MORE THAN six months after Starz's "Outlander" left its time-traveling heroine the half-naked (and very much afraid) prisoner of a sadist, the series returns Saturday to find Claire (Caitriona Balfe) right where it left her.
And some of you thought "Droughtlander" was long?
"We shot that over two days. That was very intense," Balfe said, in an interview, of the scene with Tobias Menzies that bridges the two halves of the show's first season. "We had two days in that room . . . so, yeah, it was tough, and I definitely came away with some cuts and bruises."
Not that she's complaining. Much.
Part of the attraction of playing Claire, said Balfe, was, "Wow, all of these things happen to her, but she just gets up and keeps going and sort of fights. But when it came to portraying them, it was quite hard to put aside the modern-day sort of self-pity element. . . . Because we're so used to, after something traumatic happens, you know, we need to wallow in it."
Balfe couldn't have had much time for wallowing, because that dustup with Menzies (who plays both her 20th-century husband and her 18th-century enemy) is only the first of several intense scenes in Saturday's "The Reckoning."[Spoiler (click to open)]There's a particularly dicey one between Claire and her new husband, Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), for which fans of the best-selling Diana Gabaldon books have been waiting a long time.
Let's pause to welcome those for whom "Outlander" is a crossover SUV and not the wildly popular story of a former World War II nurse who accidentally travels back to the 18th century and commits bigamy with a hot Scotsman. (Assuming you can call it bigamy when one's first husband hasn't been born yet.)
[Diana Gabaldon quote]Gabaldon, a former scientist, had been entertaining show-business suitors since her first book, Outlander, was published nearly 24 years ago, waiting for someone who understood a work that combines history, romance, time travel and a "MacGyver"-like approach to medicine. The winner: Ronald D. Moore ("Battlestar Galactica"), whose adaptation has already won a second-season order from Starz.
She's happy enough with the series, and especially with the casting of Jamie Fraser, to have used Heughan's last name for a minor character in her most recent book, Written in My Own Heart's Blood.
And she's unapologetic about all the nakedness and fighting.
"These books are about a lot of different things, but one of the things they are about is about sex and violence," Gabaldon said. "And I don't mean that they include sex and violence as a means of, you know, drawing the audience in or titillating them. I mean it is about sex and violence, what those mean to people and how they handle them."
Claire "never sees herself as a victim," she said.
Balfe calls it "an interesting discovery to sort of put aside my own ideas" of how someone might react to violence.
" 'Wow, she's just been attacked. She would carry that with her for quite a while.' But she didn't have time to. She didn't have the luxury of sort of holding on to that. Not to say that these things don't affect her, but it's a different way of dealing with it," said the actress. "I think if it was me, I'd have laid down and died," she said, laughing.
"I think she's seen so many horrific things that, for her, it would be an indulgence, and it would be a disservice to anyone who suffered to kind of wallow in self-pity. And again, it's hard to discover how that trauma or whatever affects her. But I think you see, as the time goes on, she does get worn down a little. But again, it's just that she has that fight in her: . . . 'I'm not going to let this define me, or take me over.' "
Once a top runway model, Balfe grew up in Ireland and has lived in the U.S. for the past 12 years. In "Outlander," she's playing a 20th-century Englishwoman living in 18th-century Scotland.
"We have an on-set dialect coach. But I grew up with British TV. In Ireland . . . we had the whole six channels we used to have there, but two of them were Irish and four of them were from the U.K.," Balfe said.
"I've had them in my ear. I like to do accents, anyway. We played around a little, deciding what her accent would be. Because of that time and of her sort of social status, her class, if she'd gone to a proper finishing school, she would have a very clipped RP [Received Pronunciation, considered the standard for a British accent]. But, you know, Claire in the books . . . didn't go to school. She had her uncle rear her, and she traveled all over the world, so I wanted her to feel very earthy."
Earthy may also be a new experience for Balfe, who's 35 and said she didn't really start acting until she was in her 30s.
"Sometimes you wish," she said, laughing, " 'Could I not have been younger, before it all started to crack?' - but I think that that's what's great" about playing Claire. In modeling, "you have to make sure that no matter what the angles, that you still look good. Whereas with acting, that all has to be thrown out the window, because you can never care about what you look like, because you should be too invested in either what you're feeling or what your objective is. I loved the fact that I got to throw all of that worrying away."
‘Outlander’ star had to unlearn her modeling skills
When Caitriona Balfe headed for L.A. to become an actress she’d already spent 10 years as an international high fashion model. She had left home at 18, answering an invitation to Paris to shimmy down the runway. But her dream was to be an actress, and modeling proved an impediment. “You pick up a lot of bad habits in the modeling world in comparison to acting, [...]”I worked really hard and thank God it paid off.”
It paid off in a massive way when she was cast as the time-traveling combat nurse who is thrust back to 18th century Scotland in the Starz smash hit, “Outlander,” returning for a new season Saturday. But Balfe was sweating over casting calls for two years before she snagged any kind of acting job. “I was lucky. Obviously from modeling I’d saved quite a bit, so I was in that sense, I was very lucky. I could come here and I didn’t have to wait tables or any of that. But straightaway I took classes and spent a year and a half just taking classes and just working on my craft and sort of learning.”
Her very first acting job in L.A., found her playing a dead woman with no dialogue in J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8.” Everything seemed rosy for a brief moment of time. But just before “Outlander,” Balfe was unemployed for a hopeless stretch of time. “That was really hard because you’d get close on a few things, so that carrot’s always dangling,” she sighs.
“You’d think, ‘I’m getting close so I must be doing something right, but I’m not getting it. So what does that mean?’ When I first moved here I thought, ‘Oh, that’s fine. I’m in a bubble of delusion that’s how I’m getting through all the rejections.’
“But then you begin to wonder, are you really deluding yourself because so many people come here with the dream to work? But I knew that I was a hard worker and that I had something to bring to characters, and that it was something I loved to do. So I didn’t have any desire for huge fame or anything like that. I just wanted to be a working actor. I’m really glad it worked out.”
Part of the reason it worked out is because the Irish Balfe (who pronounces her first name Katrina) admits she’s stubborn. “Everyone in my family are hard workers, and we’re all quite strong-willed,” says Balfe, whoís wearing a gathered skirt and a black blouse with ruffles down the placket.
“I think those are good qualities as long as you keep them in check. My dad’s probably more stubborn than my mom, but my mom raised five children. And by the time my little brother was 5 or 6, my parents became foster parents. There’s always been so many kids in our house. I have a foster brother and sister who came to us when they were 1 and 2 and they’re now 26 and 27. Both my parents are hard workers,” she adds.
“My father was a police sergeant and he worked very hard and. . . we didn’t grow up with loads of money or anything like that, but they always worked very hard to give us whatever we needed.”
Being No. 4 of five kids, she says she was always vying for attention. “But also it generates a lot of independence. . . so you’re very self-sufficient in that sense. I left home at 17, went to college. After a year, I moved to Paris then lived in Japan, Germany, Italy, France, and you have to rely on yourself a lot.”
Unmarried, she says she’d like to have a family someday. “I think it puts things in perspective and keeps you grounded. My sisters manage it and they’re both an inspiration to me. They’re very successful career women. My one sister is manager of human relations in Hong Kong. The other one is a quality manager at a pharmaceuticals company in Dublin.”
Balfe, 38, won’t say whether she has a boyfriend or not, but insists she doesn’t date actors. “I haven’t and I won’t. I have friends who are fantastic actors, but I think two people in a relationship who have this up-and-down career, for me it wouldn’t work. That’s not to take away from lovely actor men. Being handsome is fine, but don’t marry somebody who has to make money off their handsomeness.”