The downside of adapting books for the screen is that some key moments inevitably get left out because of time (rather, the lack of it) or to suit the creative flow. For Caitriona Balfe, who plays time-traveling leading lady Claire in “Outlander,” the omitted moments aren’t any less significant than what we see on the screen in finding her character.
Taking a break from filming the fourth season of the epic drama, Balfe stopped by The Times’ video studio recently to reflect on the course-shifting third season that saw the show’s star-crossed couple coping with a life apart (for 20 years!) before eventually reuniting.
The first five episodes of the third season work to establish how Claire and Jamie (Sam Heughan) settled into a life unhappily ever after. Jamie, back in 18th century Scotland; Claire in 20th century America, raising their daughter with Frank (Tobias Menzies) while taking up medicine. The third novel from the Diana Gabaldon book series, “Voyager,” did a lot to set up the journey Claire experiences in those years. Balfe said she infused the detail from the book that the script left out into her performance.
“There’s some scenes I’m devastated we didn’t get to shoot,” she said. “There’s the scene where she’s working all day and Brianna gets hurt and she has to run home and she has all of that guilt. It’s so interesting to see a working mom in that late ’50s, early ’60s time — I was like, ‘What do you mean we’re not filming that? That’s so important to this character!’ We don’t have time to shoot everything. But I have that [knowledge] and you bring that into your performance throughout the rest of the scenes … having all of that stuff — especially when we got to Episode 3, 4 and 5 — you want to show the characters wearing all those experiences.”
For Claire, a great deal of her experience involved pushing against the gender norms of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s — an undertaking that prompted reflection about how it compares with today.
“We’re in such a time right now where we’re still battling for equality and we’re still battling for respect as women,” Balfe said. But, looking back at that time, and you see how people would just shut any woman down with an opinion … I look at my mother, my grandmother, you start thinking about all of the things that they’ve gone through in their lives and it makes you understand more how they’ve become the women that they are.”