Caitriona Balfe on her Outlander romances: “it isn’t just two people bonking”

"Things get a lot more intense and darker - there are lots of good things coming in the second half of the season," says Balfe, who plays time-traveller Claire

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[Contains spoilers for the first half of Outlander season one]

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Caitriona Balfe is the star of new fantasy historical series Outlander, based on the bestsellers by Diana Gabaldon. The 35-year-old Irish-born actress plays Claire, a married nurse who falls through time in 1945 and finds herself in the dangerous landscape of the Scottish Highlands during the 1740s. The first half of series one is already on Amazon Prime Instant Video and, from this Sunday 5th April, brand new episodes start landing (just hours after airing in the States) – a handy excuse for us to catch up with the drama’s leading lady. Here’s what she had to say… 

So are you a fantasy fan? 

To be honest it wouldn’t be my go-to genre but I think it gives you a good opportunity to examine relationships and human interactions. Outlander has that fantasy label but once you get down to it, it’s quite grounded.

How about time travel. Do you think it could happen?

I would love to think it’s possible. I’m such a geek when it comes to things like the Nazca Lines, the pyramids and ancient monuments. I love the conspiracies that go around them. I like to think that maybe there’s some magic in the world.

Tell us a little bit about why you were excited to play Claire… 

She’s such a fully formed woman. She’s not a victim, she’s a survivor. And she’s complicated. She’s feisty, in the positive sense, and maybe a little bit stubborn and mouthy in the negative sense as well. She has such a lust for life. She’s a little irreverent – I love that about her. As ballsy as she is, she’s also got this vulnerability.

Are there any similarities there…?

I like to think I have that same lust for life. My family would probably say that I’m quite stubborn! Playing her has shown me that I’m probably stronger than I thought I was.

Claire is strong, but she’s certainly a complicated character.

What I loved about Outlander was that it was so complicated. It’s nice to play in those grey areas because nothing with human emotion is ever black and white. I like that the writers really took time to let Claire come to the realisation of what those feelings for Jamie are.

Talking of Claire and Jamie’s relationship… 

We really try and show how someone who has a lot of apprehension and guilt about the feelings that she has overcomes that and learns to let go of one life and start another one. 

And, er, what about those sex scenes?

It isn’t just, ‘Oh, here are two people bonking!’ We’ve all seen that and it gets very boring after a while. This is about people trying to enhance their relationship, mend their relationship or bring their relationship forward.

How did you find filming those scenes? 

I had never done sex scenes on TV or film before. In the very first episode you see scenes between Frank and Claire – it’s so important to show that there is love in that relationship. Tobias [Menzies, who plays Frank] and I did this really nice little thing in the beginning where we wrote letters to each other from Claire and Frank as if they were writing from the war. Tobias was very funny – he redacted most of his!

The intimate moments must still be tricky to film, though? 

Definitely. It’s nerve-wracking. Especially the first one because it was in our first week. I’d barely met Tobias. I was like, ‘Well, hello. Nice to meet you. Let’s get our kit off and get into bed!’

It’s a closed set and a skeleton crew but there’s seven or eight people in the room – it’s still a lot of people! They are never fun but I am very lucky. I have two amazing costars. Sam [Heughan] and Tobias both are just so wonderful. We get along so well and we trust each other.

Nudity aside, can we expect more of the same from Claire and co in the second half of series one? 

We really set up the characters and the landscape in the first half of the season. In the second half the action really ramps up. Things get a lot more intense and darker. The friction that exists because Claire and Jamie as two people from very different times really comes to a head. We see their relationship really getting tested.

Also Claire really has to make a decision about accepting her fate or whether she’s going to continue this constant struggle to get back to her own time. There are lots of good things coming in the second half of the season.

You must already be thinking about season two… 

We start production in about a month. It’ll be really exciting to get back. We’ll be back in Glasgow just in time for the Glasgow summer, which I’m hoping will arrive!

Are you looking forward to getting back in period dress? 

I love vintage so the forties stuff was such a treat, but then with the 1740s it’s just amazing how different it makes you feel to wear those clothes. The fabrics are so practical. When you’re standing around on set everyone else is covered in Gortex but even though it’s cold outside those wools really do protect you.

They must have their downsides, though….

The costumes are super heavy. I was given this beautiful cloak to keep me warm. It’s so amazing but when they ask you to run up a hill and you’ve got about 40 pounds of wool on you it gets quite difficult.

Dare we mention the corsets?

It was my first foray into period drama and corsets and, it’s funny, you get used to it quite quickly. It just goes to show you how restricted women were back then. It’s quite insane that that’s what we used to wear all the time. 

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Outlander is available on Amazon Prime Instant Video. Brand new episodes are dropping weekly from Sunday 5th April


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