Outlander postmortem: EP Ronald Moore, director Anna Foerster talk violent prison scenes
As fans have seen in the last few installments of Outlander, Claire’s (Caitriona Balfe) mission in rescuing Jamie (Sam Heughan) from the Red Coats has been a bitter challenge. From hoofing across the Highlands to singing in men’s clothing as a minstrel, Claire’s journey has proved difficult as she’s been forced to adapt to her new world as never before.
Then, during Outlander’s 15th episode—with time ticking towards Jamie’s imminent execution—Claire used her cunning to break into Wentworth Prison, only to find herself face-to-face with evil Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies). “Wentworth Prison” also saw Jamie strike a deal with Black Jack in exchange for Claire’s freedom, which resulted a devastatingly bloody scene involving a hefty hammer and an iron nail. Here, executive producer Ronald D. Moore and episode director Anna Foerster (who helmed “The Wedding” and “Both Sides Now” earlier in the season) reveal details about the episode’s violent scenes, and hint at what’s to come in the Scotland-set season finale.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Jamie’s hand injury is such a huge part of the narrative here. Why do you think that is—and did Diana tell you anything regarding her rationale for such graphic violence? Do you have any theories regarding the symbolism of Jamie’s injury?RONALD D. MOORE: No. We never actually talked about it in those specific terms. Obviously the Christ metaphor jumps to mind but I’m not sure that’s what she had in mind when she wrote it.
FOERSTER: I’m sure she didn’t. I’m almost sure she didn’t. We were talking quite a bit about why it was a hand in prep, and it was really interesting because we consulted a nurse who specialized in hand injuries just to find out, first of all, how to portray it. It turns out that a hand injury is one of the most painful injuries a human body can endure. Funny enough, people pass out with hand injuries much easier than if they have severe trauma in the legs or other limbs. It has something to do with all the nerve endings in it. So I think just knowing that was an interesting element and then the nailing on the table, I mean, you can’t help of nailing Jesus on the cross. Though Ron, I think you’re absolutely right. I don’t think in the book it was meant as a metaphor at all.
MOORE: As it went through post-production on the episode, one of the things that wasn’t quite obvious was how particularly painful that injury was, because as Anna said, the medical truth is that if your hand was smashed with a hammer like that, it would be so incredibly painful. It would be almost blindingly painful. After Jamie is injured like that in the book, he’s almost hallucinating. He’s almost on the edge of losing consciousness. But when you saw it in the cut, in the script and in the story, Jack hits him once with the hammer. And even though it’s a shocking moment, it didn’t quite feel like it got him to the place we needed Jamie to go. So we then cheated a bit and had Jack hit him more than once in the scene, just to underline to the audience how incredibly painful that injury was supposed to be.
Ron, I know you’re a stickler for really making sure that things look accurate on camera. It speaks to the quality of product you produce, but it does make for some pretty gory TV. What did you do to make sure that the hand really looked severely injured? I’m sensing there was something other than Jello blood was used …MOORE: It was prosthetic work and makeup both.
FOERSTER: It was an interesting combination. When he [Heughan] lays his hand on the table, that’s his hand. Then, when the nail is going in, the hand gets exchanged with a prosthetic hand that was hidden under his shirt and manipulated with wires under the table so that the fingers and everything could move. Then, when the nail is in and he’s sitting at the table, we’re back to his real hand with the fake nail sticking out and fake blood. There was a little obviously there was a little enhancement where it needed to be [in editing]. But it was tricky for the actor, because when you have the prosthetic, you have something you are acting with which is not your own.
This episode hints at some troubled scenes to come. What weighed most heavily on your mind as you were preparing to bring an entirely different aspect of Claire and Jamie’s storyline to life?MOORE: Well you know, from my perspective, from the moment I read the book and then outlined the first season, we knew where it was headed. So this was always looming out there on the horizon that we were going to head to this very dark and harrowing place at the end. We spent a lot of time internally thinking about it in the writer’s room and talking about it with the cast well before and prep on it. We just knew this was going to be a big deal and when we got to prep and shooting, we tried to create extra rehearsal time for Anna and the cast to create you know an extra space because we were going to be asking them them all to go to some very difficult places, and we wanted to allow them to do the best work that they all could.
FOERSTER: I have to echo that. It was an amazing experience. I read the book too and when I did the first two episodes [“Both Sides Now” and “The Wedding”], I had no idea that I was going to be involved in the last two episodes. It was really interesting because as I read the book, I thought “Wow, whoever is going to get this will have a real challenge that’s exciting and dark.” And then sure enough, it came my way, which was super exciting for me. But as Ron said, we all knew that was coming. And just having the ability to rehearse before hand and have in-depth conversations with the actors helped everyone so that we got on set, we all knew where it was going. It was great to have the opportunity to wrap your head around it and have everyone on the same page, from cast to writer and crew and myself.
You both mentioned having conversations with the actors. What was discussed during those conversations?MOORE: Well I’d say it was about setting up their characters and creating their story within the story. What is Jack after? What does he want? And what does Jamie want? What’s important to each of them, why are they behaving in the ways that they do and how does that take us in the direction that the story will take? Then Anna invited me to go come down and watch rehearsals, because the three of them had been working privately for a while. And even in that space, the conversation was about what’s Jack’s goal, why is he interested in Jamie and what is he trying to get out of this. And where’s Jamie’s position within that? What is his resistance? What is he trying to get out of it? What are his weak points? To me, it was all about figuring out those pressure points within the story about both of their characters.
FOERSTER: It was really an ongoing conversation and an exploration of everyone involved, which was great. For example, Ron, you mentioned coming into the rehearsal. We had started having ideas, like with this one thing, when Tobias holds Sam after he falls from the table with the nail in his hand, it almost resembles the religious image of the crucified Jesus. So there were little ideas and images that came up in our discussion, which was why it was great to have everyone involved. Then dialogue could get adapted to that. To me, this was a fantastic collaboration.
MOORE: It was a very organic process because we had the book as a starting point. But the book is told in a different way. The first book is told completely from Claire’s point of view, so all the scenes between Jack and Jamie are related to her after the fact, not really as a flashback, but more in terms of how Jamie would relate the story to Claire. Which is different than when you’re showing it from the objective point of view in terms of what’s happening in the cell—not the way Jamie is telling it, but seeing it in real time. So you really are deconstructing and then rebuilding the pages from the book right from the beginning.
Anna, you directed two huge episodes earlier in the season. How did that inform the way you approached “Wentworth Prison”? FOERSTER: I think it was a huge privilege that I directed those two episodes because I had a huge opportunity to build a strong connection with the actors. I think that was important because we needed to trust each other going into this, because of dark the story is getting. A huge trust level was necessary. In one way, I think that created the possibility for all of us to do that kind of work Ron was describing. It also gave me the opportunity to figure out how to approach certain things. To me, one of the biggest challenges was portraying the complexity of Jamie and Jack’s relationship. I wanted it to me multifaceted, and not just about punishment.
Did either of you have conversations with Diana as you prepared to shoot “Wentworth Prison”? Did she have anything she felt particularly strongly about knowing there would be some level of adaptation made in bringing this story to television?MOORE: Well, Diana sees all the story outlines and the scripts. There were some early conversations with Diana at that stage of the game, mostly having to do with Jack, with what he would or wouldn’t say. We played around with different opening gambits with what he says when he first comes into the cell. And some of those didn’t seem to work very well. Ira Behr, who wrote 15, came up with Jack offering Jamie the deal, the contract. “I’m willing to give you a cleaner, quicker death in exchange for what I want.” And once we got into that place, then it felt like things were clicking a little bit better. It’s not in the book and Diana pointed that out and we talked about it, and I think eventually she got what we were going for.
Outlander airs on Starz on Saturdays at 9 p.m.
Diana Gabaldon's genre-bending time-travel novels come to life in the Starz series.