Stepping on to the Scotland set of Outlander — the upcoming Starz series based on the best-selling Diana Gabaldon novels and filled with history, romance, adventure, time travel, and lots and lots of kilts — is like taking a journey back in time. Every corner of the former electronics factory turned studio is filled with period-authentic swords, baskets, red coats, books, taxidermy, and old-fashioned banquet delicacies such as pigeon pie and haggis. Conversations in an unrecognizable, almost-dead language fill the air as does smoke, because the re-created highland castle interiors are lit almost entirely with candles as they would have been in 1743, the period that our heroine Claire Randall is mysteriously transported to from her life as an English combat nurse in 1945.
Other than an occasional grumpy horse and the very real threat of fire, the cast of Outlander is having a blast with the fake past. "Playing one of the highlanders and discovering the highland clan culture and a way of life that is almost extinct, being Scottish myself, was obviously a real bonus," Sam Heughan (Jamie Fraser) told Yahoo TV exclusively during a set visit last winter. "We've had to learn a lot — horse riding, sword fighting, Gaelic lessons. We're filming in real locations [where this history took place] and using the crafts and skills that Scotland has got. We've got proper mills making all of the kilts and the wool."
All of the little details help the actors get into character. So much so that some think it wouldn't be bad to let their Outlander ways bleed into daily life. Graham McTavish (Dougal MacKenzie) explained, "I would wear my [costume] all the time if I could get away with it. I would go down to the local supermarket dressed like that. It's a great outfit. It all forms the atmosphere, and we're having fun. Who wouldn't like to be playing around with swords and riding horses?"
Of course, that attitude then begs the question: If given the choice, would you rather wake up in Scotland in 1945 (after World War II) or 1743? Read on to see whether the cast, executive producer Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica), and Gabaldon would choose rations, jazz, cars or horses, mystics, and bloodthirsty Brits:
Caitriona Balfe (Claire Randall): "I would probably pick '45, because as a woman it would probably be slightly easier. The clothes would definitely be easier to get dressed in and out of every day. I like the '40s style, films, and music that I researched to play Claire."
Sam Heughan (Jamie Fraser): "I like the swords and horses and stuff, but I think the '40s were quite cool as well. I think I'd be quite happy there."
Tobias Menzies (Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall and Frank Randall): "1945 and purely for dentistry. I feel like teeth in the 1740s have got to be a painful thing. Either there would be none left in your head or they would be wooden or you would have to have them pulled. I reckon half of them would be rotten. For that alone, here's to dentistry from 1945."
Graham McTavish (Dougal MacKenzie): "I would prefer 1743, partly because I would want to experience something that different. I don't think 1945 would be that different than the world we live in now. Personally, I would find that so interesting. There would be challenges of course. It was a much tougher world to live in. For however much people complain about the world today, we live in a soft part of history. These guys lived in a hard part. I think if I found myself there, like Claire, most of us wouldn't last five minutes. You have to catch your food, for example.
One of the interesting things about history is that no matter what time they live in, to them, it is the modern times. You didn't regard yourself as being deprived of anything. Even the poorest person would regard themselves historically as in a much better position in 1743 than, say, someone in the late 17th century. We all think we are living at the peak of everything."
Gary Lewis (Colum MacKenzie): "It depends really where you're going to be in the hierarchy of the time frame. You could say, 'Would you like to go back to ancient Egypt?' You could be a cleaner in the pyramids or one of the guys who is going to get entombed there. It depends where you are. In Scotland at that time, our diet was abominable, the dwellings were poor, life was really harsh and short. But there would have been a connection with nature like no other. You were living in it. It depends if I was going to be the laird of the clan. It was about how are you going to stay alive? How are you going to feed your children? So I would go for 1945."
Lotte Verbeek (Geillis Duncan): "I know 1945 so much better, because of all the films we've seen and the books and TV shows. We have music from that time, and there are still people alive from that year. The other era, 1743, is so much of a different world. If I was given a choice, I would choose 1743, because it would be a much bigger change and adventure. I want to see what it really smelled like, to walk around on grounds that weren't paved yet, feel what it was like to be a woman in that time. It would be so exciting as long as I get to come back."
Ronald D. Moore (executive producer, writer): "1743. I love history and would be so fascinated to learn about this era in Scotland firsthand. It's a period and a culture that not many people are that versed in."
Diana Gabaldon (author): "Tough call. That's why I wrote books that had both eras. The research is a little like time travel. Probably safer."
Outlander premieres Aug. 9 at 9 p.m. on Starz.