An exclusive adaptation from the book The Making of Outlander: The Series.
In this adaption from The Making of Outlander: The Series, author Tara Bennett goes behind the scenes of the show’s early production, including the long search to find the right actress to play Claire and the major effort required for the show to be filmed in Scotland.
For two decades, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels existed exclusively on the page and in readers’ heads. Fans had free license to imagine their own Claires, Jamies, Murtaghs, et al., mentally casting and re-casting based on Diana’s descriptions, celebrity crushes, or doppelgänger acquaintances until the cows came home. As with any beloved book or series, everyone has their own mental picture of what those characters look like. And suddenly the show’s producers and the series’s casting team had to find real-life actors to be the public, official face of those characters, shouldering a Mount Everest–size burden of fan expectation.
As one of those longtime readers and fans, executive producer Maril Davis felt the responsibility keenly as they embarked on the casting process with Emmy-winning casting director Suzanne Smith (Band of Brothers). “I love casting, but, normally, when we go into a project I pretty quickly have a prototype in my head of who some of these characters are,” Davis details. “This is the first time I think I have approached a series where I literally had no idea in my head, because Jamie and Claire had been in my head for so long. That was a little daunting when we started the process.”
From her London-based casting office, Smith admits she had not been familiar with the books before she began work on the show, which enabled her to approach the process with a clean mental slate. She was, however, very aware of how invested the fandom was in who these characters were and who should play them. “I know the fans have an idea that it has to be a certain set of eyes,” she says, explaining that fans often focus on the physical descriptions provided in the books. “But it is the acting that comes into it and what each of those actors brings to the table.”
Smith adds that often means that a high-profile actor who might seem like a dream casting might not be right for the role, or available, or even interested in a television series. “Sometimes ‘names’ are mentioned,” she says of early casting talks. “Other times I mention names and then bring them in, or sometimes we get show reels for more-prominent actors. The lovely thing about Starz and Sony was I was given the opportunity to cast unknowns, which is wonderful, because casting is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes names take away from a character.”