The Starz hit “Outlander,” based on the books by Diana Gabaldon and adapted for television by Ronald D. Moore, has had a bodice-ripping first season. Caitriona Balfe plays Claire Fraser, a bold British World War II nurse who is thrown back in time, in Scotland, from her 1945 existence to a rough land about 200 years earlier. To complicate matters, she has ended up with a husband in both epochs: Jamie (Sam Heughan) in the 18th century, Frank in the 20th (Tobias Menzies). It’s just your typical time-traveling-historical-romance-fantasy-drama-adventure.
Meeting at the London West Hollywood hotel not long before returning to Scotland to shoot Season 2, Balfe (whose first name is pronounced Katrina and last name rhymes with Ralph) chats easily about her character’s trials, triumphs and corsetry.
Even in the 20th century, Claire seems ahead of her time.
She doesn’t feel like she really belongs in the 1940s or the 1700s, and that’s due to Diana, who’s an incredible force of nature. Claire was raised by an uncle who was an atheist and an anthropologist, and she traveled the world, and she’s always been a timeless or placeless character.
And a fierce one.
That’s probably why the books have such a rabid fan base, because you see this woman who can really do anything and is thrown into all of these crazy situations. One thing that I struggled with a little bit, but also loved about her so much, is just her lack of self-pity. She has this mettle where, no matter what kind of trauma befalls her, she gets right back up and meets the next day with the same kind of gumption and ferocity.
Her ferocious sexuality is a big part of the story, and the way that’s portrayed is surprisingly egalitarian.
That’s the thing about it: It’s not really for women, but it’s not just for men. I think that’s what’s so shocking to most people; we’re used to seeing sex scenes written and directed by and for men. It’s great to play someone who’s so unafraid of being who she is. She has such a capacity for living in the moment and feeling everything with every fiber of her body, and that demonstrates itself not only when she sees someone in pain, that feeling where she has that instinctual rush to heal and help, but it’s the same when she’s in the throes of passion.
How many times has your bodice been ripped?
A lot. It’s the go-to thing in 1743. And it’s not as easy as it looks. There’s a lot of rigging, and putting it back together and making sure that it rips the same way, it can get very persnickety and try my patience.
You’ve lived in as many places as Claire — born and raised in Ireland before leaving home to work as a model.
I moved to Paris for two years, then to London, then New York in 2002. In that time I also lived in Japan, Italy, Germany — I’ve been a bit of a gypsy. I felt that informed a lot of Claire.
The first season took over a year to shoot. What’s your favorite part?
I love the location days. If we’re outside, even if it’s bitterly cold, you feel transported. I never thought of myself doing period. When you’re in your acting classes, and you think about the kind of roles you want to play, it’s always modern relationship drama type things. But this allows you to transport yourself into a different place. It feels magical.
And yet you still have the relationship to work through.
That’s why people can still relate to it.
I couldn’t believe Claire told Jamie the truth and he believed her.
People believed much more in magic. I grew up in Ireland, and there were so many things we believed in.
It must have been a relief for her.
It’s that thing when you fall in love with someone, you can’t fully give yourself over unless you’re being completely honest. I think that’s why it’s so easy for her to then make the decision to stay.
You and Sam have remarkable chemistry, which speaks to your comfort level with each other — unless you’re actually dating and I missed it?
We’re not dating. [Laughs.] When I walked in to test with him, it was one of those mornings — I was running late, there was so much traffic, it was a big test, this is not the moment to be late. I came in a sweaty mess. Sam is just this calm center, always, and he was just so sweet and so reassuring. Two of my best friends live in Scotland, and we talked about where I’ve been and where he’s from, and immediately we were nattering away with each other.
By Lisa Rosen to LA Times