Thursday, December 31, 2015

Scottish Festive Traditions Involving Food and Drink

By: The Scotsman Food and Drink Staff

We take a look at some of the history surrounding some of Scotland's most popular - and obscure - festive traditions involving food and drink.

Scotland is a land of romance and history, with some customs and traditions stretching back thousands of years.

The Scots’ love of traditions can only be rivalled by their love of food and drink and when the two meet, well you can see how some of them last for such a long time.

These customs really come to the fore as we approach autumn and winter beginning with Halloween. The Eve of all Hallows has been celebrated (or feared) in Scotland since the medieval times, with many of the traditions associated with it originating from around that time when the Gaelic festival of Samhain ushered in the start of the winter season and marked the end of the harvest months.

Of course everyone knows of the more famous Scottish Halloween traditions such as ‘Guising – which saw children dress up to disguise themselves from the souls of the dead, who it was said on this liminal time, came into our world and were appeased with offerings of food and drink – and ‘Dookin’ for apples.

The Tweedie Memorial Boy's Club Hallowe'en party showing boys dookin' for apples in 1967. Picture: TSPL

One of the more obscure Scottish Halloween customs involved single people, who would take an apple and peel the skin using a knife in one continuous motion, then toss the whole skin over their shoulder.

The shape the skin took was said to predict the first letter of the name of a future love.

Another odd tradition was the giving of nuts to a recently engaged couple. The nuts would be thrown into a fire – if they burned quickly the marriage would be a happy one. but if they spat or hissed it would be a sign of a turbulent pairing.


Scottish Christmas traditions are a little on the sparse side. The reasons for this are varied but they can mainly be pinned down to the Reformation, and the Kirk’s disapproval of Christmas as a celebration because of its perceived association with the Roman Catholic Church, which they dismissed as a “Popeish festival”.

In 1640, an Act of the Parliament of Scotland made the celebration of “Yule vacations” illegal. This led to Scots rarely celebrating Christmas and instead focusing their attentions onto the more accepted festivities surrounding Hogmanay.

After the Celtic celebrations and medieval feasts, something of a festive void took hold for around 400 years.
The Victorian era heralded a revival in festivities which has lasted until the present day.

One tradition that stood the test of time in Scotland was festive desserts, including Christmas puddings or clootie dumplings.
However, the most famous – and the most synonymous with Christmas – is the humble mince pie.

The early mince pie was a far cry from the recognisable pastry offerings hitting supermarket shelves in early November these days.

Although still containing fruits and spices, leftover meat was also baked in the pies.

Mince Pies. Picture: TSPL

It has been suggested that the reason mince pies are the size they are today was that it made them so much easier to hide from the prying eyes of the protestant church who would frown on such activities.

Christmas Eve is still referred to in many parts of Scotland as “Sowans Nicht” which is thought to refer to “sowans” – a dish made from oat husks and fine meal steeped in water for several days until sour. This dish was prepared and then shared on Christmas Eve.


A far more popular holiday in Scotland – mainly due to the restrictions placed on Christmas celebrations – Hogmanay is widely celebrated across the country.

The reasons for the naming of new year’s eve as Hogmanay are lost to the past with many disputed claims as to its origins. One of the more popular ones is that it derives from the Norse word ‘Hagg’, meaning to kill or cut and ‘Hoggonott’ which referred to the slaughtering of animals to be eaten at the Yule feast.

Traditions at this time of year maintain strong links with Viking and Gaelic celebrations of Yule time, or ‘Daft Days’ as they are known in Scotland.

One still-popular custom is first-footing, which traditionally saw the first visitor to set foot in the household bring a gift such as coal, shortbread, salt, black bun or whisky.

First Footing - A guest bearing gift arrives on New Year's Day. Picture: TSPL

These days the gifts are more likely to be restricted to just whisky and shortbread.

Another traditional day for Scots is Handsel Monday, typically the first Monday of the New Year and a day in which handsels (supposedly derived from the Saxon word for ‘gift in the hand’) or small gifts – traditionally coins and items of food such as cakes or pastries – were given out. It soon became synonymous with Lairds, or Ladies, of a household giving them to their staff.

This tradition was eventually overtaken by the English custom of giving boxed gifts to your employees on ‘Boxing Day’ in Victorian times.

Burns Night

Scots have always found great reason to celebrate during long winters, including Burns Night in late January.

The anniversary of the birth of the poet Robert Burns, in 1759, this day is now celebrated worldwide by those of Scottish descent and involves a “Burns Supper” in which copious amounts of haggis, neeps and tatties are served, along with oatcakes and a dram or seven.

A Burns Supper. Picture: TSPL

Burns Night celebrations can be small, informal occasions, or they can be large-scale formal dining experiences. Although the ceremonial part is taken very seriously – including the recital of the poem Address to a Haggis – the night is usually a light-hearted affair.

Film Crew Set to Roll into Falkland

By Maureen Ferrier, Fife Today

     Filming for the first series of Outlander took place in Falkland.
Filming for the first series of Outlander took place in Falkland.

Cameras will be rolling in Falkland early next year when the Outlander film crew rolls into town.

Householders in Falkland areas affected by the planned filming of series two of the saga have already been sent a newsletter which outlines the programme of events including street closures during filming and security.

Filming is scheduled for January and February, but this is subject to change – the weather could particularly affect the schedule.

Initially filming will be confined to Brunton Street, and the centre of the village around High Street, the Bruce Fountain and the Palace.

As happened when the first series was filmed in Falkland, the film company is doing everything possible to co-operate with residents and businesses, with phone numbers available to deal with any concerns.

Outlander follows the story of Claire Randall, a married combat nurse from 1945 who is mysteriously swept back in time to 1743, and stars Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies along with a host of well know Scottish actors. It is adapted from a series of eight books – so far – by American author Diana Gabaldon, and has been filmed at locations across Scotland.

Sam Heughan, Caitriona Balfe and Lotte Verbeek at Doune Castle ("Castle Leoch") Season 1

Caitriona Balfe in Falkland, Fife ("Inverness")

Falkland, Fife (Inverness") in Season 1

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Begins with Torchlight Procession

By Courtney Cameron, The Scotsman
     Vikings lead the Torchlight Procession. Pictures: Greg Macvean

THE Capital’s three-day Hogmanay celebrations have kicked off in style as 40,000 revellers descended on the city for the Torchlight Procession.

Wrapped up warm in hats and scarves, residents and visitors from all over the world marched from the Old Town to Calton Hill carrying hundreds of wax based torches blazing with fire.

Pic Greg Macvean - 30/12/2015 - The night before torchlit procession leaves George IV Bridge on their way to Calton Hill led by Up Helly AA' Vikings from Shetland

Led by 26 hairy Up Helly Aa Vikings from Shetland and six pipe bands, the 10,000 Torchbearers illuminated the city’s streets – accompanied by their friends and families – lighting up the path from the George IV Bridge to the Son et Lumiere and fireworks display at Calton Hill. Despite the day’s torrential weather conditions, thousands still turned up for the event, which is the first of many celebrations over the next few days.

Lewis Grant, 24, from Silverknowes, who participated in the procession for the very first time said: “I’ve seen so many pictures from the Torchlight procession in the past and they looked amazing – I knew I just had to be a part of it this year.

“The atmosphere is just exceptional, so far it certainly hasn’t disappointed.”

The procession began at 7pm at the George IV Bridge and was viewed by around 40,000 people along the route.


In the past, the Torchlight Procession has been dubbed the “river of fire”, due to the effect it creates.

Julianna Campbell, who has travelled from Singapore to experience Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Cclebrations said she had never seen anything quite like it.

She said: “My husband is from Scotland and he has always spoken of how well Edinburgh celebrates New Year.

“Now I am here, seeing it for myself, I know what he means – there’s nothing quite like it.”

The Torchlight Procession will be followed by the Street Party, Concert in the Gardens and the Old Town Ceilidh this evening.

Councillor Richard Lewis, Edinburgh’s Festival and Events Champion, said: “This year’s Hogmanay is all set to be real cracker. With spectacular events including the Loony Dook I would encourage everyone to come along and experience what Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is really about.”

Outlander First Look: From Kilts to Couture - See Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe in Costume for Season 2 of the Starz Drama

By: Lynette Rice, Entertainment Weekly

Image Credit: Starz

It’s not just about the kilts in the second season of Outlander

In preparation for the drama’s action-packed year on Starz, costumer designer Terry Dresbach set aside the heavy tartans to make way for lots of sumptuous silks, like these exquisite togs that Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) wear to the King’s stables in France. Here, Dresbach talks why it was necessary to almost break the bank to costume Claire and Jamie, who infiltrate opulent French society this season in an effort to stop the Battle of Culloden.

“It’s a massive season. We figured out recently that we’ve made over 10,000 items for season 2 and acquired another 5,000 shoes. Knowing that was in front of us … it was a monumental task. We started thinking about it halfway through season 1. It’s a completely different kind of clothing. In Scotland, there is not a ton of research out there about what they wore. It was a rough place. But France [in the 18th century] was one of the most well-documented periods of fashion in the world, so you better get it right. There is no wiggle room. Everything has to be sumptuous and lavish and every inch is beaded and embroidered. This is why I came back into the business to do this show. Getting to do 18th century French court is a designer’s dream. It’s fabulous.”

(For more details about Claire’s luscious dress – and where Dresbach found the fabric – pick up the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now). 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

‘Outlander’ Season 2 Spoilers: Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe Hint Episode 1 Will Be Heartbreaking

Posted by: Reality Today

"Outlander" Season 2 will be premiering in spring of 2016 and fans are already being advised
to keep a box of tissues right next to them as they prepare for the Starz time traveler series' upcoming season. In a recent interview, Caitriona Balfe hinted that the show's premiere episode will be "so heartbreaking for the audience." Sam Heughan, on the other hand, revealed that Jamie and Claire will have so much more challenges this season.

Warning: Spoilers ahead! Read on if you want to learn more about the details of this story.

"Outlander" Season 2 is getting closer and closer to its return on TV, as the show recently released a sneak peek of its upcoming season. While fans are slowly closing in on the so-called "Droughtlander" phase, it looks like fans and viewers will have to brace themselves with a dramatic premiere episode.

In an interview with Parade (via Express), actress Caitriona Balfe revealed that the show's first episode will be very heartbreaking.

"There are some scenes in Episode 1 that, I think, are going to be so heartbreaking for the audience. They are really beautiful and it was fantastic material to work on," she said.

The 36-year-old actress further noted that "Outlander" Season 2 will be "different visually," but it will still hold the same elements as the first season, with the show's lead characters, Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall at its core.

Meanwhile, Sam Heughan spoke to Gold Derby and said that love definitely brings out the best in people. The 35-year-old Scottish actor described Jamie as a "young man who has no responsibilities;" all these changed when Claire came into his life.

Heughan also shared some interesting details about "Outlander" Season 2 and said that Jamie will have a lot more to take on aside from moving on from the trauma he experienced from Black Jack (Tobias Menzies) last season. Jamie and Claire will travel to Paris to stop the Jacobite Rebellion, and at the same time, they are preparing to be parents.

‘Outlander’ News: Sam Heughan Hints Season 2 Premiere Date Announced Soon?

Reported in Fashion & Style

(Photo : STARZ/Outlander's Official Facebook Page) "Outlander" star Sam Heughan recently hinted that there is a chance that STARZ could announce the season two premiere date very soon while the network posted a new promotional image of Claire Fraser in Paris, France on Twitter.

"Outlander" star Sam Heughan recently confirmed that season two is almost done and hinted
that STARZ will make an announcement regarding the premiere date very soon.

"Outlander" was named the Radio Times TV Show Champion of 2015 this week and Heughan thanked fans for making sure that their favorite show won the competition.

The actor added that the results were the best Christmas present he could have received, notes Radio Times.

"The award is due to all the cast and crew who work so hard in every weather condition," he said. "Season two is almost complete and #Droughtlander is almost over. Thanks again to our extended clan of Outlander fans, we make the show for them."

Given the fact that Heughan noted the cast is almost done filming the second season, it is possible that STARZ will announce the premiere date sometime in late January or even early February.

Aside from "Outlander" being named TV Show Champion 2015 by Radio Times, STARZ also released a new season two promotional picture on Twitter just in time for the holidays.

The image shows Caitriona Balfe as Claire Fraser and she is wearing a gorgeous purple dress.

The caption reads "Claire is not one to sit still" and given the determined look on her face, the new picture hints that she is about to confront someone. It is possible that she is looking for Jamie or might even have to negotiate with someone at the French court.

Finally, "Outlander" star Caitriona Balfe took to Twitter to voice her support for the Malala Fund.

She retweeted a post and urged her fans to support Malala Yousafazi's campaign to make sure that young women all over the world receive 12 years of education.

Balfe also posted a Huffington Post article that explores how investing in young women has the greatest impact in creating strong communities and building peaceful societies all around the world.

"Outlander" season two will air sometime in 2016, so keep checking back with Fashion&Style for the latest news about the show!

Caitriona Balfe as Claire Fraser

Friday, December 25, 2015

For Your Christmas Reading Pleasure: the Answers to our 1st Annual 12 Days of Outlander Trivia Contest!


Thanks to all of you who played along with us during our 1st annual 12 Days of Outlander Trivia Contest!

It was a lot of fun to do, and judging by the wonderful response we got, you all enjoyed it, too.  We hope ye all learned a thing or two that ye didna know before...we certainly did!   (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD IN THESE ANSWERS.  IF YE HAVENA READ ALL THE BOOKS AND DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS, STOP NOW)

We will announce the winner of our Grand Prize tomorrow, Dec. 26th at 11 pm EST, 8 PM PST

1. During WWII, Frank meets a distant relative of Jamie's. Who is it?

During his time in the British Secret Service, Frank encounters Brigadier Simon Christopher Joseph Fraser, better known as Simon Fraser, The 15th Lord Lovat 

Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat (b. 9 July 1911 in Beaufort Castle, Inverness, Scotland – d. 16 March 1995 in Beauly, Inverness-shire, Scotland) was the 25th Chief of the Clan Fraser of Lovat and a prominent British Commando during the Second World War. His friends called him "Shimi" Lovat, an anglicised version of his name in the Scottish Gaelic language. His clan referred to him as MacShimidh, his Gaelic patronym, meaning Son of Simon. Simon is the favoured family name for the Chiefs of Clan Fraser. While the 15th Lord de jure, he was the 17th Lord Lovat de facto, but for the attainder of his Jacobite ancestor who was executed in 1747. He was also 4th Baron Lovat in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. (source: Wikipedia)

*In fairness, since we didn't specify "blood relative" we gave half credit to those of you who answered Jerry MacKenzie, Roger's father, Jamie's relative by marriage.

2. There are several sets of twins in the book series. Name two of them (last names are fine). 

Josiah & Keziah Beardsley

William and Robert Murchison (aka Wee Billy and Wee Bobby)

Janet and Michael Murray

David and Daniel Rawling

Some of you were verra industrious and came up with several other sets of twins, but these were the 4 sets that we were thinking of.  If you gave us any two sets of twins, we accepted those answers.  

3.What does Jamie give Claire as a wedding present on the first day after their marriage ceremony (be specific!)? 

A 14 inch trout!

"There was a sudden explosion of motion. Everything happened so fast I couldn’t see what actually did take place. There was a heavy splatter of water that sluiced across the rock an inch from my face, and a flurry of plaid as Jamie rolled across the rock above me, and a heavy splat as the fish’s body sailed through the air and struck the leaf-strewn bank.

Jamie surged off the ledge and into the shallows of the side pool, splashing across to retrieve his prize before the stunned fish could succeed in flapping its way back to the sanctuary of the water. Seizing it by the tail, he slapped it expertly against a rock, killing it at once, then waded back to show it to me.

“A good size,” he said proudly, holding out a solid fourteen-incher. “Do nicely for breakfast.” He grinned up at me, wet to the thighs, hair hanging in his face, shirt splotched with water and dead leaves. “I told you I’d not let ye go hungry.”

He wrapped the trout in layers of burdock leaves and cool mud. Then he rinsed his fingers in the cold water of the burn, and clambering up onto the rock, handed me the neatly wrapped parcel.

“An odd wedding present, may be,” he nodded at the trout, “but not without precedent, as Ned Gowan might say.”

“There are precedents for giving a new wife a fish?” I asked, entertained.

He stripped off his stockings to dry and laid them on the rock to lie in the sun. His long bare toes wiggled in enjoyment of the warmth.

“It’s an old love song, from the Isles. D’ye want to hear it?”

“Yes, of course. Er, in English, if you can,” I added.

“Oh, aye. I’ve no voice for music, but I’ll give you the words.” And fingering the hair back out of his eyes, he recited,

“Thou daughter of the King of bright-lit mansions
On the night that our wedding is on us,
If living man I be in Duntulm,
I will go bounding to thee with gifts.
Thou wilt get a hundred badgers, dwellers in banks,
A hundred brown otters, natives of streams,
A hundred silver trout, rising from their pools…”

And on through a remarkable list of the flora and fauna of the Isles. I had time, watching him declaim, to reflect on the oddity of sitting on a rock in a Scottish pool, listening to Gaelic love songs, with a large dead fish in my lap. And the greater oddity that I was enjoying myself very much indeed.

When he finished, I applauded, keeping hold of the trout by gripping it between my knees.

“Oh, I like that one! Especially the ‘I will go bounding to thee with gifts.’ He sounds a most enthusiastic lover.”

Eyes closed against the sun, Jamie laughed. “I suppose I could add a line for myself—‘I will leap into pools for thy sake.’ ”

4. Dougal MacKenzie has 4 children. What are their names?

Dougal had 4 (legitimate) children with his wife, Maura:

Molly, Tabitha ("Tibby"), Margaret & Eleanor

He also had two illegitimate children (that we know of): Hamish MacKenzie (with his sister-in-law Letitia) and William Buccleigh MacKenzie (with Geillis Duncan)

*Since we didna specify legitimate vs illegitimate in the question, we accepted any 4 of the 6 and gave bonus points if ye gave us all 6!

5. When trying to describe Claire to Jocasta, to what or whom does Phaedra compare her?

Print by Carol Cavalaris

Phaedra describes Claire to Jocasta, who is blind, as a "tiger with those big whisky eyes" from an illustration she saw in a book.

6. Brianna has a birthmark. What does it look like and where is it located on her body?

Brianna's birthmark is "...a wee brown mark, shaped like a diamond. Just behind her left ear."

No, we dinna have inside info! No confirmation yet if Amber Skye Noyes has been cast as Brianna (we just like the look of this lass for Brianna!)

7. Jamie has a son,Willie. What is his full name (careful...we're looking for ALL of his names!)?

Lord William Clarence Henry George Ransom, Viscount Dunsany, Viscount Ashness, Baron Derwent, 9th Earl of Ellesmere.  

Bonus point if you also gave us his "stinking papist" baptismal name given to him by Jamie: William James 

8. Who is Jem’s father and how was his paternity determined?

Roger is Jem's father, which was proven definitively when Jem showed that he was unable to "roll" his tongue (in The Fiery Cross). Claire is explaining about dominant and recessive genes.  Both she and Jamie can roll their tongues, but they passed the recessive gene to Bree, who cannot.  Likewise, Roger has only the recessive "tongue-rolling" gene, because he cannot do it either.  Therefore, since Jem could only get the recessive genes for this from his parents, if he CAN do it, then Roger could not possibly be Jem's father.  

Ye dinna have to be a wizard like Harry Potter to roll yer tongue

Most of you answered that both Roger and Jem could "hear the stones" or that both had nearly identical birthmarks on their heads.  Both of these things are indicative of paternity, but not definitive genetic proof.  (We know, this was a tough one...we gave ye partial credit for the other answers!)

Here is part of the passage:

"Roger looked up at Bree, and something seemed to pass through the air between them.  He reached down and took hold of Jem's other hand, momentarily interrupting his song.

"So, a bhalaich, can ye do it, then?"

"Frère <he's singing Frere Jacques here> whats?"

"Look at Grand-da," Roger nodded at Jamie, who took a deep breath and quickly put out his tongue, rolled into a cylinder.

"Can ye do that?" Roger asked

"Chure." Jenny beamed and put out his tongue. Flat. "Bleah!"

A collective sigh gusted through the room..."

Then there's a hilarious scene involving balls (testicles) between Jamie, Roger and Jem, which ye all must read!

9. At what university did Brianna get her degree and what was her field of study? (Be specific, please!)
Brianna received her degree in Mechanical Engineering from M.I.T. (after changing her original major, history).

10. What do Roger and Bree find in 1968 that contains Claire’s signature from the 18th Century? Bonus if you can tell us what it was used for.

The Deed of Sasine. This document deeds ownership of Lallybroch from Jamie (JAMMF) to Jamie Murray (Young Jamie), a minor, in order to protect  it from seizure by the English.  It is pre-dated to July 1745, before Jamie's (forged) signature appeared on the Charles Stuart declaration which marked Jamie as a Jacobite supporter of the Bonny Prince, and thus branded him as a traitor in the eyes of the English.  As such, any property he owned would be subject to forfeiture to the Crown.  It is signed by  Jamie,  and witnessed by Claire and Murtagh, whose signatures also appear on it.

11. How many times was Geillis married (that we know of)? (Bonus points for each husband you can name and cause of death).

Geillis mentions being married 5 times (although, knowing her, it could have been more);

In 1968 she was know as Gillian Edgars, married to Greg Edgars, whose throat she cuts and then sets on fire at Craigh na Dun (so she has both a blood and a fire sacrifice, which she believes is necessary to travel through the stones).

She arrives in the past in 1733. Before arriving in Cranesmuir, she is known under the last name of Isbister.  We don't know for sure if she was married to Mr. Isbister, but he did end up hanging from a tree.  Ye can draw your own conclusions...

In Cranesmuir, she marries Arthur Duncan, the town fiscal.  She has an affair with Dougal Mackenzie, who shares her Jacobite sympathies.  She is slowly poisoning Arthur to get him out of the picture, but speeds up the process with saltpetre when he discovers that she is pregnant...and not by him.

She is rescued from burning after the witch trial by Dougal, who helps her escape to France after she gives birth to their child, William Buccleigh Mackenzie.  While in France, she is known as Lady Melisande Robicheaux. Again, we don't know for sure if she just took that name to hide her identity or if she married someone named Robicheaux.  We do know that she had a "relationship" with the Comte St. Germain, but they never married.

She later traveled to Jamaica, where she married Barnabas Abernathy, who later died 'under mysterious circumstances" (poisoning was the suspected cause of death).

Here's a wee bit of food for thought relating to the fascinating topic of Geillis: Does anyone else think that Claire's friend Dr. Joe Abernathy was a possible descendant of one of Geillis' plantation slaves at Rose Hall in Jamaica?  It was common practice for slaves to be "given" their owners names. And, it's also curious that Geillis' skeleton is brought to Joe and Claire (in 1968) in Voyager for them to examine by the guy from the Anthropology department.  Claire "knows" what happened to the woman behind the skeleton, but she doesn't realize it's Geillis because it hadn't happened yet (at least not when Claire was present). DG!! You're making our wee heads spin!

12. What does Jamie find on the land that will become Fraser’s Ridge that he takes as a good omen? Bonus if you can tell us why he thinks that!

Strawberries, emblem of Clan Fraser.

In Drums of Autumn, he tell Claire:

“The Frasers’, I mean,” he explained. One large, blunt finger gently prodded the berry. 

“Strawberries ha’ always been the emblem of the clan—it’s what the name meant, to start with, when a Monsieur Fréselière came across from France wi’ King William that was—and took hold of land in the Scottish mountains for his trouble.”...

It’s a rare plant,” he said, touching the sprig in my open hand. “Flowers, fruit and leaves all together at the one time. The white flowers are for honor, and red fruit for courage—and the green leaves are for constancy.”...

“And the fruit is the shape of a heart,” he said softly, and bent to kiss me.

And finally, a 5 point extra Bonus Question (just for fun):What is the BEST kind of Christmas Tree?

A Fraser Fir, of course! 

(but we gave bonus points for all of the lovely answers we received for this question!)


Fraser Fir Christmas Tree in the Banquet Hall at Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC

Fraser Firs in the Tapestry Gallery at Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC

From the Wee Lasses at Outlander Central

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Dressing The Romance of Outlander – The Genius of Terry Dresbach

by Margaret Gardiner, HFPA

Starz & Terry Dresbach
It’s easy to see why Outlander, nominated for three Golden Globes, it's a fan favorite with its romantic Scottish backdrop, a time traveling heroine caught in the 18th century, and strapping men in kilts.

Created and executive produced by Ronald D. Moore and based on the best selling series of books by Diana Gabaldon the story follows Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), a nurse and feminist in the 1940s who is on a second honeymoon with her husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies) in Scotland. A quirk of fate plummets her back in time to the Jacobite rising where loyalists are waging a rebellion against the English. There’s lots of action, drama and love, as Claire falls for brawny Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and her 1940s husband takes the form of a psychopathic villain in 1745 Scotland.

It fell on the capable shoulders of costume designer Terry Dresbach -who’d worked on such shows as Carnivale and The Shield - to clothe the actors of the series, in a way that met and exceeded readers imagination. This is no small challenge.

Claire in the 1940s - her wardrobe reflecting the freedom women were achieving. Starz & Terry Dresbach

Clothing reflects the times in which the characters live and both shapes and expresses their behavior and emotions - and Outlander straddles two very different eras. Terry explains that the clothing in the 1940s reveals the mindset of a nation that has survived the bombing of London in WWII, the emancipation of women as they filled the gap in the workforce of men gone to war, the scarcity of fabric, and the padding of the time – almost like armor for what had been endured. As a counter, she’s had to create practical 18th century garb, shot in candlelight, replicating fabric, in many cases, that is hard to access, and having to creatively solve the void, not to mention dealing with Scottish weather that in the summer can hover at a chilly 50 degrees Fahrenheit. “When I first got the job, I created a portfolio for the characters and the hundreds of extras, from my kitchen in Los Angeles. Once we got to Scotland I had to toss it all because the climate requires heavier clothing to prevent hypothermia for the actors – there’s a lot of outside shooting.”

The Scottish weather required warmer materials and a rethink of the wardrobe.
Authenticity is key in Dresbach’s work. “Often there is no place to source what we need, so we make it.” Given that hundreds of extras have to be clothed too, and that they can’t really bring anything from their own wardrobe, her task is immense. "We make 12 – 15 costumes for each of our leads, often in multiples of 6. We estimated that we made close to 5,000 items for Season One.”

Sketches of Sam Heughan's outfits that had to be replicated 12 - 15 times. Starz & Terry Dresbach

The new season – which premieres next April - has doubled Terry’s challenge. In the 18th century changing numerous times a day was a way to demonstrate that you had the wealth to wear lush gowns. Each gown is made of brilliant silks, richly embroidered to catch the candlelight.

Woman sewing appliqué onto grey silk jacket. Starz & Terry Dresbach

“It’s a fashion show. I’d check with Ron, ‘Are you sure you want me to go that far? It’s going to be over the top?’ He’d always say, ‘Take it as big as you possibly can.’ And it is big and bold. I’ve designed a color palette that was quite brilliant. One of the things we learned about shooting in dark, candlelit rooms, is people can become floating heads very quickly. I wanted colors that come out of the darkness.” The solution? “I created clothes that are brilliant and rich and actually look edible when you see them.” Since you can’t buy 18th century fabric we have to make it.

“We employ a team that just does embroidery, we hand-paint fabric, and, we make buttons, trims, even lace. Bare in mind – we made 900 18th century extra’s costumes.”
-Terry Dresbach

Starz & Terry Dresbach

Her team consists of two assistant designers who each have an assistant themselves, and then a design group of 30 people. The day I visited the set in Scotland, one group was busily embroidering the beautiful silk fabric with intricate petals, while another group was hand soldering Red Coats and tarnishing buttons to depict musket fire for heavy fighting in an upcoming scene.

Margaret Gardiner/HFPA

The labor is intensive as they prep for the next week’s filming while completing the current week’s show. “Sometimes we’ll be in a production meeting and hear a character is going to be stabbed. My job is to understand that that will mean bleeding – and what that will do to the garment. How many replicas are needed, not only for the lead character, but for the stunt double too.” There simply may not be enough time to create the multiple facsimiles before filming. They cannot go to a costume shop to rent them, so the team has to create them.” It’s no wonder that Terry admits, “I’ve been known to lobby the character gets hit over the head rather than be stabbed, because a stabbing means more costumes that we might not have time to create.”

Starz & Terry Dresbach

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Interview: Richard Rankin on The Syndicate

OLC Editor's note: This interview was published in the Scotsman last May.  We thought it was a nice way to "get to know" our new Roger Mac! 

By: Janet Christie, The Scotsman

Richard Rankin stars in the television series The Syndicate

Glasgow actor Richard Rankin has already won the lottery, flown a helicopter and trained as a field surgeon, writes Janet Christie. What’s next for the versatile star of stage and screen?
Richard Rankin is posing for pictures, the photographer prompting him for a variety of expressions.

Scots actor Richard Rankin. Picture: Robert Perry

“You have a look of Gerard Butler there,” he tells him. “Only slimmer.” Ouch, sorry Gerry.

“Gerry Butler, I’ll take that,” says Rankin, who has moved on from his beefcake pose and is now working something that fellow actor Anne-Marie Duff has taught him.

“She says it’s a ‘who me?’ red carpet look,” he says. “You swing round to the camera and do this.” He swings and presents a quizzical, engaged look that does indeed do the trick, then laughs.

“The beard’s new,” says the photographer. “You suit it.”

“I think I’m the only person that doesn’t like it,” says Rankin, stroking his chin.

“Makes you look kind of Russian tsar-y,” observes the snapper.

“Yes, I’m wondering how much opportunity there is going to be to play that Russian tsar. But the beard’s growing on me, ha, ha. It’s for From Darkness because I’m playing much older than my age.”

From Darkness is a four-part BBC1 drama filmed in Manchester and Scotland to be aired towards the end of this year that Rankin has just finished filming. He co-stars with Duff, who plays an ex-policewoman who has set up a new life in the Western Isles with her new partner Norrie and his daughter Megan.

But today he’s back home in Glasgow to talk about The Syndicate, the latest and third series of Kay Mellor’s lottery winner drama that airs on BBC 1 on Tuesday. Rankin plays Sean, estate manager and gamekeeper in the six-episode series following the win of a syndicate of staff in a Yorkshire stately home. Five of them share £14 million and, with the staff suddenly richer than the struggling aristos, the scene is set for drama, romance and a whodunit.

“You instantly have that Upstairs, Downstairs element and on top of that a lottery win with working-class staff becoming more wealthy than the aristocracy and that turns everything upside down.”

“I loved doing The Syndicate. I was at the screening last week and was absolutely gripped. And I know what’s going to happen! Kay Mellor’s writing is just so brilliant and it’s a great theme.

“When she interviewed people who had won the lottery it was common for them to have four to six days of euphoria, then the problems started. With money comes problems.”

“I’d love to work with Kay again, her writing is so good,” he adds. “She knows exactly what she’s doing and to have that material to work with as an actor, it’s a real treat.”

The compliment was returned by Mellor after she saw Rankin read for the part, and rewrote the Irish character of Sean as a Scot.

“That was absolutely wonderful, it was an honour, because she puts a lot of care and work into writing these characters.”

Rankin isn’t the only Scot in The Syndicate as Elaine C Smith appears behind the counter in the newsagent as the vendor of the winning ticket.

“She was very surprised when I turned up,” says Rankin. “She said to the whole BBC drama department at the read through, ‘Oooh! He’s great, aye, I’ve seen him naked! I’ve seen him with all his kit off.’ I had to say it was in a play! I wasn’t just randomly naked with Elaine C Smith.”

The naked play in question was Good With People with Blythe Duff and Rankin had no problem with nudity as it served the script.

“It had a very definite purpose. It was a very poignant moment and had a lot of meaning, both metaphorical and literal, and furthered the richness of the story. Getting naked for something like that, I’m all right with, but to do it for any shock factor is pointless.”

And does he hit the gym a bit before such shedding of costume?

“Yeah, I do, yeah. As much as I’m all about the art, I still want to look all right when I do it.”

Our chat inevitably swings to the perennial “what would you do if you won the lottery”. Would he jack in his job?

“No! I wouldn’t stop working. I love acting. I’m very lucky to have a job I love but I understand people who quit – I’ve got friends that work 12-hour shifts in call centres. But if it was me, I’d take a chunk of the money and invest it in either theatre or TV or film production. And I’d like to start a scholarship for young actors who need extra help getting into training. And you’d give some to friends and family of course.

“It would be so liberating, I would just go and do whatever the hell I wanted as an actor. It would only give me a bigger appetite to do a wider range of things and be more experimental.”

Rankin is relaxed, amenable and chatty, with bright blue eyes and pleasing, leading man good looks. At 32, his career is going well, particularly on TV. Fresh from a role in last year’s First World War drama The Crimson Field and this year’s Silent Witness, in which he played Detective Inspector Luke Nelson opposite Emilia Fox, as well as The Syndicate and From Darkness, both BBC, he’s also just filmed a role as a US soldier in American ­Odyssey, an NBC series with shades of Homeland, starring Anna Friel.

Rankin was born in Rutherglen in 1983 as Richard Harris but uses his mother’s maiden name to avoid confusion with the other actor. The son of a policeman and a hotel manager, he studied acting at Glasgow’s Langside College after switching from IT and first attracted attention in Burnistoun, the comedy sketch show broadcast by BBC Scotland from 2009-12.

“I loved doing that and it’s still popular, especially on the internet. There was a big gap in sketch comedy and Scottish comedy in general because Chewin’ the Fat and Still Game had finished. I think it finished too early, but there might be a 45-minute special coming back, and it’s on live at The King’s in Glasgow too. There’s an appetite for sketch comedy that’s still there,” he says.

As well as comedy Rankin has enjoyed a variety of roles and is keen to flex his acting muscles in both theatre and TV.

“I’m taking the opportunity to establish myself as much as I can in TV and once that’s there, I’m dying to do more theatre,” he says. I don’t have a preference but something in me thinks theatre is where the real game is at because it’s so self-contained from start to finish. That’s essentially where the actor was born, in theatre.”

Rankin is a self-confessed sponge when it comes to studying other actors and their approach.

“I find it endlessly fascinating. They’re so diverse and you learn a lot when you’re on set with a lot of the big players. It makes you realise there’s no set way of acting.”

Among those he has worked with, including Hermione Norris and Kevin Doyle in The Crimson Field, he’s found Anne-Marie Duff to be among the most helpful with advice, and not just about how to pose for pictures.

“She’s the kind of person you can ask about the processes and she’s such a generous and giving actor. Others are more closed off. Some can sit and have a casual chat then when action is called, go straight into an emotional scene, others take all morning getting into it, or need a couple of gins…”

Rankin is as big on research for his various roles as he is on studying the craft. For The Crimson Field where he played a First World War army medic he visited the army medical services museum in Surrey while for Silent Witness and Detective Inspector Luke Nelson, he did a lot of background work on the police and his character.

“He had done archaeology and anthropology at Oxford, so I looked into that a bit,” he says. “But it’s a massive degree and there’s only so much you can do in a couple of weeks! Then I did research into the psychology of the character’s experience, because it really helps if you get your character a good solid history.”

Also on hand to offer advice was his former policeman dad.

“He’s the first to fill me in,” says Rankin. “‘Oh, that doesn’t happen. You wouldn’t get a DCI and a Detective Inspector out on the a case at the same time. Who’s in the office?’ Or, ‘why don’t you have a notepad?’ But no, he’s good on the relationships, the way people speak to each other, he’s helped a lot.”

As Rankin looks back over his career to date, he brings up two seminal moments that have shaped it. The first was a chance encounter with the director or producer of the OC series in a hotel in Hollywood where Rankin and his then girlfriend had gone to celebrate his 21st birthday. At that stage Rankin had never considered acting.

“He was there with the cast and we just got chatting. It was a random social encounter and he said you have a good look for an actor. I thought, yeah, yeah, right, whatever, but it was a seed planted and that bred an interest. There was nothing to say I couldn’t give it a go and once I got into it, I really got into it.”

The second moment was when he was watching National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch.

“I thought this, what I’m watching right now, is why I’m an actor. It was just one of the most powerful and beautiful things I’ve ever seen on stage. It made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. So when I heard it was being recast I hounded my agent to get me in it.”

His agent got on the phone while Rankin got down the gym and soon he was leaping about on stage in the role of Granty.

“One night I ran on and everything just went into slow motion as in my peripheral vision I saw a sea of green and red. It was the Black Watch Regiment, in the theatre to see a play about the Black Watch. Not only were the Black Watch in the audience, but they were in uniform, with red hackles proudly on display across an entire seating bank,” he says.

Fortunately, the Black Watch contingent was pleased with the play.

“Yeah, we got a lot of interesting feedback. They loved it but there wasn’t enough f***ing swearing, and ‘what was a’ that dancin’ aboot?’ Well, actually that was us doing stylised fighting. They said, ‘Nah, we dinnae dae any o that pish. If you’re going to fight the guy, fight him, dinnae dance aboot wi him, eh?’ But they were a great bunch.”

His latest military foray also contained a heart-stopping moment when the helicopter he was in unexpectedly took off and went off the edge of a canyon.

“I was like, woah, ho! and said to the director, we’ll need to do that again, because my face is going to be… He pulls a Munch/Scream expression.

“I’m only in two episodes but it’s a very nice foot in the door of the American casting market. I’d like to do more work there, but I’m in no hurry. There’s so much good work going on in the UK, I’d like to build up my career here. I’m really stubborn, one of those actors that is staying rooted in Scotland.

“The American Dream is for those seeking fame and fortune but that’s not why I’m in the business. I’m not that interested in building up a massive fortune or being super famous. I’m genuinely in it for the love of doing it and am hungry to experience as much of the business as I can and develop as an actor. Then I’ve earmarked my forties for directing…” He laughs realising he is wishing his life away.

“But being an actor you get to do everything. Win the lottery, be a policeman, be a First World War army surgeon, fly about as a special forces military officer. Other people don’t get to do that.”

No, they don’t, not even lottery winners.