(first posted at outlandercast in September 2019)
Have you ever wished that the cast of Outlander would come to a place near you? Would you like to know the backstory of an Outlander Fan Convention, what is involved in organising an event and the key players?
Meet Koko Pipkin and her team of dedicated organisers and planners. She is the long-time super-fan of all things Outlander who decided to put on her own convention in Canada. Here’s my recent conversation with Koko to learn more about how these kinds of events in general and Outlandish Vancouver in particular gets done.
First can you tell me a bit about yourself, and how you became an Outlander fan?
I grew up primarily in the United States and my background is in x-ray technology, followed by a second career as a plant/soil wetland biologist. In March 2000 I took a trip to Scotland and fell in love with the country before I knew about Outlander. The following May while travelling in Turkey, I went to an English bookstore and bought the fattest book on the shelf to read. That book was Dragonfly in Amber.
I was later surprised to learn that this was actually the SECOND book in the series and went to find more books by Diana Gabaldon. Her books had me hooked and I eagerly awaited each new release. Years later, I was thrilled to learn that my favourite book series was to become a STARZ television adaptation.
In 2014, I organized a fundraiser to take place during the Random House OutlanderFan Retreat for Diana’s latest book release, in Seattle, Washington. With Erin Conrad and others, we helped to raise more than $4,000 to donate to one of Diana’s charities, Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos. (Side note, isn’t it great how many folks associated with Outlanderdo such valuable charity work? Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, literally meaning Our little brothers and sisters, is a charitable organization that has provided a home for thousands of orphans and abandoned children since 1954. Currently NPH has homes in nine Latin American countries).
I attended as many screenings and premieres of Outlander that I could in the U.S. and later was able to make it to some conventions held in Europe (JIBLand, Highlanders,LandCon). Some smaller enjoyable events I attended in the United States include Thru the Stones (Iowa), Outlander in the City (New York), and Novel Adventures Gathering on the Ridge in North Carolina.
I understand that your Outlandish Vancouver event has grown organically from smaller beginnings? Can you describe how this came about?
Outlandish Vancouver originally started as a small number of book fans from Seattle and Canada who went to see Diana Gabaldon in Surrey, BC. It grew into a group pilgrimage to see Diana during the free book signing sponsored by the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SiWC) after the show aired in 2014. It was then that we first had several organised activities in Surrey and New Westminster, British Columbia. After meeting and hosting Àdhamh Ó Broin (the OutlanderGaelic consultant) in Seattle, we invited him to meet more fans during the trip to Surrey in 2016. He met fans, taught them the basics of Gaelic, and we had our first “Party in the Suite” during that visit.
Koko and friends at the first ‘Party in the Suite’ with special guest Àdhamh Ó Broin
The unique and fun event grew over the years, adding more Outlander cast members as guests and more activities throughout the weekend where Outlanderfans could meet and hang out with some of their favourite actors, in addition to seeing Diana.
The event has also become structured with offerings closer to a larger convention yet keeping attendance smaller and more intimate like the original small events that our repeat attendees love. As the event grew out of Outlander book fans visiting their favourite author at the SiWC, we have always built in a block of free time during the Outlandish Vancouver weekend event for our attendees to visit Diana during the SiWC free book signing.
Each activity during the event weekend has a block of time unto itself, so one unique factor about Outlandish Vancouver is that attendees will not miss anything since there are no overlapping or concurrent activities.
At what point did you decide, yes, I can do this, and it became an Outlander convention?
It happened gradually. The first year we sold tickets to a Gaelic talk and the first “Party in the Suite.” Our special guest was Àdhamh, whom I had known and hosted previously in Seattle. The next year we added a cast member, David Berry, so we knew that we had to offer additional activities throughout the weekend, as our attendees were now coming from far and wide. We added a dinner called “Ardsmuir Prison” with the Governor Lord John Grey (David Berry), a second Suite Party, and some traditional convention activities like panel talks, professional photograph and autograph sessions, and small group meet-and-greet sessions. The next year there were supposed to be again two guests, Steven Cree and César Domboy, and the format was going to be similar to the previous year. We then had the opportunity to add two additional cast guests to our weekend and the weekend quickly grew to a full-fledged convention with attendees coming from all over the United States and four countries.
Did you have a team working with you at the start, or was it just you?
I had done much of the planning and organising on my own until recently, but have always relied on a small group of dedicated friends to help with the weekend’s activities as well as to consult with during the planning phase.
Sunday brunch with John Bell and his mother at last years event
I understand that ‘Outlander Adventures’ is a not-for-profit organisation. Does that mean that your team are all volunteers?
Yes! We just became a non-profit in Washington in June, which means that all monies go directly to producing the event. The Outlandish Vancouver team are all wonderful friends of mine who donate their time and talents all year to help plan and prepare for the weekend. This includes paying for their own travel expenses to attend and staff the event. By engaging volunteer staff, we can keep the event costs as low as possible and pass those savings on to our attendees. We do pay for the security for the event and high school students who run the A/V equipment during the panels.
Can you describe the team and the special skills or contributions they make?
All Outlandish Vancouver team members have past personal and professional experience planning, running and/or volunteering at events, as well as decades of financial and business management. Everyone on the team also has an extensive background in various customer service roles. Some roles within the team are unique, such as managing orders, inventory, and the spreadsheet; while everyone helps with completing registration, being a personal assistant, logistics, site visits, and green room management.
The team with the 2018 guests, John Bell, Steven Cree, César Domboy and Lauren Lyle – smiles all round.
I am an ideas person, I throw out ideas all year and the other team members (Samantha, Karin, Crafty, and Martine) all help me to either actualise those ideas or make suggestions to make the idea better. I am a believer in visualisation leading to actualisation and everyone makes that happen as a team. Darrin is our photographer and his specialty is weddings, so we are fortunate to have him since he is the one who provides the lasting memories of fans with the cast. This year will be our third with him and he has frequently been noted as one of the best convention photographers.
As a not-for-profit, cash flow could be a problem? How do you manage that?
As the organiser, I handle all the financial and contract items; however, I rely heavily on the team as consultants and investors of both time and money, especially in the early planning stages before tickets sales generate income.
Super fan Cathie McQuistion is known for her cool and sometimes quirky photo ops with the cast.
The paddle boat looks like fun
How do you go about engaging the guests to appear at your event?
As a frequent attendee of other fan events, my team and I have made several contacts with cast members and their management over the years. The process is usually quite straight forward. We approach the cast member’s management with an event idea, give them the dates, preliminary plan/schedule of the appearance, and see if they are interested and available. If their schedule is free and they are interested in being a guest, then we move on to the next phase of the process, which is discussing contract details, fees, requirements, etc. Both last year and this year we were extremely blessed to have had multiple cast members approach us asking if they could attend our event.
What gems of wisdom would you have for anyone else considering starting up a local Outlander event? Any sage advice or pitfalls to avoid?
I often see on social media fans responding to cast members asking them “why don’t you come to my city?” The reality is that many of the cast would love to do events — the key is that they need to be invited to come! As much as they all love their fans, this would be a paid appearance, so the offer to visit must also come with a financial agreement, which usually must include travel expenses and accommodations, an appearance fee, ground transportation at home and the host city, visas to visit the host country, security, and meals/per diem or a combination of both. If you are not able to financially cover the event expenses yourself, it is very important to line up trusted investors.
As a rule, an organiser cannot announce a cast member will be appearing at your event or sell things like photographs with them, autographs, etc., until the contracts are signed and the deposit is received by the actor or their management.
Deposits range from 10-20% of the appearance fee. Remember, too, that there are risks involved in booking actors to attend events. If their filming schedules change, they may need to cancel an announced appearance. While this is disappointing for all involved, including the actor, it could result in having to refund money for any extras bought for that actor, and/or finding last minute replacements, which could be stressful, time consuming, and expensive.
Meeting and greeting with David Berry in 2017
What will be the highlights of Outlandish Vancouver this year?
Having Diana Gabaldon join us on our Fraser River Cruise on Sunday afternoon will be the highlight and capstone experience of the weekend! Last year our attendees all loved the riverboat cruise with the cast. Her attendance is a true honour and a real treat.
A perennial favourite is always the Party in the Suite. We have limited the attendance at these parties so that no more than 10 fans will be in each suite with the cast guests to ensure the intimacy of this small group activity. Also, as an event held in Canada, we have three actors who are all Canadian and First Nations attending as guests this year. This will be their first Outlander convention and they are all looking forward to October.
A highlight of last year was celebrating John Bells’s 21st Birthday
In what ways is your event different from others?
One unique feature is that even though we have six guests coming this year, attendees will not miss anything if they choose to attend every single activity. Nothing in the schedule overlaps. While many attendees opt to purchase a package that includes multiple activities on each day of the event, we have many local fans that opt to just attend the types of activities that interest them.
Some just come for the Sunday paddleboat cruise. Some only want to be a part of the Friday Night Mix & Mingle or the Saturday Party in the Suite. Some just want to come to the panels on Saturday and/or Sunday and hear their favourite actors talk.
Guests this year are Carmen Moore, Keith Fleming, Braeden Clark, Sera-Lys McArthur, Ed Speleers and John Bell
A fan can attend only the Saturday panel for a cost of $40 USD or they can go as deep as they want to immerse themselves into each experience. There is price point for almost every budget with ticket packages and an a la carte ticket menu. While some activities are sold out, many opportunities remain to enjoy the event weekend and meet the cast. There are a few Wilderness Ticket Packages available, which includes the Fraser River Cruise with Diana in attendance. All ticket descriptions along with an event outline are available on our website: www.OutlandishVancouver.com
Thanks for your time Koko. Wishing you well for a successful Outlandish Vancouver event this year.
(First posted at outlandercast March 2018)
In the usual Outlander way, it was a number of connections across continents that led me to Outlander embroiderer and general all-round costume and stitchery whiz, Liz Boulton. Liz worked in the costume department of Outlander for Seasons 1 through 3 and was there from the beginning when only six people were in the workroom. Those numbers eventually swelled to 75!
I had a chance recently to attend a talk by Liz to the Embroiderers Guild in Glasgow and then sat down for a private conversation with her. Her talk, “Behind the Scenes of Outlander,” was a fascinating mix of the story of Outlander and the ways in which the costume department works to bring the characters to life on our screens. As we all know, the attention to detail is amazing and with Terry Dresbach at the helm, it’s a creative process and the standards are high. Here are the highlights of what I learned from Liz that day about her work as a costuming artist and what it’s like to work onOutlander.
Liz wanted to be a costume designer ever since the time she saw Swan Lake as a child – she was captivated by the costumes of the dancers. But she got waylaid studying science at university and gradually made her way into the world of costume when she participated in university amateur theatre groups. She designed and made costumes for those groups and then became a professional, working in TV, theatre and movies.
She is actually a huge Outlander fan, and way back when the first book was released, her sister, being an embroiderer as well, was attracted by the original UK title, Cross Stitch. Of course she soon found out it had nothing to do with sewing, but by then she was hooked! When Liz heard that her favourite book series was being made into a TV show, and that the studio was literally around the corner from where she lives, she decided that she would really like to be involved with the project. So, she got in touch with the right people and scored herself a position in the costume department.
Liz has worked on many garments for all the seasons so far and gave these special insights into their construction. Not only do they have to make and decorate many garments from scratch, but they also have to alter existing garments and mend rips and tears. They also often need to make several different versions of one garment. Because the scenes are not necessarily shot in sequence, they may have to make versions of a garment to show it progressively deteriorating and getting torn and dirtier, as the characters live out their lives and adventures. The dyeing department works on making the garments look filthy and worn out!
A good example of this is one of Claire’s very early garments, the “shift” she wears going through the stones the first time. They made 12 of these, and then the dye and breakdown process took the new garments to different stages of the transformation from her 1940s belted dress, through to the version after she has ripped the dress to shreds to bandage Jamie!
As another example, they made 15 versions of Jamie’s shirt, and 6 versions of Claire’s bloody WWII apron.
Liz became the “fit model’ for Mrs Fitz’s dress, and she has lost count of how many bum rolls they made. She and her colleague, Fiona, did the quilting on Colum’s banyan, and it shrank during the dyeing process and they had to do it all over again!
Claire’s wedding dress was a big challenge, and a complex, collaborative, creative process. Liz did the “stomacher” (the decorated triangular panel that fills in the front opening of a woman’s gown or bodice) for the wedding dress. And she incorporated an ‘Easter egg’ into the petticoat (an Easter egg is an intentional inside joke, hidden message or image, or secret feature of a piece of creative work). Terry Dresbach’s dog, Cuilean, was there a lot and as a little nod to him, Liz embroidered a near life-size dog bone into the fabric.
There was a minor crisis in the construction of Geillis Duncan’s pixie-hood jacket. Remember the one she wore when Claire and Geillis are walking in the forest and Claire discovers the fairy changeling? The scene was due to be filmed in three days and the fabric still had not arrived. So they had to use other fabric, and make compromises and creative changes to get the jacket made up on time.
In Season 2, Liz also worked with the set decoration department, and made the Fleur-de-lys designs for the horses’ blankets in Louis’ stables at Versailles, and the Coat of Arms for Louis’ bedhead.
For Louise de Rohan’s turquoise silk dress, the zigzagging to finish the ruffled edging alone took a week to complete. They made matching collars for the monkey, but the monkey would not wear them!
Liz hand embroidered the big flower on the front of the dress that Claire wore in the garden of Versailles, and included an Easter egg for Caitriona Balfe. Since Caitriona is a cat lover, Liz embroidered a tiny cat’s paw print into the garment as a nod to Caitriona’s cat, Eddie.
The garment that Liz most enjoyed working on was Master Raymond’s jacket. She was given a brief to research 18thcentury diseases that might be able to be cured or relieved by an apothecary of that time. She found several, including yellow fever and gout, and incorporated these into the design as well as the hand of knowledge and the tree of life.
In this hooded jacket, the embroidered design was of leaves taken from the weave of the fabric. Liz added a strawberry for the Frasers.
One of the costume challenges for Season 3 was that Laura Donnelly (Jenny Murray) was pregnant (in real life) and was due to give birth before the filming started, so they did not really know what her measurements were going to be in order to design her outfits.
Season 3 brought some new directions due to the 20-year gap that elapsed since Season 2. Terry Dresbach wanted to reflect the realities of the times, as times were hard at Lallybroch and the clothing should show that hardship. Clothes that Claire and Jamie wore 20 years earlier in Paris should appear faded now, and could be remodeled, as would have happened in those days when people kept their clothing for a lifetime. Also, Marsali got Claire’s hand-me-downs, so the green cloak and one of Claire’s earlier dresses were remodeled for Marsali to wear.
Terry wanted Fergus to have a lovely scarf for his wedding. Liz embroidered a repeat pattern on Fergus’ scarf and added a thistle motif to represent Marsali and a fleur-de-lys to represent Fergus. Such beautiful details, which we viewers may not be able to fully appreciate. On Marasli’s fichus (a large, triangular kerchief worn by women to fill in the low neckline of a bodice), Liz incorporated a couple of little Easter eggs – F&M and M loves F.
Working in the Outlandercostume department, Liz says, meant long hours working sometimes under a lot of pressure to meet deadlines and coping with the unexpected. Improvisation and compromise were often called for.
She recalls fun times too. It was often a source of amusement because she was an Outlanderbook reader and knew the story lines and what was coming. Her coworkers found it hard to believe that there were zombies and pirates coming up in Season 3. Liz even had a few samples that she had been working on to be used in Season 4, but these were top secret!
Liz Boulton (left) discusses the fabrics with our Outlander friends who also attended the talk. Next to Liz is Séverine Peyrichou, from Outlandish UK, Outlandish Bakers & the French Outlander group, Chardon & Tartan_Sur Nos Ecrans and next to her is Mags Lang from Outlandish UK.
Thank you for the time, Liz! It was a pleasure to listen to the talk, and speak with you about your work on Outlander.
Which was your favourite Outlander outfit so far? If you could ask a question about it what would you ask?
Photo acknowledgements: thanks to Liz Boulton, Terry Dresbach (Twitter & blog) and Outlander Starz.
(First posted at outlandercast November 2017)
The fun began on BAFTAs-minus-one when my house started to fill up (yes, it’s a small house) with youthful red carpet aficionados. Doris came up from London and Sabrina flew in from Germany — talk about dedication. While waiting for Sabrina, Doris and I decided to get into the mood (that’s the word here) by watching Emulsion, a movie starring Sam Heughan in his pre-Outlander days. Then, on a lighter note, we indulged in a few of our fave episodes of our fave show, with a wee dram. Doris’ first taste of whisky, not sure she was very keen but I explained that it is an acquired taste!
Once Sabrina was there, it was all action with these two fan girls buzzing with excitement and planning for the next day’s activities, starting with the Christmas menu (particularly egg nog apparently) at their beloved Starbucks! There was a military precision to their planning – these are seasoned campaigners. They knew what time to arrive and the best places to stand. Getting there really early enhances your chances of “bumping into” the stars who arrive to stay at the hotel. Being a newbie, and one who doesn’t like to stand still in the freezing cold for too many hours, I was taking a more casual approach to the whole thing and said I’d meet them down there sometime later.
The official start time for the red carpet was 5 pm so I started moseying down at about 3. I figured I could stand a few hours in the cold, waiting for the action, jostling for positions. First person I spotted was friend Morag, local gal, so when I saw her wearing UGG boots I knew we were in for Baltic conditions. Usually Morag wears really light shoes with no socks for activities when I’m wearing jackboots and about 4 pairs of socks! She’s a tough Scottish lass, so, I knew it was serious.
A wee digression about the BAFTAs as I know a lot of Outlander fans don’t get why Outlander wasn’t even nominated this year. It’s all about timing. The 2017 awards are given for shows that air between July 2016 and June 2017, so of course, Outlander missed that timeframe. As a result, there wasn’t a big Outlander contingent at the awards. Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan were presenting the award for Best Feature Film and Richard Rankin was there with his fellow cast members from The Replacement.They won the Best TV show award. And Richard also presented the award for Best Director Factual.
Now, back to the day
Lucky me — I live a 15-minute walk from the Raddisson Blu Hotel, home to the Scottish BAFTA ceremony. Crowds were gathering and as soon as I got there Richard came out to be swamped by fans. He took it on the chin and was sweet to everyone …. Don’t we all LOVE his portrayal of Roger, the subtle ways he has made the character his own? Like when he bumped his head on the car bonnet and the way he pronounces Boston cream pie!
It was a long chilly wait until our favourites showed up on the carpet. But as usual the crowd was filled with lots of good humoured camaraderie and happy banter. Some people are so well organised (oops, not me!). Doris and Sabrina even had original copies Caitriona’s New York Timesarticle for her to sign! Many come with clipboards to ensure they get the best signatures and don’t crumple their pictures. It’s a big deal. For me, I had decided to focus on getting some short videos and pictures to post here and on Outlander Cast Clan Gathering Facebook page.
In order of Outlanderred carpet appearances, Richard Rankin arrived first looking stunning in a modern take on a traditional kilt ensemble sans tartan …. very stylish … and accompanied by his equally stylish co-star in The Replacement, well known Scottish actress Morven Christie.
Sam and Caitriona were the red carpet scene stealers for sure. They arrived closely together. Balfe emerged first in a beautiful (as usual) black number; then Heughan rounded the corner all in steel blue. As my Outlander Cast editor, Ashley Crawley, remarked, “Those two should have to pay taxes for looking that good.”
Those two were so generous with their time, as usual, taking their time meeting and greeting all the fans on the red carpet, chatting, signing all sorts of papers and objects, and of course taking all those selfies. It was fun to meet them but of course its only a fleeting moment. Still, the pics are there to show how much fun it was.
I teamed up with a glorious green-haired lass (I wonder how you say that in Gaelic?!) who helped me out big time when my phone started to freeze up at a crucial moment. Ashley Brown was a hoot, of all things a Texan make-up artist in Glasgow. Thanks to her for pictures and fun times chilling-out (literally) at the barrier. That’s one of the things you probably all know – when you go to any kind of Outlander-related event, you just meet the loveliest people.
When it was all done and dusted, we went inside to the warmth of the hotel bar and had our beverages of choice to warm up and debrief about all the fun. And the best thing? Next year, Outlander will be right up there in the running, so let’s keep our fingers crossed for our favourite actors and our favourite show.
Would love to hear about your red-carpet experiences below. Have you met Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe? Do tell!
(First posted at outlandercast October 2017)
We Outlander zealots seem to have a lot in common, and when we get together there is endless easy high-energy chat and lots of fun. And then people start to talk about the emotions, what hooked them on Outlander, etc. And I find that everyone has a unique and fascinating story with some common threads and some striking differences.
For me, I think the central aspect to my addiction (yep, you can relate) was the concept of the Sassenach, the outlander, the woman out of time and place, and the ways in which she meets all the challenges thrown at her. This led me to my gap year in Scotland, which is now well under way with all the ups and downs of settling in a new and unfamiliar place.
With my Sassenach tiara firmly in place, I headed from Glasgow to Paris last weekend for the Land Con Outlander Convention, put on by Wevents Production. What better way to put myself way out of my comfort zone than to go and hang out in a country where I can’t speak the lingo! Sure, the first two days would be spent with like-minded folks, all in the same place for the same experience. But, after that I would have a couple of days free-wheelin’ in Paris alone.
This event was my second con experience, and quite different from the first because it was a bilingual convention and each and every session was translated from French to English and vice versa. To be candid, this turned out to be a bit of a pain in the ass after a while because it really interfered with spontaneity. Half the audience would be laughing, and then the joke was translated for the other half of the audience. The epitome of lost in translation.
Right from the start, I teamed up with fellow Outlander Cast Clan Gathering member Sonja De Pot, which was great. It is such fun to meet people from different parts of the world. Sonja is Belgian, familiar with Paris, speaks French and also she had the most deluxe ticket you could buy. In contrast, I was a late starter and bought the most basic ticket at the last minute. Yep, I’m also a disorganized Sassenach!
For those of you who haven’t been to one of these conventions, there is an incredible sliding scale of costs involved. A basic ticket gets you in to all the main panel sessions on stage, a deluxe ticket has all the trimmings. And all the other one-to-one, small group stuff—autographs, photos, parties, etc.—get purchased as “extras.” When the actors aren’t on stage in the main auditorium, they’re out there on the hustings—signing autographs, having pictures taken or participating in “private lounges.”
Sonja went to the welcome party on Friday evening—those with deluxe tickets gathered to meet the actors before the convention started. Only three of them could make it: Steven Cree, Richard Rankin and Sophie Skelton. For one hour, they mingled with fans, but it was a noisy room and, although the actors did their best, it was very difficult to hear and understand the conversation. But a first impression is important and they sparkled and were easy to talk to.
On Saturday morning, the foyer was filled with Outlandish folk posing and performing in Highland Dress as well as the costumes of the French Court. They opened the show with a performance on stage—complete with sword fighting and Highland dancing. A super-charged start to the convention, which had the audience buzzing with anticipation!
Sonja’s deluxe ticket saw her sitting up the front of the auditorium so all the good pictures in this post are courtesy of Sonja! She was also able to attend two private lounges—a small group chat—20 fans with one of the actors. She met with Sam Heughan and Richard Rankin and had some highlights from those private lounge encounters.
Sam was very relaxed and it was so easy to ask him questions. Most of the questions weren’t Outlanderrelated at all. He announced that they start filming Season 4 next week and talked about how they get prepared for the new season, the costumes, make-up etc. He talked about his charity Bloodwise and Camellia, a new trial in the treatment of blood cancer. And of course, he talked about whisky and he revealed that he is making his own. Let’s wait for that! Movies, series and theater, he has done it all. Filming is the easiest to do and although he loved making the movie [The Spy Who Dumped Me] with Mila Kunis, his heart lies with theater.
Richard was so natural, full of humor and funny. He revealed he really wanted to play another role of an upcoming bad guy (you know, SB!) but got stuck with Roger! Being a Scot, he drinks whisky but he also really likes beer, especially the Belgian beers, American beers… but the English ones, not so much. A lot of the questions were about Outlander, his role as Roger, the part of Brianna and working with Caitriona Balfe and Sam. He talked about the upcoming season, where his role will be much greater. He’s crossing his fingers for a Season 5. Us too!
But then it was time for the main event… after we heard the rules—no filming of the panel sessions, only still photography allowed and no photos in any of the small sessions. Then to wild music and wild squeals of excitement, the fab four came on stage: Steven Cree (kilted!), Richard Rankin, Sophie Skelton and César Domboy. There was lots of fun banter and stumbling hilarious attempts at French … Je m’appelle Steven … said Cree to hoots from the audience. Of course, César stole the show being totally bilingual and switching easily between the two languages to the delight of the audience.
Here are a few highlights of the Q&A sessions that the actors did over the two days, roughly in order of appearance.
Who’s your favorite character to work with?
Well, he didn’t want to offend anyone, but since he’s been in most scenes with Sam… Although wait a minute, his absolute favorite was the little Lallybroch dog in Season 1, Pan. “C’est chien est formidable”—another of his little attempts at French!
One woman got up and said, “You’re my favourite secondary character” to which he took great mock offense, yelled out “SECONDARY?!”, got up and stormed off the stage. Yep. Great whoops of laughter from the audience.
What’s it like working with Jenny (Laura Donnelly)? Does he like his fictional wife? Would he like to be married to her?
He likes the dynamic between them—Jenny is fiery and Ian is calm, often the voice of reason. No, he wouldn’t like to be married to her. Although, having a strong woman by your side is a good thing in life. Also, they seem to have quite a lot of fun in the bedroom. We usually see them in scenes where Jenny is angry with Jamie, maybe Ian and Jenny are calm together at other times.
How were you chosen for the role of Ian Murray?
“Well it’s the usual process, your agent phones you, they send you a script and you audition with the casting director. Most times you don’t get the job, but this time, I did.’
Steven told how he had auditioned previously for the part of Dougal, but that wasn’t to be. He said when he read the part of Ian, he felt an affinity with the character, felt that he could play that guy.
When asked about his current project—Outlaw King with Chris Pine—it was a case of mums the word. His lips were sealed.
You don’t look like Ian? What’s the process for preparing to play him?
“Well, there’s the wig, and make-up. 80-90% of the work is done by costume and make-up. When you play a character you already have some of the qualities and you add some, facial expressions etc.” He mentioned that in Season 1, he was 9 or 10 kilos heavier.
It was a whole different story when César got up on stage. Being totally comfortable in both languages, it was more free flowing but also harder to follow for those who were unilingual—i.e., me. But César impressed with his confident, relaxed, very happy and brimming with energy self.
The first thing he talked about was Romann Berrux, the young Fergus, who he said was sooooo good as the character. He wanted to meet and spend time with Romann, and he wished to be faithful to the young Fergus in the way he played the character. He wants us to see the young Fergus in him as he moves forward with the adult Fergus. He got the audience to do a big rousing cheer for Romann, which he recorded to send to him.
Does he identify with Fergus?
Well yes, he had fun playing Fergus, but no he didn’t grow up in a brothel.
How were you cast as Fergus?
He went to the audition not knowing anything about the show. He wanted to approach it “fresh” and now he’s glad he approached it that way because if he had’ve known too much about the show, the stakes would’ve been too high. He actually thought he was auditioning for an American show where he might be in a couple of episodes. When he found that he had this huge part, he felt very excited.
How do you like filming? What’s it like working with Sam Heughan?
“We [spent] 5 months in Scotland and then we went to South Africa. Everyone is so nice. Sam is so down to earth, very generous. He kind of has the same relationship with Sam that Fergus and Jamie have. Sam is very supportive to him and he’s just “f*@king amazing!” He loves him! He also loves working with Caitriona.
Since he’s a newbie, he got closer to Lauren Lyle, who was cast as Marsali, and says she’s like a sister to him; they are good friends. “It’s a very happy workplace with good people.’
What’s it like to go from working on movies to a TV series?
He loves that he will get to create, portray and develop a character over many years. He laughed that eventually they will have to get an older actor because he will never be 40!
What was it like meeting Romann Berrux? Does he remind you of yourself at that age?
First impression was that he is so small! He’s a bit like the young Fergus—he wants to grow up! “I was not as mature at that age as he is. Nor did I have that energy and ambition.” And he couldn’t speak English when he was that age either, so he really admires Romann being able to play an English-speaking part. He could go on forever about Romann.
Has he read the books?
No. He thinks it is a good way to keep a fresh approach and also to reduce his anxiety about growing old! He thinks Fergus is a modern kind of guy—a feminist—that’s why he gets on so well with Claire; he gets her. He would love to see Fergus going through the stones to modern times; he thinks he would fit in and really love it!
When shooting in South Africa—on a pirate boat—it was like the dream he had of being an actor when he was a child. The fake waves and the whole set made it easy to act.
How did you get the name César?
“My parents were not particularly into history—they were just pretentious.” Laughs! Not many are called César, besides hotels and salads.
Do you change your voice to play Fergus?
No, he uses his own voice. There was some discussion about him introducing a Scottish accent, but he loves the Scottish people too much to pretend; it wouldn’t be consistent. He didn’t know any of the history of Scotland before starting Outlander—he thought he was really dumb, but they don’t learn about that in school in France.
Sam Heughan made a surprise entrance during César’s Q&A session. This caused a huge reaction form the audience, of course, and the two of them embraced warmly and proceeded to have fun and joke around with each other. Sam said he would take over interviewing César, and they played around with that before the session was wound up and they left the stage with a promise of more to come.
Your best memory of Outlander?
“There are no good memories, they’re all so mean to me!”Really, he recalls the day at Kinloch Rannoch (Craigh na Dun)—the first day they were filming, it was torrential rain and they had to come back another day two months later to complete the scene. That day there was not a breath of wind, they started filming at midnight, it was so tranquil and they could see deer off in the distance. The moon looked so unreal that they had to use a fake moon in the show. It was a bizarre and surreal experience. He also loved the scenes driving Roger’s car.
Which character would you like to be if you couldn’t play Roger?
Bouton—le chien (little stab at French again!)
Really he would like to be the bad guy in Drums of Autumn—of course he can’t name him. He also would’ve loved to be BJR… and not just for the sex scenes with Sam! But of course you couldn’t beat Tobias Menzies in that role.
What are your favourite things about Roger?
Roger appealed to him as a great part to play. He has a great range, a great story arc, he changes, he adapts and evolves. He is really looking forward to telling the story of such an admirable, loyal and strong character.
Is it really never to early for a whisky?
“Well, I can’t publicly condone drinking whisky in the morning – wink. But we are required by Scottish law to like whisky.” And if all those people who sent him biscuits would like to change to whisky, he would have no objection. He particularly fancies 25-year old Macallan, or Laphroaig—hint, hint.
What’s it like to work with Caitriona Balfe and Sophie Skelton?
“Awful, bad—I don’t want to do it anymore!” Clearly, a joke. He had a chemistry test with Sophie, and they hit the ground running. They have common objectives for the story of the pair—the same beats—they understand each other’s characters, and how to move the relationship forward. Caitriona and Sam were both very welcoming when they joined the cast. He loves working with Caitriona because she is so giving, always with you in a scene even when the camera is not on her. She is very supportive.
What about some of your other projects? What was it like to work on The Crimson Field?
That was a story of nurses in World War I was an important story. The costumes and the set allowed you to immerse yourself in the character and the story. He took a lot from that show as an actor, he learned about working with real historical facts. Overall, it was a great experience and very valuable to him.
Why did you audition for Outlander?
Ha! “Because I had no job!” Not really. When Outlanderfirst came to Scotland, he was aware of the profound effect it had on the film and TV industry. And on tourism. He knew about that and it piqued his interest.
When they started casting, he tried for various parts—looking into it as well as learning about the books and the fans. He read the books and really enjoyed them. Certain characters really popped out at him and, at the time, there was speculation on social media about him as a potential cast member. He gave a lot of thought to such a long-term commitment, but he loved the process of Roger’s storyline as it develops, viewing it as an exciting prospect.
How do you feel about the character of Geillis Duncan? How do you play a character like that?
Geillis is essentially like all people—we all have a darker and a lighter side. “I had to talk to the ‘killer’ in me to make the character come alive. People aren’t black and white; they are in colour. As an actor you can’t take killing from your personal experience, so I connected with the reason she does it—the passion for her cause.”
Would you like to live in the 1740s?
“Yes, if I could come back! It’s great being an actor because you can go into these worlds… and then come back to a comfy bed at night.”
Your favourite lines?
“They say I’m a witch,” and even though I wanted to cut it out, ‘Looks like we’re going to a f*&king barbecue’ has become an iconic line from the show. The kind of line that appears on coffee cups.” And of course that other iconic line from Geillis, “Sometimes you find yourself on a path you never expected. That doesn’t mean it can’t lead you to a bonny place.”
Gellis wants to change history. What would you change?
“Yes, there are things in the past I would like to change, also stuff that’s happening in the world now. Geillis was an idealist from the ’60s; even though she is willing to commit murder for her ideals, her passion for her beliefs is admirable.”
What are your most memorable scenes?
“The dance in the forest was a real experience. The days were very short, so we had to film it on two separate occasions. The first night she was dancing, but the second night she just had to lie there in the freezing cold, half-naked and not moving!”
Working with James Spader was very intense. He has to get every detail right. The show is shot very quickly and he makes sure that everything that could be better will be better. He lifts the material up—it is very impressive. She has done a lot of historical dramas and jokes with her friends that she hopes she will make it to the present. Her next project is The Book of Vision and she will spend the next two moths shooting in Brussels. She plays two characters—one in the present time and one in the 18thcentury. Sound familiar? She joked that part of her contracts from now on states that she only plays 18thcentury characters!
What was the casting process like for Geillis?
When she got the call, she said to her agent that it probably wasn’t much use to audition for a character that was supposed to be a tall red-headed Scottish woman. But her agent said, why not just go and have fun with it? And the rest is history. In her audition, she read the scene in the herb garden and was pleased that the producers were open to a different look. She originally sent in an audition tape for the part of Claire and heard that 10 seconds in to the watching that tape, Matt Roberts said, “She will be Geillis.”
HEUGHAN AND CREE—THE TERRIBLE TWO
How many Munros have you bagged?
Sam: 21. Steven says he has only tea-bagged (ahem and ewwww) a few. That Steven Cree humour was evident from the first sentence!
Your favourite Scottish legends?
Sam mentions that there are lots in our history—stories of the clans, like the Callanish Stones on Isle of Lewis. “We have stones of course, but ours are made of foam and right now they are sitting looking a little bit sad at the studio,” The stories of the Picts and the Romans are fascinating. The Picts went into battle naked covered in grease so the enemy couldn’t grab them; it would be good to do that to Steven!
Does working on Outlander make you more interested in the campaign for Scottish independence?
Sam said that they’ve had two votes on independence now and there are parallels with the situation in Spain. He was quite involved in the early campaign. On the day when the result was announced, they were shooting the scene of Jamie’s rescue from Wentworth. It was a dark and grey day—the weather and the mood on set.
Steven said that he didn’t choose to be Scottish, but he’s happy to be Scottish. He wasn’t in Scotland at the time of the vote, but he’s interested in how it engaged and politicized young people. He found it to be very divisive and would really love to see the world coming together.
Which Season of Outlander do you like the best?
Sam: “Season 3: it has a great story line for Jamie, and it has the print shop!”Shouts of excitement from the audience! The whole scale is increased and there is a lot of good stuff coming.
Steven: “Well in Season 2 all I did was to walk into a room and point at a map.” In Season 1 it was all new and exciting and he loved the cart scene with Jamie and killing Horrocks. These scenes gave him something do as an actor other than standing in the background nodding at Jenny.
Any fun facts or moments together at drama school?
Steven said Sam hated him at drama school because he was wild and sexy (“sexIST,” Sam interjected) and drank a lot. One night they were at a bar, Steven was drunk and he felt Sam’s biceps and asked him if he worked out. Another morning Steven woke up after a party with a black eye and no idea how he got it, and wonders if maybe Sam gave it to him. No answer was offered, just laughter!
The chat was interrupted when suddenly Steven Cree had Gary Lewis on speaker phone, drew him into the conversation and had the audience calling out their greetings.
How have you grown and evolved as actors since being cast in Outlander?
Sam: “It has taken over my life for the last four years. It’s fun and it’s such a success. Episode 3 just had the biggest number of viewers ever. It has a long way to go, and it’s great—a real machine.”
Steven: “It’s different for me than for Sam. There is not so much pressure as there is in being the lead of a TV show.” It’s a big thing to go from obscurity (lots of laughs here) to the pressure that has been on Sam and Caitriona. “Some actors turn into real dicks, but Sam was a dick already, so there was no problem! He went on to add, “actually, it pains me to say it’s a credit to Sam the way he conducts himself, he leads the company.” Also, according to Cree, Sam’s biceps have grown and he’s had a penis enlargement (lots of playing around with strategically placed microphones at this point) and you’ll see it in Season 4.
SOPHIE SKELTON AND RICHARD RANKIN
Do you relate to your characters?
Richard says they have to. “The way we go about it depends on the actor—I do research as part of my preparation. Roger is very different to me.” Sophie interjected here with, “Yes, he’s sweet and sensitive”and Richard continued, “yes, he’s intelligent and I’m not. Ha! He’s everything I want to be.”
Of Bree, Sophie says, “well, Bree is stubborn, bratty and hot-headed! She does tend to think before diving in, whereas Claire just dives in— perhaps I share some of those characteristics.”
A fun fact about filming?
Richard: “She farts a lot! No! only kidding. We laugh and carry on and muck about on set.” One day they got stuck in the snow with the guy who looks after the cars. Richard insisted he could turn the car around and he reversed it into a big pile of snow— just as the executive producers drove by and witnessed the scene. The guy was panicking about his vintage cars.
How do you prepare for filming?
Sophie: “Lots of coffee. We start very early—like 4 a.m. for hair and make-up and maybe line changes. You have to learn some new lines for the day. I do gym and ballet to wake myself up.”
Richard says his approach is to keep well, stay fit, eat well, sleep well and learn your lines. That’s in an ideal world and it doesn’t always happen that way.
Your favourite scene together?
Sophie says, “The Boston house with Claire.” Richard realises it’s a scene he wasn’t in and proceeds stomp off in a mock sulk! Then she said it was the scene where Roger bangs his head on the car—it wasn’t in the original script but Richard came up with it!
Richard said he likes all the scenes he does with Sophie. They both agreed that it was a lot of fun doing the scenes with the cars. In one scene they were chatting and didn’t hear ‘action’—they kept on talking and laughing and the director just kept the camera rolling. They were actually speculating on what would happen if a dead body was in the loch!
Who would you like to play in another show?
So, they can fight and then fly away!
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
Sophie—a surgeon, like Claire
Richard—something in the sciences, maybe an astronaut? A physicist?
If you could go through the stones, which century would you choose?
Richard loves ancient history and would like to see the height of the Roman Empire, or ancient Greece. Sophie chimes in, “he just wants to lie on a chaise lounge and be fed grapes!” She would like to go back to ancient Egypt to see how the pyramids were built.
What do you think are worthwhile causes to be involved in?
Sophie cares about helping out in local disasters and mentioned the charities they both support. Richard says his biggest cause is helping Sophie through Outlander, and he’s dedicated to it. Seriously, Richard supports the MacMillan Cancer Support charity in Scotland and Sophie supports Crohn’s & Colitis UK. Also, now that they have increasing numbers of followers on social media, they like to use this position to help raise awareness of other important causes.
SOPHIE SKELTON(later, in a solo moment)
What is the hardest thing about playing Brianna?
Working on Outlanderis very intense apart from the character you play. The Scottish weather—the wind, the snow, the rain! Brianna is a slow burner; the hardest part is to pull back and peel her layers slowly. She loves Drums of Autumn, and wants to show thatBree—the woman that everyone loves. Brianna is guarded and its hard to hold back and not show the whole Brianna. “As an actor, that is in your head, so it’s quite hard.”
When you travel, where are you most as home in the world?
She spent a lot of time in Scotland as a child, has family there and feels very comfortable and at home. It’s ironic that when she and Richard started working together and doing some research for their parts, they went to the Highlands and to Culloden. She found out that she had seen more of Scotland than Richard, who grew up in Glasgow. She also loves to soak up the sun and loves the Maldives—sitting on a beach, reading, sleeping.
Do you like the ’50s and ’60s costumes?
Caitriona loved them, because she was free of the heavy clothes and corsets, and the long dresses which soak up water. Sophie found the 60s stuff to be quite itchy, but at least it’s comfy and baggy and you can eat—not like when you’re in a tight corset.
How did you become an actress?
At three years old, her parents sent her to ballet school. She started in musical theater and then moved to film. She didn’t go to a drama school but preferred to learn on the job, doing various courses while working. She wanted to build up her CV that way. She had to learn to cope with rejection, adding, “You need to have a thick skin in this business.”
What’s it like to play Sam Heughan’s daughter when in real life your age difference isn’t that great?
“I have watched Sam playing Jamie, endlessly on repeat—probably more than all of you! I study his expressions and mannerisms so I can play his daughter.”
Phew, and there you have it. When it was over, I reflected upon the fact that anything that involves a crowd of people, a lot of noise and multiple days is, well, tiring. The convention was a lot of fun, but I was equally glad to move on to the rest of my Paris experience. A small Airbnb—tucked in the back streets of the Monmarte (think Moulin Rouge) area of Paris.
I had two touristy days there, seeing the sights and mumbling my schoolgirl French to buy tickets, food, whatever I needed. That part of it was quite daunting. But is was also amazing to plunge into a foreign culture and to reflect on the importance we place on the spoken word. And to wonder about why the concept of the sassenach resonates so strongly with me, and at my continued inclination to immerse myself in that experience and into the World of Outlander.
Life is strange and wonderful.
Would love to hear about your convention experiences in the comments below.