Droughtlander is finally over! Last night, Outlander season 4 premiered on Starz, bringing Jamie and Claire (and all of us) to North Carolina where we met a new villain, witnessed a shocking death (or two), and were given the gift of an Outlander love scene. But ahead of the episode's premiere, Marie Claire spoke to Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan during a press day in Los Angeles. Sam was just giving Caitriona an Instagram Stories tutorial between interviews ("We're good, I'm just teaching Caitriona about Instagram stories," Sam said. "Because I am a complete luddite and have no idea how [it works]," Caitriona explained.) before I called them to discuss the new season, their crazy schedules, and wedding planning.
This season seems to be about home and family. Jamie and Claire are building their first real home together. What does this idea of home mean to each of the characters?
Caitriona Balfe: Well for Claire, I think when we meet Claire and Jamie in the beginning of the season they're in this precarious situation where they have arrived in America, they're pretty much penniless, Jamie's first thought I think is to try to find passage back to Scotland. But for Claire, America's very much in her blood, she spent 20 years living there, she raised her daughter there. And there's a real pull of this land for her. So she has this desire I suppose, and in the beginning it's slightly hidden, but this desire to stay and make America her home.
Sam Heughan: Yeah, Jamie obviously is looking to build this new home for people because he sees this opportunity in America, but is also made aware of the pitfalls that are there in America. They're dealing with this land and there's a lot of dangers there and a lot of politics as well. But for him it's a good opportunity and an opportunity to have a close eye on what America's about to become. And actually on the life of Brianna and the future.
What are your own definitions of home? What does home mean to you?
CB: Oh God, wow. I think I'm a pretty old gypsy, you know I think both of us finally bought homes here, but I probably spend less time in it than I have in hotels. So for me, personally home has to be about people because I think I change my place so often, but I'm very fortunate to have an amazing group of friends and someone very important in my life, so I think that's what home is for me.
SH: Yeah. And I'm currently spending six months away from home, but actually no, it's another way I realized that Scotland has become my home. So I really do enjoy going back there and I think it's probably to do with having actually settled down and bought a place where I can unpack all my bags. So it's great. It's great to have somewhere to go back to and just fortunate that we also work there as well.
So much of the show as you were saying is about family, and by season 4 you have this amazing mix of biological children, adopted children. That feeling of family comes off so authentically. Where do you draw the inspiration for that?
CB: I come from a very big family, so there was always hundreds of kids just around the place. I think it's a nice thing to be able to explore that maternal side of it. I don't think you necessarily have to have children to understand maternal or paternal instincts and it's been really nice to explore that side of our characters this season.
SH: I think this might be my first father figure I've played and yeah personally, it is something initially I thought, "Oh my God, I know nothing about this," but actually I don't know, it's strange I mean even later on in the season, playing a father to someone who's grown up and older, Sophie [Skelton, who plays Brianna], was a really interesting experience. You know what does it mean to be a father, and I think those are the questions that Jamie asks himself quite a lot this season too.
Right and I'm sure you've known the cast for so long, you must feel like a family, coming together season after season.
SH: Yeah we're like the old married couple.
CB: We're like the grandpa and grandma of the shoot.
SH: I mean now it's quite nice, but we are a big family and it is important because we do shoot such a long schedule and in tough conditions, so it does make you closer together with everyone and we're very lucky because we've got a great crew and cast and I think that sort of daily familiarity and humor, without that we wouldn't be able to get through it.
Something that everyone's loved since the beginning of the series is the passion between these two characters. This season there is still a lot of that, but it feels almost more tender, a little softer. Is that intentional? What does that mean for their relationship?
CB: Well I think what has been really interesting about being able to portray these two characters this season is that we get to explore the dynamics of what a mature relationship is. You know nobody lives with that first falling in love passion forever. But there's something deeper and much more solid in their relationship this season and even just having those quiet moments of domesticity and seeing Jamie and Claire creating this home and building this house. There's so much value in those small moments, as much as there is in some of the more epic love scenes. And you know I think this is probably the most content and the most settled that we've seen this couple.
This season, the characters are introduced to Native Americans and slaves. Jamie seems to have a modern perspective and sensitivity towards the people they meet.
SH: He's certainly a man of his time and is aware of the complexities of sort of changing how people act in that time. He's not comfortable with slavery and certainly sees the parallels and understands the situation that Native Americans are in for sure. I think Claire quite quickly shifts him, explains to him and proves to him that there are other ways of doing things.
And that's always been the sort of key thing about their relationship that she shows him another side, another way of doing things and he's very quick to agree upon this one certainly. And so he knows that it will cause trouble and certainly it does but he is very forward thinking, I think that's probably why they get on so.
And Claire, what is her perspective? Especially coming from the future?
CB: Well I mean I think Claire has come from 1968 which is very much the height of the civil rights movement. I think she's an incredibly liberal, sort of forward looking person who sees every person as equal. So for her, coming back to this time, it's really quite jarring. I think she knew to expect that in a sense, to see slavery firsthand, to see the displacement of Native Americans, but I think for her to just be there and then to be in someway complicit in that is a really unsettling thing for her and that's why she can't stay at River Run.
But in terms of how their relationship develops with their Cherokee neighbors, you know it's a double-edged sword because on one hand they form this great bond with them and especially with Adawahee and Claire, they become very close but yet they're still settling on lands that are necessarily they are Cherokee lands so yeah, it's a tough narrative but it is the narrative of the genesis of America as we know it today.
Right. It is interesting because it brings up a lot of current events and what's going on in America right now.
CB: Well yeah, unfortunately these issues are still coming into play today.
The show naturally has a lot of dedicated fans, which means both of you have been subjected to a lot of criticism from the fans over the years–from what you wear, how your hair looks–how does that make you feel?
SH: No, the fans are very passionate and certainly there's an ownership with these characters but that's 'cause it goes back to them being a set of books and people read these books and create these characters in their minds and so you know, we're portraying one side of that or our portrayal of that, I guess there are many different versions. But we're always lucky that the fans really do accept us and on the whole are very genuinely enthusiastic and enjoy what we do and actually it's quite nice for me. When we do something wrong as well, they don't hold back.
CB: Yeah, I mean there's so much good in the fandom. I think you may be alluding to a small number of people who like to complain about stuff, but that happens in every fandom and I think you can't take the good without also having to take the bad and I think we both just feel so fortunate. I mean the passion that these fans have and their generosity just continues to bowl us over. And you know, without their passion and without their intense involvement in the show, we wouldn't have jobs so I think we feel incredibly grateful.
Does one of you get more criticism than the other?
CB: I mean, somebody can do no wrong and I don't know that it's me.
SH: I think some fans do see Jamie as a very sort of idealistic character and you know Claire, and they are all Claire I think, or want to be Claire, I don't know but it's—
CB: I think if they could knock Claire out and become Claire themselves—
SH: I think there are times we all want to knock Claire out.
CB: Wait, wait, what do you mean? [both, laughing]
You've both been shooting movies during this break and doing so much press for this season, you must be exhausted. And it must be stressful—how do you deal with that?
SH: We're very lucky, you know the show has given us a lot of opportunities to go and do other things and actually this Droughtlander hiatus has allowed us to go off and do other stuff. And I think it's very important for us, you know we've been doing the show for five years now and looking at going into another couple of seasons, which we're really excited about, but to be able to go and do other things keeps it fresh for us and let's you stretch other muscles and keep working on your craft. And I think it only benefits the Outlander show as well. So it's been good you know, and obviously we'll just have to sleep—
CB: As my Mom used to say, "You can sleep when you're dead." In that really optimistic Irish way.
And Caitriona, you're getting married soon, is that correct?
CB: Well as soon as I plan it, yeah.
SH: I've also offered my services to organize her wedding but I'm still to be taken up on that.
CB: You know Sam, hitched up in a bar sounds great but I think my parents might expect something slightly more elevated than that.
You can be the officiant, Sam. You can be the wedding planner and officiant.
CB: But you need to get your officiators license now.
SH: Oh I do? All right!