Season 4 of Outlander premiered on Nov. 4, and the show continues its story of time-travelling 1960s doctor Fraser (Balfe) and her 18th-century Highlander husband Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) as they try to make a home for themselves in the rough and dangerous New World of colonial America.
Meanwhile, in the 20th century, Claire and Jamie’s daughter Brianna Randall and historian Roger Wakefield search for proof that her parents found each other in the past.
WATCH BELOW: The latest on Outlander
“These are always tough because we straddle that line of being true to the characters of the time and what was happening at the time, but also so many times these stories, our version of what history is, comes from who wrote history,” Balfe said.
Global News spoke to Balfe about how Season 4 differs from past seasons as well as her upcoming movie release next summer and more.
What was it like preparing to become your character on Outlander? How did you familiarize yourself with the time period?
In Season 1, my character started in the 1940s so there was a lot of familiarizing myself with that period. But in terms of the 1700s, Claire is thrown back into this time, and she doesn’t really know that much about it anyways so I was very lucky that I didn’t have to get too deep into the history compared to some of the guys. But this season, Claire does have a lot of knowledge of what is happening in America and this colonial America period in time so there was a little bit of reading up to be done, for sure.
What did you think of Claire when you first got this opportunity?
When I was first presented with this project, I knew very little about what it would be. But obviously, when I got through the first phase and was presented with the notion that I was going to test for the character, I went out and bought the first book. I read it over three days.
Oh wow, that’s a lot of reading (laughs).
(Laughs) Oh yes, I did nothing else but read. But I was so struck by Claire’s resilience and courage and strength. I was also struck by what an incredible adventure the book told and I couldn’t picture how we would film it. But I just knew that if I got that opportunity, it was going to be a crazy, wild ride.
How does Season 4 differ from the past seasons?
Every season, I think, Outlander is very different. Coming from the character standpoints, Season 1 and 2, I think Claire was a very reactionary character to these outside events and forces that were causing havoc on her life. In Season 3, I think we focused on her very much as a career woman, as a mother and as somebody trying to reclaim the love of her life. This season is very different because for the first time, Claire gets to create rather than react. She’s focusing on finding and building a home for herself and her husband. It’s a more nurturing side of Claire than we’ve ever seen before. And I think, in many ways, it’s the most whole that she’s ever felt. In prior seasons, she’s always had to give up on one side of herself and has been compromised in some way. This season, it’s like everything comes together in a cohesive way. But I mean, it’s Outlander so bad things still happen.
Do you find it hard to film certain scenes that deal with controversial issues?
Of course, those scenes are always difficult, especially scenes with sexual violence. This season, we dealt with issues of slavery, with land rights issues and the treatment of Native Americans. These are always tough because we straddle that line of being true to the characters of the time and what was happening at the time but also so many times these stories, our version of what history is, comes from who wrote history. So we have to be careful to not fall into the trap of telling it like we’ve always been told it. But at the same time, this show is told through the eyes of these two main characters, who are white settlers. No matter what you do, you’re always going to run the risk of telling the story through their eyes because that’s what the show does. It’s a difficult line to straddle, and I think a lot of care and a lot of effort is taken by the producers and writers in the writer’s room to try and do that in a respectful way.
There’s one particular scene that we filmed toward the end of the season, where we are filming at our recreation of a Mohawk village. There’s Sam [Heughan], myself and John Bell, and we’re kayaking across a loch at 10:30 at night, just as the sun was setting. We were with Carmen Moore, a Canadian actress and other First Nation/Canadian actors that we had. It was just a beautiful moment where the loch was still like glass and there was this incredible sky, and we were all just pinching ourselves because we couldn’t believe what an amazing experience it was.
Since the book series has been around for more than 25 years and the fan base is huge, do you have any standout moments with interactions from fans of the show?
It’s always so lovely when fans come up to me. They come up and tell you very nice things about the show, and those are always lovely. I think one of the strangest interactions was when I was in Iceland a couple of years ago. These lovely, two older ladies from Queens in New York came over as I was getting changed in the changing room at the Blue Lagoon. They wanted to talk about Outlander, and I’m sort of just standing there, half-naked, saying: “This is lovely, but can I put my clothes back on before we continue this?” (Laughing) It’s always so nice to hear when people connect to the show.
In addition to Outlander, you have a movie coming to theatres with Christian Bale and Matt Damon.
That’s going to be out in June, and we just finished filming about a week and a half ago. It’s really cool. It’s about the rivalry between Ford and Ferrari in the 60s at the Le Mans race. I play the character named Mollie Miles, and Christian Bale plays Ken Miles, who is this incredible race car driver who effectively won Le Mans in 1966. It’s this really fun and beautiful story, not just about car racing, but it’s about friendship, family, and I’m very excited for people to see it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Outlander airs on the W Network Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT
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