Season 3 of Outlander a ‘real wild adventure’
Fantasy series resumed with separation of leads, but show driven by more than romance
Spoiler alert: This story contains spoilers for Outlander.
If you think of fantasy drama Outlander and you think “bodice ripper,” think again.
While the show’s intense romance between an 18th-century highlander and a 20th-century nurse is a big part of its appeal for fans, Caitriona Balfe, who plays time traveller Claire Beauchamp, is very clear there’s more to the character than just her love for Jamie Fraser.
In fact, at the start of Season 3, which began Sept. 10 and continues Sundays at 9 p.m. on W Network, Claire and Jamie are separated. Jamie (Sam Heughan) compelled a pregnant Claire to return to the 1940s at the end of Season 2 as he prepared to fight the Battle of Culloden in 1746, in which Scots loyal to Charles Stuart, known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, waged a doomed battle to put him on the British throne.
“I think what I love most about (Claire) is that she loves so passionately; she has this huge capacity for empathy, but she lives her life in a very full way because she feels so deeply about things,” says Balfe, who was in Toronto last week for interviews.
And while Claire and Jamie have obvious passion for each other, Balfe says Claire’s passion extends to others in her life.
“She has a huge capacity for feeling and will carry that into any situation. And I think that’s such an incredible quality.”
In this Sunday’s episode, Claire and Jamie are still struggling in their different time periods; he with the restrictions imposed by the English after the Scottish defeat at Culloden and the loss of Claire; she with the restrictions imposed on women of her era and the loss of Jamie.
We know the pair will reunite at some point, a reunion that was foretold last season when Claire returned to Scotland in the 1960s and discovered that Jamie had not died at Culloden.
Balfe said the way that meeting has been “constructed is quite unexpect- ed and I love the way that the writers decided to approach that.”
“And I think in the latter part of the season, when you see where this journey takes these two characters, it constantly just shifts direction and it’s a real wild adventure. People are gonna be like, ‘Wait, what happened?’ but I think it’s all . . . very exciting.”
The new direction has also been exciting for Balfe as an actor.
She recalled testing for the role of Claire in 2013 and knowing nothing about the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon that inspired the TV show. “But I went to my bookstore and I was like, ‘Do you have this book? I think it’s called Outlander.’ They had one copy left and I spent that weekend reading it.”
The role seemed like fun, but she had no idea then about the other books in the series or that playing Claire would bring her to the attention of such a devoted group of fans.
Now she’s preparing to shoot Season 4.
“For an actor, that’s a very long time to be employed and it’s been brilliant,” says Balfe, a native of Dublin. “But on a personal level, you know I’ve grown so much from this show.”
She also says it’s been special to be taken into the community of Outlander fans and be “part of something much bigger than you.” And the fame she’s gained has allowed her to support the charity World Child Cancer, which helps children with cancer in the developing world. But back to the acting. “I think, as an actor, the danger is if you’re repeating yourself over and over again that you get complacent and you get bored and stop being challenged,” she says.
“I think that when you’re part of a show that does move so much, not just in terms of location and all that, but the story and character; their emotional journey moves so much it really allows you to keep the same level of excellence all the time.”
When Claire and Jamie do find each other again it will be 20 years — give or take a couple of centuries — since they were last together, which presents the challenge of playing the characters as older people finding their way back to each other. Both have experienced intense grief, for each other and for others.
“Joan Didion was someone I read a lot of,” says Balfe, referring to the American author whose memoir The Year of Magical Thinking detailed the 12 months that followed the sudden death of her husband of 40 years.
“That helped me understand grief in a way that I have not actually had to go through in my own life.”
As an actor, Balfe adds, “You have to feel empathy and you have to be able to put yourself in others’ positions.
“That’s the great thing about my job: I live in my imagination . . . it’s something that I used to get (told off ) for when I was a kid and now I get paid to do it.”
Cross-century couple Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) won’t reunite until later in Season 3.