Caitriona Balfe plays the main character, Claire Randall Fraser, on the television show Outlander. I was able to interview her in a roundtable setting with other journalists at San Diego Comic Con about her work on the show. She began the interview pointing out how to spell her name with two I’s in reference to the ridiculous placecard they had to tote around with them to each table.
For the Outlander interviews, I represented both The MacGuffin and Outlander TV News.
[Spoiler Alert: This interview does discuss certain elements of the second season, so if you would prefer to stay spoiler-free, avoid reading this interview.]
Q: She is going to have an interesting journey in second season. Are you looking forward to taking this path with her?
Caitriona: Yes. I think Claire in season one was very reactionary, being thrust into this world and having one event after another just sort of happen to her. It wasn’t so much time for contemplation or really life was just sort of thrust upon her rather than figuring out what she wanted, and I think season two is different. First of all, you have … they make this decision to try and change the course of history and there is a lot of thinking about…I think the pregnancy has a lot to do with that. I think also trying to lift Jamie (Sam Heughan) out of sort of the effects of last season and give him a mission, give him something to sort of strive to do. You see her trying to create a world that she wants to live in. There is some incredible storylines and I am really excited to play them.
Outlander Podcast: Claire had a relatively unstructured upbringing with her uncle and the travel and everything. She had to adapt to eighteenth century Scotland. How does Claire feel about and handle the rules of the French Court and all the etiquette that comes with that?
Caitriona: It’s a huge adjustment for her, and in a way she had much more freedom in eighteenth century Scotland than she when she does when she first lands in Paris. I think finding her place in a very patriarchal society where the role of women is very restricted is very tough for her. It is not where she is most comfortable. What I love is that she manages to find an outlet for her independence, for her professionalism in a way. She meets Master Raymond, Mother Hildegard, which are two great characters that are coming in, played by the wonderful Dominique Pinon and Frances de la Tour. It’s tough. It’s really … both her and Jamie struggle in the beginning. They are very much in a place where it’s not their comfort zone, but they have to use their intelligence and their smart to figure out and navigate this new place. It’s interesting to see them inhabit a new world and how it affects them.
Q: For people who are not familiar with the book, can you tease a little about what to expect for the second season?
Caitriona: In the second season, you see Claire and Jamie arrive in France. They’ve made a decision to change the course of history if they can, so they want to stop the Jacobite Rising. Claire is also pregnant. A lot of it is dealing with the political intrigue, but also dealing in private with her own pregnancy and the insecurities that brings up, and the fear that brings up because she lost her parents when she was five, so she did not have this mother role model that she can really look back to or go to for guidance. It’s a real time for uncertainty for both of them, and then towards the second half of the season, you will see them return to Scotland, so in a way, it is a season of two halves again. It will be visually very different in the beginning.
Outlander TV News: How is it working with Dominique Pinon, Master Raymond, because that is very much a counterpart to Claire in France?
Caitriona : Very much so. I liken it to when she first met Geillis (Lotte Verbeek). It’s again this person she has a like-minded…they have a like-minded interest in herbs and healing. It is the first friend she meets in Paris. He (Pinon) is an absolute joy. I’m a big fan of his work from before and when I heard they cast him, I was kind of like astounded. It’s like, “Wow! We got Dominique Pinon?” He is such a joy at work. He’s such a real, unique, fantastic character, and he plays him so brilliantly. It’s fantastic.
Three If By Space: You have been getting a lot of well deserved, great notice for your performance in Outlander. What has this done for your career in general? Are you getting more calls, more opportunities?
Caitriona: I get calls, and I’m like, “Well, I am kind of busy.” It’s been fantastic of course. It has opened so many doors for me. I was lucky. I got to do a great film during the hiatus, and hopefully during the next hiatus I will get to do something else as well, but we shoot for a very long time, so it is limited time in between, but as an actor first and foremost, I just want to work. And then to be able to get a job that you love is amazing and that people respond to and they like is just…I could not be happier and more grateful.
Q: Can you talk a little about the evolution of Jamie and Claire’s relationship and how she approaches it now?
Caitriona: When we meet them at the top of the season, he’s still struggling with what happens at the end of last season. We really wanted this to be a continuation. It’s not a reset. You see two people very much still affected by everything that has happened, and I think Claire really has to put aside maybe some of her own issues at the moment to really get past what happened and heal. And part of that is giving him a mission, giving him something to focus on that’s not looking back on what happened. They are going through a very uncertain time. They are struggling with their own issues and maybe sometimes privately which has creating somewhat of a gulf between them, but ultimately they are there for each other and they are working to try and help each other. You see continuously with anything in life, adversity and getting past adversity will make you stronger, and that is a beautiful thing about this couple.
Q: How do those incredible costumes help you get into Claire’s skin?
Caitriona: It does. It changes everything. The minute you put on a corset, it changes how you sit, how you breathe, how you feel, and Claire’s discomfort in this new world and in all this finery, it mirrors what you are going through. The costumes are so beautiful and it makes you feel like you are in a different place. Whereas before, I love a pocket. Before Claire, from the 1940s, I was like “Claire likes her pockets!” In the eighteenth century, women had pockets in their skirts, so there were a lot of pockets and you could trench around the fields and all that. There is none of that. It is pristine satins and silks, the most exquisite stuff, but it is just a very different…you have to carry yourself differently and it really does inform it all.
Outlander TV News: Since you say it affects how you play the character, do you guys rehearse in the costumes?
Caitriona: This year, because it takes so long to get dressed, usually I get half-ready for rehearsal. We will come in, block the scene, and do rehearsal, so I will usually just have the underwear as they call it because that is already three layers: the corset, the bum roll, the cage … if there is a cage because of the dimensions because that is also a big thing, you can’t really move around. “I would like you to just stand together.” “Yeah, but I am this wide.” It does affect things, so yeah.
Source: Outlander TV News and The MacGuffin