Combining romance, time travel, historical fiction and an extraordinarily strong woman named Claire Randall, Starz's "Outlander" finally heads to television screens this Saturday.
"It's a unique story. It's hard to digest the story in a small logline, which is a good thing," Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore told AccessHollywood.com after Starz flew us to the show's Scottish set back in February, where they made us their guest. "It's not a story I've seen before, it's not a period I've seen before, it's not a world that is typically sort of realized, so I think it's just -- it's unique almost in every aspect of it."
Based on the 1991 best-selling novel by author Diana Gabaldon, "Outlander" follows the journey of Claire Randall, played by Irish actress Caitriona Balfe, as World War II ends and she tries to reconnect romantically with husband Frank Randall ("Game of Thrones" and "Rome" alum Tobias Menzies). The pair spent most of the conflict apart – Frank working as a super spy, while Claire nursed soldiers.
Having originally honeymooned in Scotland, the Randalls return to the Highlands to try and find each other again, and those moments feature heavily in the series' premiere.
"We're going to get to see Claire in action, on the field, in the war, so that's quite cool. They'll be quite a bit of blood, and then, you know, we have this quite nice Frank/Claire sort of trying to rekindle their marriage," Caitriona, who is a standout as heroine Claire, told Access of what viewers (who haven't already watched the early online sneak peek) will find.
Like Claire, Frank too is working on settling back into a post-war life and relationship, using the Scottish holiday for a little ancestry research, in between intimate moments with his wife.
"He is kind of bookish and a little bit reserved and they have this quite British relationship in one sense, but... they have quite a steamy sexual relationship as well, and that's one place they kind of connect on and I think you get to see all of that, and yeah, I think it's quite fun," Caitriona added.
Fans of the book, and those who have seen photos and interviews (like on Access Hollywood) in the run up to the show's premiere, already know that Claire doesn't stay in 1945 Scotland for long. But, Caitriona said that before Claire encounters Scottish Highlanders in 1743, her original life needs to be established strongly for viewers.
"I think people are gonna be like, 'OK, we want to get to the Highlanders!' But I think it's really nice the way we're opening up, and it really shows you what Claire is about to leave and what she's gonna miss, and why she kind of tries to get back there so hard, and I think without that, you don't really get a sense of what she loses," the actress said.
The other side of the stones doesn't just feature a clan of Highlanders. There's also a familiar face in British Army Captain Jonathan Wolverton Randall, also known as Black Jack Randall, an ancestor of her 1940s husband, Frank.
"I think one of the things that attracted me was something Ron [Moore] said when I first met him, [which] was that he was interested in the way the connection between Frank and Jack, these two [men] from the same family -- obviously Jack being an ancestor of Frank's -- and that they're both men who are or have been molded by war, but the outcome is different," Tobias, who plays both roles, told Access.
As for the Highlanders, with the Brits occupying portions of their territory, they're on edge and act cautiously when Claire meets a small portion of the MacKenzie clan, led by Dougal MacKenzie ("The Hobbit's" Graham McTavish).
"We're instantly suspicious of her," Graham said. "I mean this is a person who could be a spy. We have no idea who she is."
And just to make things even more complicated (as if falling 200-plus years through a standing stone circle wasn't enough), Claire meets a redheaded young hunk who needs her help – Jamie -- played by rising star, Scottish actor Sam Heughan.
"You come into this cottage... and [it is] very dark and it's very atmospheric and [there are these] big, big guys speaking a foreign language, and it could be terrifying and yet, there's a sense between them, an unspoken thing of like, 'Who is this person?'" Sam said, discussing his character's first encounter with Claire, as he sat down for an interview on the set alongside Caitriona.
"We can tell that there's something about her that would be very beneficial to us," he added.
A captivating adventure, "Outlander" takes its own approach to storytelling, rolling out the drama with a satisfying slow burn, allowing viewers to really take things in.
At times, "Outlander" feels like an insider's tour of Scotland, showing off the breathtakingly beautiful Scottish countryside, haunting-looking historic sites (Castle Leoch is really 14th C. Doune Castle), and even providing some real Gaelic, which the Higlanders speak to each other (with behind the scenes coaching from àdhamh ó broin).
"The Borgias" alum Lotte Verbeek said the new Starz series (her character, Geillis Duncan, crops up later in the season) is unique, but relatable.
"This is very different because it does transport you to a whole different world... in so many ways. And yet, there are so many things you can relate to -- I mean, the sex and the magic of it that's just so appealing and it's very real too," she told Access. "We're doing costume drama technically, 'cause it's a different time period and we do wear those costumes... and yet it's not costume drama in that sense 'cause it's just a bit raw, and a bit more earthy, and a bit more real and dark."
"Outlander" debuts August 9 at 9 PM on Starz.
-- Jolie Lash