As seen on TV

Starz' ‘Outlander' brings novels to life

 
Ed Miller / AP

Prepare to bend your mind. Premiering on the Starz network on Saturday at 9 p.m., Outlander is adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s wildly popular novels. 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.

“I’ve always done period shows,” said Outlander executive producer Ronald D. Moore, a sci-fi maestro celebrated for his 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.”

Irish actress Caitriona Balfe, who stars as Claire, told the Associated Press she knew nothing of Outlander craze when she took the job. She stars alongside Scottish-born Sam Heughan ( A Princess for Christmas), who plays the warrior, Jamie, who also was unfamiliar with the series.

“I had a funny moment when I went to my local bookstore in L.A. 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 the proper Claire wasn’t easy.

“I thought we would cast her 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!”

After a week in the U.S. for publicity and Comic-Con, it’s back for a few more weeks’ shooting in Scotland. There, the Outlander troupe has been able to toil in a bubble since last September, largely shielded from the hubbub greeting the show.

“This year has flown by,” said Heughan. “Our feet haven’t touched the ground.”

“When the show premieres,” Balfe said, “we’ll be back in Glasgow. We miss it.”

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