Outlander is famous for its sex scenes—but unlike many shows on television, these scenes don't just serve to titillate and objectify. They're stories within the story, never superfluous, and always purposeful. They drive character development, and are essential to the relationship between protagonists Claire and Jamie. They're also just really beautiful to watch, because guess what? Sex is normal and showing it on TV isn't a big deal!
In celebration of Jamie and Claire finally getting back together (across time and space, no less) in Outlander's upcoming episode, MarieClaire.com spoke to cast members and creators about the making of the show's four most memorable sex scenes.
The Wedding: Season 1, Episode 7
In what's probably Outlander's most iconic and visually stunning sex scene, Claire and Jamie make love for the first time in order to consummate their marriage. The room is bathed in soft light, and filmed with a male and female gaze in mind—with equal time spent undressing and highlighting both characters. Filming the scene took several days, and it was intricately choreographed.
Anna Foerster, Director: "I think we were five days in the wedding chamber—and not just the sex scenes, everything leading up to them, too, all the connective tissue. There are moments where you do maybe two takes, and you're fine. But then we did pick-ups—I'd choose several angles and within those pick a moment and film it several times. For example when Claire walks around Jamie and traces her hand around his back, it was very important to get the fluidity and sensuality. We'd shoot a pick-up like that as many as six times, and [sometimes] I'd talk to the cast and camera operator while shooting."
Matthew B. Roberts, producer: "We tried to make it like any other scene because you don't want to make the actors feel different than they would otherwise. But as the production, we were careful with how we prepped the scene—we gave it much more attention without a doubt. They were choreographed, we got rehearsal, the lighting in the room was tested, there were tests on what the costumes would look like. We don't always do that for every scene, there's not enough time. What we normally do for intimate scenes like this is rehearse first, prior to the day. You want the actors to be comfortable with the moves they're making—you have to let them be free to open up in front of the crew."
Anna Foerster: "It's a huge responsibility to make the actors feel safe. Part of the way we achieve that is through rehearsal time—which is not always possible on television. We spoke very clearly about what the moments were, what the emotional beats were–and then we did something very technical and specific: We taped out the floor plan of the wedding chamber, and went through a very specific choreography, movement by movement. The actors felt comfortable—they knew where to move, which direction to fall on the bed, how their hair was falling so I could capture it—it's very technical."
Matthew B. Roberts: "We always close the set and have the bare minimum of crew—just the two actors, camera operators, and costumers. We also close the monitors to just the director, the creative producer, writer, and director of photography. During a normal scene you have open monitors and as many as 50 people wandering around doing things."
Anna Foerster: "We had to navigate through nudity because there are strict regulations about what you can and can't see. But we come up with blocking so we know very specifically how to cover them. It creates a safe environment for the actor, because we dance around the nudity with the camera and go through it step by step. We lay out a blueprint."
Caitriona Balfe, actress (Claire Fraser): "Oh god, the stick on paper underwear [is the least sexy part of filming sex scenes]. It's the least sexy thing in the world. Just flesh colored underwear in general should be banned. Sometimes it's very helpful, but it's just so unsexy."
Anna Foerster: "When they are really in the middle of the sexual act you obviously want to film that as little as possible. It was probably three or four takes. The reason you do it a lot of times is not because they didn't hit their mark, or the camera was in the wrong spot—most of the time we go again to get a great different performance. When you have the blueprint you can concentrate on fine tuning the performance. We'd come up with funny words for specific positions. One was called the Dolphin—Jamie was trapped with his arm under the bed. It helped tremendously. Like, 'Oh I think we've got to do the Dolphin again.'"
Matthew B. Roberts: "There are giggles in a lot of the scenes—sex scenes or not. They have to become quite uninhibited with each other. I've seen multiple scenes where they break into laughter. It's not uncommon."
The Woods: Season 1, Episode 11
This is one of Outlander's most sex-positive and feminist moments, featuring Jamie fingering Claire and abandoning his own desire for sexual pleasure in order to watch her orgasm. Jamie prioritizes Claire's sexual experience, and the scene is filmed from his POV. It's important to note that this scene takes place before Jamie takes Claire back to the stones, meaning he thinks this is the last night they'll spend together.
Toni Graphia, writer: "We couldn't do a night scene at the location we'd found because of mosquitos, so we recreated the spot on the soundstage and shot it there. So, this scene was extra hard to perform because they didn't have a romantic setting at all. They were in a tiny corner of the stage with a fake backdrop."
Matthew B. Roberts: "The scene is Jamie's POV, which is another way of getting into telling the story. We'd have another scene with Claire's POV of Jamie. Even though different directors [work on each episode], they watch the dailies and see what has come before—they want to show a different perspective. But the writing really influences it—if you read in the script that it's Jamie driving the scene, it feels right to put the camera on Claire and get his POV."
Toni Graphia: "We decided he would just pleasure her with his hand—it was very intentional. There were some dissenting opinions in the writer's room. We were three men and two women on the writing staff—but our staff doesn't always divide along the male/female line. It's not black and white—often the men argue for the more female-centric perspective. On this particular scene, I wanted him to pleasure her because he's not in the mode of 'I just want to jump on you.' He thinks he's going to lose her, and she does't know that yet. He's in a whole different mind frame from her. In the book, they made love in the middle of the night without speaking, and there's a line that says he looks at her face and memorizes her features. I keyed in on that more than the 'making love.' He wants to remember. There were a couple people who were like 'Oh come on now, what man is going to do this and not just roll over and finish the job for himself?' But that's not what the scene is about."
Matthew B. Roberts: "We write the idea of the scene on the page, but as soon as you get into the room (or the woods) where it's going to take place, the actors...I can't even give you a percentage of how much they bring because it's all about the performance at this stage. Each movement in the scene is the actor. You can come up with an idea and say 'Could you push her hair around her ear?' But at the end of the day it's the actors."
Toni Graphia: "Sam's smile [in that scene] I don't believe was stated in the script. That was his choice. He's very in-tune to Caitriona. I've been on shows where the leads hate each other and they're forced do to sex scenes. Sometimes they're very hot because there's a lot of passion and it comes off on the screen, but that's not the case here. They're good friends and very in-sync. They just shut off what's going on around them and focus on each other."
Matthew B. Roberts: "Sex in this season encompasses a lot of unselfish sex acts. If you do each sex scene the same each time, people get bored. It's almost like you give parts of a whole."
The Knife: Season 1, Episode 9
Many fans believe that this scene—in which Claire holds a knife to Jamie's heart during sex—is a shoutout to BDSM. That wasn't the intention, but it speaks to Outlander's out-of-the-box approach to sex on TV, and how far they're willing to push boundaries. What makes this moment so important, though, is the fact that Claire is asserting herself as a dominant presence in her relationship, hot on the heels of Jamie spanking/punishing her in an earlier scene.
Caitriona Balfe: "Our process usually with these scenes is we do a lot of talking with the writer producer and director, and spend a lot of time choreographing and making sure we're comfortable with everything."
Matthew B. Roberts: "We rehearsed, but the actors brought a lot of organic things to the scene. Caitriona would have been given the knife much earlier in prep—she would have seen it and handled it, we would have dulled it so it wasn't going to accidentally cut Sam's throat because that would have been hard to explain. We choreographed those parts, but the movements and rhythm of the scene wasn't choreographed. That's actors acting."
Sam Heughan, actor (Jamie Fraser): "There's always [so many people] watching and you have to do it over and over. Sure, we all like to get intimate—but all day? It takes a lot of energy."
Matthew B. Roberts: "There was tons of discussion about how the scene would be filmed—there always is with every scene. Some people see this as a very S&M scene, and I don't see it as that at all—even though this is my script. But people definitely talk about it. And even the spanking scene [earlier in the episode], a lot of people talked about that as being sexual. That wasn't one of the words we used to rehearse that scene. Claire and Jamie are becoming equals, is what I saw, in that sex scene."
Pregnancy Sex: Season 2, Episode 4
Sex scenes that involve a pregnant woman are almost always fetishized, and almost never shown on television. And when they are show, the bump is always covered. But in Outlander, Claire's stomach didn't come in the way of sex with Jamie, nor was it covered or censored. Instead, the show broke the taboo and treated this sex scene like any other.
Matthew B. Roberts: "For Caitriona, having the belly on was probably the biggest adjustment. We fit it, rehearsed, and tried to get her comfortable with what she was wearing. Outlander never shies away from these moments, and instead makes them natural. We do have a feminine gaze, and that gaze is that women are real people who do things everyone does."
Toni Graphia: "There was never discussion about not showing the stomach. Our show is all about authenticity. Pregnant women are beautiful, and it wasn't even an issue—other than, 'Hey, we have to get down to business and get the prosthetic made. The prosthetic wasn't an issue for Caitriona—she's so good and such a natural. We didn't ever imagine that people would put this much emphasis on the scene. To us it was just people coming back together, not a 'pregnancy sex scene.'"
Matthew B. Roberts: "The director and DP wanted to give the scene a sensual feel. The room was blue itself, so the blue lighting was a [purposeful] choice. Every director and cinematographer wants to make these scenes feel different than the ones that came before. It was late at night, it was cold—bringing them together was something that warmed them. If we had used warm light, it would take you out of it a little."
Toni Graphia: "Jamie had been sexually assaulted at the end of the previous season. We wanted to do justice to that, and didn't want him and Claire to just jump into bed and resume their sex life like nothing happened. This was an important episode because it's when they come back together. We thought about ways to do it—we didn't want to use the bedroom like a regular scene. There was this beautiful day bed that had been created, and every time we walked through that set we laughed and said, 'Somebody's gotta have sex in there.' We had thought about having Claire open the door and find Murtagh there with a girl. But then we thought, 'Hmmm, maybe we put Claire and Jamie in there.' It took them out of their own bed. Psychologically, it helped to move them out of the bedroom.... We had a lot of discussions about how to do this, and we deliberately chose the day bed and keep it dark. It's a metaphor for them finding each other again. We put very little dialogue and wrote it sparsely on purpose."
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
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Mehera Bonner is a celebrity and entertainment news writer who enjoys Bravo and Antiques Roadshow with equal enthusiasm. She was previously entertainment editor at Marie Claire and has covered pop culture for over a decade.
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