‘Outlander’: Caitriona Balfe, Tobias Menzies on Claire & Frank’s Relationship in Season 3
Last fall I was fortunate enough to visit the set of Outlander in Scotland with a handful of other journalists. In addition to touring the production studio, we also got to tour the countryside and see the castles and other stunning locales that make up the show’s unique and unforgettable backgrounds. Another perk was that we got to interview the cast, both on camera (as you’ll see in the video below — it’s the same one as in the Sam Heughan interview, but just in case you missed it) as well as a chance to dive deeper into what we can expect from their characters in Season 3.
Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies were then paired together for an in-depth discussion about Claire and Frank’s relationship in between Claire’s journey into the stones. Once she returned to the 1940s in Season 2, Frank came to terms with her disappearance as well as her pregnancy, and the two seemed to be looking for a way forward. Season 3 picks up with the pair having relocated to Boston where Frank as accepted a position at Harvard, and over the course of the first few episodes we see their life together — the good and the bad — over the two decades that follow before Claire decides to return to Jamie and the past.
Question: What is Claire feeling as she’s going through the stones?
CAITRIONA BALFE: When she came back to the 40s, pregnant … I think it’s many different things at once. Obviously, there’s a huge amount of grief. She knows, or feels, that by going through she’s effectively saying goodbye to Jamie, that he’s going to die on Culloden. So, there’s the grief of that. There’s probably the guilt of also leaving him. I’m sure she feels like she’s abandoning him in some ways. But she is pregnant and she has to protect this child that they’ve created together. I think it’s a little soon for her, at that moment, to sort of have the hope of what all of that will bring with it, but I think, yeah, I think she’s just very, it’s a very complicated thought process that she’s going through.
What are the expectations your characters have, going back into this relationship? What are they thinking will happen now, and how are they going to get through this?
BALFE: Well —
TOBIAS MENZIES: Different things.
BALFE: Very different. I think that the biggest thing for me, starting this season, was to remember that for Claire, she believes Jamie is dead. So once you sort of go through the grieving process and you allow yourself to put that person aside, there has to be this moment of … Claire really wants this relationship to work on many levels. Here is somebody who’s accepted her back, and he’s accepted her reasons for being away, more or less, and he’s agreed to raise this daughter as his own, so there’s a lot of admiration there for what Frank is offering her. I think that she really wants more than anything else that she can make this work, but of course it’s more difficult than that.
MENZIES: Yeah, I think the whole story between the two of them in these first three episodes is really kind of a study of the tragedy of two very well-meaning people just failing to reach each other. Obviously, you have the physical reality of this child that comes into the middle of it and that offers some hope, briefly, and maybe rekindles some of the optimism that maybe we had when we choose to start again. But essentially, the arc of it is a sort of dying fall, it’s them not managing to, I suppose, fill in what’s missing, which is … Claire is not in love with him.
MENZIES: That’s sort of challenging for both of them in different ways. I think Claire, as much as Frank, wants to love him. Claire almost as equally, probably, desires it herself, but it’s just, if it ain’t there, it ain’t there.
Physical chemistry is such an important part of Claire and Jamie’s relationship. How do Claire and Frank broach that hurdle of physical intimacy when they have this strain on their relationship? How is that going to be handled in the show?
MENZIES: Well, funny, we were just having a little rehearsal.
BALFE: Messing about and that.
MENZIES: Because they try to use sex to mend it.
BALFE: Without getting specific about what episodes.
MENZIES: There’s some sex in one of the episodes. Who knew? News flash. Sex, in this show?
BALFE: But the interesting thing is, for Claire and Frank, they did have great sexual chemistry when they were first married, and that was always a really safe space for them. For them, after the war, that was the way they could reconnect. But I think things have changed so much, this time around, they’re starting from very different places. And I think the child and the pregnancy and all that is in some way a great buffer for them to avoid that for a while.
MENZIES: The other key thing is to be aware that Claire has been on a huge journey and Frank is …
BALFE: Hasn’t moved.
MENZIES: … sort of in the same place, still. Do you know what I mean? Of course, he’s been through a lot in his own way, but I think emotionally, he still feels the same way towards her.
MENZIES: Whereas of course, that’s just not the case for Claire, so that’s partly what happens, is Frank slowly, bitterly, disappointedly has to come to terms with that it’s just not recoverable.
What’s it like to be back working together in that capacity, as well? I know we kind of started it last season, of course, but to be back in that place where maybe we would have seen you at the start of Season 1, but with a completely different dynamic now?
BALFE: Yeah, it seems if we start every season with the Claire and Frank …
MENZIES: We kick it off, yeah, yeah. The Claire and Frank Show for an episode or two.
BALFE: It’s always good fun working together. It’s also great fun fighting with each other.
MENZIES: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s three years, now, and it’s been terrible —
BALFE: We’re really like an old, married couple.
MENZIES: Can’t wait to get out of there. No, it’s been, Cat’s an absolute joy to work with and it’s been really good.
BALFE: I think this relationship is, it’s very rich territory, it’s such a complicated relationship and again, it’s that thing of,neither of them are really wrong.
MENZIES: It makes for good drama, yeah, absolutely.
BALFE: It’s great stuff to explore as actors, and the writing has always been so great. I think with Claire and Frank, it’s always exciting, meaty stuff to get your teeth into.
MENZIES: Marriages are such curious entities, they’re always interesting to dig into.
BALFE: Especially coming from both of us.
BALFE: Who know nothing about it.
MENZIES: We have so much experience about being married!
People might see in Claire and Frank the reality of marriage, whereas when they see Claire and Jamie, they might go, “Oh, that’s the dream.”
BALFE: Well, it kind of is, in many ways.
MENZIES: That’s right.
BALFE: That’s the fantasy, and against time and all kinds of things, they manage to work no matter what. But it is always interesting when you strip away all of the sort of grand gestures and all those things, and you just get down into the nitty gritty of how two people manage to get through the day together, that stuff’s interesting.
Can you talk about the move to America and they’re both sort of journeying?
MENZIES: That is the move to makeup, that is …
BALFE: We made a left on Stage D.
As far as changes in styles and possibly mores and things like that, do you feel like for these two characters, they’re going on an adventure together finally?
BALFE: Frank at certain point rocks some pretty spectacular sports pants.
BALFE: It’s so interesting, because Claire and Frank were to epitome of such Englishness, I guess, in Season 1 especially, and to see them in this new environment and relax quite a bit, I think, in some ways I think Claire almost retains her Englishness a dot more than Frank.
MENZIES: I agree, yeah.
BALFE: Frank seems to actually —
MENZIES: Frank swallows the Kool-Aid more, I think.
Is there any point at which Claire actually gets over Jamie, and thinks maybe she could just be happy? Because it seems like it’s a very long time she’s been away from him, and you would hope for a woman in love with a man however many years ago, she would at some point be like, “Okay, he was great, but whatever. Now, let me move on.”
MENZIES: So practical!
BALFE: I think the danger is, because of the book series and we sort of know where it goes, the danger is to not remember that she thinks he’s dead. She’s a widow, essentially, in that respect, and so I don’t think she ever forgets him. I don’t think she ever loses her love for him. But she definitely moves on. She definitely creates a new life for herself. I think that she sacrifices a little bit of that entity where she doesn’t really love again, but I think that that comes from also knowing that she had experienced something so rich and so full that she feels that she had that once, so she’s not going to have that again. So she becomes quite content just focusing on her daughter and her career and in some ways, Frank and her make this marriage that is compromised, but they make it work.
MENZIES: I like how unsentimental Claire is. I think she’s a real survivor, you know. She deals with the possible, doesn’t she? That’s what’s interesting I think about those early episodes is how kind of she kind of gets on with it.
BALFE: Well, you have to. I mean, she has a daughter that she has to raise. There is this new life and she very much decides to throw herself into her career and that becomes, I guess, the big fulfillment where, in place of a great love affair again, she has her love affair with her career.
Caitriona, I know you said after Season 1 that you of emerged from that as a stronger person, as a result of playing Claire. Was that also true of Season 2?
BALFE: I was a broken shell. It’s interesting, I think the big steep learning curve was obviously Season 1. It was something that I’d never done before. I moved countries, everything was so new. I definitely learned a lot, and I definitely think that I learned a lot about myself in Season 1. Season 2 was great. It was really nice to come back to the show and not feel like we were treading old ground. I think we made a great show, Season 2, and I think we were all very proud of it. I think on a personal level I probably just settled more into my life over here. That lovely, sunny L.A. is just but a distant memory. I’m not back to being comfortable on these shorelines. Yeah.
As we see Claire and Jamie very much apart and we’re following them on their own journeys and their own storylines, were you guys at all worried about fans who are “Team Jamie” versus “Team Frank” and how they’ll react to that? Are you prepared?
MENZIES: I don’t …
BALFE: I think we all know Team Frank lost a long time ago.
MENZIES: No, no, it’s not even a real race, is it?
You’d be surprised, they do still, they love Frank. They really do.
BALFE: It’s like a three-legged donkey and a stallion.
That’s so mean!
MENZIES: I fucking love three-legged donkeys. I don’t want to hear a word against them. You can keep your stallion. It’s a fun thing fans talk about. Yeah, I don’t know what it means. I don’t really know what it means. I have no idea what it means. Does that answer your question? Not really?
BALFE: I do think people are always rooting for Claire and Jamie to be together, but I think some obstacles in life are what create a bit of drama. You have to keep people wanting something.
MENZIES: You need the grain of sand to make an oyster.
BALFE: Just end it on that!
And we did! Outlander returns to Starz for Season 3 on September 10th.