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Don't get your knickers in a twist, Outlander fans. Author Diana Gabaldon has no intention of quitting her day job, despite making her on-screen debut in this week's episode of the hit Starz series based on her time-traveling love-and-war-in-the-Highlands best-sellers.
"It was fun and deeply interesting, but I have absolutely no desire to be an actor or do this repeatedly," Gabaldon promised during Yahoo TV's visit to Outlander's Scotland set this past February. "They asked me all along, 'Are you sure you want to do this?' Well, yeah. I'm a writer. I'll do anything once to see what it is like, so I can write about it. This would include taking a sauna naked with my Finnish editor and then jumping in a Finnish lake at midnight."
Fortunately, playing a part in this week's episode, entitled "The Gathering," required no such leap of faith. In fact, Gabaldon explained that the experience left her body feeling quite the opposite of how it had felt during that Scandinavian swim. "It was about 102 [degrees] up in the [Castle Leoch's Grand Hall] galleries with all the torches, candlelight, and body heat rising up from down below. They took take after take after take, and Caitriona [Balfe, who plays Claire] very kindly lent me her fan because it was so hot up there," she recalled.
Get an exclusive sneak peek at this week's Outlander right here:
A fire alarm sounded, as if on cue, to illustrate her point about the ramifications of using historically accurate lighting (aka fire) in the faux palace. "It came in handy, because one poor girl actually collapsed in the corner from the heat," Gabaldon said. "I rushed over and fanned her, but someone showed up immediately and took her downstairs, which is what she really needed."
In addition to playing hero to fainters, the author portrays Iona McTavish, who is on hand to witness the local lads taking the MacKenzie clan loyalty oath. "I wasn't nervous at all. Mind you, I have two lines, so this is not a big part requiring a lot of direction. Basically, I said, 'Which direction do you want me to face?' And they told me."
"Carol Ann Crawford, a lovely dialect coach, spent half an hour with me earlier going over the Scots accent and delivery," Gabaldon revealed. "She would pop up every two or three takes and say, 'You're doing great, but on this particular word, you should really put more of a 'ewww' on it.' Rise and inflection and all that. Then the next take, it would be the makeup people popping up and blotting the sweat. It was really cool, fabulous. Occasionally, I get this odd feeling that this is really weird, in a good way."
While she didn't suffer butterflies or pass out, she did admit that the 18th-century costume was a tad claustrophobic. "You carry yourself very upright, because you can't not. You're wearing a corset and a bum roll. I couldn’t move in any direction, except I could flap my arms a little. I do a lot of public stuff, [so] I have been made up many, many times and had my hair done frequently, [so] that's not novel. But I've never worn a wig before. They put my hair in five or six little braids, pinned them to my head, and then fitted the wig over it. It feels like wearing a shower cap — very lightweight and, you know, slightly sweaty."
Gabaldon was more impressed by seeing her epic adventure come to life and learning about the intricacies of TV production. "I was up in the gallery above the great hall, so I could see everything going on below me, which was fantastic. They had dozens and dozens of extras, all in fabulous costumes."
"The technical aspects are almost as staggering," she continued. "This very cute little guy named Ozzie runs the Steadicam. My husband watched all the technical rehearsals and said, 'The Steadicam is the chief character here. After every scene, they hang it up, powder its nose, and bring it water.'"
"The director wanted this very ambitious long shot that would follow Claire and Ms. Fitz through the crowd, up the stairs, and into the gallery where they're going to watch the oath-taking and then would continue down off the side arriving just in time to see Colum parading in. It was a very ambitious shot, and it required absolutely everybody in the whole hall to do exactly the right thing all at the same time, which is why it took so long."
The McTavish character does not exist in the books, and Gabaldon wanted to assure fans yet again that she is completely at peace with the changes and additions that executive producer Ronald D. Moore has introduced. "Ron and the production crew have been so generous in including me. He showed me his pilot script before he took it to Starz. I didn’t get approval, of course, but I approved. I said, 'This is the first script based on my work I've ever seen that didn't either make me turn white or burst into flames.'"
"I’ve been fairly secure in his hands and grow more secure as days go on, and I see how competent he is and devoted to making this a very intuitive, insightful, faithful adaptation. I always understood it wasn’t going to be a literal page-by-page translation. That would be a really bad TV show."
Outlander airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.