When Starz first brought Outlander to the Television Critics Association, they had not even shot any of it yet. The pedigree of the Diana Gabaldon books and producer Ron Moore was enough to announce production on the series back in January. I interviewed Catroina Balfe way back then, and now that Outlander is four episodes into its first season, everyone has gotten to know her.
Balfe plays Claire Randall a combat nurse from the 1940s who is transported back in time to the 1740s. Time travel, the producer of Battlestar Galactica, and the network that brought the blood and boobies of Spartacus means Outlander is on Nuke the Fridge’s radar. Outlander airs Friday nights on Starz.
Nuke the Fridge: This must be a huge opportunity for you.
Caitriona Balfe: It is, definitely, yeah.
Caitriona Balfe: Well, I wasn’t aware of the huge search. I heard about it much later. I think my manager sent it to me in August. I think Sam [Heughan] had already been cast in June so they were looking for about three or four months. I self taped. I sent it from L.A. to London and then I found out about two or three weeks later that they wanted to test me and they’d flown Sam over to L.A. because they were testing a few different actresses there. But I found out within a week that I got it and then three days later they were putting me on a plane and sending me off to Glasgow.
Nuke: And your name is pronounced “Katrina?”
Caitriona Balfe: It’s pronounced “Katrina,” yeah. It’s Gaelic.
Nuke: Is that a common Gaelic spelling of it?
Caitriona Balfe: Yeah, in Ireland that’s pretty common. There’s usually an accent on the second I.
Nuke: Were you aware of the Outlander books before this audition?
Caitriona Balfe: I didn’t know of them but when I got the first audition, sometimes you just get two scenes and a very brief synopsis. It wasn’t until I knew I was going back that I figured out it was a book, and then I went and bought the book at my local book store. It was quite funny that I was at Book Soup in West Hollywood. He said, “You know they’re making a TV series out of it?” I was like, “Oh really, that’s cool.” He said, “Yeah, Ron D. Moore is producing it. I wrote my thesis on him.” So I had this really interesting chat with the guy.
Nuke: Now it’ll be you on the cover of the book.
Caitriona Balfe: Oh, you never know.
Nuke: I hope you go back and sign a copy for that book store.
Caitriona Balfe: I know, I should do. I love that bookstore. It’s my favorite.
Nuke: Both eras Claire finds herself in are the past to us. How big a shock is it for her to go from 1945 to 1743?
Caitriona Balfe: For her, it’s a huge shock. For me as an actor, I really only concentrated on making Claire as much a woman of the ‘40s as I could because everything for her when she goes back to the 1700s is new. It’s as new to her as it is to me, so I didn’t really have to look at that very much at all. Definitely I just focused on the ‘40s, the music of the time, the films of the time, reading as much as I could about that time period.
Nuke: Which films of the ‘40s did you watch?
Caitriona Balfe: Oh, I love His Girl Friday, Rebecca. There was a movie I saw when I was sick as an eight-year-old that has always stayed with me. I don’t know why. It’s this silly British romantic comedy called Gertie’s Garter. That was one I had to find again. I just watched some Hitchcock stuff. That’s been really fun, and I found this great CD of British wartime big band jazz, listening to a lot of that stuff. It’s been fun immersing myself in that world.
Nuke: Do the subsequent books return Claire to her time, or does she become more natural in the 1700s?
Caitriona Balfe: I don’t know. I’ve only read the first book. The first book is the first season so I had three days when I found out I was cast to go to Scotland and ever since then my head’s been down and working, so I haven’t had a lot of time to attack the other books.
Nuke: Who is Claire Randall to you?
Caitriona Balfe: It’s been really funny, the more I spend time with her and the more I’m working. I see so many similarities between us but she’s much more courageous. She’s a very strong, strong character and I think playing that role has given me a lot of strength. I’m embarking on the biggest job of my career to date. It’s been a really big responsibility. The first six episodes are told solely through my point of view so it’s a huge workload. I think she’s really strong-willed, a strong woman, tenacious. I think in a strange way playing her has given me a lot of that strength.
Nuke: Do subsequent episodes branch off and follow some of the other characters more?
Caitriona Balfe: I’m not exactly sure how they’re going to do it. I think we’re not going to be exclusively form my point of view all the time. Mainly because I think I would probably fall down and die, and I think it’s also more interesting for the audience to see it form other people’s point of view too but I’m not sure exactly how they’re dealing with it.
Nuke: Being Starz, how explicit or juicy can the romance get?
Caitriona Balfe: Well, for anyone who’s read the books, Diana does not hold back. It’s romantic but it’s not fluffy at all. There’s nothing sappy about the story at all. It’s quite gritty. It’s quite raw and real. I’ve filmed some sex scenes already but they’re very integral to the storyline and they’re not really gratuitous at all. Claire is a very sexually comfortable, sexually active woman and they show that. I think it’s all in keeping with the story.
Nuke: With both men?
Caitriona Balfe: Yeah, my husband in the 40s and then Jamie in 1743.
Nuke: In the ‘40s she’s a combat nurse. Did you do any research on that?
Caitriona Balfe: I did. I found this great book, which my grandmother was actually a nurse during the Second World War. So I found this great book about the Queen Victoria Nurses who were combat field nurses. It’s all firsthand accounts of
all of these nurses, and it was incredible reading about what they had gone through. They were right up there in the front lines. That was when I really felt like I found Claire, reading these women’s stories because you kind of tend to think that people back then were so much nicer, more polite and they didn’t have sex or get drunk or any of those things, but these women were really courageous and brave but they were funny. They got into trouble and they snuck off to see their boyfriends and all that. It brought the whole thing to life for me. That was a really great door to that world for me.
Nuke: Had you spent much time in Scotland before?
Caitriona Balfe: I have one of my oldest friends in Edinburgh so I’ve been to Edinburgh quite a few times, but Glasgow I haven’t spent much time. That’s where we were based. And I haven’t really traveled outside of Glasgow so it’s been really nice seeing. It’s gorgeous. The countryside is awesome.
Nuke: Did you have to do any physical training for Outlander?
Caitriona Balfe: We did quite a lot of boot camp for horse riding, which was really fun. I had ridden horses sort of when I was kid. I’d never really taken proper lessons but our neighbor used to have a horse. There used to be about four or five of us on it and I was the smallest one so I’d be at the top of the neck. Whenever it would bend its head, I would fall off. So it was really nice to get some proper riding lessons. We’re jumping on and off horses quite a lot. The guys are horse riding and sword fighting and all that kind of thing. That was mostly mine. The lads obviously had to do a lot more swordfighting and fight training, all that kind of thing.
Nuke: Is it English style or side saddle?
Caitriona Balfe: No, I’m not doing that. I’m doing it the rough and ready way like the boys are. It’s quite interesting with the costumes because I have a lot of fabric, these big heavy wool skirts and stuff. So mounting and dismounting the horse is quite difficult.
Caitriona Balfe: Yeah, in the story, in the books as well.
Nuke: But in movies and TV they can use multiple horses to play the same one.
Caitriona Balfe: Yeah, but I have mine, Travis, who’s this gorgeous chestnut fat fluffy guy. He’s very funny.
Nuke: He’s a fat horse?
Caitriona Balfe: He’s slightly fat.
Nuke: Which period do you prefer, the 1940s or 1740s?
Caitriona Balfe: I don’t know. I don’t know that I prefer one or the other. I love the 1940s. I think also just because it’s so much more relatable. We have visual images on it because we have films from there and we know the music from there and everything. But, I’m really enjoying learning so much about the 1700s and that time period. It’s always surprising how little has changed and how people are always the same.
Outlander follows the story of Claire Randall, a married combat nurse from 1945 who is mysteriously swept back in time to 1743, where she is immediately thrown into an unknown world where her life is threatened. When she is forced to marry Jamie Fraser, a chivalrous and romantic young Scottish warrior, a passionate relationship is ignited that tears Claire’s heart between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.