During our recent webcam chat (watch above), “Outlander” production designer Jon Gary Steele boils down the essence of what he does to just eight simple words: “We build a lot of fun, fun sets.” Based on the popular book series by Diana Gabaldon, this Starz period drama features Caitriona Balfe as a WWII combat nurse who is suddenly transported back in time to 1740s Scotland, where she is forced to choose between the love of her stuffy husband (Tobias Menzies) and a rugged, good-looking highlander (Sam Heughan). Steele snagged his first Emmy nomination for his work on the hit series, which he describes as, “a production designer’s dream.”
Steele, whose film credits include “American History X” (1998), “Burlesque” (2010), and “About Last Night” (2014), landed the gig through his best friend, costume designer Terry Dresbach (herself an Emmy contender), who is also the wife of show creator Ronald D. Moore. “When I was younger, Terry and I used to talk about doing period pieces all the time,” he recalls, “and in America, it’s really hard to get period pieces because they only make two or three a year, it seems like.” So when Moore asked him to design the pilot, he jumped at the opportunity.
This season saw the action shift from 18th century Scotland to France. “The concept was to make it as decadent as we could afford,” reveals Steele, since at the time, Paris was, “the height of decadence in every aspect.” To recreate it for television, he explains, “you take what money you have, and you try to put it in the right place, and sort of try to get the audience excited about each next thing that’s going to happen.”
The dedicated “Outlander” fan base inspires everyone who works on the show to do better. “We get excited that people are excited,” Steele admits. “Who doesn’t want someone to love your art?” He adds, “I think people are responding to the love that’s put into every little thing because it shows through all the work.”
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