Outlander star Caitriona Balfe on fierce fans and fab women

These days Caitriona Balfe is fully aware of the fervent fan base that follows every move of her series Outlander, now in its third season. But that wasn't always the case.

Highly anticipated new season of Outlander has fans on edge with 2 main characters separated by centuries

Caitriona Balfe says fans will be surprised by some moments in season 3. (Aimee Spinks/Starz/Sony Pictures)

These days Caitriona Balfe is fully aware of the fervent fan base that follows every move of Outlander, now in its third season.

But that wasn't always the case.

When she first signed on to play time-travelling British army nurse Claire Randall, who falls in love with an 18th century Scottish Highlander, Balfe was blissfully ignorant of just how rabid Outlander fans could be. The television series is an adaptation of the beloved novels by Diana Gabaldon that blur the line between fantasy, historical fiction and romance.

"I really benefited from a space of complete oblivion," the 37-year old Irish actress said in a sit-down interview with CBC News to promote the hit show's new season.

"I wasn't fully aware of the depth of the fan base and how fervent they were. That really served me, because I think in the beginning we were able to find our characters without that pressure."

Outlander star on the show's fervent fans

5 years ago
Duration 1:34
Caitriona Balfe, who plays British army nurse Claire Randall, dishes on what it's like interacting with the show's rabid fanbase

Balfe said she feels privileged and lucky the show enjoys such enthusiastic fan support, with Outlander devotees regularly travelling to visit Scottish shooting locales, at times scouring the internet for signs of where the crew is filming.

The long wait for the new season's arrival was even dubbed "Droughtlander," with fans sharing survival tools as the show's stars apologized for the gap between seasons. 

Fans interact with role players from the hit series Outlander at the 2015 Comic-Con International in San Diego. (Sandy Huffaker/Reuters)

Balfe treasures their support and regularly interacts with fans on social media who comment on the plot line, but she tries to tune out the noise once on set.

"It's always that thing you straddle," she said with a laugh. "I love you but we're going to ignore you until we're done and then we'll talk to you again."

While it's common knowledge that soulmates Claire and Jamie, played by Scottish actor Sam Heughan, start season 3 apart, in different centuries, fans are in the dark about how long it takes them to find their way back into each other's arms.

"The most anticipation is for the print shop [scene]," Balfe said, alluding to the couple's reunion which fans of the books know well.

"But there are going to be a lot more moments that I think will be surprising for fans and hopefully they'll love them too."

'She's a flawed human being'

The show has legions of devotees, having won the fan-voted crown of Most Binge-worthy Show two years running at the Critics' Choice Awards, as well as the Favourite TV Show prize at this year's People's Choice Awards.

Balfe attributes the show's popularity to its multitude of strong characters, including her own, Claire, a feminist before her time — constrained by society's rules in both the post-war 20th century and 18th-century Scotland.

"She's a flawed human being," Balfe said. "She's super strong and forthright … she can definitely get herself into a lot of trouble, but she does have this beautiful vulnerability," the actress said, adding that Claire's vulnerability will be even more in play this season.

In Outlander's third season, Caitriona Balfe's character Claire is back in the 20th century, trying to leave the past behind her. (Aimee Spinks/STARZ/Sony Pictures)

"You see how [when] someone compromises themselves, how that changes who they are and how they carry themselves. There's a real price she's had to pay."

But it's more than just Claire's strength that guides the series. 

"We don't just have this great complex female character, we have very complex male characters too, and what it creates is this beautifully balanced relationship," Balfe said. "So you see an honest portrayal of a great love story and I think that's what people really connect to."

Actors Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan pose with their award during the 2015 People's Choice Awards in Los Angeles. (Danny Moloshok/Reuters)

Outlander has also earned praise for its honest depiction of the sexual intimacy between Claire and Jamie, which Balfe not only attributes to the novels' author Gabaldon, but also to the show's writing team, which is half female.

Still, she's always surprised that critics remark on how unusual a move it is for the small screen. 

"Oh my God, the sex is being shown from a female perspective. It's strange that that should be shocking in this day and age," she said. "I don't think it's that groundbreaking."

Outlander airs on W Network on Sundays at 9 p.m. 


Salimah Shivji


Salimah Shivji is CBC's India correspondent, based in Mumbai. She has been a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau and has covered everything from climate change to corruption across Canada.