Outlander stars reveal real life bond
Irish actor Caitriona Balfe says she's grown very protective of her Outlander alter-ego, Claire Fraser.
Given that she films the hit, sci-fi tinged love story for more than 10 months of the year, she's playing Claire more often than not, so it's little wonder that she has been deeply affected by the plucky heroine.
"As I tend to be shy, I would hope that her confidence and forthrightness has rubbed off on me," says Balfe, ahead fifth season, which begins this week.
Outlander, which spans oceans of time and is set to a backdrop of sweeping landscapes is something of a rarity in the modern television environment, which is characterised by an ever-increasing number of streaming platforms with ever-expanding content.
It's been a slow-burn success in an era when shows tend to get the chop if they don't fire on all cylinders straight out of the gate.
Balfe, who also found time to appear opposite Christian Bale in last year's Oscar-nominated drama Ford V Ferrari, says she's always happy to return to her Outlander family. In fact, the former model says she's grateful to be gainfully employed at all.
"It's hard to believe that we began six and a half years ago," Balfe says.
"So many shows started at the same time that aren't around any more. I really appreciate the magnitude and also the rarity of this experience."
Outlander is adapted from the Diana Gabaldon fantasy romance novels, in which we first meet Claire, a nurse in WWII-era England married to a history professor who inadvertently time-travels to 18th century Scotland during their second honeymoon.
After some misadventures, she meets the love of her life, Jamie Fraser (who will become her second husband) played by Sam Heughan, endowed with the kind of matinee idol looks that graced the cover of bodice-ripping novels of yore.
Over the course of the show, Claire has travelled back and forth in time while audiences enjoyed the juxtaposition of a modern woman against the milieu of 18th century Europe and Colonial America. At the same time, Jamie grappled with and eventually accepted Claire's knowledge of the future.
Shot primarily in Scotland, the storyline has featured many exotic locales, such as Hungary, France, and South Africa.
Since Season 4, the storyline has been set in the 1760s with Jamie and Claire, along with their daughter, establishing roots in Colonial America, with the Scottish woods standing in for North Carolina.
"In Season 5 we're very settled. It's a very beautiful thing to see Jamie and Claire grow roots and form a community in America. Claire is a doctor-healer of the locale and she does what she can to protect the ones she loves."
In a case of life imitating art, it seems that Claire is not the only one who has found love.
"Somehow, through my hectic schedule shooting Outlander, I managed to meet the love of my life," she says with a smile.
Balfe married Irish-born music producer, Tony McGill, in August last year.
"We managed to squeeze in a wedding one weekend during production," she says.
"I want to be happy in my life and I want to try to stay sane. I'm very lucky that I have a vocation that I love and that I get to work in my passion, but I also feel that it's very important that your career can't be your only thing. I'd say that playing Claire has made me more of a romantic."
Much like the phenomenon of Game Of Thrones, which drew tourists to Belfast in spades, Scottish-born Heughan, says, his homeland has also reaped the benefits of showcasing its gorgeous scenery on screen.
The popularity of Doune Castle, already famous thanks to multiple scenes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, has once again gone through the roof.
"We've seen Scottish tourism boosted exponentially," Heughan says.
"Doune Castle, where we shot Season One, had an 800 per cent increase in tourism. Plus, historical sites were able to regenerate and rebuild before Outlander tourism."
Heughan ponders what's in store for Fraser as he closes in on a half century.
"Well, he hits 50, which is a big moment for him, and I think he's looking quite good on it," he says.
"Jamie has gone from his early 20s as a passionate warrior with no real responsibility, to becoming a husband, a father, and now a grandfather."
Can Heughan relate to Jamie's personal trajectory?
"Absolutely not. I can barely take care of myself, let alone imagine being a father," he laughs.
Like his character, his next birthday will also represent another milestone.
"Oh, don't remind me," he groans.
"Yeah, I'll be 40 and it's a big one. I want to be in the best mental and physical shape possible this next decade."
In contrast to Balfe, Heughan is single, but says of his romantic life, "I have fallen in love often, yeah. I'm sure at some point I will get knocked off my feet, and then I'll be screwed."
With three movies released this year, including the superhero thriller Bloodshot, starring Vin Diesel and Guy Pearce, and An Unquiet Life, in which he plays Paul Newman, Heughan is capitalising on the success of Outlander.
"Playing Paul Newman, those were some big shoes to fill," he says with a shake of his head. "I don't know how much I look like him but I tried to bring off his mannerisms. It's been great to do different roles. It's what every actor dreams about."
Balfe and Heughan enjoy a strong friendship built over the six years they have been working together and easily joke about each other's foibles.
"Sam's timekeeping can sometimes irk me when I'm left standing around waiting for him, but I probably boss him around a bit so that probably irks him about me," she laughs.
Heughan observes they are now more like brother and sister - and know exactly how to push each other's buttons.
"I am quite relaxed and tend to let things go, while she is very strong and likes to get things done," Heughan says.
"I think that probably winds her up. And I shouldn't say it, but I know when she is pissed off. She has a little foot tap that she does, so when I see her tap her foot, I'm like, 'Oh, here we go.'"
Clearly, they are a formidable team, having made a conscious decision when they started the show that they were the only ones who would understand each other's experience and therefore had to have each other's backs.
"We've done that," says Balfe.
"And I can't imagine having done a show of this magnitude for this long without having that kind of a partner in him. I'm very grateful for that."
WATCH: Outlander Season 5, Mondays at 7.30pm ADST on Fox One.