Fangirl Fridays – Caitriona Balfe and Claire Fraser


Caitriona Balfe
I recently spent a weekend watching the Faith episode of the Starz series Outlander on an endless loop, and I’m still so emotionally wrung out that I can’t even imagine fangirling about anything else on this Fangirl Friday. It was an absolute masterpiece!

At its heart was a mesmerizing passage through the gut-wrenching depths of loss and forgiveness, anchored by a riveting, award-worthy performance by the stunning Caitriona Balfe as Claire Fraser. Here’s where having a glass face works against the audience, because watching the stages of grief wash across Cait’s face, in all their tragic glory, evoked a tsunami of emotions in me. Her palpably raw anger and despair literally made my chest hurt — for an entire hour.

That is some damn fine acting.

I can’t remember the last time I cried so intensely over fictional characters. This was like experiencing the death of my own family member. It was too real. I still cry whenever I think about it. Like now. I don’t expect that will change, ever.

Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser
I’ve become a big fan of Cait’s as I’ve watched her blossom into the role of Claire. And in the light of her stellar achievement in Faith — and the recent greenlighting of two more Outlander seasons — I just had to gush about this amazing actress.


So I hope you’ll join me after the jump while I fangirl about the extraordinarily talented Caitriona Balfe, and how thankful I am that she has brought one of my favorite fictional characters to life with strength, wit, charm, and passion.

Warning: If you haven’t watched season 2 of Outlander through Faith, there are spoilers after the jump. You might want to come back after you’ve had a chance to watch.



They cast who?!? *horrified gasp*


Niiice, yes, but not exactly JAMMF
Once upon a time in my Sam and Jamie fangirl post, I admitted my underwhelmed reaction to the announcement that Sam Heughan had been cast as James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. In my defense, I was not alone in thinking that his pre-Outlander photos held no hint of his rugged perfection for this role.

My first thoughts on Claire’s casting weren’t much better. A supermodel? A Victoria Secret supermodel? WTF?? The list of supermodels with a smattering of small acting credits who can actually act seemed, off the top of my head, to be...short. Verra short. How could anyone possibly jump directly from one-line roles to Claire freakin’ Fraser?

Not quite what I envisioned
when reading the books!
Not quite how I envisioned
a “round fat arse”!

I had to admit that the photos posted with the casting announcement were lovely, very much like the Claire I’d envisioned. She could certainly look the role. She has a classic, timeless face with an ethereal warmth and wisdom, a woman you’d trust with just about anything, from your hopes and dreams to major surgery.


Sure, I thought Cait was too tall, but to paraphrase book series author Diana Gabaldon, once they found the person who completely embodied Claire’s essential Claire-ness, they couldn’t whack off her feet. She didn’t appear to have what I’d call a “round fat arse”, either, but I’ve learned to love Cait’s portrayal of Claire despite her lithe silhouette.

As for her ability to become another person with zero prep time, I can’t even contemplate turning my life around on a dime the way she did. Living with her cat in Los Angeles one week, jetting off to test her firecrackling and smoldering potential with Sam Heughan the next. *fanself* I think Diana Gabaldon mentioned fireworks and “the most expressive chin” when describing Cait’s audition with Sam.



Chemistry? Check...explosive!!

Can you imagine packing up your belongings, canceling your vacation, and bidding the warm California sunshine — and your feline BFF ffs — behind with no notice...to go slogging through the frigid Highlands in a wisp of a dress for days on end and cuddling up to muddy Jamie Fraser? Discovering Outlander, reading it in record time, and then portraying the iconic female character in practically every scene of the premium channel adaptation mere weeks later? Jumping into the grueling production schedule and outdoor filming conditions, without time to train for rigorous physical challenges like running from redcoats and deflowering impossibly attractive virgins? That right there proves she doesn’t have to look far to find inspiration for Claire’s adaptability, fortitude, and perseverance. Or the ability to accelerate from small roles to front and center like a Lamborghini.

From this...
...to this...
...and this — practically overnight!

The thing is, my earliest reservations don’t matter a whit anymore because Caitriona simply IS Claire Fraser. I never cared about her eye color — if I need accolades to amber eyes, I’ll pick up the books. I do miss her head fitting neatly into the center of Jamie’s chest, but again...books.

Caitriona long ago banished any doubts I had about her acting chops. Faith simply showcased them at their finest, in a format conveniently packaged to submit for Emmy consideration.

Here’s a gut wrencher from season 1

Isn’t she a bit posh for mucking about in the Highlands?

So I was a little worried when Claire’s casting was first announced, and wondered who exactly is this Caitriona who aspires to be Claire? Once I searched past the runway portfolio, she looked surprisingly down-to-earth, outdoorsy, and fun.



She really loved cats. How could I not adore someone who posts so many photos of her cat?! Seriously, LOTS of cat photos!!


Though her cat Eddie seems preternaturally chill. My cat would be outta there like a rocket.

She also has a lively sense of humor, and soon she jumped right onto the media bandwagon with the rest of the cast and crew.



Quick transition from respectful newbie to one of the gang

So I put my faith in Cait and waited (impatiently, for months) to have my mind blown.

How does the casting team keep knocking it out of the park?!

Not to mention the actors... From the verra first episode, I was in love with the depth and nuance that Cait brings to Claire, and I am verra thankful that she has dedicated her impressive talents to guiding Claire through the many trials and tribulations our heroine must endure in her perilous journey through the stones and beyond. I ran across a little clue this week as to how she manages to make Claire so vividly three dimensional no matter how the scenery and circumstances change around her.

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Cait shares the conviction with Diana Gabaldon, and probably the creators of all the series we fangirl over, that characters are what we fall in love with and keep coming back for, in any story, setting, or time. No matter where Claire is, Cait grounds her in an unwavering, achingly human character who feels like one of our best friends. We can’t bear to let her go on this journey without us.

Here are just a few of the reasons why I think Caitriona is the perfect Claire Fraser!

She’s a badass

First off, she’s tough enough to literally wake up in a completely different century and hit the ground running.


She adapts amazingly quickly to the myriad predictable inconveniences of low-tech life — like the lack of indoor plumbing and modern hygiene — and also to a general lack of respect for gender and personal space that her wartime nursing experience probably helped prepare her for. Perhaps Cait’s own quick relocation from swanky California to the wild Scottish Highlands made her fictional adjustment to feudal lifestyle easier!



No matter the challenge, she’s up to it! Blood and guts, shooting and swordplay, fine dining and high society intrigue, singing and dancing.... She can take care of herself, and she’s an enthusiastic team player. Don’t piss her off or get between her and those she cares for.





Her pregnancy forces her to (try to) be (slightly) more circumspect in Paris. But steely backbone and keen intellect are also fearsome weapons, which she wields skillfully enough to survive duels of wits with the King of France and the deadly (and disturbingly sexier than the books prepared us for!) Comte St. Germain.

Is she acting cool, or too mesmerized by his face to move?

Just remaining upright in the Paris scenes while hauling all that heavy fabric around was probably exhausting. Cait doesn’t let it show, though. Claire appears to transition from rough to refined living smoothly. I can see just the right amount of self-doubt and conscience wrestling, while she presents alternately stony and demure faces to her political foes.

She’s smart, sassy, and speaks her mind

I can’t imagine that Claire would have been happy as the prim and proper wife of an Oxford professor — attending afternoon teas with the other wives, staying home and maintaining a low profile — as the 1940s-era foil for his academic career aspirations. I’m verra glad she chooses to stay and shoot her mouth off to those colorful 18th-century characters instead. They’re so shocked, they don’t have a clue how to react!



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Except for Jamie — he does appreciate a gal with spirit, usually!

She knows how to get her point across to Jamie

She’s got a serious side

If not for her inability to just sneak away while Rupert broke the cute guy’s arm, this story would never have happened. She can’t ever walk away from someone who needs her, even when she knows she’s going to cause a shitstorm.


Sometimes she has to roll her eyes a little...



I love Claire’s dedication to healing, helping others, and using her skills to their full potential. Cait plays her like a natural caretaker, with the right blend of brisk efficiency and empathy for each patient. I love that she puts on her stubborn face (or whichever one will gain entrance) and barges in to help whenever she sees the opportunity, whether she’s invited or not. The Father Bains of the world will never approve, but the Mother Hildegardes will recognize a woman who knows urinoscopy when they see her lick pee off her finger (!), and they will clear the way for her!


Sometimes Claire’s heart overrules her brain, but only because she’s passionate about doing the right thing. Cait makes it easy for me to forgive Claire, because I can so clearly see her struggle all over her face. I can empathize with her reasons, if not always agree with her actions. After all, her need to help, along with her tendency to help impulsively or rashly, are qualities that Jamie loves and shares with Claire. And remember, without those qualities, Outlander would have been one short book! Thankfully, Jamie’s got her back, and she’s got his, and they’re really good at rescuing each other.

She has a fun side

Claire knows how to party appreciate fine beverages and can pretty much keep up with the men. Fortunately, she was already adept at this important prerequisite for slipping unobtrusively into 18th-century life. And from what Sam says, it’s a skill that Cait didn’t have to learn anew for her role. One clue that he’s right — she named her cat Eddie after Edina from Absolutely Fabulous.

Eddie’s namesake knows a bit about distilled spirits

Cait has had many, many opportunities to exhibit her mastery of the finer points of this art in lots of times and places!






She doesn’t settle for second best

Claire chooses to live in the era where she thinks she can make the greatest difference, despite the lack of electricity and indoor plumbing, even though it is less tolerant of her take-charge manner, forthright speech, and lavish use of profanity. She chooses the man she can best help to reach his potential, the one who loves her above all else, who arguably needs her the most. Not because he can’t succeed without her, but because together they can be much, much more than they would be without each other. And maybe a teensy bit because, dayum, look at him.

Brains, boredom,
and Black Jack
Brains, brawn, and
body of her sexiest dreams

This was a pretty easy choice for me in the books because there was such a visceral connection between Claire and Jamie. Cait showed me a connection with Frank and turned it into a full-blown moral dilemma. I didn’t want it to be, but I know she was right, dammit. And so I feel the need to digress a bit about Frank here, even though I think we’re all passionate Jamie fans. Because Cait forces me to deal with Frank more charitably than is convenient in my haste to get Claire and Jamie together.

Despite all the disparaging, unkind things I’ve said about Frank over the years, I really can’t even imagine how difficult it was for Claire to leave the husband she had planned to spend the rest of her life with behind forever. That was a painful decision, given her deep sense of loyalty and honor. Technically, Frank was there first, except for the time-travel-into-the-past thing.

I like to think Frank has committed all sorts of unpardonable sins for which he deserves to be dumped. But according to Diana Gabaldon, we don’t really know that he has done any of those things. I don’t want to go into details, because spoilers, but technically we’ve seen those things only through Claire’s POV, so we really don’t have much in the way of solid evidence. Our author is sneaky that way, or maybe Frank is sneaky in revealing himself to her, due to all his years of working in the military intelligence field. She does say she’ll write a book one day called What Frank Knew, assuming she has it figured out by then. In the meantime, she throws us a juicy bone in the books all along that reveals a new layer of Frank’s remarkable parenting of Bree and forces me to begrudgingly afford him more respect.


As a reader, I can skim through the Frank scenes and pretend Claire doesn’t have strong feelings for him. But Cait won’t let me do that. I love that Cait and Tobias Menzies (another phenomenally talented actor who needs his own fangirl post) make me acknowledge that her feelings indeed exist and are powerful: the attraction and intimacy, the loss and pain, the regret and guilt. I look forward to watching Claire’s feelings for Frank continue to change over the years — crystal clear on Cait’s face — as the show reveals the layers in the books. But I’m not looking forward to any time spent away from Jamie and I’m not inclined to post endearing photos of Frank. #sorrynotsorry

She lets Jamie be a badass

Not many wives would trust a husband enough to let him spend his days fending off the lascivious lovelies in the court of King Louis and his evenings courting Prince Charlie in a French whorehouse, no matter how noble the cause. Or bring home souvenirs from the whorehouse, like love bites and Fergus. Or skirt the fine edge of killing her future husband and possibly never meeting her.


But Claire knows Jamie’s loyalty to her is as fierce and unwavering as his need to protect his family and defend his Scottish heritage. And her loyalty to him is equally steadfast.

Claire and Jamie have struggled in Paris — with Jamie’s slow recovery from Black Jack’s torture, too little time for each other, and the moral quagmire of their duplicitous political plottings. Cait and Sam make this uncomfortably real. The inability to connect emotionally and sexually, the fear of losing their integrity, the fear of losing trust in each other. How desperately I’ve wanted to reach through my TV screen and help them clear up their misunderstandings. How I’ve enjoyed watching them weather the storms, forgive, and recommit. The rewards of their deepening bond are always heightened by the intensity of their journey, and Cait is one of the reasons this journey is so addictive. It hurts. Deeply. But my heart is completely invested — as Cait shows me that Claire’s heart is — and I cannot turn away from a single moment.

They might not always
see eye to eye...

And their best laid schemes ... gang aft agley*

But they’re a rock-solid team

* Translated into English as “go oft awry”. From the Robert Burns poem, To a Mouse: “The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men / Gang aft agley...”.

She makes me feel all the feels

Faith gutted me. I don’t have any more words. Thankfully, I do have tissues.





She takes care of Jamie for me

Even if I could travel through the stones to find Jamie, I know he has eyes only for Claire. Fortunately for him, Cait has the job well in hand. He’s clearly a man who needs a full team of medical specialists on call, and not only is she a highly trained nurse who doesn’t faint at the sight of blood, but in Paris she proves that knowledge of medicinal herbs is invaluable for espionage.


She has the stamina and intrepid nature to keep up with him, gallivanting around the countryside at all hours, sleeping on the hard ground, in hovels, and in dank castles, or toughing it out in Parisian mansions.


She fits right into the elegance and intrigue at Versailles. Turns out that being a supermodel was great practice for Claire, after all.


And OMG I can’t even. Though I wish I could... She definitely has the chemistry.

I stand corrected, it is round and Jamie seems smitten with it

She’s truly his home

Jamie has a long 8 more books road ahead of him, but with Claire at his side, he’ll always have a home. Claire’s nomadic upbringing (and Cait’s nomadic modeling career — again, modeling was great prep) taught her how to be at home wherever she is. No matter where they roam, she provides a strong tether to the healing hearthfires.




And she opens her heart to all the relatives, friends, and strays that Jamie brings home.

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She’s so dedicated,
she even keeps Fergus in line between takes

As Jamie reaffirms at the end of Faith, the only way they can get through the tumultuous highs and lows that fate and their own adventurous natures lead them into is together. And I’ll be right there cheering them on, sobbing my eyes out over beautiful moments like this.


Beautiful moment, amazing eyes, scary beard

I absolutely love Cait’s portrayal of the kindred spirit and muse who inspires Jamie to be the King of Men. For me, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser is the Queen of Women. I’m verra grateful that Caitriona has allowed me to more fully know Claire in all her flawed and inspiring grandeur by so beautifully breathing warmth and vivacity into her.

I’ll leave you with Cait’s breakdown of those breathtaking scenes at the end of Faith and her own thoughts about connecting with Claire’s anguish. I strongly suggest tissues.



Comments

  1. Great post! I agree that the Faith episode was powerful and Caitriona did an amazing job! For me, Claire isn't my fave. I love the books so much because of Jamie's character. I do love their relationship though. And on the show, I've liked Claire less, they make her more vengeful and manipulative than she was in the books. But that episode showed so much heartbreaking realism, and I was glad she wanted to take responsibility in the end rather than blame Jamie or even Randall. I cried when she handed the baby to Louise.

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