Diana Gabaldon recounts her visit to the South Africa set and explains why stars Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe are better than ever
To read more on Outlander, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday. You can buy the whole set now, or purchase individual covers featuring Sam Heughan, Caitriona Balfe, or of the two stars together. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
But what does Diana Gabaldon think? You’re about to find out!
We asked the best-selling author — the mastermind behind the Outlander book series — to tell us what she thinks about season 3 of the Starz drama, and what it was like to visit the South Africa set earlier this year. Here’s what she wrote for EW.
“So my husband says to me, ‘I thought you weren’t going to travel so much, so you can stay home and write books.’ To which I replied, ‘Set visit in South Africa?’ ‘Oh,’ he said. And so of course we went, because who wouldn’t? (Well, people who suffer a lot from jet lag, maybe. It’s an 11-hour flight to London, an eight-hour layover in Heathrow, which is actually only about No. 15 on the list of Airports Located Over a Hellmouth — JFK is No. 1, then another 12 hours to Capetown. Totally worth it, though!)
Our first sight of the studio was a ship. Parked on dry land. The Outlander Cape Town production actually had two entire 18th-century ships, plus mechanized pieces (masts and decks), all equipped with hydraulics for realistic pitching, rolling, and yawing — and water cannon, for use in sending the hapless cast flailing across the decks, soaked to the skin. The studio itself was huge, with eight enormous warehouse buildings for sound stages; Outlander occupied one, with facilities for makeup, costume, and producers/writers in another.
We luckily arrived on set just in time to see David Brown (executive producer, a.k.a. the person who knows where to get a trained hippopotamus at 3 o’clock in the morning and how much it costs to rent four castles) before he left for the U.K. He promptly loaded us into a golf cart and drove us at breakneck speed around the lot — an enormous lake, white sand beaches, a small jungle, a dismantled cave, and a pirate village inherited from the Black Sails production, in process of being transformed into Kingston, Jamaica.
We said bon voyage to David and were taken into the soundstage where the scene in which Captain Leonard comes to the Artemis to beg for a surgeon was being shot. We arrived just as they were taking a brief break, and the door of the set popped open and Sam and Caitriona popped out, in costume. Greetings, water all ’round (it was beastly hot, inside and out), and they went back inside and we went to the video village, where we could watch the filming. After an hour or so of repeated takes, my husband removed his headphones and said, ‘How can they be poking each other and giggling and five seconds later bam! — they’re Jamie and Claire?’ I shrugged and said, ‘They’re actors.’
I think season 3 is the best adaptation so far. Granted, there’s a huge amount of material in the book, but it’s got an interesting three-way narrative (Jamie, Claire, and Roger/Bree) that lends itself to the fitting-pieces way a book-to-film adaptation has to work. A ton of stuff needs to be left out of the script, but what’s left is presented very, very effectively, so the overall impression is very much like the original, even though things are condensed, omitted, or reframed. And while the actors were great to start with, they’ve had a lot of time to sink deeper into their characters, and to explore the evolution of Jamie and Claire as they grow older and their lives become even more complex.”
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