I promised him I would let him go…Outlander episode 2.1

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by Beth Wesson

 

The past two weeks have seen an absolute glut of Outlander related news, articles, interviews, and images.  Which is soooo different from last season.  Back then we scoured the internet for anything about “our” show and anxiously read what few articles there were, hoping that critics and reviewers liked the series.  We dreamed that the world would find out about the wonderfulness that is Outlander.  It took awhile, but what we hoped would happen did happen.  In fact, there is so much Outlander stuff out here right now that I feel slightly overwhelmed!

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The articles I’ve been reading this time around have been absolutely delightful.   They have been meaty, insightful, and VERY complimentary.  For the first time, I feel like the critics “get it”.  And, the outlets that are sitting up, taking notice, and writing about it are getting larger and more numerable.  I’d feel a little sad about the competition for readers except…THERE IS A COMPETITION FOR READERS!  It is everything we fans had hoped would happen for our beloved books and show.  They are getting the attention they deserve.  Despite the “Scotland’s answer to GOT”, “fifty shades of plaid”, “bodice-ripper’ labels  given to the show, people tuned in and …got hooked

When I went to bed after watching the Television Academy’s From Scotland to Paris: A Behind the Scenes Journey with Outlander, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vo0aWxwY2EA I dreamily fell asleep convinced that I had just witnessed something very special. The astonishing level of creativity, skill and …love demonstrated by all involved in the creation of this show was so evident that as a fan I felt proud and strangely emotional. So, after reading all the positive reviews, watching all the insightful interviews, and being gob smacked by the panel, I thought I was prepared to watch the premiere.

I wasn’t.

I’m sitting here trying to find words.  Searching for words that have even the slightest chance of expressing how I felt about this episode.  I’m not entirely confident that I can, but I’m going to give it a shot.

THERE’S A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING

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I’ve always believed that no matter how great a movie or show is, if it is based on a book, the book is always better.  It makes sense.  An author has time and room to give us the details and let us see into what makes a character tick.  I have never seen anything that has caused me to doubt that belief…until now.

Just this week, I wrote an article for Outlander Online  http://wp.me/p57847-jFr that wondered how the beginning of the book would be handled.  How would the audience be told that Claire had returned?  I was concerned because despite our frustration (and downright pissed off at DGness), the fans I’ve talked with thought her opening with Claire in the 1960’s was powerfully discombobulating and kept us wanting to turn the page. As much as I admire Diana’s skills as a writer and adore her books, the TV adaptation told the story of Claire’s return to Frank better. This was so much more powerful and I can totally get why they did it.

As a reader of Diana Gabaldon’s books, I am as fascinated with what she doesn’t write, as much as with what she does.  What I’m trying to express is the idea that sometimes a writer doesn’t give us all the details and lets us try to figure out a characters’ motivation. Like a good author does.  It is often what is not explicitly explained that keeps us all talking about the books, speculating and theorizing. Ron and his writers have the enviable and monumental task of adapting Diana’s books into a visual medium.  They have explained that each episode has a story arc and that to tell the best story sometimes things have to be changed.  I finally get it.

 

HOW THEY TOLD THE STORY DIFFERENTLY, BUT STILL KEPT IT PLAUSIBLE

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I’ve often said that the most controversial character in the book series isn’t Black Jack Randall, or Gellis, St.Germaine, or any other villian.  It’s Frank. Drop Frank’s name into a discussion of Outlander and watch the sparks fly. He is loved, pitied, and hated. But understood?  We have all wondered what Frank felt and thought, why he and Claire decided to stay together, why he got over his belief he couldn’t raise another man’s child, and if he still loved Claire or if he was just doing what he saw as his duty (cuz he’s not a cad). Did he believe her? Ron chose to answer some of those questions in his adaptation and I think the story is the more powerful for it.

  • THEY SHADOWED IT FROM THE BEGINNING

In the very first episode, we saw Frank accept the possibility of Claire being unfaithful. “It wouldn’t be unheard of. Understandable…comfort”.  And, we saw Claire’s indignation over the idea that he would think she could ever be unfaithful,.  “There is nothing you could do to make me stop loving you.”  They foreshadowed his acceptance of the child with Frank’s interest in his own genealogy and their renewed attempts to start a family and then there is… Jamie’s ghost.

  • THEY LET US SEE FRANK WORK THINGS OUT BEFORE OUR EYES

In the books, we never get to see or really know what Frank did when Claire disappeared or how he felt about losing her.  As readers, we became so engrossed in Jamie and Claire’s relationship that we soon forgot about poor Frank.  Diana has revealed more and more about Frank as her series of books has continued, but she is still keeping what Frank really knew and what he felt a bit of a mystery.  In my opinion, what Ron has done is very plausible and not a large departure from the Frank in the books.  Let’s look at the how it went down:

  • Frank does come to Claire after she has been missing for almost three years
  • he is told outside of our hearing that she is starved and pregnant
  • she tells him to leave and that she loves another man
  • she explains what happens and Frank gets angry over her explanation of being carried through the stones
  • he doesn’t leave and agrees to raise her child as his own
  • he moves them away for a fresh start

In the TV series, it happens a little differently, but the pieces are all there. Frank hears her story and although it is a “leap of faith” agrees to “accept’ it.  Knowing Frank, Claire doesn’t buy it and calls him out. He acknowledges that although he doesn’t understand her feelings for this other man, he believes her when she says she loved Jamie. But, he is now, he is there, Jamie is not. He only cares that she is back.  She then tells him she is pregnant and this is the catalyst that triggers his anger instead of when the anger is triggered in the books.  He still had a last straw moment.  She hit him where it hurt the most. Different yes, but, maybe better? Certainly, watching his joy and then devastation when he realized it was a mirage was powerful and echoed back to Wentworth and Jamie thinking he saw Claire and then realizing it was all an illusion. The pain and loss was real.

  • THEY LET US SEE CLAIRE’S STRUGGLE AND JAMIE’S GHOST

Claire’s voice-over set the tone for the episode.  If she could have died she would have. Her anguished screams and sobs let the audience know she has been ripped from Jamie’s side and all is lost. And, then we see Frank… hardly able to contain himself as he rushes into the hospital.

Diana has told her readers to remember that we see things from Claire’s perspective and that Claire has her own self-serving reasons for wanting to believe the worst of Frank. She needs to keep him at a distance, she has a need to feel loyal to Jamie her true love and yet, she loved Frank. I saw that struggle tonight.  Her guilt over what she had done to Frank. Frank’s points about her ring and how her story confirmed that she would never have willingly left him rang true and you could see Claire flinch in the face of it.  She grieves for her lost love and yet, as everyone reminds her he is a ghost. So, when Frank offers up his conditions she remembers her promise and in a last self-sacrificing gesture of love for Jamie she stiffens her spine, lifts her head and  lets him go.

The many symbolic gestures in this episode like the hands transitioning her past and her future, her reluctant hug so like the one Jamie gave her in the Abby, were wonderful. Everything reminded me of something that happened in season 1.  Jamie’s memory, his ghost if you will, continues to wander the streets of Inverness.

  • THEY KEPT IT REAL

I had the opportunity to use the books in a literature class.  The one thing that bothered my students the most about Claire returning to the future to live with Frank was how she could possibly ever look at Frank and not see Black Jack.  I had to agree that knowing that Frank isn’t Jack and that he is not responsible for his ancestor’s behavior might not be enough. I was glad to see the TV series addressed this issue right out of the box.  What I saw in episode one, maybe in part because it IS a visual representation of the story, felt more real to me; more believable.

  • ALL OF IT COULD HAVE HAPPENED

It might not have played out on the screen exactly as it did in the books, but it could have.  The show deliberately connected the dots and fleshed out Frank’s character.  I think it was a smart move.  It all makes more sense, especially for viewers who haven’t and won’t read the books.  This treatment, in my opinion, makes all of their choices more poignant, more honest, and more powerful.  For the first time, I understood Frank and their decision to stay together and why they both did what they did.  I felt his hope (yet, you still wear my ring) and her painful resignation (I promised him I would let him go).

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Kudos to Caitroina Balfe and Tobias Menzies.  Emmy worthy performances right out of the gate. Kudos to Tallship Productions and Starz you’re keeping your word to the fans and …I can’t believe I’m saying this…making a great story better.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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caitsamtobias

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!

Outlander 2014

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;

DirtyButton.com

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