Outlander finally returned to our screens in March, kicking off its sixth season with a flashback of Jamie’s time at Ardsmuir Prison and the introduction of a new family to the Ridge, the Christies, who will be integral to this season’s storyline—no spoilers! In honor of new episodes, here are 30 fascinating behind-the-scenes facts about Outlander over the years.
Claire was the hardest role to cast.
“At the outset, I told everyone that we would find Claire first and then Jamie would be the last one cast,” Outlander showrunner Ronald D Moore said. In reality, the opposite was true. Heughan was the first person cast, whereas it took a long time to find the right Claire. “She had to be smart, she had to have a strength of character, and really, she had to be someone that you could watch think on camera. But then suddenly Caitriona’s tape came in and we had that light-bulb moment.”
Those corsets aren’t just for show.
Caitriona Balfe, who’s had to wear more than her fair share of corsets over the Outlander years, says the restrictive costumes actually help her get into character. “Once you’re sucked into these corsets, you realize just how repressed women were,” Balfe told the New York Times. “Your ability to emote, vocalize, and be physical is so restricted, purely because of the clothes.”
Gabaldon was not on board with Heughan’s casting at first.
To say the least. Her exact first impression, upon Googling Heughan’s picture? “This man is grotesque.” While the mystery of what pictures she could possibly have seen to come away with this impression remains unsolved, Gabaldon quickly reconsidered once she saw Heughan audition. “Five seconds later, Sam Heughan was GONE, and it was Jamie Fraser right there in front of me,” she has written of the moment. “True. No costume, no makeup, no props, nothing but cues from an offstage casting director, and…it was him.”
Season six will be the show’s shortest yet.
Due to both the pandemic and star Caitraiona Balfe’s pregnancy, season six will be just 8 episodes long. Previous seasons have generally been 13 episodes long, but fortunately, the upcoming season seven will be supersized with a promised 16 episodes.
Outlander’s audience isn’t as all-female as you might assume.
Though the show has been deservedly praised for targeting an older female audience that has often been underserved by primetime television, its fanbase is more split gender-wise than you might expect. “Something like 50 percent of our audience in the U.S. are men,” Heughan once told Elle. “And that’s interesting. The show wasn’t made specifically for women, you know. It just happens to have a female lead character. I think there’s something in there for every guy. There’s a lot more graphic scenes, but not just intimate scenes. There’s violence.”
Gabaldon made a cameo early in the show’s first season.
In season one, episode four, Gabaldon briefly played the role of Iona MacTavish–and wrote all about the experience on her website.
Liam Neeson and Sean Connery were both considered for the role of Jamie.
Way back before Peak TV, the Outlander adaptation was envisioned as a feature film, and Gabaldan told E!News that Liam Neeson and Sean Connery were among the contenders to play Jamie Fraser.
Though the show has jumped to a new continent, its production remains in Scotland.
In seasons four, five, and six, Jamie and Claire have begun a new life across the pond in North Carolina, but the show is still filmed in Scotland. Planning a trip? Here’s a full guide to the Outlander locations you can visit.
Balfe and Heughan’s chemistry was instant.
What sealed the deal on Balfe’s casting was her screen test with Heughan, Moore says. “We really felt that Cait was probably going to be the one but this was the final moment, this was when she literally sealed the deal and got the show… There is enough spontaneity and genuine affection and good humor between the two of them that it spoke volumes about their potential relationship.”
Murtagh was kept alive for a very specific reason.
As all Outlander fans will know, Jamie’s godfather Murtagh has survived onscreen for much longer than he does in the books. Though the character is a fan favorite, executive producer Matthew B. Roberts reveals that the choice was more practical than sentimental. “One of the reasons we kept Murtagh alive was to give Claire, and also Jamie, someone to talk to,” Roberts has explained, because the show’s reliance on voiceover to express its characters’ internal thoughts “gets old after a while.” Murtagh was a natural choice, because “the fans had grown to love him, and we loved him. Duncan is an amazing actor, so, after the first season, it became ‘All right, well, it’s a simple choice, let’s keep him alive.’”
That catchy opening credits tune is a reimagining of a traditional Scottish song.
The original song, titled “The Skye Boat Song,” tells the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie fleeing Scotland after the Battle of Culloden (which was featured in season three of the show). Outlander composer Bear McCreary tweaked the lyrics of the song, most importantly changing the word “lad” to “lass” to echo Claire’s time-traveling adventures.
Outlander was almost a Katherine Heigl movie.
The Outlander book series was optioned for a big screen adaptation several times, and at one stage was close to becoming a reality with Katherine Heigl in the role of Claire. In a 2010 interview with the New York Times, Heigl referred to Outlander as one of her next projects: “Scotland? 2012? What do you think?”
The color red is used in a very specific way on Outlander.
Moore specified during season one that the color red should not be used anywhere in the show except for in the British Redcoats uniforms. And even in this, there was a catch–Moore didn’t like the color of actual Redcoat uniforms, and instead asked the costume department to create their oown. “The one costume we could have rented lots of was Redcoats, but we couldn’t because Ron didn’t like the color of red,” costume designer Terry Dresbach (and Moore’s wife) told the Herald. “Instead, we had to dye fabric to his color specifications and make our own Redcoats. He wanted a deeper, richer red rather than a bright cherry/candy apple red.”
The show’s UK launch was reportedly pushed back in light of real political events.
Back in 2014, Outlander was originally set to premiere just weeks before a historic Scottish referendum during which Scots voted on whether to remain part of the UK, or become an independent country. Though this has (unsurprisingly) never been confirmed, the Herald reported that the UK government may have pressured Sony to delay the show’s planned 2014 launch, lest its storyline about Scottish rebels sway public opinion. The show took a while to find a UK home, and finally launched on Amazon Prime Video more than half a year after its US debut.
The first scene Balfe shot was an intense one.
Fans will surely remember the sequence from Outlander’s very first episode in which Claire tends to wounded soldiers on V-E Day. That was Balfe’s very first day on set, and there was a lot riding on it since this was also her first lead role. “There was sort of an excitement in the air,” Balfe says in the book The Making of Outlander. “I think there was also relief because I was so untested.”
Diana Gabaldon didn’t ever plan to publish her first Outlander novel.
In fact, she wrote Outlander–the 1991 novel which ultimately launched a bestselling series–as a practice run. “I knew I was supposed to be a novelist, but I didn’t know how, and I decided the way to learn was to actually write a novel,” Gabaldon told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour back in 2018. “So Outlander was my practice book. I was never going to show it to anyone, so it didn’t matter what I did with it. It didn’t have to have a genre, so I used anything that I like.”
Richard Rankin is a skilled singer in real life
Remember that Scottish festival Bree and Roger attended early in season four? Roger’s big singing performance was all Rankin. “You know what? I drove everyone absolutely nuts,” Rankin joked to ET of his preparations for that scene. “I basically spent every minute of every day learning to play that track and it drove the crew nuts, so that was fun.”
Governor Tryon is a real historical figure.
While the majority of Outlander’s characters are fictional, Tim Downie’s Governor William Tryon was a real person, and just like in the show he was hellbent on stopping the rebellious Regulator movement at all costs. “The fans have been incredibly generous considering, for all intents and purposes, I am the devil incarnate,” Downie ominously told EW of what’s to come. “It is enormous fun being given that chance to play someone so Machiavellian and twisted and power-hungry. It’s great fun. Who wouldn’t relish it?”
Sam Heughan ran two marathons while shooting the fourth season.
As you do. “I decided to run two marathons in four weeks,” Heughan casually told Us Weekly. “I beat my personal best both times … by one minute.”
Claire and Jamie’s infamous wedding night sequence took five days to shoot.
Speaking of marathons… “I think we were five days in the wedding chamber,” director Anna Foerster told Marie Claire of that unforgettable scene. Those five days were spent filming “not just the sex scenes, everything leading up to them, too, all the connective tissue.”
The show’s sex scenes are highly choreographed.
It’s no surprise that there’s nothing sexy about shooting sex scenes, but viewers may not realize just how technical things get on-set. “We taped out the floor plan of the wedding chamber, and went through a very specific choreography, movement by movement,” Foerster said of mapping out the wedding night sex. “The actors felt comfortable—they knew where to move, which direction to fall on the bed, how their hair was falling so I could capture it—it’s very technical.”
Gabaldon is a major influence on every aspect of the show.
Though the series has made several deviations from Gabaldon’s series, the author does get to personally consult on all major decisions. “We email her all the time,” executive producer Maril Davis told Parade. “She sees all the scripts. She sees dailies, and anytime we do something crazy, or we want to kind of go off the reservation a little, we always consult her first. She doesn’t always like it. For the most part, though, we always try to please her.”
Tobias Menzies slept for 12 hours after his first day filming the Battle of Culloden sequence.
Director Brendan Maher told Vulture that while both Menzies and Heughan had stunt doubles for the physically demanding sequence, neither used them much. “We had people for safety, just in case, but the nature of the work is that you want the actors to do as much as they possibly can,” Maher said. “And because the nature of their fight is personal, the camera was up close all the time. There wasn’t the opportunity to get doubles in, nor did the actors really want them. After Tobias’s first day, he slept 12 hours or something, because of the toll it took on his body. But he’s very tough.”
Outlander was originally inspired by Doctor Who.
Gabaldon has revealed that she got the initial idea for her first Outlander story while watching an old episode of the long-running British time travel series Doctor Who. “I was thinking a historical novel might be the easiest kind of book to write for practice when I happened to see a really old Doctor Who re-run,” Gabaldon told Scotland Now, adding that the character of the Doctor’s companion Jamie McCrimmon (played by Frazer Hines) inspired her in particular. “Jamie struck me with his attitude and male gallantry, and I thought the kilt was rather fetching.” Hines himself even had a cameo in season one, playing Sir Fletcher Gordon.
Heughan is a natural blond.
Hard though it is to imagine him without Jamie’s signature red locks, Heughan has to dye his hair every season (or use a wig).
Jamie’s makeup and prosthetics take the longest of anyone in the show.
Most of that time is spent on applying the prosthetics for Jamie’s extensive back scars. Makeup artist Wendy Kemp Forbes takes, on average, two hours and 20 minutes to apply everything to Heughan. “He’s a lovely man but none of them are that patient in the chair,” Forbes told EW. “They don’t want to be in any longer than necessary.”
Balfe used to be a Victoria’s Secret model.
Before becoming an actress, Balfe was a successful model and walked in the VS Fashion Show back in 2012.
Black Sails fans may recognize the ships in season 3
Two of the huge 18th century ships used in Outlander’s third season—the Porpoise and the Bruja, specifically—were previously seen on its sister Starz drama, Black Sails. “It would have taken us five years—five seasons—to build all of this,” executive producer Matthew B. Roberts told Elle, explaining why re-using the existing sets made sense.
Sophie Skelton studied Balfe and Heughan’s mannerisms in order to play their daughter
“I wanted to get a lot of Sam’s mannerisms in, because Brianna is going to be very much like Jamie,” Skelton told Harper’s Bazaar of auditioning for the role of Jamie and Claire’s daughter Brianna. “But I wanted to make sure that his mannerisms were genetic things that you could do without ever having seen the person. With Caitriona, I wanted to copy little traits that she did. She folds her arms, she does this little lick of the mouth—she does things you can pick up from somebody by being around them every day, as opposed to it just being in your genes.”
Heughan used to live in an actual castle.
In a sense. “I used to live in sort-of converted stables on the grounds of a castle,” Heughan told EW. “I spent a lot of my childhood running around with a pretend sword pretending to be Robert the Bruce.” He was destined to be a fantasy icon!