A HISTORIC castle is already being besieged by fans of a new US TV fantasy series set in Scotland - before a single episode has even aired.
Doune Castle in Perthshire has been welcoming droves of American devotees of Outlander, the show dubbed Scotland’s answer to “Game of Thrones,” after it was chosen as the main outdoor location for the show, standing in for fictional Castle Leoch at the time of the Jacobite Rebellion.
And they have even been found wandering around the set as the producers are unable to close it off completely due to Scotland’s “right to roam” legislation.
Less than a minute of footage of Outlander has so far been released by cable channel Starz, which is making Outlander with entertainment giants Sony.
Historic Scotland agreed to close down the entire castle to accommodate filming, with the production currently based at the attraction, which dates back to the late 1300s and was built by “Scotland’s uncrowned king”, the 1st Duke of Albany.
It is already promoting the A-listed monument’s starring role in the series at the site, which has been completely transformed at the moment, with its look set to be further altered using special digital effects when the show airs in the US in the summer.
Outlander, which will run for 16 episodes over two seasons, is thought to be the biggest ever film or TV production entirely based in Scotland, with a 250-strong cast and crew and a budget believed to be upwards of £50 million for the initial series, although Gabaldon is due to release the eighth book in the series later this year.
The production, offered more than £600,000 worth of financial backing from the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland, is expected to deliver a boost of around £20 million to the economy by the time filming wraps in early summer, shortly before Outlander goes on air. A huge indoor studio complex has been built in an old warehouse just off the M80 motorway in Cumbernauld.
However it is not yet known when, or even if, it will be broadcast in the UK, as Australia and Canada are the only other confirmed territories for the show so far.
Outlander has won Scottish actor Sam Heughan and Irish actress Caitriona Balfe huge armies of fans - who call themselves Heughligans and Caitriots respectively - around the world after being cast in the show, thanks to the huge success of American author Diana Gabaldon’s time-travel fantasy books, which are initially set in the Highlands. More than 25 million copies of the “Jamie and Claire” books have been sold to date.
Heughan stunned by Outlander fans showing up on set
Heughan and Balfe said they were left dumbfounded when more than 2000 fans of Outlander turned up at their first public outing together in Hollywood. Heughan, 33, who said he had made a long-term commitment to being involved with Outlander, said: “We are in a bit of bubble here in Scotland, but we went out to Los Angeles for a fan event and heard that they had sold around 2000 tickets. We got there and were treated a bit like rock stars as we had to be driven around the back and people were queuing from 6am to get in.
“I don’t think the fans are obsessed with me, they are obsessed with Jamie Fraser, he’s such a great character. I didn’t really know about the fanbase when I took on the role. But they’ve been so supportive.
“It feels like we have got on this roller-coaster and have not got off it yet. There is so much in the show - romance, adventure, romance, supernatural stuff, and the whole historic side with the build-up to Culloden.
“It’s been great fun, although the whole experience in America was a bit of an eye-opener, but it was great to see the reaction of the fans and the anticipation that’s already there.”
Balfe, 34, added: “I had no real notion of how big the book series was or how big the fanbase was when I tested for the role with Sam.
“It’s been a little bit overwhelming, but nice to know so many people are following it and supporting it already.
“The fan event in LA was just crazy. Nothing at all had been shown at that point. It was incredible to have that many people so enthusiastic and excited when we had only filmed four episodes at that point.”
Catherine Mason, monument manager at Historic Scotland, said there had been “major discussions” on whether to shut down the castle - which is never usually closed for film or TV productions - for two separate periods of filming.
She added: “It all happened very quickly. I heard about it in the summer and they were filming here by October.
“Some of the locals weren’t on board right away, but as long as people could get access to the grounds to do their dog-walking they were okay. We can close off the castle, but we can’t close off the grounds because of the ‘right of way’ laws in Scotland.
“We’ve have a lot of interest from Outlander fans already. The news about the show on twitter is just nuts. They are coming here every single day at the moment. A woman flew here from San Francisco just to see the castle a couple of weeks ago.”
‘All the locations are glorious’ - Sam Heughan
Although Outlander’s locations have been largely kept under wraps, the cast and crew have also visited Falkland and Culross in Fife, as well as Loch Rannoch, in Perthshire.
Heughan said: “All the locations we have been working at have just been glorious. They’ve actually been a bit like another character in the show.
Diana has said that she really fell in love with Scotland when she came here to visit and when this show goes around the world hopefully other people will as well. It is the first really big thing that has been shot in Scotland on this scale.
“Diana (Gabaldon) was over a few weeks ago and actually has a nice wee part in the show, which she filmed when she was here. It was great to have her on set and for everyone to meet her. She’s been great to ask questions of and has also been sending us lots of material.”
Gaelic to be used in show
Actors appearing in the show are being taught to speak Gaelic - but audiences will be kept in the dark over what they are saying when it goes on air.
Producers have brought in Gaelic language and Scottish dialect experts to ensure Outlander, which is partly set during the Jacobite Rebellion, is as authentic as possible.
But they have ruled out using subtitles in a bid to make viewers sympathetic to the main female character in the plot, which is sent spinning back in time from the Second World War to the early 18th century.
Almost 200,000 people have watched an online video in which Heughan explains to fans how to “speak Outlander.”
Heughan added: “Gaelic is a really strong part of the show and I’ve been really passionate about it. The fans have all really embraced it - they are desperate for anything to do with Outlander.
“I’m playing a character whose first language is Gaelic and it is used as a tool in the show as Claire, who is an English character thrust into a Scottish world where they all speak a foreign language. It like an alien world for her, with a different time zone and Gaelic is used to separate her from this race of people.
“The viewer will have that as well as they won’t understand what is being said. A really large chunk of the show is in Gaelic and Ron (Moore, Outlander’s producer) has said that he doesn’t want to use subtitles, so Gaelic can be used as that tool.”
Heughan, who admitted working on Glasgow-set soap River City felt like “a lifetime ago”, said the production team on Outlander were going to great lengths to ensure that it was not an “Americanised” version of Scotland that ends up on screen.
He said: “Ron has been so enthusiastic about Scotland - he is really trying to make it as authentic as possible.
“His wife Terry is a costume designer and she has gone right back to basics to source all the materials and the colours and how kilts were worn at the time.
“It is such a vast production. The studio is like a wonderland and feels a bit like home now. There are so many workshops, where things are being built up and broken down all the time. I think they made something like 300 costumes in the first six weeks.
Heughan, who admitted he has had to die his hair red for the part, said: “It feels like I get beaten up in every show. I do have hundreds of scars in the show. My whole back is covered in them. It looks really gruesome. We did a shoot last week when there was a crowd of extras there and people were almost passing out when they saw them. They look amazing.”