15 Surprising Facts About Outlander

Starz
Starz

In 2014, Starz debuted Outlander, a historical drama that defies easy categorization. (Unless historical time travel romantic drama is indeed already a genre.) Based on Diana Gabaldon’s beloved book series, the show is centered on Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), a married military nurse who takes a second honeymoon with her husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies), following the end of World War II … only to be transported back to the mid-1700s, where she meets—and marries—Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). With Outlander now officially back for its third season (so long, #Droughtlander), we’ve uncovered some fascinating facts about the origins of the hit series.

1. IT WAS INSPIRED BY DOCTOR WHO.


Ed Miller/Starz - © 2014 Sony Pictures Television Inc.

Unlikely as it may seem, unless you consider its sci-fi aspects (read: time travel), the initial creative spark for what would become the Outlander book series came to Diana Gabaldon while she was watching an old episode of Doctor Who. More specifically: seeing the character Jamie McCrimmon, played by Frazer Hines, in a kilt.

"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. “Jamie struck me with his attitude and male gallantry and I thought the kilt was rather fetching.”

2. IT WAS ALMOST A KATHERINE HEIGL MOVIE.

Before it was developed as a television series, Outlander was going to be a feature-length movie. And that movie’s producers believed they had found their Claire in Katherine Heigl. In 2010, The New York Times ran a profile on the former Grey’s Anatomy star in which she hinted that she was leaning toward Outlander as her next project. “Scotland? 2012? What do you think?” Heigl asked. (Don’t answer that.)

3. LIAM NEESON AND SEAN CONNERY WERE CONSIDERED FOR THE ROLE OF JAMIE.

“This was years ago when I was first approached about adapting Outlander, when it was a feature film,” Gabaldan explained to E! News. “But Liam Neeson and Sean Connery were the first contenders for Jamie.”

4. DIANA GABALDON PUSHED RONALD MOORE TO DEVELOP THE SHOW.

Outlander, the first book in the series, was published in 1991. So its transformation to the small screen was not an overnight endeavor. Ultimately, it was Gabaldon who convinced executive producer Ronald D. Moore that he was indeed the best person to make the series work. “I told him, ‘This is the first thing I’ve ever read based on my work that didn’t make me turn white or burst into flames,’” Gabaldon said of Moore’s pilot script for the show.

5. THE ACTORS AREN’T WEARING ANYTHING UNDERNEATH THOSE KILTS.


Neil Davidson/© 2014 Sony Pictures Television/Starz

In true Scottish fashion, the actors aren’t wearing anything underneath their kilts. “I’m a true Scotsman, and it’s one of the joys of working on the show is wearing the kilt,” Sam Heughan, who plays Jamie, admitted. “It can actually be very comfortable.”

6. CLAIRE WAS CAST JUST A FEW WEEKS BEFORE FILMING BEGAN.

Though she’s the central figure in the series, it was only a few weeks before filming began that Caitriona Balfe was offered the role of Claire.

"At the outset, I told everyone that we would find Claire first and then Jamie would be the last one cast, and of course it was exactly the opposite,” Moore told E! News. “It was really hard to find Claire. Sam came in really early in the process and he was literally the first one we cast. We saw the tape and we were like, 'Oh my god, there he is. Let's snatch him up now.' And then Claire just took a long time. A lot of actresses, a lot of tape, looking for really ineffable qualities. 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 same light-bulb moment.”

7. THE SONY HACK REVEALED THAT FORMER U.K. PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON WANTED THE SERIES TO BE DELAYED.

Among the many Hollywood secrets that were made public in the wake of the Sony hack was the fact that former Prime Minister David Cameron met with Sony to request that they delay the series’ premiere in the U.K. His reason for the request? The U.K. was just weeks away from an historic vote to determine whether Scotland should remain part of the U.K. or become its own independent country, and he thought it would be better if a series about Scottish rebels wasn't airing at the same time. Sony granted him the delayed release date.

8. THE COSTUMES MAKE THE CHARACTERS.


Ed Miller / Starz - © 2016 Sony Pictures Television Inc.

Though they may not always be comfortable, what with those corsets and whatnot, many of the series’ main actors have claimed that it’s the costumes that help them find their characters. “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.”

9. THE COSTUMES ARE GIVEN A CULINARY MAKEOVER.

In order to give the show’s costumes the worn-in look they need for authenticity, the crew resorts to all sorts of unique tricks—some of them the kinds of things you’d learn in culinary school. Cheese graters, blowtorches, sandpaper, and pumice stones are just a few tools the costuming department utilizes to give the show’s clothing a lived-in look. Some of the clothes are tied up and baked, while others are burned with blowtorches.

10. SAM HEUGHAN SPENDS THE MOST TIME IN THE MAKEUP CHAIR.

Of all the actors, Heughan spends the most amount of time in the makeup chair, mainly to create the beaten and scarred look required for his character's back. "It's ridiculous,” Heughan said. “I'll get into makeup at 4 a.m. and be there until 8  or 9 a.m. And you have to be standing for most of it."

11. CLAIRE’S MODERNITY IS WHAT ATTRACTED CAITRIONA BALFE TO THE ROLE.


Aimee Spinks/© 2017 Starz Entertainment, LLC - © 2017 Sony Pictures Television Inc.

“She felt like a very modern woman,” Balfe told ELLE Magazine. “She's very intelligent, very strong, and has found herself in a place where she constantly has to fight to be who she is. It's such a crazy concept for her not to stand up and fight for what she believes is right and just. She never sees herself as a victim and uses whatever she has at her disposal to get through adverse times.”

12. HALF OF THE SHOW’S AUDIENCE IS MALE.

Heughan told ELLE that “something like 50 percent of our audience in the U.S. are men. And that's interesting. And 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.”

13. HEUGHAN LIKES THE SHOW’S EGALITARIAN PHILOSOPHY.

Heughan discussed how his character, Jamie, “has reversed the traditional roles of men and women, in a sense, but I think the show portrays that actually they're equals. They're both intelligent, and hopefully it's a balanced relationship. He learns a lot from her, but she also learns from him about how to conduct herself in a society that she isn't used to. They complement each other.”

14. YOU CAN VISIT MANY OF THE SHOW’S KEY LOCATIONS IN REAL LIFE.


Blackness Castle
AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON/Getty Images

In order to capitalize on the show’s success, VisitScotland has assembled a map to some of Outlander’s real-life locations, like Doune Castle, near Stirling, which portrays Castle Leoch. Blackness Castle in West Lothian plays the part of Fort William. Craigh na Dun, the prehistoric stone circle that sends Claire back in time, doesn’t exist—but you can pay a visit to Kinloch Rannoch to see the area for yourself.

15. CO-EXECUTIVE PRODUCER MARIL DAVIS TWEETS OUT INSIDER INFO.

Can’t wait until next week’s episode to get your Outlander fix? Follow the show’s co-executive producer, Maril Davis, on Twitter, and she’ll give you all sorts of fascinating tidbits.

When Mississippi Once Banned Sesame Street

Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images
Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images

Since it began airing in the fall of 1969, Sesame Street has become an indelible part of millions of children's formative years. Using a cast of colorful characters like Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch, along with a curriculum vetted by Sesame Workshop's child psychologists and other experts, the series is able to impart life lessons and illustrate educational tools that a viewer can use throughout their adolescence. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone—even Oscar—who would take issue with the show’s approach or its mission statement.

Yet that’s exactly what happened in early 1970, when a board of educational consultants in Mississippi gathered, polled one another, and decided that Sesame Street was too controversial for television.

The series had only been on the air for a few months when the newly formed Mississippi Authority for Educational Television (also known as the State Commission for Educational Television) held a regularly scheduled meeting in January 1970. The board had been created by the state legislature with appointees named by Governor John Bell Williams to evaluate shows that were set to air on the state’s Educational Television, or ETV, station. The five-member panel consisted of educators and private citizens, including a teacher and a principal, and was headed up by James McKay, a banker in Jackson, Mississippi.

McKay’s presence was notable for the fact that his father-in-law, Allen Thompson, had just retired after spending 20 years as mayor of Jackson. Highly resistant to integration in the city during his tenure in office, Thompson was also the founder of Freedom of Choice in the United States, or FOCUS, an activist group that promoted what they dubbed “freedom of choice” in public schools—a thinly veiled reference to segregation. Mississippi, long the most incendiary state in the nation when it came to civil rights, was still struggling with the racial tension of the 1960s. Systemic racism was an issue.

Entering this climate was Sesame Street, the show pioneered by Joan Ganz Cooney, a former journalist and television producer who became the executive director of the Children’s Television Workshop. On the series, the human cast was integrated, with black performers Matt Robinson and Loretta Long as Gordon and Susan, respectively, appearing alongside white actors Jada Rowland and Bob McGrath. The children of Sesame Street were also ethnically diverse.

Zoe (L) and Cookie Monster (R) are pictured in New York City in November 2009
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

This appeared to be too much for the Authority, which discussed how lawmakers with control over ETV’s budget—which had just been set at $5,367,441—might find the mixed-race assembly offensive. The panel's participants were all white.

The board pushed the discussion aside until April 17, 1970, when they took an informal poll and decided, by a margin of three votes against two, to prohibit ETV from airing Sesame Street—a show that came free of charge to all public television stations. (The decision affected mainly viewers in and around Jackson, as the station had not yet expanded across the state and was not expected to do so until the fall of 1970.)

The members who were outvoted were plainly unhappy with the outcome and leaked the decision to The New York Times, which published a notice of the prohibition days later along with a quote from one of the board members.

“Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated cast of children,” the person, who did not wish to be named, said. “Mainly the commission members felt that Mississippi was not yet ready for it.”

The reaction to such a transparent concession to racism was swift and predictably negative, both in and out of Mississippi. Board members who spoke with press, usually anonymously, claimed the decision was a simple “postponing” of the show, not an outright ban. The fear, they said, was that legislators who viewed ETV as having progressive values might shut down the project before it had a chance to get off the ground. It was still possible for opponents to suffocate it before it became part of the fabric of the state’s television offerings.

The concern was not entirely without merit. State representative Tullius Brady of Brookhaven said that ETV exerted “a subtle influence” on the minds of children and that the Ford Foundation, which funded educational programming, could use its influence for “evil purposes.” Other lawmakers had previously argued against shows that promoted integration.

Grover is pictured at AOL Studios in New York City in May 2015
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images

Regardless of how the decision was justified, many took issue with it. In an anonymous editorial for the Delta Democrat-Times, a critic wrote:

“But Mississippi’s ETV commission won’t be showing it for the time being because of one fatal defect, as measured by Mississippi’s political leadership. Sesame Street is integrated. Some of its leading cast members are black, including the man who does much of the overt ‘teaching.’ The neighborhood of the ‘street’ is a mixed one. And all that, of course, goes against the Mississippi grain.”

Joan Ganz Cooney called the decision a “tragedy” for young people.

Fortunately, it was a tragedy with a short shelf life. The following month, the board reconvened and reversed its own informal poll result, approving of Sesame Street and agreeing that ETV could air it as soon as they received tapes of the program. Thanks to feeds from Memphis, New Orleans, and Alabama, Sesame Street could already be seen in parts of Mississippi. And thanks to the deluge of negative responses, it seemed pointless to try to placate politicians who still favored segregation.

In the fall of 1970, the Sesame Street cast appeared in person in Jackson and was met by representatives from the board, which helped to sponsor the live performance, though it’s not clear any apology was forthcoming.

Sesame Street would go on to win numerous awards and accolades over the proceeding 50 years, though it would not be the only children’s show to experience censorship on public television. In May 2019, ETV networks in Alabama and Arkansas refused to air an episode of the PBS animated series Arthur in which a rat and aardvark are depicted as a same-sex couple getting married.

Attention Movie Geeks: Cinephile Is the Card Game You Need Right Now

Cinephile/Amazon
Cinephile/Amazon

If you’ve got decades worth of movie trivia up in your head but nowhere to show it off, Cinephile: A Card Game just may be your perfect outlet. Created by writer, art director, and movie expert Cory Everett, with illustrations by Steve Isaacs, this game aims to test the mettle of any film aficionado with five different play types that are designed for different skill and difficulty levels.

For players looking for a more casual experience, Cinephile offers a game variety called Filmography, where you simply have to name more movies that a given actor has appeared in than your opponent. For those who really want to test their knowledge of the silver screen, there’s the most challenging game type, Six Degrees, which plays like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the player who finds the fewest number of degrees between two actors getting the win.

When you choose actors for Six Degrees, you’ll do so using the beautifully illustrated cards that come with the game, featuring Hollywood A-listers past and present in some of their most memorable roles. You’ve got no-brainers like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990) alongside cult favorites like Bill Murray from 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Jeff Goldblum in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). Of course, being a game designed for the true film buff, you’ll also get some deeper cuts like Helen Mirren from 1990’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Sean Connery in 1974's Zardoz. There are 150 cards in all, with expansion packs on the way.

Cinephile is a labor of love for Everett and Isaacs, who originally got this project off the ground via Kickstarter, where they raised more than $20,000. Now it’s being published on a wider scale by Clarkson Potter, a Penguin Random House group. You can get your copy from Amazon now for $20.

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