Two of the creative forces behind the hit TV series “Outlander” were strangers in a strange land Saturday, as an actor and costume designer from the show both visited the Quad-Cities for the first time as part of the Thru The Stones Convention Friday and Saturday at the Isle Center at the Isle Casino Hotel Bettendorf.
“This is actually the first time I’ve ever seen the Mississippi River,” said Terry Dresbach, an Emmy award winner for costume design and current costume designer for the Starz production of "Outlander." “That sounds really strange, since I’ve lived in the U.S. my whole life.”
Grant O'Rourke, who plays Rupert MacKenzie in the show and flew in from Scotland for the event, one-upped her.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been in the United States,” he said.
Both said they were enjoying their first trek to the area, noting the friendly people and the enthusiastic response of the thousands of fans from 35 states, Canada, Scotland and Poland who packed into the center for a variety of “Outlander”-themed activities, speakers and events. The event is based upon the popular sci-fi/fantasy books by Diana Gabaldon.
“We’re absolutely thrilled at the turnout and incredibly happy that Terry and Grant could join us,” said Debbie Ford, organizer and founder of the festival, which debuted in 2014.
“It’s been quite remarkable to be a part of this; this is an amazing fandom,” the dry-witted and amiable Dresbach said about the series.
Both she and the friendly O’Rourke answered questions politely and jovially, in between casual, funny banter and anecdotes about life on the set.
“You spend a lot of time on the set just sitting around waiting, so you build up good relationships with everyone involved,” O’Rourke said. “You develop a tight bond with the people you’re working with.”
Neither of them could divulge any particularly juicy details about the upcoming second season, which they’re in the midst of shooting, but both said it was an adventure.
“We shoot way out of sequence, so it’s like putting a Rubik’s cube together,” O’Rourke said. “We just finished shooting four decades and two centuries of scenes in two weeks. So it’s pretty intense.”
Given the series’ strong female protagonist, it was perhaps not surprising the majority of attendees at the convention were women, and Dresbach said it was an honor to be a part of such a progressive work.
“To me, this is the story of a strong, powerful woman who goes back and forth in time and who falls in love with a man who loves her for all she is,” Dresbach said. “But even when she loses him, she doesn’t fall apart. She remains strong and goes on to achieve great things. In the season we’re doing right now, she becomes a surgeon in the 1960s, which was not very common for a woman. I think that strength resonates with the readers of the books and the viewers.”
Both actor and designer said the production’s leaps in time can be challenging and that you can never rest on your laurels.
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“It’s one of the things I love about it,” O’Rourke said.
Playing the fan favorite comic foil Rupert in the show has been a blast for the former stand-up comedian and actor, he said.
“I think it was Alec Guinness who said there’s no difference between comic acting and dramatic acting, there’s just good acting and bad acting,” O’Rourke said, “and I just always try to do my best.”
Dresbach echoed those sentiments.
“I knew the costumes were going to be a huge part of this series, and I knew they were really going to be over the top, especially in season two,” she said. “It can be tough. We’re all here because someone wrote these books a while ago, and everyone who read them wants to see if they come to life the way they saw them in their head. That’s the challenge I had to accept, to live up to 20 million people’s expectations.”
As organizer of the only event of this type in the world in 2014, Ford can relate.
“I’m very proud of it,” Ford said. “There was nothing in the world like it, and I made it happen. I’m so happy to have done it. In my opinion, Diana (Gabaldon) is the best author I’ve ever read. She has such rich stories and characters, and I think that’s why you see so many people here.”