Outlander’s acting…How do they do that with a camera in their face?

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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. 

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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?

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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!

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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.

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http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/03/how-actors-create-emotions-a-problematic-psychology/284291/

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! 

 

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Girl on top…of current events…your chance to fulfill Cait’s wishes awaits!

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Dear friends,

Last year, the Caitriots gave Cait a wonderful present, her own registered hand-woven tartan.  She was obviously moved by the time, effort and thought that went into this gift.  It felt personal to me and I’m sure to her too!

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A really hard gift to top! However, as great as that gift was, we have a chance to give Cait a gift she’s asked for! She wants us to focus on helping the less fortunate and specifically the refugees now flooding Europe. The headline of our local paper yesterday pronounced the shocking fact that this is the worst refugee crisis since WW2.

Like many of us who can look around us and see a relative embarrassment of riches, I’m sure Cait feels fortunate and empathetic.  I can think of no better way to express how much she means to us than to donate our time, money, and efforts to such an immediate and pressing cause.

After careful consideration, the Caitriots’ admins have chosen to help fund the Shelter Box USA which has received a 4 out of 4 rating for their ability to get the greatest percentage of funded goods into the hands of the needy versus administrative costs.

Here is a link to more information about the funds’ rating.

http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=12573#.VfBeZxFViko

I’ve been so proud of this groups’ efforts to be a fan group with a heart.  Caitriots have been generous to Caitriona’s efforts to support Childhood Cancer organizations and I’ve no doubt they will warm Cait’s heart with their response to her plea to turn our attention and efforts toward helping our fellow world citizens.

I want to hear Cait tell the world how great her fans are not only because they ban together to vote her at the top of the latest popularity contest, but because they care enough to ban together to give to those who need our help so much.  I want her to feel the satisfaction of knowing she has used her “fame” to encourage others to do good.

I donated today and was surprised at how easy it was to do. If you can give a little or a lot…please do… we can make a difference.

Your fellow Outlander fan and Caitriot,

Beth Wesson

Here’s the link to give!

http://shelterbox.kintera.org/faf/search/searchTeamPart.asp?ievent=1085644&lis=0&kntae1085644=62E7D221DF5C4767A170E7699D6E1394&team=6521799

The One Where I Talk About Outlander’s Acting and the Actors Using the Five W’s and How

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So, the dust has settled a bit on Episode 15 and folks are girding their loins for 16 because EVIDENTLY those critic/reviewers’ warnings forgot to mention that episode 16 is just as harrowing as 15.  (Way to suck us in with the light at the end) Anyway… ( she says while adjusting the gird loining, which we all know can chafe a bit), what I’m still thinking about today is the performances. Which is what I think most people are still thinking about today…those performances! I was as staggered by the acting as I was by the visceral story that was unfolding on my screen.

I know there is this common belief that a viewer really shouldn’t notice the acting because if you do then somehow your disbelief didn’t get suspended enough.  Maybe that’s true, but I’m pretty sure I bought what they were selling!  My appreciation occurred upon reflection. Like I said before, the dust has settled and I can’t get the performances out of my mind.  And….per usual…it made me curious.

Like,…how did this guy

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BECOME this guy!?

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One my readers commented, “It’s like they swallowed the characters!” I believe my response was, “So, that’s how they do that?!”

I want to know HOW they do that and WHY they do that!  As a teacher, I’ve often instructed my students in the use of the five W’s and How method employed by journalists. I think its use is appropriate for my exploration of acting as it pertains to Outlander on Starz:

WHO:

The Lovely and Talented Caitrionia Balfe

The Lovely and Talented Sam Heughan

The Lovely and Talented Tobias Menzies

WHAT:

Stellar acting performances in Outlander on Starz

HOW:

My lite research lead me to some information that suggests that there are at least eight major ways to learn and approach the craft of acting. No one way seems truly better than another and I was left with the impression that it was all a matter of personal preference. Here are the top eight and brief defintions:

Constantin Stanislavski’s

This method is a blend of spiritual realism, emotional memory, dramatic and self-analysis, and practice.

Lee Strasberg

This method was built on Stanislavski theories and asks actors to magnify and intensify their relationship to the material by using emotional experiences from their own lives.

Stella Adler

Ms. Adler’s method sort of takes a step back from the Strasberg model and emphasizes imagination in addition to recalling personal emotional experiences. In other words, you don’t HAVE to have experienced something to imagine how it feels.

Sanford Meisner

Meisner teaches his students to “live truthfully under given imaginary circumstances.” This method is all about being in the moment and reacting (this is my guess for what Sam and Tobias used in filming the episode 15 dungeon scenes).

Michael Chekhov

This method focuses on using both the mind and body and encourages actors to be consciously aware of their senses.

Practical Aesthetics

Developed by playwright David Mamet and actor William H. Macy, this method uses elements from both Stanislavsky and Meisner. It teaches actors to use a four-step process to analyze a scene and focuses on what is actually happening in the scene and what is desired of the other characters (wait…maybe this is the one they all used…?…I’m so confused).

Uta Hagen

This method encourages actors to find the “truth” in a scene and then substitute their own experiences and recall of emotions.

Viola Spolin

This method focuses heavily on improv and teaches actors to live in the moment. They are encouraged to respond quickly and truthfully to the circumstances in which they find themselves.

What ever method was employed, those who were on the set, many veterans of filming difficult scenes, were struck by the actors dedication to their craft. In a recent Zapit interview Chris Hayner noted the scenes and filming was intense,

“… it was interesting to observe Menzies and Heughan during breaks from filming. Even when sitting right next to one another, the two completely ignored each other. “We didn’t talk a lot outside of doing the scenes,” Menzies reasons. “We tried to keep it as fresh as possible.” Taking it one step further, he refrained from interacting with just about anyone, instead keeping his mind trained on the character and scene.”

The entire article can be read here:http://www.zap2it.com/blogs/outlander_wentworth_prison_tobias_menzies_darkest_scenes-2015-05

Whatever method they chose to employ worked because it felt REAL. The actors fade away and it is Jamie, Claire and Black Jack. What I’m sure is a lot of hard work looks like magic to us!

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Outlander 2014

WHY:

I want to know what motivates someone to become an actor or actress. So, I started to do some reading. I read some blogs written by actors and acting teachers, some magazine articles and even some interesting research on the psychology of acting. Some of the most interesting stuff I read came from a trade magazine called BACKSTAGE. 

My reading lead me to a couple of conclusions:

1. If people go into acting for fame, fortune or a need to feel love and acceptance they are liable to be disappointed because these things truly are fleeting.

2.The only real reason to act is because it brings you joy and you will do whatever you need to do for the chance to act and can’t see yourself doing anything else.

I noticed that the same words kept getting repeated when people tried to describe “why” they act. People said they acted because they wanted to create, to express themselves, to have fun, to learn what it means to be human, to meet new people, and to actually discover themselves. A lot of these writers described their satisfaction in creating something that might actually impact people’s lives.

There are actors or actresses out there that are definitely in the limelight and receiving all the benefits that come with fame. You will often see them in one big budget movie after another. However, there are also actors who would welcome fame if it came, but don’t let it drive their career choices. In fact, there are a lot of actors who take roles simply because it gives them the chance to play a character they find challenging or tell a story they find interesting and box office be damned.

Funny, those are the same reasons why I write. I love it. I’ll do whatever I need to do to continue to be able to create because it brings me joy and book deals be damned! (just kidding if anybody wants to give me a job writing, I’m open for a lunch meeting on Thursday..oh hell, who am I kidding…any day…just call me any day)

I’ve been hanging out on social media reading and writing about Outlander since Diana announced the series was a go. In fact, my very first tweet went out to Sam the day he was cast. I think I said something like “Congratulations on becoming the face of Jamie Fraser. Gulp. #afanfromOhio” and, because I know you’re wondering, no, he didn’t answer me. I secretly believe it’s because my tweets look like this to him;

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DirtyButton.com

I remain a Sam #Twirgin.

But, I digress. The point I was trying to make was that I’ve had a chance to watch these actors from the beginning. I’ve read their interviews and tweets and…seen the choices they’ve made in their acting careers.  I’m proud to say “Our Actors” appear to fall into the group who aren’t letting the desire for fame guide their career choices.

Caitrionia Balfe has said she has always wanted to act. She thinks she knew what she wanted to do even when she was a precocious child in Ireland. At 30, she figured if she wanted to act it was probably now or never.  She moved to LA and started taking acting classes. In a recent interview, she described her acting ambitions.

“I got to a point in my life when I thought if I don’t try it now I might not get the opportunity to do it again. There was a feeling amongst my friends and industry people whom I came into contact with that ‘oh it’s tough for women and it’s tougher again for women of your age’ and all of these things. But I’d never been interested in being a starlet; the people I’ve admired had long careers and it shouldn’t matter how old you are for those things.”

The entire interview can be read here: http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/television/tv-news/im-still-waiting-for-the-flood-of-male-adoration-caitriona-balfes-difficult-road-to-acting-stardom-31228831.html

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I know that she admires Patrica Arquette’s independent career choices and didn’t find being a super-model very satisfying. I wonder if she knows what a fantastic role model she is? (and knowing her penchant for self-deprecation, she would probably laugh if she read that)

Sam Heughan, went to university to be an actor (he actually had an instructor tell him he couldn’t act! I KNOW! shocking!). Before Outlander, he was going about his career playing a variety of roles ranging from a drug dealer to Batman to a Prince that some lucky girl got for Christmas.  He was acting, but had remained pretty well under the radar, so to speak. When he was cast as Jamie, some of the descriptors thrown around about him included the term “unknown” actor.  He definitely is getting some attention now and if Outlander fans have anything to vote about it it’ll stay that way!

During the drought, you know what drought I’m talking about, Sam did an independent film called When the Starlight Ends.  I found these comments by Adam Sigal, its writer and director, (Starlight was his first film) to be very revealing of Sam’s character and love of acting. The following is in answer to a question asked of Mr. Sigel in an exclusive interview by @SamCaitLife

I actually met Sam long before Outlander–I want to say about 5 years ago. At the time, he was a semi-struggling actor in Los Angeles for pilot season. He got hold of Starlight from a casting director friend, and he really loved the script. At the time he wanted to do it, but I was dealing with producers who really wanted massive stars in the lead roles. About a year or so later, Sam messaged me on Facebook and mentioned he’d just booked a new show he, “thought might be a big deal”. He didn’t tell me too much more, but when I saw a bunch of my friends posting about him on social media, I knew he really had! I reached back out to him, asked if he still wanted to do Starlight, and he said absolutely! Pitching the project with him on board made it easier to find money for it. I’m still in awe of the fact that Sam stuck with me and still agreed to do the film, even after booking Outlander, and with the fact that he’s on his way to becoming a megastar.

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The entire interview can be read here:

https://samcaitlife.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/exclusive-qa-with-adam-sigal-the-director-of-when-the-starlight-ends/

Recently, when asked if he thought playing Jamie was his most challenging role, he responded by saying not really because “each role comes with its own challenges”.

Tobias Menzies is probably the most “famous” of our troupe.  He’s played characters on several big budget series like Rome and Game of Thrones. After the showing of Episode 15, Tobias was interviewed… a lot…and as a result, there are a lot of really great interviews out there this week and not one asked him if he would wear a kilt (thank God)!  If you want to get a good idea of why Tobias acts read some of those interviews.  I was struck by the cerebral and scholarly way in which he discussed acting. He has a real passion for what he does.

Despite having some amount of fame and an “impressive” resume, Tobias actively seeks out challenging roles that don’t nessecarily come with a big paycheck or a big stage.  One his more recent ventures had him acting on a bed in a hotel room in a play called Fever at the Mayfair hotel.  He performed a monologue to a maximum capacity audience of…28.

The Fever at the May Fair Hotel

In an interview about a a recent role, he was asked if he would like the kind of fame his co-star Kira Knightley enjoys. His response? “Would I want that? Absolutely not. Then again, do you want recognition that allows you to do the work you want to do? Of course.”

The entire article can be read here:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-1376878/In-taxi–actor-Tobias-Menzies.html#ixzz3aaARtDGb

On Saturday night while we were all glued to our TV sets drinking whiskey and hiding behind stuffed animals or significant others, our trio were not.  They were out and about watching Grant O’Rourke, an Outlander comrade, perform a play. I know it’s silly, but that makes me so proud.

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WHEN AND WHERE:

Well, that’s easy to answer, on Starz of course!  They’ll be playing a marathon this weekend so you have a chance to see all the fantastic performances again. Plus,it’s another great excuse to drink whiskey. The finale is scheduled for 9:00 EST on May 30th. And then the l o n g e s t  drought ever recorded in fandom history begins.  You remember all the craziness of the last drought? Yeah, well…lots more fans…and time ….

AND, OH WHAT THE HELL, LETS THROW IN AN OPINION PIECE:

I don’t pretend to know anything about what kind of performance would earn an actor an Emmy, but damn….I gotta think these would be in the running. Outlander and its actors have continued to be brave about enacting difficult or controversial scenes. In fact, their efforts have been nothing short of ground-breaking. So, I’ll be doing my part in the fan-dom’s efforts to get these actors an Emmy…because that would be nice and might help them get the chance to do what they love some more. #EmmysforOutlander

What can we do but play our part…Outlander fandom and the world

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As you probably know, the Outlander fandom has been caught up in a frenzy of voting. The fans seem to be of two minds about this subject.  There are those who feel their efforts to vote awards for Sam, Cait, Tobias, etc. are efforts for Outlander as a whole.  They feel the more attention they can help give the show the better.  They hope that this attention will result in more viewers and therefore, an increased chance that the show will continue to be renewed.  A worthy goal to be sure.  There are others in the fandom that feel the pressure to vote borders on the ridiculous.  They aren’t sure what any of this accomplishes or what the awards even mean.  They feel like the fandom’s  Twitter feeds and Facebook pages have been hijacked by pleas to vote Sam or Cait for the THIS award or the THAT award.  I’m sure everyone can agree that there HAVE been a lot of voting campaigns in the last few months.  I’m all for our actors and show getting the accolades they deserve, but I also believe there is enough diversity and room in the fandom to allow voters and non-voters to co-exist peacefully.

However, today I was reminded again that the world we live in is pretty large and there really are bigger issues out there than our little obsession.  Caitriona Balfe, our Claire, tweeted a plea of her own today.  While graciously thanking everyone for their votes, she asked that we might turn our attention, energy and efforts toward the plight of the Syrian refugee crisis.  She has experienced our generosity with Childhood Cancer charities and she has seen what we can when do when challenged.  Although bringing attention to Outlander IS a worthy goal, we have a chance to make a real difference in the world.

When I saw this tweet from Cait, I thought it was something Claire would do.

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She tried to gently turn our collected efforts toward helping people who need our help.  Like Claire,  we see people in need and we have a chance to help heal. I’m totally confident that in the time between Cait’s tweet and my writing this, the fandom has been hard at work creating a plan and encouraging the “fanmily” to action.  I’m sure not everyone will participate and that’s okay. Not everyone has the same amount of time or resources. However, I would still urge everyone to take a look at the world around them.  We all can make a difference in our own little neck of the woods.   Kindness, thoughtfulness, and encouragement cost little, but mean much.  Like Jamie and Claire, we can try to effect history by turning the tide of events and do more than just “play our parts”.

Here is a link to a New York Times article about recent events in Syria.  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/04/world/europe/syria-boy-drowning.html?src=me

Here is what Cait suggests:

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I know Outlanders will respond and I will be so proud to call my self a fan. #bestfansever

Thanks Cait and Sam for Jamie and Claire…Quintessential Moments.

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image I’m watching the first eight episodes of Outlander in preparation for my standing appointment with the Starz channel every Saturday night.  While watching I was struck again by what a great job the actors are doing portraying my favorite characters.  In fact, there are some moments that scream Jamie and Claire!  Moments that are quintessential !  Here are some of my favorites. QUINTESSENTiAL CLAIRE: A lot of folks give Caitrionia Balfe praise for her portrayal of Claire’s strength, pluck and downright sassiness. It is well deserved praise. Claire is a smart, strong woman and Cait makes those qualities obvious.  However, it was her more subtle performances that convinced me she was right for the part. One of my favorite things about Claire’s character is her lack of guile.  She isn’t a woman who is motivated by greed, money or political gain.  She hasn’t much need for manipulation or lies.   Because she finds herself trying to survive long enough to get back to the stones, she has to lie, but she never seems quite comfortable doing so.  She seems to find it even more difficult to lie to herself. I’ve always admired her inability and unwillingness to fool herself.  She owns her thoughts and feelings even if she doesn’t like what she is thinking or feeling. Cait gave me the quintessential Claire moment when Jamie asked her if she enjoyed their love-making session.  Right away her face showed her internal conflict. Jamie, not having any clue about Frank, of course misinterprets the change on her face to mean she did not enjoy herself.  However, in true to form Claire fashion, Cait let us see her confusion, her correct interpretation of Jamie’s disappointment and sadness, and the moment she admits the truth to herself.   “Well, there it was. Not only was I a bigamist and adulterer, but I’d enjoyed it”. Quintessential Claire. outlander107a QUINTESSENTIAL JAMIE: Jamie is being portrayed as a man with some emotional intelligence. His sensitivity and concern  for Claire comes through loud and clear. The audience can see, through Sam’s performance, that this man is different from the other men at the castle.  But, for me the moments that are quintessential Jamie are once again more subtle. I so enjoy his moments of humor and self-deprecation and the little peeks at the man beneath the boy. There are actually several scenes that found me saying, “Yes! He gets Jamie!”  When Claire is tending his shoulder at the castle and Jamie has just told her a horrible story about his sister and  Black Jack, he responds to her sympathy with the, “Aye chickens are verra poor company” line. Jamie’s ability to not take difficult circumstances too seriously is one of his saving graces.  He has every reason to feel sorry for himself, to feel bitter and yet, he chooses to give not one more moment to Black Jack. Cheerfully taking a beating, forcing Dougal to give him a wedding, comparing Claire’s hair to water in a bern, were all convincing performance moments. But, the one that caught my attention was the scene in the stable with Murtaugh. With a few sentences and body language, Sam was able to convey the man of integrity that is Jamie Fraser. ” I plan to be married, but the one time and I will do so in a way that will make my mother proud”. Quintessential Jamie. He is guided by a moral compass. 571-300x187 QUINTESSENTIAL JAMIE AND CLAIRE: There are a lot of scenes between the two that are heart-warming, sexy and flirtatious.  The scene in the surgery where she is checking his shoulder? There was enough chemistry to blow up the castle! The wedding was superbly well done. I sighed and giggled and sighed some more watching those two consummate their vows.  But, once again my Jamie and Claire quintessential moment was more subtle. The infamous “Help! he’s falling over!” scene. LOL!  I remember watching it and thinking THERE, right there is where he fell in love! She is threatening, cursing, caring, kind and demanding and he… is awestruck. Which of course he covers up with a Jamie quip,”Threats is it? And after I shared my drink with you too!”  I was so struck by this I wrote a poem!   ALIEN ANGEL He awoke to a vision A bristling, cursing, demanding angel He awoke to love s01e01_869   IN CONCLUSION: I know not everyone will agree with me and I wouldn’t expect you to! Everyone brings their own experience to a reading or film and therefore no one will have the exact same reaction or interpretation.  Everyone will see things differently and have their own quintessential moments. Which when I think about that reality, I find myself in awe of Mr. Moore, his writers and directors. Getting it right seems almost impossible!  But, overall, I think they delivered the spirit of my beloved story.  And Cait and Sam? Thanks for delivering on the promise of being THE Jamie and Claire!