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Q&A Interview w OUTLANDER Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, R. Rankin, S. Skelton + EP Davis

Maj Canton - January 23, 2020









On Tuesday, January 14, 2020 at the Television Critics Association (TCA) Winter Press Tour, Starz presented an OUTLANDER press panel that included series stars Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Sophie Skelton, and Richard Rankin and Executive Producer Maril Davis. Answering journalists' questions, they dished about Season 5, time travel, music and their fans.


The 12-episode fifth season of OUTLANDER will premiere on Sunday, February 16, 2020 at 8pm on STARZ, based on material from “The Fiery Cross,” the fifth of eight books in Diana Gabaldon’s international best-selling Outlander series. Season 5 of OUTLANDER finds the Frasers fighting for their family and the home they have forged on Fraser’s Ridge. Jamie must find a way to defend all that he has created in America, and to protect those who look to him for leadership and protection – while hiding his personal relationship with Murtagh Fitzgibbons, the man whom Governor William Tryon has ordered him to hunt down and kill. With her family together at last, Claire Fraser must use her modern medical knowledge and foresight to prevent them from being ripped apart once again. However, while focusing on protecting others, she risks losing sight of what it means to protect herself.  Meanwhile, Brianna Fraser and Roger MacKenzie have been reunited, but the spectre of Stephen Bonnet still haunts them. Roger strives to find his place – as well as Jamie’s respect – in this new and dangerous time. The Frasers must come together, navigating the many perils that they foresee – and those they can’t.


Question: Can you talk about when you're doing a show set back in history and in what ways you think you're really glad you're really not back then?

Caitriona Balfe: Oh God, I think every day we are very grateful that we live in this time. Just sort of walking around in those costumes alone and absorbing all the mud and everything and your hemlines, I think you become very aware, very quickly how difficult it must have been. But to your question about the medical stuff, you know, it's been great this season I feel like Claire has been really able to invest time again in her role as a surgeon and really expand as a healer in this community. And I think because she has so much knowledge from the 20th century, she feels that she could really help this community and the people around her, if she could bring some of the things that she used in the 20th century to this time. Obviously, that comes with a lot of risks. We see that she takes these big chances in exploring surgery that she would have done in the 20th century and also trying to maybe develop medicines that she would have used in the 20th century. But that definitely is a very risky endeavor for Claire this season.

Sam Heughan: She's always -- past seasons, as well -- tried to bring her prior knowledge of the future into the past, usually to our detriment. You know, there's always been some problem. But that prior knowledge of the way things are done in the future is something that she's always trying to impart on the people in the 1700s. And I think this season, she actually for a short time has some success.

Sophie Skelton: But again, there's always two sides for it. So you know, Claire really wants to help people in that time, but at the same time she's then in a way putting herself and her family in danger. Because if they then stand out as people not so much from the future but exercising sort of witchcraft, then they are all in danger again. And again, those of us from the future feel a responsibility to help people using our future knowledge. But at the same time, it poses questions of how much can you change and how much should you? So yeah, there's a lot of sort of juxtapositioning in thoughts throughout the season.

Question: Sam, can you talk about Jamie being in a redcoat uniform and what that means to him?

Sam Heughan: I thought it was a strong visual but actually for something that Jamie would go against everything that he's fought for and what he stands for.  You know, his relationship to the British and to what the uniform represents has been pretty bad, at best, from the beginning of the season to his father's death to Black Jack Randall, the redcoats really suppressed the Scots.  So for him to have to wear a red coat, it's a storyline that is not so much in the book, but the writers did a great job in sort of really digging into that storyline.  And we see Jamie have to sort of go against everything he stands for, for the greater good, for the good of the people he's trying to protect.  Yeah, so to see Jamie Fraser in a red coat for me was kind of full circle and kind of terrifying at the same time.

Sam Heughan: I definitely had a very good conversation with Matt initially about it.  And it was felt that it might not be appropriate, especially actually at that time they probably didn't wear red coats, the regulators.  But it felt that as Jamie is a general -- I'm trying to not give away spoilers here but yeah, he's commanded to wear a red coat.  It's more of a power play by Governor Tryon than anything.  Tryon is constantly testing Jamie Fraser to see if he will do and bow to his bidding and this is just one of his power plays.  But yeah, it just has a greater, deeper meaning for Jamie than maybe other people.

Question: Sam, in the premiere, Murtagh says to Jamie, "You've gotten everything you've ever wanted."  And I'm wondering for Sam, do you actually think that's true?  Caitriona, has Claire gotten everything she's ever wanted?

Sam Heughan: I think this season especially, Jamie -- well, in a way he kind of has, you know?  He's got his extended family, he's built a home that he loves, and he has the woman that he loves and his family, his children, his great-grandchildren.  So for him, things on the surface definitely look pretty good.  But we all know what's happening, we all know the history in OUTLANDER is always the thing that this couple is fighting against and this is no exception this season.  You know, I think on the surface everything looks rosy but we know time is marching on and yeah, it's interesting, as well because Murtagh was always on Jamie's side and always sees things pretty much as Jamie sees them.  But it's interesting to see two different sides of opinions and certainly that's played out in that storyline, as well, where people stand in their politics and where people stand in their loyalties.

Caitriona Balfe: I think for Claire, in some ways it's similar to what Sam has said. Here she is, she has a home. They've created this homestead, this community. Not only does she have Jamie, but she has Brianna here, the one thing that she had to give up in order to go back to Jamie. And obviously, Brianna and Roger and Jemmy and the extended family with Marsali and Fergus and everyone else. So it feels that her life is very full, and she also has her surgery. So in some ways she gets to still be a doctor, so she gets to fulfill that sort of professional side of herself, as well as the maternal and the lover/wife. So it feels like all sides of her are very much attended to this season. Obviously there's a lot of external forces that cause issues and as the season goes on, things get quite rough for them. But I think very much in the beginning, yeah, it's a very settled and happy time.

Sam Heughan: They're fighting for family, you know? They're always fighting to protect those they love. And I think that's ultimately their end goal.

Question: Caitriona and Sophie, what are the challenges and the rewards for you as actors playing 20th century women in a time period when women's roles were very different?

Sophie Skelton: Well, I think as Caitriona touched on before, there's the physical element in terms of the costumes. In Scotland, we are not shy of rain or mud. And as Caitriona said again, the hems of the skirts, you know, the skirts get longer and longer by the day, as they get dragged through. They get heavier. A corset is difficult as an actor to breathe in and talk properly in. They make you quite emotional at times, don't they? (Chuckles.) But you know, as the characters, too, it's one thing playing a character in one time period, but then taking them into another time period where they can't be themselves, that brings new challenges, you know?

Sophie Skelton (continued): Claire, Brianna and Roger all have to monitor themselves 100 percent of the time when it's not just the three of them together or you know, obviously Jamie knows they're time travelers but they have to change their language, their stance, their demeanor, any references they might make. And you know, that for the character is really difficult, but also as actors, sometimes you just wanna be in the character's head and you want to -- say if you're doing a scene where you're angry or whatever, you wanna just kind of let out the true emotions, but sometimes you still have to be slightly on-guard because say for me, sometimes, I might sometimes slip in an "okay" or something which Brianna couldn't say in that time. So you just have to wary of that as an actor and as the character.

Caitriona Balfe: Yeah, well I think it's one of the unique challenges about this show and job and it's a really fun and interesting one, as Sophie said. You know, it's that thing of playing somebody who's from another time but in another time. You know, it's that duality of being modern but having to fit in and assimilate and know what is acceptable or what isn't. But it's great, it's another layer that gets added onto our character work that makes it, I think, that much more rewarding and gratifying.

Question: Part of Claire and Jamie's life is really good -- she was a doctor in the modern world and is as successful as she can be in this time period and Jamie's kind of fulfilled his destiny -- but where are they emotionally as part of their love story goes? You know, are they still as passionate as they were in Season 1? Where are we in Season 5?

Caitriona Balfe: Everyone’s so worried about the passion. [Laughter] Yeah. I think that the circumstances of this season have really allowed us to invest in those relationship moments. And we see a lot more of the intimacy and the passion of Claire and Jamie, because we have that luxury of them being in one place a lot of the time and it’s so nice. I mean, Sam and I have been talking a lot about this today, that we get to see how they work together as a couple, the strains and the pressures of these outside things, but they’re able to come together and touch base with each other and sort of support each other. And it’s really lovely to see them just converse as a couple in this supportive and emotionally supportive way.

Sam Heughan: Yeah, they both have quite different sort of lives apart from each other. Claire has her surgery and the dealings going on there, and Jamie has this sort of political side. He’s working with the British. But they do, they touch base, and they always need and yearn for each other, and they sort of reconnect. It’s those moments we see that are quite domestic. It’s their home life and it’s actually really touching. And those are the really fun scenes to play, to sort of see them need each other and reconnect.

Question: You had the older Scotland in Seasons 1 and 2, and then you had the 20 years later Scotland. And you’ve had Barbados, and you’ve got Virginia. Is there one that’s easier or more difficult than the other to create and to make real on screen? Why?

Maril Davis: I will say most of us had a pretty good time in South Africa, though. But I think North Carolina has actually been the most difficult for us lately, because whereas in the past when we were in Scotland, if God forbid a location fell out at the last minute, it wasn’t easy, but it was easier to find another location in Scotland. Now that we’re in the colonies and you don’t have all stone buildings, if something happens to the location, if the Art Department is just inundated with work and we haven’t been able to finish a set in time, it is very difficult to find something else. So, I think that has been the challenge. And also, obviously we are filming North Carolina in Scotland, and while sometimes the weather is the same and certainly the foliage and other stuff are similar, there are distinct differences. But I think our Art Department and across the board, our entire team has done a pretty amazing job recreating that. We will obviously get those people from North Carolina who are maybe like, “That’s not how it looks where I live,” but really our Art Department and everyone else, greens, everyone has done a pretty spectacular job.

Question: I think it was Episode 3, it could’ve been 4, in Season 5, that Claire starts synthesizing penicillin. How does that play out? Because obviously, this is way before the timeline that it would’ve existed.

Caitriona Balfe: One hundred and fifty seven years before the time. Well, it definitely becomes quite a strong part of the storyline that plays out later on in the season. I don’t know that I can tell you, or there would be a lot of spoilers. But again, it goes to that thing of playing God and playing with the course of history. Obviously, she had come back to the 18th century originally with her syringe and penicillin and we’ve seen how she’s used that in the past to save herself when she was sick and also save Jamie. So it’s something she’s already used in the past. It’s an essential thing to fight against infection. It will become necessary again later on in certain storylines, but it will also be the cause of a lot of pain and trouble for Claire further down the line.

Sam Heughan: They’re constantly trying to change history and we never learn.

Caitriona Balfe: Yeah.

Sam Heughan: You’d think by now, five seasons in, we would get it. You can’t change history.

Caitriona Balfe: But I do think it’s that thing of we do play a lot with what are the consequences of testing fate and playing God. I mean, there are always consequences to these things.

Question: I know that this is being touted as a women’s tale, but there are so many of us that are --

Maril Davis: Is it?

Question: -- guys that are absolutely invested in this thing. Why do you think it has a genderless appeal?

Caitriona Balfe: Well, because I think if you look at this stage, you see four actors who play two very different couples, but very balanced couples. I think it’s not more of a woman’s tale than it is a man’s. We have a lot of action. We have a lot of political intrigue. I don’t know that any woman is any less interested in that than any man. I think most men are looking for love too, so I think that these are universal themes that we deal with. This is universal things that touch everybody. And what I think we do beautifully in our show is we give you this great fantasy and these epic storylines, but we ground it in very real and honest moments. I think that that’s what I hope people connect to.

Sam Heughan: It’s good storytelling, I think, and I think that appeals to anyone, whether you’re male or female.

Sophie Skelton: Yeah.

Maril Davis: We have a lot of "Manlanders" or "Outmanders", as they call them. [Laughter.]

Sam Heughan: Outmanders?

Maril Davis: Outmanders and Manlanders.

Question: Richard, let me ask you two things. One is what is it like to play the guy who most wants to go back to his own time? And beyond that, when you get to sing the pop songs from nowadays, are those fun to do and do you get to pick what songs to sing?

Richard Rankin: I wish I got to pick what songs I could sing.

Sam Heughan: And when’s your album out?

Richard Rankin: My album will be out August 12th, 2020. [Joking] No, I mean it’s a lot of fun. It brings another element to the show. You got this guy who loves his music and will quite happily sing and serenade people all day. It’s good, because bringing the music from our time, from the time of Claire and Brianna, it’s a little kind of language that we share together. It’s a little bit of our own time that we can bring back. But obviously that’s a weight that’s on Roger. I think he always thought that he would go back to his own time. I think that’s always something that he has assumed is that they would go back to their own time. They came back because Brianna wanted to save her parents from the fire that’s coming at some point, but I think he got on board with her kind of mission there and thought that they would inevitably go back to the safety of their own time. There have been a lot of circumstances that have changed. We now have a child. We don’t know if he can travel. And actually, they’re happy there. I think Roger and Brianna, at the start of Season 5, he’s happy. The life there is great. He’s been integrated into the Fraser family and has an extended family here that he very much loves. So I think it just becomes about necessity for him. I think he feels like they’re going to be safer back in their own time, but I’m not even sure if that’s necessarily true. But that is one of the stories that kind of unfolds through Season 5, so that is something that has very much gone on for everyone, really, is whether or not they should go back.

Sam Heughan: You also need to go back so you can get some new songs.

Richard Rankin: Yeah. I also have to go back for some new material, because I’ve been playing the same three songs over and over and over again.

Question: And if they’re choosing the songs for you, are they all songs you are at least familiar with? Like when you’re doing “Joy to the World/Jeremiah was a Bullfrog,” are you familiar with that?

Richard Rankin: I’m familiar with it as being a very difficult song to sing. I can’t hit that key.

Maril Davis: We like to pick the hardest song possible for Richard.

Richard Rankin: Yeah. They do. They find some really tricky songs and they go, “Can you play this?” And I’m like, “No.” (Laughter.) And they say, “Well, you’re gonna.”

Maril Davis: Great!

Caitriona Balfe: You have two days to learn it and go!

Sam Heughan: Just wait until Season 6.

Richard Rankin: But I can’t hit that note in “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog.” I have to drop that like three octaves.

Question: Obviously, that’s you singing, but then the guitar playing, did you already know how to do that? Did you have to learn? Were you cast in part because of your musical talent?

Richard Rankin: I was cast only because I could play the guitar. Yeah, the rest of the talent was absent. Yeah, I could already play the guitar. The songs aren’t really that difficult to play, the songs that they’ve given me. In terms of they aren’t that difficult to play on the guitar. They’re quite simple. There was only one song I really drove everyone mad with and that was a song that played in Season 4. It was a jig when they were doing the stuff in North Carolina. It was a little Scottish jig.

Sam Heughan: We just happened to bring a guitar with us.

Maril Davis: Fabulous.

Richard Rankin: It’s called “Devil in the Kitchen,” I think. I drove -- especially drove Sophie absolutely nuts because I played it at every given moment because it was really tricky for me to play that style of music.

Question: Sam, this season opens with that really touching scene between young Jamie and Murtagh. And we’re pulled into his dilemma of how close they really are and how he really does not want to hunt him down with the regulators. Can you talk a little bit about how he’s dealing with that issue? I had spoken to Maril earlier and she said the theme for this season is how far we will go to protect our families. So, how far will he go? Is Fraser's Ridge more important to him than Claire and Brianna? Or could there come a point in his mind where he might have to actually deal with Murtagh?

Sam Heughan: Well, I mean, the short answer is you’ll probably have to watch to find out. But yeah, I mean, so this is a storyline that, you know, isn’t in the books. And it’s probably one of the biggest deviations from the books. Obviously, the whole Murtagh surviving Culloden, but I think it’s been brilliantly played out this season. For me, it’s definitely my favorite storyline for myself, my character to play. You know, Jamie’s always had this father figure in his godfather and Murtagh. He’s always been this presence, which has sort of guided him and we see some great flashbacks this season to when Jamie is a child. So, for Jamie to have to sort of break that, that bond and you know, put Murtagh at a distance to protect Fraser's Ridge is very hard for Jamie to do. It is played out. I can’t really tell you an awful lot much more because it is a great storyline. But, yeah, it’s a wonderful piece of writing and certainly, for Jamie, a very tough situation to be in.

Question: The cat that’s playing Adso. Can you talk a little bit about that? And if there’s been any fun moments with that very photogenic, completely adorable Instagram cat?

Caitriona Balfe: So, cute.

Sophie Skelton: I think we’ve all been fighting over that cat.

Caitriona Balfe: Yeah. Well there’s many of those cats, which is good.

Sophie Skelton: Yeah.

Caitriona Balfe: We've had them at all different ages. So, they’re just adorable, And they’re very placid.

Sophie Skelton: Caitriona and I quite like to sneak the cat into the scene, and then realize it’s a continuity nightmare because the cat just kind of moves around.

Caitriona Balfe: We have had a couple of scenes where the cat will be sort of on the front porch in the scene and then by the time they say, “cut,” we have about 15 people looking for the cat because it’s either gone under the crawl space or it’s like off into the woods. But, yeah, animals are never easy to work with. They just, you know, there’s no training a cat.

Sophie Skelton: But I also feel like we have sort of zoned out to the animals because there’s so many on set all the time. Even the other day I was doing ADR and it just sounded like a soundtrack of goats. I didn’t even hear it because I feel like I’m so used to it. They were saying, “Oh we’ve got to do something about this. They’re just so loud.” It’s like, oh, don’t even notice it anymore.

Question: I was kind of struck by the brutality of the time that we think of as a rosy time. The guy cutting his nose with a sword is nasty -- but also the tar-and-feathering scene, because we had always seen tar in our history books when we’re kids, but it seemed like such a light thing. Just a thing you do as kind of, thing like putting on a dunce cap. But you showed that it’s really a fierce, scarring, nasty thing. So, just kind of talk about what struck you about how brutal those times were.

Sam Heughan: Well I think those scenes are really great and so visceral. I mean, exactly, you don’t think about the fact that to tar and feather someone you have to scald their entire body first. And to see that is really very jarring. I think that’s one of the things we do beautifully in the show and the writers do beautifully is they do so much research and they really try and make all of those moments feel very honest and very real and very true to the time. You know, I think it adds such a great texture to the show.

Sam Heughan: And it’s polarizing as well. You know, if you actually see it, I think we also understand the sort of brutality of what these men are doing to the other side. So, yeah, it is brutal but it was a hard life and it’s remarkable that Claire chooses that lifetime to live in. Let’s go tar and feather someone.

Question: Sam and Sophie, because you see your characters at younger ages, do you teach the younger actors or interact with the younger actors, so that they can play your characters more like you play them?

Sophie Skelton: I actually didn’t get to meet them, but I was asked to record the lines for one of the younger actresses just so that she could -- I think she was struggling with the American accent. So, that was about as far as I went with the younger ones on this. But, I mean, I kind of played Bri younger as well, as 16 and kind of through 18 and through to where she is now, about 23, 24. So, I think at least there’s different timeframes for them to be able to look -- you know, to watch and base it on, which hopefully helps. Did you?

Sam Heughan: Yeah, my little Jamie, you know, went through a rigorous boot camp. I had him wearing a ginger wig and folding his kilt and drinking whiskey. No, unfortunately you don’t see an awful lot of him this season, but there was a really nice scene. I didn’t get to meet him but I think he did a sterling job. And he’s ready to take over my part when I head to pasture.

Sophie Skelton: When we all go back in time.

Question: You’re probably over the hump of the middle of the books. Is the end in sight for you? And how do you feel about that?

Maril Davis: I mean we’ll keep making this until Claire and Jamie are 100. No, honestly, we will. I mean, there are still many more books to go. If Starz and Sony are willing, we’re willing. If the actors are willing, you know, we’ll keep going as long as there’s interest.

Sophie Skelton: Diana’s still writing.

Maril Davis: Yeah, we’ll never catch Diana, I don’t think. But yeah, we’ll keep going.

Question: Sam, is that back prosthetic heavy? How long does it take to put on?

Sam Heughan: No, it’s not heavy. It’s a couple of pieces and we have a fantastic prosthetics team, makeup and hair team. Yeah, I think they’ve got it down to about two hours now. And, you know, over time, you know Season 1 it was more vibrant. As time has passed now, the wounds have healed a lot more, the scarring has gone down. But yeah, it’s still quite a feat to get it on in the morning, especially at 4 a.m. in the morning. You know, it’s just because I’m grumpy, really, is the only reason why.

Question: Is there anything that says, oh I kind of enjoy the intimate scenes but god, why do I have to wear that thing?

Sam Heughan: Yeah. I mean no, it is interesting. You know, because it’s part of who Jamie is. He is covered in scars. He has so many all over his body, not just the back. We’ve had to try, obviously you need to keep count and know exactly where they are. We’ve actually had to lose some of the ones that he gets in the book because there were just far too many. But his body, really, he shares his experiences on his body. You get to see the life that he’s lived.

Caitriona Balfe: I think even just on a production level, you know, you think every time we are doing one of those love scenes, they have to factor in an extra two-to-four hours of our turnaround or anything, so that Sam can get the back on, when we have to film on it so that it doesn’t get destroyed. So, it is, it’s a very intricate and time-consuming part of, you know, getting ready for those scenes, as well.

Question: The fandom for this show has been, probably close to sci-fi-ish at times, I might say. I’m just wondering if anybody has a funny anecdote about something that really surprised you from some sort of fan encounter?

Caitriona Balfe: What, we have alien fans?

Sophie Skelton: I think there was actually someone saying they were at a convention one time and there was some of the OUTLANDER cast there and then there was a LORD OF THE RINGS line as well, and apparently the OUTLANDER one was bigger, which is kind of cool because some of us are big LORD OF THE RINGS geeks, so it says something.

Sam Heughan: We have a lot of fans staying here today. They’ve found out that we’re here so they booked in and they’re waiting all over just to partake in some fabulous whiskey.

Caitriona Balfe: Well the fans are amazing and I think, you know, it’s a testament to the fact that we’re still here five seasons in, that they’re still as passionate and they’re still as hungry for our show and for the content.

Sophie Skelton: And when there’s such a long break between seasons, you know, they named it "Droughtlander" and fans could very easily lose interest in that time, but they really don’t. They’re still passionate about it and yeah, we’re excited for them to see it. So, thanks for the support.

Read Q&A interviews from previous TCA press tours: