Starz’ upcoming fantasy drama Outlander promises to bring to life a beloved time-travel romance novel series life as well as return Battlestar Galactica showrunner Ron Moore to TV. As readers of Diana Gabaldon’s books are well aware, the story follows Claire (Caitriona Balfe), a married combat nurse in the 1940s who’s vacationing with her husband (Tobias Menzies) in Scotland. Claire falls through a time-travel portal to the 18th century, where she falls in love with a young warrior (Sam Heughan). Above is the first photo from the show’s 1945 era and below we have a interview with Moore, who in addition to showrunning Outlander is also producing the promising Syfy thriller Helix. Moore gives us some details about Outlander, as well as touches on HBO’s fantasy hit Game of Thrones, and the potential TV future of some franchises he’s previously worked on (namely, Star Wars and Star Trek).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve said before your wife recommended the book to you. What appealed to you about the story?
RON MOORE: I’m a fan of history and historical fiction. But I think what attracted me the most is the central character of Claire. She is smart and funny and interesting and I like that she’s a woman of the 1940s instead of contemporary. I like the way she handled things. In order for the audience to accept [the premise], the character had to be very real and very grounded. She’s not running around making dopey comments about the 20th century and looking for telephones. And she’s a nurse, and she has a real skill that [the Scottish warriors] need. I didn’t know anything about that time in Scotland and just got pulled into this world.
How was casting these two lead characters who have such a strong fan following?
Moore: We went into this saying there’s a lot of Claires out there. We’ll find Clarie and [her Scottish lover] Jamie was going to really kill us — he’s the tough one. Of course, it was the exact opposite. It was really hard to find somebody to be Clarie. The show sits on her shoulders in a very real way — she’s in every scene, every day, and it had to be an actress who can bring that character to life with a lot of depth.
What was the most important aspect to pull off?
Moore: The most crucial characteristic is that she’s intelligent. We’re going to be watching her think a lot. She’s a character who’s thinking all the time — she doesn’t have anyone to tell this secret to. And Caitriona has that.
What’s your approach to staging the past?
Moore: I think what we’re going for overall is we’re trying to deliver an authentic period piece. We’re not trying to reinvent the 18th century and make it cool for modern audiences. There’s a temptation to make period pieces look like a costume drama, where everything is very clean and beautiful. We’re going for a rougher, grittier feeling to what life was like back then.
Since you’re on Starz, how much sex will the show have?
Moore: It’s an intimate show in an epic setting. There is a fair amount. We don’t really have to add very much; there’s a lot of sex in the book. There’s a fair amount of violence, too, but it’s not a battle show — we’re not getting into the big slo-mo spurts of blood.
Given that you’re launching a fantasy drama on premium cable, are you influenced at all by the success of HBO’s Game of Thrones?
Moore: It’s definitely opened that door and showed that fantasy and genre material has a strong audience on premium cable. They also showed you can take an existing readership and turn it into an audience and then broaden that audience. We don’t think of ourselves as their competition because they won that corner of the world and they do what they do amazingly well. We want to find our own different space.
So is the plan to do one book per season?
Moore: The general scheme is one season, one book. There will be 16 episodes for the first season, and it will cover the entire first book.
Since you were running Battlestar, serialized dramas have really taken off. Are there any current ones you’ve been particularly impressed with or that make things easier or harder for you doing Outlander?
Moore: It’s hard to apply specifically to Outlander. I’ve been a fan of Thrones, I’ve been impressed with how they’ve navigated the adaption process. Less with The Walking Dead, because they’ve varied a lot from the source material and been very successful, but I’ve been trying to stick [with the source material]. I’ve been impressed with Homeland and its ability to shock its audience, and Mad Men fort its utter dedication to character.
Any update on the Star Wars live-action series that you helped develop a long, long time ago?
Moore: I have heard nothing. It’s owned by Disney now.
I heard the issue was George Lucas wanted to make a show that would have been impossible for TV, budget wise.
Moore: It depends on your expectation level. What George wanted to do with it, his scale was extraordinarily ambitious on a TV budget. Lots of CGI and complicated effects work. There’s a way to do the series more on a produce-able scale, but it would still be expensive. If you’re going to put on a Star Wars show the audience is going to expect a certain level of “wow.” The scripts were written as if money was no object. George was like, “Don’t worry about it.” [Producer Rick McCallum] would groan and put his head in his hands periodically. So for us it was like, “Okay, f–k it, let’s write whatever we want.” But if you wanted to go back into it, you could realistically dial it back.
What about Star Trek, have you heard any rumblings of a new series on that front?
Moore: I’d love to see Star Trek put into series format again. I’ve always felt Trek had its heart as a TV show. The show is conceptually built around a group of characters that go out and deal with moral or ethical dilemmas. All those individual character stories can’t be done in a feature film because the stakes have to be enormous — the universe is at risk — and it’s always going to be about Kirk and Spock. But the show’s heart to me is an adventure story that can only be explored in the TV realm I’d love to see it move back. I think J.J. [Abrams] has done a tremendous job. It’s waiting to return to TV and do the other thing it’s known for — it’s a show about ideas and not just action.
For an exclusive photo from a very dramatic moment in the first Outlander novel, pick up the current issue of EW on stands now.