It was time to hit the floors at the Donald E Stephens Convention Center today, as things kicked off a little early for Day One of Wizard World Chicago. The 2 pm opening time was an accommodation put in place by the folks at Wizard World in response to some changes in the Outlander cast’s availability for the con due to filming conflicts, which meant that Sam Heughan would not be able to attend at all physically (though virtually he will be present for the larger Outlander panel and he will be conducting Skype sessions with fans who had purchased photo ops if they so desire, something we detailed in our preview) and Caitriona Balfe’s lessened availability, which meant she was only able to attend for the first day of Wizard World, Thursday.
The floor wouldn’t open for another 2 hours, but Outlander fans were out in force, ready to settle in and hear tales of Claire’s adventures, life behind the scenes on Outlander, and fun facts about Balfe herself.
Fans were given an extra special something when it was revealed that Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, would be a guest at the panel as well, and she provided quite a bit of fun, facts and interesting insights about the show. It seemed a natural fit to have the author and the star of the show together, and we enjoyed the interplay. Caitriona talked about breaking into acting with Outlander, having previously been a model, and how excited and nervous she was to play the role. She’d wanted to study up on the characters and gone to a favorite LA bookstore called Book Soup to pick up Gabaldon’s first novel, only to be informed by her cashier, who’d done a thesis on Ronald Moore, the series creator, that they were just about to do a series on the books that he was looking forward to.
Gabaldon went farther back, to her strict childhood and previous career in science and her decision, after years of dedication and success in her field, to just give writing novels a try at 35. “After all, Mozart died at 36, it’s now or never” she quipped. She discussed where she got the idea for the show, as well. It turns out, Outlander owes its beginnings to another massive name in the sci-fi pantheon, Doctor Who. “It all started with a man in a kilt,” said Gabaldon, referring to a classic Doctor Who episode she saw while doing research to determine when and where her story would take place and get ideas for characters. She was referring her own intrigue at the appearance of the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton’s companion, a Scottish highlander named Jamie. “Why a man in a kilt?” she said some asked her. “Because you can be up against a wall with him in a minute.” Gabaldon went on to talk about her role in the show, some things she might have wanted to go differently and had asked to change, including the original season four opener which had been scrapped, something she let slip only to have Caitriona shush her on immediately. Overall, though, Gabaldon says that her vision is respected and she loves how the show has gone.
There were many questions for Caitriona, too, of course, and she was happy to tell all, from how quickly things moved once she got the part (her arriving in Scotland less than a week from when she got the role) and how she adapted to this breakout role. She said that she and her character both shared a sense of newness to their surroundings at first, with her adjusting to the character and the show, and Claire adjusting to the strange time warp she’d undergone from her own time as a nurse in the WWII era to 18th century Scotland. She spoke of the changes she felt Claire had undergone and her happiness at Claire being a heroine rather than someone who’s always needing to be rescued, as well as the real balance she feels in the relationship between herself and Sam Heughan’s Jamie. “They’re a couple that pushes each other, saves each other, and sure, annoys each other” she said with a laugh. “But it’s a very balanced view of a relationship” that audiences can and have latched onto.
If you either missed today’s Outlander panel or can’t get enough of the cast, make sure to check out the larger cast panel, which happens on Saturday from 1:45-2:30 and features Diana Gabaldon, Sophie Skelton, Richard Rankin, Lotte Verbeek and Graham McTavish (and includes the virtual appearance by Sam Heughan) as well as various photo and autograph opportunities that will happen during the rest of the con. Meanwhile, stay tuned for daily panel catchups and cosplay galleries, live updates from the showfloor on Facebook and Twitter, and even some bonus video content!