What if your future was the past? And could you leave your old life behind for a new one? That's the question Starz's highly anticipated series Outlander asks.
Based on the wildly successful book of the same name, Outlander stars Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall, a combat nurse in 1945 who's swept back in time to 1743. Immediately, Claire finds herself fighting to survive a group of soldiers and in an effort to keep suspicions at bay she marries handsome Scottish warrior Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). As the two develop a relationship, Claire is torn between her blossoming romance with Jamie and her feelings for the husband (Tobias Menzies) she left behind.
Ahead of the anticipated series premiere — which Starz will preview for free on Saturday and debuts officially on Aug. 9 at 9/8c — we've broken down the central players, the time periods, the complicated language and everything else you need to know whether you're already a fan of the books or coming into the show anew. Plus: The cast, author Diana Gabaldon and executive producer Ronald D. Moore share their insight into what you can expect for the freshman season.
Viewers follow the adventures of Claire, who tells her story through first person voiceover. According to Balfe, Claire is "a very strong, intelligent, capable woman" who, after World War II ends, has recently reunited with her husband Frank, a historian by trade but a spy during wartime. Menzies says that the series develops Frank's character more in the series than the books and adds, "We try to build him up a bit so that when Claire loses that relationship and then later on makes the choice to stay where she is and not go back, that's a bit more of a dilemma for her."
When Claire mysteriously winds up in the 18th century, she almost immediately meets Frank's ancestor Jack Randall (also played by Menzies), whom the actor calls the sadistic British villain of the series. Fortunately, Claire is saved by a Scottish warrior who brings her back to the cottage where they've been hiding from the redcoats. It's there that Claire meets Jamie, a Scotsman who escaped from English imprisonment and was badly injured previously by the hands of Jack. Claire offers her medical training and from there the two begin their bond. "[He and Claire] are both survivors; I think that's what connects them," Heughan says.
No red kilts! And other historical references
Most of the story is based around the build-up to the Battle of Culloden, which was the last battle in an attempt to reestablish Bonnie Prince Charlie on the British throne. "When I first read the book I was struck by the amount of detail there was in it," Moore says. "So I said from the get go we have to capture that same sense of authenticity."
That meant no shocking red kilts for our Scotsmen. Instead, the costume designers weaved their own fabric for the show. "Our modern idea of a Scottish tartan is bright pinks and reds, but actually that's a 19th century reinvention of the culture [that] was wiped out in Colloden. They actually used earth tones [for camouflage] and vegetable dyes that were available at the time." Moore says and adds, "Muskets were made for the show, a historian vets the scripts, an herbalist deals with the medical stuff and there's a Gaelic teacher [for] the cast. That said, there are certain anachronisms here and there, and we take shortcuts if we have to ... but the intention is to be as faithful as we can to the time and place."
The mechanics of how Claire's time travel works remains shrouded in mystery for the time being, but this shouldn't bother viewers too much because Moore aims to keep everything else feeling realistic. "If you're going to take the audience on a fantastical journey and ask them to buy into something crazy like time travel, the more grounded and real, the more apt the audience is to go along with the characters and invest themselves in the drama," he says. "You're asking viewers to risk themselves emotionally so if the journey feels false or they don't buy what you're doing than they'll hold themselves back. But if they believe in it, they're more willing to go with the characters where they go."
Dinna fash! You'll eventually get the language
The show features Gaelic heavily, but don't expect subtitles — and there's a reason for that. "[The language] is used as a device in the show to alienate Claire and the viewer," Heughan says. "[At first] you don't know what's going on, but then you get the gist and hopefully you start to understand words and get a grasp of it." The viewers' first real lesson is with the word "sassenach," which is Gaelic for "outsider" ... or "outlander." See what they did there?
As for the 1940s-era language, Balfe explains, "She had an unconventional upbringing and she wouldn't have gone to your typical finishing school that someone of her social background probably would have. I wanted [her speech] less formal because Claire has to be the every woman, she represents the audience and the show; she's the eyes everyone sees everything."
There's sex and love, but don't call it a romance
Neither Moore nor Gabaldon want the series pigeonholed as purely female-centric or romantic. "I spent 20 years forcing people to take my books out of the romance section," Gabaldon says. "The 'r' word is a loaded one. People who don't read it assume they're all harlequins and bodice rippers and written by semi-literate people for completely brainless idiots and consequently if you say it's a romance they immediately shut it and say, 'I don't read that kind of book.'" Moore agrees. "Honestly I don't think about it that way," he says. "I'm neither at pains [to] figure out how to attract male viewers or think this is what female fans would like. [I write it] as the best way to tell it."
In addition, Moore claims that the highly anticipated sex scenes are used mainly for storytelling purposes. "In the first episode, there is some nudity but there's not a lot ... When we get further into the story when Claire and Jamie marry and have sex for the first time, that's a more important thing so you would spend more time with that. But I don't think we've done it gratuitously and I don't think we've shied away from it. It's what's natural to tell this part of the story."
Surprises still in store for fans of the book
Season 1 is very closely adapted from the first book in Gabaldon's series, which fans should appreciate, yet there's a balance with an element of surprise. "Right off the bat, in the first episode we open with a scene not even in the book where Claire is in the field hospital in World War II," Moore says. "So there are things [fans won't] expect or things that could've happened within the story that maybe were alluded to [where] we might make changes they can look forward to. But when we make changes, we take pains to bend the story back."
Watch the premiere episode for free midnight Saturday on Starz as well as through Starz.com/Outlander, the @Outlander_Starz Twitter page, the Starz YouTube page, Starz's Outlander Facebook page and the free STARZ PLAY app for U.S. users. The official premiere airs on Saturday, Aug. 9 at 9/8c on Starz.
Are you excited for Outlander? Watch a clip from the premiere now: