Jamie and Claire That’s Wedding 107

Outlander Redefining Sex On TV Interview With Ronald D Moore

Outlander Redefining Sex On TV Interview With Ronald D Moore

A candle sputters. A curtain sways. A woman arches her back, her limbs bathed in a golden light. The angles, the body parts, the visuals are all familiar.

This story first appeared in the May 17, 2016 issue of Variety.

That’s because viewers of TV and film have been subjected to this kind of rote sex scene innumerable times. There are variations, but the outlines are generally the same: A compliant woman’s body is displayed in soft focus as a curtain sways and a triumphant man makes her writhe in grateful ecstasy.

“The curtain drives me berserk,” sighs Ronald D. Moore, executive producer of Starz’s “Outlander.” “Why is there a candle in the foreground? Why is the curtain [moving]? Where’s that wind coming from? Why is she always on top of him like that?”

These are only a few of Moore’s complaints about how sex scenes are typically shot and edited, and he has a point. Looking across the landscape of television, no matter what kind of show is under discussion — a premium cable drama, a broadcast network potboiler, a basic cable thriller — sexually charged scenes between characters too often follow a numbingly familiar script.

There are exceptions, of course, and many of them (“Master of None,” “Catastrophe,” “Transparent,” “Orange Is the New Black”) have one or both feet in the comedy realm; the hybrids are often far more comfortable with the idea of subverting or ignoring conventions. There are dramas that occasionally use sex as a perceptive storytelling device, among them “The Americans,” “Billions” and “Mr. Robot.” But all too often, supposedly adult dramas resort to banal cliches borrowed from porn or feature sensationalist moments that bear little relation to the sex lives of most human beings.

When he set out to adapt Diana Gabaldon’s series of “Outlander” novels, Moore says, he told the show’s directors, “‘We’re not doing TV sex. TV sex is not real sex. No one has sex like that.’ And they would all laugh and say, ‘Yeah, that’s true. So what do you want to do?’ I said, ‘Just do it like the real deal.’”

For “Outlander,” pursuing a more realistic approach starts with the storytelling. Moore and his writers don’t necessarily mine every sex scene in the novels for the TV show: Every moment of intimacy between characters needs to be vital to the narrative.
“Why are we going to do this? What’s the story reason? What’s the character reason?” Moore says. “It’s not just about getting to see them naked again, because we’ve seen them naked, and they’re hot. We get it.”

The stars of “Outlander” are indeed mighty attractive, but what has won over many fans is the complex mixture of vulnerability and volcanic attraction that fuels the evolving bond between Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and Claire Randall Fraser (Caitriona Balfe). The couple’s wedding has been the apex of the “Outlander” saga thus far, in large part because the sexual moments in that episode functioned like the songs in a classic musical: They told us important things about the characters and moved the story along.

Sexual acts on “Outlander” — including the damaging ones between Jamie and his tormenter, Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) — represent important milestones for the two characters involved. They’re not there as decorations, to be easily forgotten.

Moore made sure that a woman, executive producer Anne Kenney, wrote the wedding episode, and another woman, Anna Foerster, directed it.

“I just felt, for whatever reason, a woman would approach the scene differently emotionally and intuitively, and probably differently visually,” Moore said. “It would be more about the meeting of these two people than it would be about eroticism or trying to make it look ‘sexy.’”

When sex scenes are on the schedule, the production endeavors to give the actors a “little space to actually experiment and play around and find the natural chemistry between the two [characters], as opposed to what you could script or talk about in prep,” Moore says. That helps the scenes appear natural and lived-in. As Moore puts it, the feeling that the characters are “in the moment” makes the encounters work.

Things have changed for Jamie and Claire this season; their intimacy is strained, in part because Jamie is still recovering from sexual assaults by Randall last season. But the fact that “Outlander” is taking a man’s recovery from rape seriously is just another thing that sets it apart. The series also has shown full-frontal male nudity, something most programs still shy away from, even in the supposedly adventurous realms of premium TV.

The entire interview can be found at Variety.