On the Starz series Outlander, now in its fourth season, time-traveling 20th century doctor Claire Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) and her 18th century Highlander husband Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) are trying to make a home for themselves in colonial America. In a world on the cusp of the American Revolution, succeeding in the rough and dangerous backcountry of North Carolina presents its own set of challenges, and Claire and Jamie must learn to navigate through slavery, co-existing with Native Americans, and the current British ruling class.
At the Los Angeles press day to discuss the new season, Collider was invited to participate in a small roundtable interview (with a couple other media outlets) with co-stars Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, who talked about the challenges specific to Season 4, navigating through a new and different world, the Fraser’s Ridge homestead, figuring out who Jamie and Claire are now at this point in their relationship, how Brianna (Sophie Skelton) will affect things for them, the introduction of Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers), the lack of a kilt, and what you might see on the Season 4 blooper reel. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Question: Obviously, there are huge challenges with every season of this show because it is so epic in scope, but what were the challenges that were specific to this season, that you hadn’t had to deal with before?
CAITRIONA BALFE: This season, more than any other, we’ve had a lot of blue screen. There’s been a lot more CGI then before. It’s interesting filming in Scotland which has so much rain and so much water. They don’t have the expansive rivers that you would have in North Carolina. So, a lot of the river journey that we took in Episode 1 was CGI, and that’s just a different thing. We’ve never really had that as much, in prior seasons.
SAM HEUGHAN: Also, this season, we’re in America and there are a lot of issues there, politically. The first couple of episodes explore things from slavery to the treatment of Native Americans, which are things that we’ve never really dealt with. We saw slavery last season, but we didn’t really deal with it. You just saw it. So, that’s something that’s different in Season 4.
And both of those things are effectively dealt with, in this season.
HEUGHAN: Yeah. They’re there, in the books, but it was hard for us to navigate. As actors, we’re also people in the modern world, so you have to try to get your head around how people in the past would think or behave. Fortunately, Jamie is very forward-thinking and wants no part of it. He’s experienced being sort of a slave, or at least a prisoner, himself, so he’s very humane when he sees people, like the slaves or the Native Americans, who he sees as very similar to himself. There’s a lot understanding and empathy.
In a lot of ways, things are a little bit different because America is a very different place and we’re seeing Claire and Jamie explore domesticity at Fraser’s Ridge. How does this new life change your characters and their mind-sets?
BALFE: What’s so lovely about this season is that you get to see Jamie and Claire in a very content, almost settled place. But then, that also comes with challenges. We’ve always had the drama of will they or won’t they, in prior seasons, but I think there is only so far you can take that before it becomes redundant. After Claire has given up so much, and having both of them be apart for 20 years, and then finding each other again, you have to bring this relationship into a new phase. It was interesting for us to start developing this quieter point in their lives where they’re just enjoying those throws of domesticity and everyday life, but also what happens in that more mature relationship.
HEUGHAN: Yeah, it’s interesting to see how they work, as a couple. What are their habits? How do they interact, every day, around the house? The first half of the season, before Brianna comes, is one half of setting that up, as well. When she comes, the drama of the season takes a different direction.
Because Jamie and Claire are in a different stage of their relationship and they have a child together, how is their dynamic different from previous seasons, and how are you tapping into figuring out who they are, as an older couple?
BALFE: I think we’ve aged very gracefully. I don’t think that I’ve had the opportunity to really explore Claire investing in her marriage, in this way. Her marriage to Frank was so compromised. When Jamie and Claire first got married, in prior seasons, there was so much external drive, trying to change the course of history. Being involved in all of these battles, they never got a moment to sit in and enjoy this marriage that they have. Claire has always been such a strong forward-looking drive, with her career and all of those things. This is a really nice time to invest in the more internal nurturing side of her, and to invest in being a wife, and to invest in creating a home for them. And then, when Brianna comes back into the story, it’s about being a mother, but to an adult child, which is a very different thing. I think that they work really well together, in this dynamic.
HEUGHAN: Yeah, Jamie has always wanted to have an extended family or build a home, and he really does that, physically. He really throws himself into that. It’s something that they have cherished and relished, as they’ve grown up and become more mature.
We know that Brianna will be doing some time-traveling this season, and that she and Jamie will finally meet. How does Brianna’s eventual presence change how your characters act? Obviously, Jamie already really loves her, even though he’s never met her, but she’s so different from a young woman would be in his time, so will we see Jamie and Claire butt heads over how to deal with her?
BALFE: A little. I think the show has actually focused a lot on Jamie’s relationship with Brianna, and Jamie’s role as a father, this season.
HEUGHAN: It is definitely at the forefront for him. He’s always wanted to be a father and have an influence on his children, and he’s never had that opportunity before. He hasn’t had an influence on her, and he’s very aware that Frank has, so it does create some friction.
Would you say that time is still Jamie and Claire’s biggest enemy, or is there something else that’s bigger than that?
BALFE: That’s a really good question. I’ve never thought of it, in that way.
HEUGHAN: It is, as time is marching onwards. We know that this battle is coming, and we know that they’re going to have to choose a side. Since Season 1, it’s been a race against time