When “Outlander” Season 3 premieres on Starz Sunday, Sept. 10, it won’t be the first time some fans have gotten to see the season premiere, thanks to a surprise sneak peek at San Diego Comic-Con back in July. And in that room, watching along with the crowd, was showrunner Ronald D. Moore.
“It was great. We had them through the whole piece. They laughed at all the right parts. They cried at all the right parts. It was a really gratifying response from the audience,” he told IndieWire.
That’s always a gratifying experience for a creator, especially given that the “Outlander” season premiere kept its romantic heroes, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan), separated for the duration. Instead, Jamie fought for his life during the Battle of Culloden, while Claire fought for her sanity in the 1940s, a struggle that came to a boil during a dramatic scene between her and her legal husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) in which their marriage almost seemingly dies for a time.
The scene, which times out at approximately seven minutes, can only be seen as a massive acting challege, one that Moore believed was filmed in a single day.
“It was an important moment,” he said about its construction. “I was interested in what was the moment where it kind of shifted from Claire and Frank, when they go to America together, saying, ‘We’re gonna do this. We’re gonna make it happen. Let’s give it a shot.’ What’s the moment where that snapped, and you realize, ‘This wasn’t gonna be as easy as we thought’? And still not break the relationship, but just have that moment where it’s like, ‘What’s going on? I can’t touch you. You’re longing for the past, but I can’t talk about the past.’ And really let them go at each other.”
And fortunately, Moore had talent on board that was up for the challenge. “I knew that I had two great actors that I could really go deep on. And that they would deepen the material even further. It was a really fun scene to write,” he said.
When IndieWire spoke to Moore, mainstream reaction wasn’t available, but he confirmed that the Comic-Con audience was into the scene. “It was like you could hear a pin drop. Everyone was just staring and like, ‘Oh my god, what’s happening?'”
It’s the sort of scene that speaks to how “Outlander” has been able to evolve over the years. “I knew it was going to be an ongoing saga and a traveling show,” Moore said. “You knew that the characters were going to change over a long stretch of time and that you were going to have an opportunity to play different stages of evolution in their characters, which is an exciting prospect.”
It wasn’t something he necessarily anticipated facing at the beginning because “all you really care about at the beginning is just getting Season 1 done. You’re like, ‘Oh I hope we have the problems of whatever Season 3 and 4 are gonna be.'”
It’s the sort of serious commitment that makes you interested in why a writer with an eclectic but genre-skewing resume would be interested in “Outlander.” Thus, IndieWire asked about what made him personally connect with the concept of the series, before it began production.
“I really like the period fiction aspect of it,” he said. “It was [author Diana Gabaldon’s] ability to evoke that period so authentically really made me sit up and take notice. I thought, ‘I want to be able to deliver that idea. I’d like to do a period piece that feels true to the period and isn’t trying to sex it up or jazz it up for TV and that could be really fun.'”
In addition, he really liked the central character — not Jamie, but Claire. “I thought, ‘She has an interesting journey I haven’t seen yet,'” he said.
There’s also one other connection between Moore and Highlander culture — his previous work as a writer on “Star Trek,” specifically when he was asked to create, for “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” a backstory for the Klingon culture.
“When I was playing around, when I wrote that early memo on the Klingons, I was comparing them to samurai and Vikings,” he said. “And the Highlanders are like a cousin to all that, so yeah, I think the culture itself was a draw for me, as well.”
Of course, “Outlander” remains its own singular experience. For which fans will always be thankful.
“Outlander” Season 3 airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Starz.