I think many Outlander fans will agree that episode 205, “Untimely Resurrection,” is one of the stronger episodes of season two. That scene of Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) coming back into the lives of Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) is an example of powerhouse acting, and if the writing was not up to par, then that scene would not have stood out as it did. Richard Kahan wrote that episode, and we have the pleasure of sharing our interview with him. We hope you, the readers, enjoy a look behind the curtain in the Outlander writers’ room. You can find Richard on Twitter at @RichardKahan. Thanks again, Richard! Until next time, right?
How did you decide to pursue film and television writing since many associate Richard Kahan with being an actor? Or if there was an acting gig you really wanted, would you continue to audition?
Writing has always been a passion of mine, and something I did on the side, while pursuing acting, for many years, since I was young (there’s a TERRIBLE horror film out there somewhere, I wrote when I was like 10 that should NEVER see the light of day!) For a long time I felt like I needed to be singular in my work focus, and then, through a series of events, I realized that wasn’t the case, shifting my focus, and then my passion for writing really took over. There have been a few acting opportunities that have come up recently that I haven’t taken. It’s just not where my head is right now. I mean, never say never, but…
How did you first come into the Outlander writers’ room?
I worked for Ira Steven Behr for years before he joined Outlander, so I came in with him at the very beginning.
You are first “new” writer on the show. How were you able (or how was the subject broached) to write an episode for the second season?
Yeah, just a bit of pressure there! All the writers knew this was something I wanted, and was working toward as I shadowed them, helped with scripts, etc. through my job. So it was always out there, waiting for the right moment. Of course, being my mentor, Ira was instrumental in helping that along. And all the writers were very supportive. Matt really took me under his wing as well, and went out of his way to help me get the opportunity to write my own episode. And ultimately it was Ron’s decision – and I will forever be in his debt for giving me that opportunity.
How was episode 205 chosen as your episode?
I think it was discussed amongst the whole team, and all felt like this would be a good episode for me. Some great character moments, iconic scenes from the book – so just a great first episode to sink my teeth into.
Is there another episode in season two you would have liked to have written if it were not episode 205?
I mean, there were so many that would have been awesome to write… episode 207, Faith, that would have been an incredible experience. Toni Graphia knocked that out of the park – what a fantastic episode! And 210, Prestonpans, such a great episode of TV, and again, Ira Steven Behr killed it!
How was the title of the episode, “Untimely Resurrection,” chosen?
I’m pretty sure Matt mentioned that as a title. It’s a chapter title from the book, and really worked on many levels for the episode. Of course, the resurrection of Black Jack Randall (spoiler!) but also Claire’s past really resurrecting, and all coming to a head. Love the title!
You had to write the aftermath for the dinner table brawl in episode 204. How did you work that into your script? (Trying to say that your episode did not start fresh, but rather a continuation of the previous episode.)
There was a lot of discussion with Toni, who wrote episode 204, so we could find the right tone going from her episode into mine. It felt like there was room for a small reset, just a beat of silence after the hectic brawl. There was a great section in the book where Diana [Gabaldon] has Claire notice the sound of the clock in the silence of the house as she waits for Jamie to return. I loved that, as a watch guy, personally, but also tonally it was perfect, so it served as a theme for the episode – the ticking clock, leading to the alarm that finally goes off.
Your episode was pivotal for so many reasons. Was there a certain emotion you were attempting to convey with the entire episode or were there multiple emotions you wanted to hit?
There was a lot of emotion throughout the episode, which really became apparent during the writing process. It’s an episode with a lot of talking, and very little action until the final few scenes, so I thought of it as a slow burn, but there’s definitely fire underneath, so each scene had it’s own emotion carrying us through to the end.
Was it yours, and if so, how did you come up with the idea of King Louis being the ultimate “mean girl” to Black Jack Randall?
That wasn’t in the original draft, but something Ron brought as the script and the episode evolved. I think it turned into an awesome scene, played so well by our talented cast!
At least twice in your episode, Claire is not seen as nice or accommodating. Was it hard to make our main character and our “heroine” come out as the bad guy? Did fans complain to you about this?
That was very difficult, and something I definitely struggled with. I had to ultimately strengthen Claire’s reasons for doing what she’s doing, how she justifies her actions. And I found if those came from a good place – as they did – then that strong motivation is something I felt we, as an audience, would support. I also had a lot of trust in Caitriona as an actress, knowing that she would imbue those scenes with care, strength, and a lot of heart – which she certainly did! I didn’t hear too many complaints about how that aspect of the episode was handled, so hopefully it was handled okay…
This particular episode the writing and the directing really meshed, did you and Douglas Mackinnon see eye to eye for the most part or were there moments that the two of you had to really talk out a scene?
Honestly, as a freelance writer, in my position, you don’t get the opportunity to talk with the director much, if at all, during the process. Luckily, I’m very close with Toni [Graphia], who was on set producing my episode, so she really kept me apprised of what Douglas was thinking and how it would all come together. I think Douglas did an INCREDIBLE job, and luckily we’ve had a chance to chat a bit since the episode, so I could convey my gratitude for his amazing work.
Since you did not travel to Scotland to produce your episode, who was your eyes and ears on set?
Toni Graphia was on set producing my episode, as well as her own (204). Again, as a freelance writer, you would normally have no connection to what happens on set, or any say in that, but Toni really allowed me to be involved, handle a lot during the process, and really take ownership over the material. Very kind of her, and such a great learning experience for me!
What was it like being in another country and many time zones away from your script being turned into an episode?
It was nerve-racking, for sure. But having Toni there, and having her include me so much in the process definitely allowed for a few hours of sleep! I also just trusted the incredible cast and crew we have to turn in an episode above and beyond what I had imaged on the page – as they do time and time again.
Did you talk to the actors at all while the episode was being filmed?
I didn’t talk to them during filming. I’ve had a chance to meet them each in the past though, so hopefully (and I think) they trusted that I’ve been with the show since day one, and have a lot of love for these characters.
You had many characters in your episode. Is there one character from season two you would have liked to have written a scene for?
Jenny [Murray] would have been fun to write for. Laura [Donnelly] is such a talented actress. Same with Geillis [Duncan] – Lotte [Verbeek] is awesome, so another great character I would love to write for.
What is it like working for Ronald D. Moore?
Ron’s really laid back, very inclusive and trusting. He’s been doing this for a long time, so you just get the sense that he hires people he trusts and then really lets them fly. I think that’s the real mark of a great leader.
Being active on Twitter, what is it like to discuss your episode with fans and get that immediate feedback whether good or bad?
It’s really awesome. With my acting background, especially starting off in theater, you kind of get used to that. And although you don’t always need applause, I mean, who doesn’t like to hear them?! And even the negative, you take it in and hopefully filter, but also learn.
What is your favorite episode from season two besides your own?
I really loved episode 207, Faith. It’s just an emotional roller coaster, and so beautifully done. Especially as a new parent – it was heartbreaking to watch.
What is your favorite episode from season one?
For me, it’s hard not to say 106, Garrison Commander. That’s just an awesome, intense, and really smart hour of TV!
What entails being a writer’s assistant (if you still have this job)?
It really depends on the show, and changes from series to series, but the short answer is: helping the writers during and leading up to the writing process. So from research, to support docs, to editing, etc – just anything that’s needed to get the job done. It’s the best way to learn the process, allowing you to be hands on from the very beginning.
What are your upcoming projects?
I’m currently in post production on the feature film I produced called “Lucky” starring Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ed Begley Jr, Ron Livingston, and Tom Skerritt. Goes without saying, with that list of legends, but this was a dream come true! Incredible cast, beautiful script, just a pleasure and an honor to be a part of. I’m currently writing a film adaptation of Christal Presley’s memoir “Thirty Days With My Father”, an incredible, haunting account of intergenerational PTSD. I’m also producing and writing on a web series called “The Elevator”, as well as a few other potential projects that are too early in the process to mention… but fingers crossed! So yeah, sleep is not abundant but I feel very fortunate to be this busy with projects that I love!
Questions by Sarah Ksiazek and Ashley Fendt