Outlander: Exclusive Interview with Maril Davis – Part One, Sci Fi and Renewal Talk

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Earlier this week, I had a lot of fun talking with Outlander’s Executive Producer Maril Davis. In Part 1, Maril discusses her background, her feelings about sci fi, and why we haven’t heard about Season 3 yet!

ERIN: You’re one of the most unknown people in all of Outlander. You don’t do that many interviews, we don’t know that much about you. I thought we could talk about what you do, how you started. (Note: OutlanderCast Blog did a great podcast with Maril earlier this year, in which she discussed a lot of her early career. You can listen to that podcast here.) I thought it was fascinating that you were attempting to be a pro soccer player. Have you always been athletic?

MARIL:  I started playing soccer when I was 5, in AYSL, and I played all throughout high school and college, and I loved it. And after I was at Star Trek, Star Trek was so insular that there was not a lot of upward mobility there, there was no place to go because no one ever left, and I was still kind of trying to decide what I wanted to do. And so I just hit one of those crossroads in my life. And so while I was still young enough as I say to get out of my chair, I thought I’m going to try to do this crazy professional soccer thing. I just wanted to see if I still had it, and it didn’t turn out as I hoped, obviously, I blew out my knee two days before the tryouts. But it’s one of the things I think I’m still most proud of in my life. I’m just proud that I made such a life change, and it wasn’t an easy one. I remember I was training with my old high school team, and obviously, no one I knew was still on it. All these girls just kept looking at me like, wait, you’ve got a life in Los Angeles, you’re on your own, you’ve got an apartment, and you moved back home with your parents to train. What? And I was like, I get how it sounds like, if you’re in high school, but I really am very proud of myself, and I think sometimes you’ve just got to go for it, and just throw caution to the wind.

ERIN: Do you ever look back on that and say that you were happy the way that everything else has turned out? Or do you wish that you had actually been able to go through the tryouts and see what the outcome would have been?

MARIL:  I think it’s hard, certainly, to not know what the outcome would have been, certainly there’s always the chance that I would not have made it, I really would have loved seeing if I could have, but still I don’t regret the time. I still really believe that I would always have wondered “what if”, and I still do, but not in the same way. I’ve kind of scratched that itch a little bit. I actually find that the fact that I don’t know what would have happened, that was something that was very important to me in my life to just try it. I just didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I was unsure, and I was just trying to go after one of my dreams. I don’t regret that part at all.

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ERIN: You aren’t, from what I’ve seen, you aren’t a writer, are you?

MARIL:  I think people think I’m a writer, because I’m so enmeshed in with the writers. Obviously, Ron and I are producing partners, I’ve worked with writers most of my career, and I obviously align with the writers on this. But I am a non-writing creative producer.

ERIN: Is that more common than we think it is? I’ve talked to quite a few producers and showrunners, and every show you see the credits come up where there are six different producers, but obviously they’re not all writers.

MARIL: No, but I would say that the majority in television, anyway, the majority of your producers are actually writers, unless you’re looking at your actual… like on our show, David Brown is a hands-on physical producer. But most of your upper level producers are going to be writers. All writers usually have some kind of producing credit, but I would say that my position is actually fairly unusual. In fact, I was just speaking on a woman’s panel, and I was saying how hard it is sometimes to be in my position, certainly even when it comes to negotiating and things like that, I don’t have a lot of peers. There’s a lot of peer producers out there who work with other producers, but there aren’t of producers who work with showrunner/writers. So it is… a lot of people just assume that Ron takes care of everything, and what would you be doing, and Ron is amazing, and he is always the last answer to every question, but we share quite a few duties, and I like to kid that I do most of the things he doesn’t like to do. I pick up all those duties, and we make a good pair, because he loves to write, he loves to edit, and I do a lot of lot of things that involve interacting with the studio and the network, overseeing casting with our writers, you know, the day to day stuff, and kind of liaison between the writers office and the rest of the show and the studio and networks, and I like to think I fill the gaps.

ERIN: Somebody needs to do all of those things.

MARIL:  Exactly. Well, it’s a big job, and you need certain people to help, and this is a pretty massive show.

ERIN: Do you have aspirations to showrun your own project? Or are you enjoying the role you have?

MARIL:  It’s funny, a lot of people ask me that. I think that I work with the writers so much, and I’m so writer-friendly, I think it would be hard to be a showrunner if you weren’t a writer. I really truly believe, and certainly Ron and I make a great team, but you always have to have one person at the end of the day who is making those final decisions. I feel like that usually should be a creative person. It should be a writer, just because they are world builders, and I think in TV, anyway, I certainly was brought up in this industry where a showrunner is a writer, so I think you’d be hard-pressed in this day and age to find a lot of showrunners who aren’t writers. It’s just very unusual. And while writing is something that’s in my head all of the time, I don’t know if it’s my primary skill set, and while I might dabble in it down the road, it’s not an aspiration I currently have.

ERIN: All of the projects I’ve seen you listed with have been sci fi projects. Is that your choice or partly because you’ve hooked up with Ron, or the niche you’ve been dropped into starting with Star Trek? And is that your favorite genre? Or would you like to be working in others?

MARIL:  No, it’s not. While I do like sci fi, and I was brought up in the original Star Wars era, I am a fan of some sci fi, I truly believe I got hired at Star Trek as a production assistant because I didn’t like Star Trek. When I was little, my brother would be like, “Let’s watch Star Trek,” and I’d be like, unhhhh, no! So I think they hired me because they knew I wouldn’t go after the actors, I didn’t know who anyone was. A lot of it is because Ron and I have been working together for.. I always say this dates us both a little bit,  but you know, we’ve been together for like 15 years in a working relationship. And Outlander was MY contribution in some ways to be saying, Let’s do something non sci fi. Certainly, Ron is known for his amazing sci fi, Battlestar and Star Trek and everything else, but he writes amazing female characters and his interests lie beyond sci fi, but we get approached with so much sci fi because that’s the genre he’s so well known for.  Outlander for me was a passion project, and Matt Roberts introduced me to the books, many years ago, and I just kept them close to the vest until the time was right, and thankfully Ron was open to it. I think a lot of people think because it has a time travel element, it’s a sci fi piece, but it’s really not. Obviously it’s a great love story, it’s a great historical piece, it’s adventure, it’s really not a sci fi piece, although I would say it’s definitely a genre piece.

ERIN: And I can totally empathize with you there. My site is a sci fi TV review site, and while I enjoy sci fi it’s not my preferred genre, but when I came in I said I’ll do it if I can cover Outlander, because that was just coming up when I came in.

MARIL:  I think I like grounded stuff like Battlestar, obviously I worked on it, so obviously I’m biased, that to me is a great sci fi piece. It’s not bumpy headed aliens, it’s people who look like us,  that really appeals to me.

ERIN: Looking beyond Outlander, and I know you have done other projects – Helix, and now the Philip K. Dick project (a joint Sony/British TV station project, making episodes of 10 Philip K. Dick short stories), what would you say you would like to do in addition to Outlander? Can you see anything – I know you don’t want to give anything away that somebody else might grab – but do you have things in mind that are coming to you that you think “this is something I’d like to pursue”?

MARIL: I do, I do, obviously, yes. We always have several things in the hopper. Outlander certainly is our crown jewel, and it’s something we’re so proud of. But we always have several projects in development, and we’ll continue to do that, and supervise other things. People are like, oh, you’ve got something else, like Philip K. Dick, how can we leave Outlander? We’ll never leave Outlander, and we have a deal with Sony, and there’s other content that they’d like us to do, and that we want to do. We have several things going, PKD is just one of those things. I’d like to branch out into genres, I love period pieces – I think Ron and I kind of share that sense, we both gravitate towards periods of history that we haven’t fully seen, I think that’s why Outlander was so appealing to both of us. I think period pieces are a hard sell in Hollywood. I’m not sure why, because those are some of the TV shows that do so well, but I think it’s just because there are certain times in history that we’re just fascinated by, so I do have a keen interest in anything period, I’d say. We really haven’t done a contemporary show, so maybe that’s something.

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ERIN: That would be very interesting to see you guys get into something contemporary. And that’s something that has the fandom a little bit panicky, the PKD project. I’m hearing a lot about, “is Ron leaving Outlander,” so they’ll be glad to to hear it’s just one of the projects you’re working on.

MARIL:  Yeah, exactly. We will often supervise many things, like Helix was a perfect example of something we were supervising, but not necessarily full on boots on the ground every day.

ERIN: So Outlander – what’s the holdup on Season 3?

MARIL:  There’s so many things, and unfortunately, I can’t really talk particulars, but I think fans are like, “why can’t you tell us already, and why are you holding out on us?” And honestly, it’s not up to Ron to announce Season 3, that is a Starz/Sony thing, and there are deal things to be done, and budget things to be done, and logistical things to be done… There are so many moving pieces and parts, sometimes those things take time, and figuring it out, it’s a difficult TV show to make, and we’re constantly trying to figure out the best formula – how many episodes per book, and how many days, and where… There are so many things that go into the mix that it’s not just about “oh my god, are the ratings good? Ok, let’s greenlight them, or let’s not.” It’s a complicated mix, it’s not we’re holding out on people because we want to, it’s specifically because it’s not been greenlit yet,  and until that time comes, we can’t release anything.  And I know fans are upset, but we’re not trying to hold out on anyone. We’d like to get the greenlight as well.

ERIN: You can’t even say with any confidence “we’re not being cancelled”?

MARIL:  Oh, I feel very confident we’re not, but until that happens, I can’t really say.

ERIN: I understand. Some things are out of your hands .

MARIL:  It’s not because we don’t want to. Until the ink is dry, as they say, anything can happen. I’m not doom and gloom, but I think… once again, I feel very confident that we’ll get another season, but I think we’ve all been in that place before, we’re so excited, we’re doing it, and something happens, and it’s just dotting I’s and crossing T’s.

Part 2 of our chat!

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Erin Conrad