Outlander star Caitriona Balfe on snakes, sexual violence, and what to expect in season 3

Outlanderreturned to Amazon Prime this week, and the third season of the cult time-travel saga has already been earning raves from the critics. In the words of the Telegraph’s reviewer, it’s “Braveheart meets Doctor Who with sprinklings of Mills and Boon… and with some of the best action this side of a Hollywood blockbuster.”

Like the novels by Diana Gabaldon on which it is based, the show has earned a devoted fanbase. More unexpectedly, its blend of bodice-ripping romance, historical intrigue and nuanced feminism has also inspired a raft of academic writing (including a tome called Scots, Sassenachs, and Spankings: Feminism and Gender Roles in Outlander).

It has made a star of 37-year-old Irish actress Caitriona Balfe, who plays Claire Fraser, a Second World War nurse magically transported to 18th century Scotland, where she falls for a hunky highlander called Jamie (Sam Heughan) in the midst of the Jacobite uprisings.

The pair are tormented by a murderous redcoat, Captain Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall (Tobias Menzies), who is, disconcertingly, the spitting image of Claire’s well-meaning husband Frank (and turns out to be his ancestor). The second season spanned more than 20 years in Claire’s life.

Balfe’s moving performance as both the young, time-stranded Claire, and her older self, back in the 20th century and struggling to maintain a loveless marriage, earned her a Scottish Bafta and a Best Actress nod at the Golden Globes. We spoke in July, while she was in California enjoying a break from the Scottish weather.

Where are you at the moment?

I’m currently in LA, getting a nice vitamin D infusion. I live between Glasgow and London, but we were just over here for Comic Con.

People say the fans at Comic Con can be quite intense. Did you find that to be the case?

It’s the absolutely great thing about it. Coming from our part of the world, we don’t get to see that up close as much. There’s such a passion around the fanbase. To see the investment that people have in the show and the characters is really exciting – it’s very infectious. And playing Claire, one of the best things about meeting the fans is that they really identify with her. They want to come up and share their stories with me, which has been very humbling. She went through a lot of things last season, and in a way they feel like Claire represents or mirrors their own journey. They tell me all about their relationships, and about their kids, and things like that. It’s been really sweet.

In series two, we leapt ahead to 1968 and, saw a new period of Claire’s life. Where do we find her in series three?

It pretty much starts from the end of the first episode of season two.  Claire has come back to town, she’s pregnant, she tells Frank basically where she’s been for the last three years, and they make a decision to move to Boston, so we pick up in Boston in the Forties. We spend the next few episodes getting glimpses of the 20-year period that Claire spends in Boston, before we join the story again where we left off at the end of season two.

What’s the strangest thing that happened to you on set this season?

There was a day when I got to work with a snake! Animals are always an unexpected, but these snakes weren’t exactly trained very well. I had a snake basically slither its entire body across my neck, but it wasn’t always willing to play ball.  It would try and find – this is going to sound terrible, but it would try and find dark little crevices in my costume to go and hide itself. That was quite… interesting. It’s not like I’m usually that afraid of them. I’m terrified of cockroaches, for some reason, but with this snake there was a certain amount of thinking,“I’m OK with this, I’m OK with this, wait – where is it going!? I’m am not OK with this any more!”


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