I’m amazed. I’m amazed every time I see a behind the scenes photograph of the actors of Outlander. It amazes me because the reality of filming seems so intrusive. I am amazed that actors who have microphones hanging over their heads and cameras in their faces can manage to make a scene feel real and intimate. My understanding of the challenges an actor faces has increased and so has my respect for their skills. You’ve heard me say before that I’m curious and that I am often inspired to look a bit deeper. Today that inspiration came from this picture.
It is a simple scene and yet for me it helped clarify what is actually happening during filming and it is far from intimate. In fact, it appears to take a village to raise a film. Movies take years to plan, months to shoot and thousands of people to create. On average the top films of the past two decades have each had 3.5 writers, 7 producers, 55 people in the art department, 32 in sound, 55 in camera / electrical and 156 in visual effects. There are 19 people listed for hair and makeup alone and 37 in the camera electrical department for Outlander on IMBD. The list of folks working on the show is pretty impressive and worth a look. Suffice it to say, there is a crowd surrounding these actors most of the time.
You are probably aware that the author of the Outlander series of books, Diana Gabaldon, was asked to write scripts for Season 2 and had the experience of filming those episodes. I was entertained by her less than glamorous pictures of traipsing through mud and her Scottish weather uniform including her pink boots. ( btw, I found a great blog about a typical day on a set. https://www.friendsinfilm.com/typical-day-on-set )
Quite frankly, it looked cold, uncomfortable and sounded like a study in patience when she explained that the same scenes were often filmed over and over. Her day started early and ended late with her falling across her bed sometimes too tired to eat. For the actors who have to get into makeup (I’ve read it takes somewhere near 4 hours to put the prosthetic on Sam’s back) and costume, I can imagine it might even be more time consuming and more exhausting. Despite all this they must be ready to be in character and stay in character on demand and get up and do it all again the next day. Ron Moore talked about the stamina it took for Cait to be in almost every scene, I’m starting to really appreciate what he meant and why Sam and Cait appreciate having a co-star that is a friend.
I’ve written a bit about how costuming and set design can affect an actor’s performance http://wp.me/p4mtBT-Zo , http://wp.me/p4mtBT-Yx . I’ve even written about different schools of thought on acting and a bit about why someone might want to act http://wp.me/p4mtBT-Pd . I can see how certain acting techniques could work, especially as a stage actor performing the same material night after night, but this acting for a film series seems to be a different animal. For instance, how does filming out of sequence affect your performance? I would think that you would need to act in some sort of chronological order to build upon what happens to the character. The only response I ever got to that question was from Terry Dresbach, Outlander’s costume designer, who told me she has never been part of a production that was any other way. After following this show’s production for the last couple of years, I’ve come to understand the “why” of filming out of sequence, but I still don’t know how it doesn’t negatively impact actor’s performances. The fact that Sam Heughan, Caitriona Balfe and all the others are able to get inside their characters’ heads on cue continues to baffle and as I said….amaze. How do they tune it all out? How do they make us believe those emotions are real?
Outlander has gained a reputation for portraying its story in an honest manner. The scenes feel like what might actually happen between real people including the sex. I’m astonished to realize that what appears to us as romantic and passionate and intimate was created in a room with directors, camera people, sound guys, etc. I found it amusing when Ron Moore said they wanted to give the characters some privacy and so they made the crew skeletal! Skeletal there’s a relative term! LOL!
Yeah, we got to get it right. But the subject matter — Caitrna [Balfe] and I have never done anything like this before, so it was a bit of a learning curve. We were lucky that the director, Anna Foerster, was good. We did a lot of rehearsals. We discussed how we wanted it to work. When you watch the episode there is a progression in the way that Jamie and Claire get to know each other. Their relationship grows quite quickly so by the end of the episode, you can see that they’re basically making love, it’s not just consummating the marriage. Sam Heughan http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/outlander-sam-heughan-jamie-claires-732878
I’m sorry, but if I’m wearing nothing but a modesty patch simulating sex with an equally naked co-star and people are filming and giving me instructions like hold him here, touch her there, I’m going to have tough time not being embarrassed! Get it right?! Yeah, they got it so right I felt slightly voyeuristic watching!
I found some great insight in an article in the Atlantic. It took a look at the emerging interest in the psychology of acting and how it could give us insight into the science of why people do the things they do. The article asserts that acting is just a different way of looking at human behavior. What I discovered is that becoming a character isn’t easy and not without cost, especially when playing scenes like episode 15 and 16.
I found myself getting a little worried about our actors while reading this article, but I’m happy to say that it ended by concluding that good acting may be less about becoming your character and more about simply concentrating.
“Intensity gets misinterpreted. Not all acting is necessarily extremely intense. But it is concentrated and very much about being here, now.”
The toll of at least temporarily living in a character and world you’ve created is emotionally consuming and an actor needs to cultivate ways to disengage from their work of acting. I’m happy to say that our actors appear to be aware of the need of self-care and I love that they share that they laugh on set, eat healthy, hike Munros, drink the occasional whiskey, and spend time with family and friends who know who they were before they played Jamie, Claire or Black Jack. I still don’t understand how they do it, but wow, they are good at it and this fan is grateful!