Jon Gary Steele Interview: ‘Outlander’ production designer
“It was a dream job,” declares production designer Jon Gary Steele about his Emmy-nominated work on The Starz fantasy epic “Outlander,” for which he has decided to depart after five seasons on the show. “Six and a half years, five seasons with a great team,” he reminisces, noting that while it was time to move on, his time on the show has been the highlight of his career to date Watch our exclusive video interview with Steele above.
The celebrated fifth season of the fantasy romance saga starring Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan follows the Fraser clan as they forge a new life in colonial North Carolina against the backdrop of the looming American Revolution. It was a period of American history ripe for the production designer and his team, after years bringing to life the Scottish highlands of the 1940s, 1960s and 18th Century, Paris in 1744, 1940s Boston and colonial Jamaica.
Unbelievably, Steele acknowledges that “Outlander” was his first attempt at period design. “I had never done a period piece before,” Steele recalls. “The eighteenth century is a great period for costumes and a great period for sets and locations,” he explains, noting that his work on the recently concluded fifth season was one of his most challenging because they made the Scottish countryside where the show is filmed look like colonial North Carolina. “We built a backlot and we built tons of sets,” he says. “It’s fun to go from a sketch of a town or a big plantation or the big house or any of the sets, then to see models and then to see it all being built… then the actors with their costumes come in and it all comes alive, it’s quite an adventure!”
After five seasons, Steele has decided to move on to new projects, including the new Netflix adaptation of Neil Gaiman‘s “Sandman.” For the designer, while it is bittersweet saying goodbye to the show, he felt that creatively it was time for him to move on. “Everyone on our team and there’s 150 of them, they’re all artisans. No matter what position they do, they’re artisans and they love what they’re doing,” he says. “But it was time for me to try something new.”