry, you have a what now?
“Then we’ll head through to costumes, art department, hair and makeup.”
Wait, go back.
“Most people just want to go straight to the armoury.”
Yes, correct.

Moore has not only thrown himself headlong into the show, but also into Scottish culture. He often wears a kilt on set, apparently. “We went for sushi in LA,” says Sam Heughan, “and he was sitting there in his kilt.” Classic Ron. Heughan plays Jamie, the show’s male lead and key love interest. He was the first major character cast, though he took some time to grow on Gabaldon. She recalls looking up his IMDB page. ‘There’s a few photos, and I thought, “This man looks grotesque, what are you thinking?” But then we got to Santa Fe and cued up his audition tape, and it was Jamie Fraser right in front of me.’

It’s hard to imagine how anyone could use the word ‘grotesque’ to describe this man. Since being cast he’s had his hands full horse riding, sword fighting, and anything else he needs to escape an army of female fans. “Yeah. They’re very, very passionate. We’ve got a group called the Outlandish Bakers who track us down on location. They somehow always find out where we are, and they bring us lots of cooked goodies. It’s quite overwhelming.”

Sure. So this armoury sounds pretty cool.


If Sam Heughal is grotesque then his co-star, Caitriona Balfe, is a hideous, wall-eyed monster. She lumbers off set to talk to us, still flushed from standing under burning lights, and from performing a scene whose details my embargo prevents me from disclosing.
“It’s such an amazing journey this woman went through. Claire’s a little stubborn, a little mouthy. So we have a bit in common. And we both like to have a little drink sometimes.”
She’ll possibly need several to get through some of the show’s racier scenes. Gabaldon has promised that all the books’ lustier episodes will be in the show, but that they’ll be tasteful. She’s currently writing an ebook on how to, and how not to, write sex scenes. It’s called: How To, and How Not To, Write Sex Scenes.
“Most people who are trying to write sex scenes mistake the exchange of body fluids for emotion,” says the author with a flick of her turquoise shawl. “A good sex scene is about the exchange of emotions. It really doesn’t matter what you’re doing with your body, I mean, there’s a whole variety of positions, but it’s not the position that matters, it’s what’s happening between these two people at this moment.”
So that happened.
“There are dark moments in the show,” says Balfe, “but I don’t feel like it’s gratuitous. It’s great to be able to play a woman who’s so complicated, and she’s not just sappy. Seriously, though, I think Matt is just shoving these quotes in now so he can get to the part where he got to play with swords.”
Not a real quote.

However… the armoury was everything I imagined. Imagine a massive room lined with implements of deadliness: swords, bows, halberds, muskets. If you don’t fancy imagining this, then head over to the costume department and learn about embroidery. I got to hold a musket while our Master Armourer explained the damage a small steel shot would do to the organs of an advancing Red Coat. He’s one of only two Master Armourers in Scotland.
Do you have a union? Do you meet once a year for a pint of heavy?
“Ha-ha-ha! No.”

Armouring is thirsty work

The next day the show’s Gaelic coach, Adam, takes us on a tour of a local castle, Castle Doune. Adam wears sandals and has a haircut like Paul Weller. “Doune actually means ‘castle’, so technically this place is called Castle Castle.” Fascinating. Doune was a key location for Outlander, but I have to admit that this pales against the fact that it was also a key location for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. John Cleese stood on this very battlement, where I’m standing now, and yelled at people below in a terrible French accent, like I’m doing now.

In the castle’s kitchen a family of birds have made a nest. They fly in and out the door at great speed, and I get lost in the idea that their great, great, great, great grandparents inspired a discussion between Palin and Jones about the relative velocity of an unladen swallow.

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