Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe Discuss ‘Outlander’

Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan Outlander Interview
Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) in ‘Outlander’ (Photo © 2014 Sony Pictures Television Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Judging by the reception Comic Con attendees gave to the cast, executive producer, and author Diana Gabaldon, Starz has a hit on their hands with Outlander. Based on the popular book series, Outlander debuts on Starz on August 9, 2014, bringing to life the story of a time-traveling nurse who falls in love with a Scottish Highlander from 200 years in the past. It’s an epic tale of love taking place in dangerous times, and the story of Jamie Fraser (played by Sam Heughan) and Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) has captivated millions of readers over the course of eight books.

Together to talk about Outlander season one, Heughan and Balfe chatted about their experiences with fans, their characters, and the books.

Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe Outlander Interview

How has your first Comic Con experience been?

Caitriona Balfe: “Good. It’s been very fun. Still trying to get our heads around it I think.”

Sam Heughan: “Great day [on Friday]. It was so exciting just seeing all the fans and having the panel, and the climax of the evening was the premiere.”

Were you surprised by the fan reaction since the show isn’t even on yet?

Caitriona Balfe: “Well, we’re kind of used to them at this point. They’re very enthusiastic and very vocal, and that’s how we like it. It’s really great. We finally get to meet a lot of them, some we know from Twitter and stuff like that, so it’s been really nice that we can finally meet them in person and say thank you.”

Sam Heughan: “Their support has been brilliant. The separate fans in groups they’ve set up, the Heughligans and the Caitriots and the Menziatics, the Broinies and whatever they are. There’s just so many and they’re all so involved and they raise a lot of money for charity, my charity and Cat’s as well. They have these fan events. They do the Outlander gathering in Edinburgh. They flew over there.”

Caitriona Balfe: “And something in Seattle and Boston.”

Sam Heughan: “The Outlandish Bakers that somehow track us down on location and bring us lots of sugary goodness, so that’s incredible. It’s really overwhelming.”

Hopefully there aren’t any scary encounters. Fans can be quite passionate.

Sam Heughan: “Honestly, the fans we’ve met have all been so polite and understanding and supportive. I just had a great moment traveling here, traveling on. You know the Outlander guys who’ve got the Castle Leoch driving past. I put my head out the window and shouted, ‘Outlander!’ and it was like my clan had arrived. They came over to the car and they all started chanting, ‘Outlander.’ And then loads of fans and people started joining in. There was just this whole street was people going, ‘Outlander! Outlander!’

Caitriona Balfe: “Wow.”

Sam Heughan: “It was quite intense. It was great.”

Caitriona Balfe: “Sorry I missed that.”

Sam Heughan: [Laughing] “So my clan’s here.”

What is the experience on set in Scotland? Are the fans different?

Caitriona Balfe: “No, predominantly, we don’t get that many come to set. Either we’re at the studio which is kind of removed from public or we’re in really remote locations. Occasionally we will have like the Outlandish Bakers who find us, I don’t know how, but they do. But it’s quite subdued and that’s been really nice. We’ve been able to work in this nice bubble and just concentrate on the work without too many distractions, which has been good.”

Has the fan response shaped the way you play your characters?

Caitriona Balfe: “No, my timeframe between getting cast and starting work was so short that just three days later I was there and I was working, so you don’t really have time to think about other things. But what has been really nice is it’s long days. The schedule is really grueling and to get these little messages of support and encouragement, that’s been really helpful because there’s times when you get a bit like, ‘Oh my God, this is overwhelming.’ Then all these women send you nice well wishes and it gives you that little boost when you need it.”

Has the cast been a solid unit?

Sam Heughan: “Yeah, it’s a wonderful cast. We did sort of create a little family at the start, the Highlanders and yourself and Tobias. It’s really nice the way the story progresses that we’ve kind of got a second family now when we go back to Lallybroch. We’ve got these day players that come in for a couple episodes and they’re all brilliant. We’ve got such a great cast. The casting department’s done amazing and the episodes we’re just finishing now are so high stakes and so interesting. But then we were shooting the other day some pickups and the old crew came back in and it feels like a big family. It really does.”

Do you think fans of the book will be surprised by your interpretation?

Caitriona Balfe: “I hope that as much as possible we’re staying very truthful to the book. But it is an adaptation so in terms of the medium that the story’s being told in, certain things have to change just to fill a proper arc of the one hour episode, so some things have been moved around a little bit or expanded upon. Maybe we haven’t been able to touch on certain parts of it, but I hope that that leaves it sort of exciting because it’s going to be something that you recognize but also there’ll be all these new elements. I hope for people who haven’t read the books, this is just going to be great storytelling about fantastic characters. So, hopefully, that’ll drag them in too.”

Did you read any of the books before you auditioned?

Sam Heughan: “No, I think we’re both in the scenario that we hadn’t read them. When everyone was even asked to audition, going and Google that straight away and then you’re like, ‘Oh my God, there’s all this stuff!’ So we both went out, I got a copy of the book and you sort of sped read the relevant scenes and you go into your meeting going, ‘Yeah, I’ve read it!’ Obviously when you get called back and you start screen tests and stuff, I read the book – and read it a few times. I’ve read pretty much all of book two but I stopped because I just thought we’re dealing with book one here and it was getting confusing where we are. And also, we have to deal with the material in hand and that’s very much to play moment by moment and the scene that’s in front of us and not play the story in our head. I’m very aware that there’s this great body of work that Diana’s written. The companion books are great. I’ve really enjoyed Exile and The Outlander Companion. I thought they were all handy to dip in and out.”

Was there ever a moment of apprehension?

Caitriona Balfe: “I mean, I think I had complete naivety. I just had no idea. I got the book right before I tested. My first audition, when I taped, I’d basically just been given a paragraph about who this person is. I didn’t really know anything about the project. So I sent in a tape just purely based on the two scenes that I’ve been given. Then when I heard they wanted to test me, I was like straightaway, ran up to my bookstore in L.A. and got the book. The guy was like, ‘You know they’re making a TV show out of this.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, really?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, I did my thesis on Ron D. Moore.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, really?’

But yeah, I think I had somewhere around 200, 300 Twitter followers and I was very proud of that at the time. Three days later I was in Scotland and Twitter was blowing up and my friends were like, ‘Have you read this? Have you seen this? Have you seen this?’ It was great. They would send me things and it was just like, ‘Wow, god, what is this?” Again, it has only been positive. So I think we just feel very lucky.”

What’s been your family and friends’ reactions? Have they started reading the books?

Caitriona Balfe: “My sister…so I got cast in September and by November she had read all seven books. She is a maniac reader. Then she’d ordered book eight. My other sister has read Outlander, the first one, and she was texting me. She’s like, ‘You’re so Claire.’ I was like, ‘???’ But they’re just very excited.”

Sam Heughan: “Yeah, my mum read the first book recently and there’s always that conversation. ‘So, at the end of the book, you know that bit with Black Jack and…’ ‘Oh god, yeah, yeah.’ So we sort of glossed over that, but she came on set and I showed her around. She brought my nephew who’s like 10 and showed him the armory and he was really excited about that. It’s great to be able to have your family, and because I’m from Scotland as well, it’s nice to come back to Scotland and finally be able to show my folks something I’m working on.”

How do you feel about criticism from women who think Claire is cheating on her husband?

Caitriona Balfe: “Those women have never fallen through time. What do they know?”

And she’s constantly being assaulted.

Caitriona Balfe: “Well, you know, I think that there’s a danger. Something that I really wanted to make sure that Claire’s strength isn’t just blindly being able to get up after being attacked and go on and it not affect her. I think that there’s strength in vulnerability as well. That was important for me to be able to show that part of Claire. And the whole thing about being in love with two people, I think that it’s entirely possible. It’s not like, at least the way we’ve handled it in the show, when she first marries Jamie, it’s not because she’s madly in love with him at that point. It’s compulsory. It’s to save her life. And this is the thing that I love about Claire, is that she finds a way to get through whatever situation is put in front of her and she’s a true survivor. And within that, you have to be able to survive. You have to be able to hope and live and love again. That’s what she constantly does. It’s like yes, she feels bad and she feels hurt and she feels the loss, but she has space in her heart to want to live and love again.”

How much is Claire relying on her knowledge of the future, versus trying to acclimate?

Caitriona Balfe: “I think the first season, it’s been very interesting because I think primarily her main drive is just to survive and, in a sense, she’s not looking at the macro as much. She has information about the future and about what’s going to happen, especially to the Highlanders, but it’s not something that I think she’s able to fully grasp until she knows that she herself and her life is not at risk. But I think as the story progresses, then she’s able to look at the bigger picture.”

Sam Heughan: “She then starts to find her place and try to fit into this world with that knowledge as well.”

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