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Caitriona Balfe on the return of 'Outlander': 'It's a very fraught situation'

September 08, 2017 - 10:50 AM

Some babies arrive a bit beyond their due date. Then there is Claire Randall's little bundle of joy, Brianna.

The girl was conceived in the 18th century and delivered in 1948.

"That's a very old baby that gets born!" agrees Caitriona Balfe, the Irish actress who plays the time traveling heroine at the heart of "Outlander."

The romantic adventure series, based on the bodice-ripping bestsellers by Diana Gabaldon, returns for a third season after a long hiatus. Fans have been patiently awaiting the end of the "Droughtlander" since the last original episode aired in July 2016.

Canadians can catch up with the 13 new episodes starting this Sunday at the series' new home, the W network.

When last we saw Claire and her dashing Highland warrior Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), things were na' good. The Battle of Culloden loomed, and with things looking grim, Jamie convinces Claire — who is carrying his child — to return to the 20th century to protect their wee bairn-to-be.

As the story picks up in season 3, Claire does travel through the stones — her portal for time travel — and returns to her life in 1948. There she reunites with her gobsmacked husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies). Meanwhile, back in the 18th century, we see the brutal aftermath of the Battle of Culloden, with the victorious British searching for survivors of the doomed last stand. Will Jamie be among them? Will he and Claire ever be reunited? Will Claire and Frank's marriage survive? Can Gabaldon sell millions of books?

"It's a very fraught situation," understates Balfe on the phone from Los Angeles.

She sees the new season as a grand test of the human spirit.

"It's so incredible to imagine that even though you believe you've lost everything, you still managed to get up and get through the next day."

The legions of fans who have read the books know where this story is headed. Balfe says the series stays faithful to the books, with some exceptions.

"The writers felt we had been talking about this battle for all of last season so I think they felt it was important to show it," she says.

SPOILER ALERT: even though the series has already been renewed through a fourth season, the third seems to spell the end of the line for Menzie's characters Frank Randall (in the 20th century) and his evil ancestor, Jonathan (Black Jack) Randall.

Is Menzies out of "Outlander"?

"Obviously, in a show that involves time travel, never say never, but for the time being, yes," the 43-year-old actor confirmed on the phone from London.

The opportunity to play two such diverse characters in the same series "was the primary reason why I took the job," he says. "It's been hugely rewarding to find the differences and similarities."

In this season alone, Menzies and Balfe have the further challenge of portraying Frank and Claire as the couple struggle to maintain their marriage into the 1960s.

"It spans about 20 years in three episodes," he says.

Menzies feels he and Balfe and Heughan have grown together as actors over the four years they've worked on the series.

"I feel like we've brought out the best in each other. I will miss them."

The experience goes on for Balfe, with Claire on a 20th century career path that will see her take on some ambitious challenges, especially for the times.

"What I love about Claire is that she is a force of nature, no matter what time she's in," says the 37-year-old actress.

Balfe is thrilled to be cast in a role allowing her to be seen as both a romantic and a feminist heroine, especially in an era when women's rights seem to be caught in a time-travel shift of their own — and not in the right direction.

"We've evolved as a race and those gains are given," she says. "Unfortunately, we've seen that when you reach a certain state of equality, those rights can be taken away and can be put in jeopardy."

Not if Claire Randall has anything to do with it. Says Balfe: "I'm very grateful that we're in a time now when we're seeing far more female voices on television."

— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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