Ahead of the highly anticipated seventh season of the hit series Outlander, series executive producer (EP) Maril Davis and series EP and star Caitriona Balfe attended the Austin Television Festival where they talked all things Outlander on World Outlander Day! The duo discussed a variety of topics while on stage including the fact that actress Sophie Skelton was unable to make her appearance due to flight delays and cancellation issues. As a treat for fans, Skelton recorded a video greeting everyone and wishing them well. Toni Grapha (EP/Writer) was also absent due to the ongoing writer’s strike, which both Balfe and Davis supported when her absence was noted.
Adapted from the popular book series of the same name written by Diana Gabaldon, Davis and Balfe have worked together for the entire 10 years of the show’s ongoing production. Davis reflected on their difficulty in finding the perfect Claire after they cast Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser. They searched high and low for Claire but Davis knew upon seeing Balfe’s audition that she was the one for the role. Once she saw the two interact in person, it was clear they had a natural friendship and chemistry that Davis felt was perfect for the show. Reflecting on their time working together Davis shared about Balfe, “She’s so smart and collaborative and so much fun and so talented. It’s such a tour de force this season for her, they all are.” Balfe called Davis her go-to sounding board. “Maril’s been really supportive about me progressing and as she said we’re both very passionate and it’s so lovely to be able to go toe-to-toe and we don’t always agree. At the end of the day we have the show’s best interest at heart and we also are friends.” While the two have found themselves arguing over certain aspects, both share a deep respect and admiration for one another that never left a rift.
While reminiscing, Davis reflected on how conversations have shifted over the years as both women now have children, as does most of the crew. Balfe discussed the trials of balancing work with motherhood, filming season 6 pregnant, and season 7 with an infant. Balfe requested to shift to a four day work week for her and they were extremely accommodating to her needs as a new mother. While the days are long, she felt it provided a good balance for time with her son. Davis added that she wished the industry was more accommodating for working parents as their crew doesn’t have the same luxury as Balfe or Davis in requesting certain schedule changes.
Balfe also revealed exclusively at the festival that she will be stepping behind the camera as a director in season 8. She’s already begun some training and shared that she’s been impressed by the amount of work and dedication that goes into everything. Balfe teased that she’s already directed Sophie Skelton (Brianna MacKenzie), Charles Vandervaart (William Ransom), Izzy Meikle-Small (Rachel Hunter), and Joey Phillips (Denzell Hunter) a little bit as she prepares to take on the role next season. “Everyone has been so supportive and I knew I wanted to do it here because it feels like a safe space,” shared Balfe. She also joked that she has yet to direct Heughan, but believes he also shares an interest in stepping behind the camera at some point. “I think he hasn’t necessarily wanted to on the show because at the moment he has seven million jobs. When does that boy sleep? It just boggles the mind. At the moment he has so many other amazing things going on that I think he’d like to do it after the show.” Davis highlighted how difficult directing is when they are also responsible for the lead roles on the show. They can’t fully relax into either director or actor.
Davis recalled in the early stages of casting that Balfe and Heughan had an easy chemistry that she hoped would continue throughout the years and has contributed to the success of the show. “We’ve never had a falling out. We’ve definitely irked each other but it was a very conscious decision in the beginning. We were getting our hair ruined for about the fifth time in London and he and I went for a walk in Hyde park. We were literally like, ‘look, don’t know what this is going to be but we’re going to be the only two knowing what it’s going to be like in this and we have to have each other’s backs.’ And we did and it’s always been that way,” shared Balfe. “We’re very similar in our personalities anyway and like be very prepared and focused but also like to have a lot of fun. As our lives have gotten more complicated and busy we may not see each other as much as we used to but that core, that base, that friendship has never changed.”
In regard to the new seasons and their book counterparts, Balfe sheepishly admitted that she hasn’t read the more recent books (7 and 8) due to time constraints as an EP, actress, and mother. She’s previously made a point to diligently read each book as filming happened, but with the latest she admitted that if a scene was confusing or she needed to understand Diana’s mindset, she would read the surrounding chapters. Both women were asked their favorite loving moments between Jamie and Claire, and Davis shared that she’s partial to the quieter moments between the couple. The ones where they are talking in bed or quietly laughing which she lamented are often the scenes from the book that get cut due to time constraints. Balfe, asked what her relationship advice would be for the couple, joked about their co-dependency. “We have a running joke where I’m off to the bathroom and it’s like [in a Scottish accent] ‘wait Sassanach, I love you! Will you ever come back?'” laughed Balfe. “They need to learn to take a moment. They both get angry so they need to take a breath sometimes.”
Davis and Balfe remained tight lipped when it came to details on the upcoming season set to premiere on STARZ June 16, but the audience was treated to two clips. One featured a sweet, calm moment between Jamie and Claire wherein Jamie tells her about a dream he had of her in the future. The second featured Brianna and Roger as Roger undergoes minister training. She jokes whether to say “break a leg” or wish him “God luck.” Both clips were released on Twitter by the official account.
Davis did speak on the fact this season will have more women behind the camera with the first six episodes of the season female directed. “We’ve always been female dominated in a lot of ways… we had a lot of women in the writers room always. I still would like to see more women on the crew.” Balfe added, “This season is probably the one we’ve had the most women in the crew. It’s changing but it doesn’t happen over night. You have to start at the entry level.” In terms of storyline, Davis confirmed that they knew there was some discontent that Claire and Jamie weren’t present when Brianna gave birth to Jemmy. For this season’s birth the family unit will be present, so fans need not worry. As for the leading couple, Balfe feels that they are in a good place in their relationship and talk with each other more. “There’s a lot of things that happen, a lot of bad things that happen, some great things that happen. But through it all they are really strong. Jamie as a character is incredibly wisened this season,” said Balfe, “There’s a maturity to both of them this season and their passion never goes away but it does evolve.” She also gave a shout out to the show’s new intimacy coordinator, Vanessa Coffey, who helped them improve their storytelling and make sure everyone involved knew exactly what was happening and how it relates to the story. Davis joked that the blooper reel this season is quite long and half of it is Heughan getting Balfe to crack up on camera. She even mentioned that she herself couldn’t stop giggling behind the camera when Skelton’s audible stomach growls was audible due to the mic placement.
Davis briefly addressed the ongoing strike as well and its potential effects on the eighth season. “We’ve already been in the writer’s room for season 8 and for the prequel, but these things take time.” Season 8 development may have to be pushed out if the strike lasts for a while, but she reiterated that they love and fully support their writers. Balfe also confirmed that she doesn’t know the final ending for the story, which was shared with both Davis and Heughan by Gabaldon. She joked that Heughan likes to lord it over her but she prefers not to know the ultimate ending. Davis said she gets very emotional thinking about the show ending with season 8 after 10 years of working with their cast and crew. “It’s been a real joy to work with Sam and Caitriona and to be on this journey with them. It’s just been so special, and I think from the beginning we knew it was going to be special but I don’t think we thought we would get to go this long. It’s rare in this business and I think we’ve all been lucky to do it together,” said Davis.
The panel dedicated some time to answering fan questions, one of which asked Balfe about the unfortunate story of her getting horse poop on her. It turns out the scene took place in the courtyard of Lallybroch (where Balfe noted that liquid things splatter) wherein Balfe and Heughan both had their backs to Sleepy the horse’s backside. Sleepy had an (unfortunately) rather upset stomach and simply couldn’t wait. The liquidy diarrhea hit the cobblestone and splashed up the back of Balfe and Heughan’s costumes. Balfe noted that it cause quite the commotion in locating backup costumes on set that day.
Another fan asked after Balfe’s collaboration with World Child Cancer and whether she’d do another before the show ends. She confirmed she would love to but they want to locate a company who won’t take a large chunk of the profits to facilitate it. She even asked for suggestions from fans about any companies they know.
They each offered advice to their season 1 selves. Davis felt then that she needed to be loud and have a big voice to be heard, but said now she would tell herself that’s not the case. She can and will be taken seriously regardless of if she “comes out swinging” every time. Balfe said she would have let herself know that she had more power than she believed she did as a lead on the show with the ability to advocate for others. She highlighted the crew using continuous days now and other various things they could have done earlier to make production easier.
Lastly, each gave their season 7 peach (sweet moment) and pit (not so sweet moment). Davis said her pit will always be the weather in Scotland while her peach was the energy on set. Everyone was so excited to be there and to be working. Though they filmed for a year Davis felt it flew by. Balfe however stated that, “There’s a sequence of scenes in, I think, episode 11 that were really, really challenging. My pit was trying to figure out how we were going to do it. It was tough personally because it wasn’t long after my dad passed and it was a very hard thing to get myself into the headspace for. It was a big struggle with lots of notes going back and forth.” She also chose the same scenes for her peach because of the communication and notes she had with the writing team.
Whatever the ending may be, fans are sure to love where season 7 will take them ahead of the final season 8. Outlander will premiere on STARZ June 16. Be sure to check out all our coverage and stay tuned for recaps of each episode as they air.