The sizzling hot third season of “Outlander” concludes on December 10. Gold Derby senior editor Rob Licuria and contributor Amanda Spears recently chatted with Caitriona Balfe about playing Claire on the Starz drama series plus secrets behind the latest episodes and steamy romance. She has received Golden Globe nominations the past two years as Best TV Drama Actress. Watch the exclusive video above or read our complete interview transcript below.
For this current season, Claire travels back to her life in 1948, pregnant with the child she has conceived with Jamie (Sam Heughan), who remains back in 18th century Scotland. After 20 years of raising her daughter Brianna (Sophie Skelton), she finds a way to travel back in time and reunite with her true love Jamie.
Gold Derby (Rob Licuria): Caitriona Balfe, we are more than midway through Season 3 at this stage and everybody’s super excited about what we’re seeing in “Outlander.” My first question to you straight off the bat is, we saw the print shop, so that whole big thing’s happened and everyone’s totally excited about Jamie and Claire being back together, but can you talk us through filming that episode and how fun or exciting or challenging it was?
Caitriona Balfe: It’s very funny when you start off a season where you have such a clear… everyone’s so excited for this one moment when these two characters reunite but as an actor you have so much work to do before that and after that that in some ways you don’t want to feed into the hype yourself and you don’t want to try and get too caught up in the conversation that goes around moments like this, but obviously for our characters it’s huge. It’s everything that she’s known for 20 years. I mean her daughter, I think that was one of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around was how do you leave your daughter or how do you say goodbye to her and pretty much believe that you’re probably never gonna see her again? And so to trade that off for the love of a man as a modern woman, you’re kinda like, “Where do I find that within me?” Because I think if any woman really did do that, we’d be all like, “You what?!”
So there was a lot of that to try and wrap your head around and the way I had to look at it, you have to always go back to the time that you’re shooting it and even though the ‘60s feels very modern to us, it wasn’t so long ago in the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s even in the ’50s, especially where I come from, from Ireland, if family members emigrated, you would probably never see them again. And so I sort of tried to wrap my head around in that way. It was just like Claire was emigrating, that’s it. What is the reality of actually seeing someone that you haven’t seen in 20 years and what is the reality of when you see them for the first time and all of the scenarios? But then what is the actual moment like and you don’t want to make it too much like the angels are singing and all of that, you want to play the realism of it so we all talked about how awkward or clumsy or childlike you would become again because you’re just not sure what to do and you have all this desire and all these expectations but finding the reality in that, I guess, was the real big challenge, I suppose.
Gold Derby (Amanda Spears): Speaking about the challenges, we did see the print shop episode and it was such an anticipated one and I know Sam got a little flak with how he interpreted seeing those pictures of Brianna for the first time. How do you balance what’s in the book and what you wanna do as an artist interpreting those scenes?
CB: It’s really threefold, because you have the book, which is what we tend to read before we start production and then in many ways we have to shelve that because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in meetings with the writers and I’m like, “You’re not doing that moment? Why? Why aren’t we doing that?” So you have to kind of put the book to one side and then you take the script as your blueprint, but it’s still just a blueprint. We have six, seven or eight writers at this point. Every one of them has a slightly different voice, has a slightly different take on each character. Obviously they work very hard to keep through-lines but our job as an actor is to find the truth within your version of the character and so somebody might write something that they say Claire is gonna do and I’ll feel very strongly that that’s not in line with my interpretation of this woman I’m playing and so it’s a negotiation always. If we were just hired to stand on our marks and do exactly as somebody told us to do, we wouldn’t be happy actors in the first place, but that’s not an interpretation, That’s not an actor doing their job. That’s just somebody being a robot and none of us are that. So it’s a creative process. There’s always going to be differences of opinions when it comes to creativity. Sometimes that can be really beautiful and you’re never going to please everybody so as an actor you foremost have to feel like what you’re doing is truthful because otherwise it’ll just come across as forced or fake and so you can never do that.
GD (Rob): Yeah, that’s a good point and speaking of how you interpret Claire, this season I found just in terms of my own viewing experience that Claire has come back to that century a different person. She’s older, she’s more educated, she’s more set in her ways. She’s also trying to rekindle or reestablish this connection with Jamie, the man that she loves and she’s struggling with that. So there’s a lot of nuance to what you’re doing with Claire and I’m wondering how that has been for you. Has it been a challenge or has it been something that you’ve actively tried to focus on because it’s something that we’re really noticing about her?
CB: Yeah, it’s funny. I think what I was trying to play in the beginning of the season was someone who shelved a side of herself. She has become much more than the woman that we’d seen previously and that’s having lived 20 years where yes, she’s had a loving relationship with her daughter and she’s loved her career but she’s been without intimacy and she’s been without romantic or emotional love. So that has to change somebody drastically and then the flip of that is that once you’ve kind of shifted someone’s center internally when they go back and she’s trying to reestablish that connection with Jamie again and she’s trying to find her feet again in this new time, I think it’s the most insecure we’ve ever seen Claire be because she’s undoing 20 years of repression in many ways and she doesn’t really know who she is anymore in this time and she is trying to find her center. I’ve experienced things like that on a short scale. I’ve lived in many different countries and done different jobs and when you uproot yourself, there’s time when you need to readjust and you really need to find the ground under your feet again and that’s kind of what I was drawing on when I went to play Claire in the latter half of the season is just her not feeling like she’s on solid ground, literally and figuratively, for a part of it (laughs).
GD (Amanda): Well it appears we’ve said goodbye to Tobias Menzies this season so what was his last day like? What was your last scene together? ‘Cause it was such a big episode, Episode 3, he was so good in that one. You both were great in that episode.
CB: Thank you. He’s wonderful. It’s such a loss personally and just for the show as well because Tobias is just amazing and he brings such great depth and gravitas to his character and our last day was actually a scene from Episode 2 and it was that scene where they pull back and you see us both in single beds. Well that was our first last day with Tobias because he injured himself drastically. He had to come back and reshoot the second half of another scene. But the first last day, which was when he got his big clap and he got wrapped out, it was really sad, but it’s one of those things when you’re sort of in that emotional place. I got the worst fit of giggles in the world because we had to shoot over me onto Tobias saying, “Good night,” but they needed me to basically turn around in my bed and then face-plant down so the camera could see right past me without seeing any head and we all lost it and everything. But yeah, it was very sweet. But yeah, we injured him pretty badly this season (laughs). We scalped him, so he had to come back and finish the rest of that scene.
GD (Rob): And you probably did it on purpose because you couldn’t bear it.
CB: Well everyone thought I hit him with an ashtray and they were, “Caitriona it’s okay, it’s okay,” and I was like, “It wasn’t me, he hit the camera with his own head.”
GD (Rob): Okay, we’ll just go with that story. As fans we are watching this show, you guys are on the ship and you’re headed to the new world and we know that you filmed all that stuff in South Africa unless I’m wrong and something changed. So take us through what it was like to be in South Africa filming these particular episodes that we are clamoring to see.
CB: It was great. I’m just so amazed, such a different scale. We went to where “Black Sails” used to film and the set-up there was amazing. I mean, they have two life-size, maybe there’s a floor or two less life-size ships built on land. There’s one that’s then on the axle of a truck so it can go in and out of water and then they have the sets built in the studio that rock and all of that. And just for all of us we were excited like little kids ‘cause you’re on something so new and all the boys definitely wanted to climb up the rigging and all of that kind of stuff. It’s nice, our shoot is always so long and it’s a tough shoot with all the outdoor elements and everything like that but it was great, the last half of the season to go somewhere new and it really invigorated everyone, I think. It’s nice to have that fresh infusion of new characters as well ‘cause they all come along and they’re very enthusiastic and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and the rest of us are all pretty exhausted. So their enthusiasm is infectious so I think it was really lovely, yeah.
GD (Amanda): Speaking of new characters, we talked last year and we’re just wondering, are we gonna see Claire and Murtagh again together? Is he gonna be one of the characters we see in the new world?
CB: I almost got in a lot of trouble over my tweet that I tweeted earlier on. Just hold this space, that’s all I can say.
GD (Rob): Yeah, say nothing, just plead the fifth.
CB: I don’t know , I can’t say anything!
GD (Rob): No you can’t you’ll be in so much trouble.
CB: I’ll do a Jeff Sessions on it and I’ll say I don’t remember.
GD (Rob): Or you could just lie, that’s what he does. That’s a whole other thing.
GD (Amanda): I thought we were gonna get through one of these without talking about politics.
GD (Rob): We can’t help ourselves. We can’t help ourselves. Let’s get super superficial for a second. So, two Golden Globe nominations, Critics’ Choice nomination, that’s nothing to sneeze at. We haven’t really had a chance to talk about your Golden Globe nomination earlier this year. What was it like being back on the red carpet? I know it’s a fun night, the show was represented once again. That’s really hard by the way. The Golden Globes usually do away with shows once they’ve had a crack at it in the first year but “Outlander” keeps coming back so that means they really do love you guys. How does that feel?
CB: I find it so hard to absorb those things because obviously it’s huge and you’re thrilled and you feel like someone’s probably made a mistake. It’s such a cool thing to be a part of and it’s so rare… there’s so many shows and there’s so many incredible actresses who do such incredible work and it’s hard to feel like there should be any kind of picking out of performances here or there but it’s just such a nice thing to get recognized and it’s a testament to the writing. I especially last year had some incredible episodes and I think when you’re given material that you can really sink your teeth into, then it’s such a joy as an actor I think as the whole cast and our crew, and none of these performances happen on their own, you’re only ever as good as the person in the scenes with you and so when any of us get recognition like that, it’s just really nice for all of us because we work bloody hard and it’s nice to get invited to a nice party. Those things are really lovely but at the same point, this job is just bloody brilliant anyway so I kinda feel like I’m one of the lucky ones.
GD (Amanda): You have been nominated twice and there’s so many great roles for women in drama right now. Is there any show or performance that you really admire or wish you had a crack at that role?
CB: Oh my god. Elisabeth Moss is just incredible. “The Handmaid’s Tale” is so wonderful. I was loving “Big Little Lies” as well. I’m a little bit behind on my TV at the moment but I started watching “The Sinner” the other day, Jessica Biel, which is so great. There’s just so much good TV on right now and I have so much catching up to do. But yeah, I think we’re in an interesting time at the moment. I think it’s nice that there’s more and more talk of getting more and more women behind the camera and in positions of production and writing and all of that, people of color, people from different backgrounds. It’s just like, let’s get everybody represented, more interesting TV to watch.
GD (Rob): Yeah, it’s very cool. Now you are currently back in Scotland. Can you explain, what are you filming now? Why are you back in Scotland, how does that all work and when do you propose to finish filming this particular season?
CB: We will be here until probably late June which is quite a while away, yes. We’re back in Scotland because we’ve set the show up here. We still do have parts of the show this season that will still take place in Scotland. I think the logistics of moving the show to the U.S. would have been too expensive so we are matching Scotland for North Carolina, but it’s great, because I think at least for the people who work on the show, this gives them a bit more job security and we have such a talented crew here that we’ve been working with for four years now that it would be really horrible if we sort of were just like, “Peace out, see you guys later.” But it’s interesting, because it brings new challenges just as much as the reason we came here in the first place was to give the show that kind of authentic Scottish quality. Now we’re trying to replicate so we’re trying to do that for another place and Jon Gary Steele I think if anyone knows his work from previous seasons he’s just a genius. So far what we’ve bene shooting in and shooting around, it’s just incredible. We shot at River Run, or our version of River Run if people know the books, the first couple weeks and it was just incredible. We have this big old Colonial-style facade of a house built in a field somewhere and it just looks amazing. But it’s an exciting season this season, very different. I think all of the characters are basically pioneers and that in itself is a very unusual place for a lot of them to be in so it’s interesting.
GD (Amanda): We have these awards every year, so we do “Best Hangout” and we narrowly lost to a hangout with two of our colleagues with Barry Jenkins.
GD (Rob): Meaning the hangout that we had with you, Caitriona.
CB: That’s okay, I’m a big Barry Jenkins fan.
GD (Amanda): Very close. So if we’re gonna lose, we’re gonna lose to a director.
CB: We’re gonna lose to an Oscar winner, let’s do that.
GD (Amanda): So we’re hoping maybe you could give us some really good tidbits about the season finale that might just push us over the top this year. No pressure!
CB: Should I just go get my old script and start reading it?
GD (Rob): Pretty much. Give us like three words that will describe something from the season. That’s what we asked Carrie Coon about “The Leftovers” and that seemed to work okay.
GD (Amanda): Describe the season finale.
CB: Right. The Bakra. Big wave. New beginnings.
GD (Rob): Wow. I think that’s just gonna set Twitter on fire. I love it, I love every second.
CB: I hope I don’t get in trouble for it.
GD (Rob): No way, they can’t fire you they can’t do the show without you so it’s all good. Caitriona, as always, we really, really appreciate you talking to us here at Gold Derby. You know how much we support and love the show and good luck for the rest of the season and of course for all the awards and attention that comes your way. You totally deserve it.
CB: Thank you so much.
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