Starz’s ‘Outlander’ brings novels to life vibrantly

08/01/2014 2:59 PM

08/01/2014 3:00 PM

There’s an odd believability you find inside “Outlander” that somehow makes it feel true-to-life.

Never mind that it’s a rip-roaring fantasy. Claire, a lovely British Army nurse on a second honeymoon in Scotland, is mysteriously swept from 1945 back to 1743, plopped into a strange and alien existence, including marriage to a dashing Scottish warrior, even as she struggles to return to “modern” times and the husband she left behind.

Premiering on the Starz network at 8 p.m. Aug. 9, “Outlander” is adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s wildly popular novels. Shot in Scotland, the series is lush and beautiful, and as genre-bending as its source material as it straddles romance, science fiction, history and adventure.

Same and opposite

“I’ve always done period shows,” said “Outlander” executive producer Ronald D. Moore, a sci-fi maestro celebrated for his futuristic “Battlestar Galactica,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

“I like working in worlds that don’t exist, and creating things that take you outside of your day-to-day reality. So the process of putting together a show that takes place in the 18th century is really not different from a show that takes place in the future: You’re still creating everything from scratch.”

Moore knows he’s facing a hurdle snagging viewers who aren’t already hooked on the “Outlander” books. In particular, he’s got to win over guys, who may not instantly see the appeal of a romance-laden saga with a woman at its center.

“Perceptions are hard to fight,” he said. “This is the exact opposite challenge that we had on ‘Battlestar Galactica’ on the Syfy channel: How do you get a woman to even look at this program? But once they did, women bought in, and loved it. Now we have the opposite challenge: Look, ‘Outlander’ isn’t chick-lit or a romance novel! This is really an adventure story. So, you try to get men to sample it in the same way.”

Budding popularity

“I wasn’t aware when I got the job,” said Irish actress Caitriona Balfe, who stars as Claire, during an interview in New York alongside Scottish-born Sam Heughan (“A Princess for Christmas”), who plays the warrior, Jamie, and like Balfe knew nothing of the “Outlander” craze.

“But I had a funny moment when I went to my local bookstore in LA to buy a copy,” Balfe recalled. “When I was paying for it, the clerk said, ‘You know, they’re making a TV series out of that. Ronald D. Moore is going to executive produce it. I wrote my thesis about him in college.’ I thought, ‘Ahhh, this is a good omen!’ ”

Finding Claire

“I thought we would cast Claire first, and that Jamie would be the hardest part to cast,” said Moore. “But Jamie was the first character cast in the entire piece. It happened so early it scared us, but once we saw Sam’s tape, we said, ‘Let’s just grab him while we can.’ And then it took forever to find Claire. We needed someone intelligent, funny, empathetic, capable; an actress who could sustain viewers’ interest week after week.

“Then Caitriona sent her tape in, and word roared around the office: ‘Yeah, that’s it!’ She was cast just days before she had to go to work.”

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