“Outlander” is once again changing locations for its upcoming fourth season — but only in show setting, not shooting location, which is something executive producer Matthew B. Robert says provided the “absolute biggest challenge” the production team has thus far faced on the show.
The third season finale of the Starz drama saw Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) wash up on the shore of the brand-new American colony of Georgia, making the majority of the season four action taking place in North Carolina, even though the production itself remained in Scotland.
“We always played Scotland as a character, and when you find yourself in the American colonies, you don’t have that,” Roberts tells Variety.
In utilizing Scotland as a real-life location in earlier seasons, it was easy to “run outside and find that 400-year-old kirk or you can find a castle or you can find a nice stone wall with moss on it that looks cinematic and great because they’re everywhere there,” he notes. But it was harder to make it stand in for America.
“Scotland doesn’t have a lot of wooden structures made out of clapboard and wooden shingles and all that. So we had to build everything and allow for the time to do that,” he continues.
Roberts also says additional challenges came up regarding scheduling when and where to film the Native American scenes. In early America, Claire and Jamie encounter Native Americans quite frequently, but those sets and actors aren’t something the production can just snap their fingers and conjure up in Scotland either.
“In Scotland, there are no Native American or First Nations people. There just aren’t,” Roberts says.
Knowing they would need to rely on this part of the story throughout the fourth season, Roberts says they brought actors over from North America to populate the Native American villages they built.
“Jamie and Claire are establishing themselves in the wilderness really, so we were in a lot of forests and to see these sets — this settlement, Fraser’s Ridge — slowly taking shape from being a stand-to or a cabin to being a whole settlement that is thriving, it’s a really fun journey to be able to see,” says Sam Heughan.
For Caitriona Balfe, “more blue screen, a little more CGI” in the fourth season kept her on her toes but also feeling like her job as an actor was somewhat refreshed.
In these new challenges, the team behind the show believes the show finds new life. Roberts says that the crew wholeheartedly took on the challenge of creating colonial America and loved doing so “because it makes their job interesting.”
The actors and crew alike hope that this new setting enraptures the viewers the same way it captured their affection. The production team wanted the show to “have a whole new look” in order to “bring the audience along” on this journey to a new world, says Roberts, adding that the use of “America the Beautiful” as both the title of the season four premiere and as a musical cue during an intense season premiere scene was not an accident.
“The use of ‘America the Beautiful’ … was a contrast to what’s going on in the episode. You can have the most beautiful place in the world, but it can still have just layers and layers of ugliness and that’s what our characters will fight over the course of the season,” Roberts says.
As Claire and Jamie try to make America “beautiful” for themselves and their daughter, the fourth season of “Outlander” will focus on the idea of what home means.
“That’s one of our themes this year — what is home? Not finding home, but what is it? The struggle to figure out what do you call home? Is it a person? Is it a place? Is it property? That’s where we’re going this season,” Roberts says.
And those questions may have different answers for Claire and Jamie.
“They’re really unsure of what their next move is going to be,” says Balfe. “I think Jamie pretty much wants to go back to Scotland, but for Claire, she has such an emotional connection to America — from having raised her daughter there, from having lived in Boston for 20 years — this land has a real pull for her. So it becomes the story of an immigrant family searching for their home in America.”
Heughan notes that Jamie although Jamie does want to return to Scotland at first, that might not be a real option. So he will have to quickly realize “that this land is a land where there might be some great opportunity.”
“But at first, they’re fighting to exist or survive and it isn’t really until they get to River Run that they find their feet,” Heughan says. “Even then, they find that that’s a bit of a poisoned chalice.”
“Outlander” season four premieres Nov. 4 at 8 p.m. on Starz.