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With Outlander Season 6 on hold thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Caitriona Balfe, who plays Claire Fraser, had time to join the rest of the cast, the exec producers, and best-selling author Diana Gabaldon to reminisce about Season 5 of the hit Starz series for the first-ever virtual PaleyFest LA.

Season 5 was an eventful one. Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and Roger (Richard Rankin) tied the knot, Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) godfather Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) was killed at Alamance, Roger was hung and almost died, Jamie was also near death from a snake bite. If all that wasn’t enough, the season closed with Claire’s abduction and sexual assault at the hands of a rogue group of men from Brownsville.

“Subject matter like that is always difficult,” Balfe says of her kidnap and rape scenes. “It is really hard to address these subjects and feel that you are on the right path. You are always trying to toe the line between being responsible and not bringing anything that’s gratuitous or trying to show too much, while also being true to the situation and trying to respect the subject matter.”

In the instance of Claire, the decision was made by executive producer Matthew B. Roberts to try to do something unique for the “Never My Love” episode by adding a surrealistic element to the rape scenes. While Claire is being abused, she escapes in her mind to a fictional Thanksgiving set in the 1970s, where her Fraser’s Ridge family are incongruously in attendance.

“The surrealistic element of it I thought was really interesting,” Balfe said. “Matt, [executive producer] Toni [Graphia], and I had gone back and forth on this. I wanted to make sure when we were in these disassociative states, we were always in Claire’s mind, so it was from Claire’s perspective. I didn’t want her to be talking too much. That was the thing for us in finding what that would look like. How do you show what Claire is experiencing in her head?”

It isn’t the first time that Outlander has taken a beloved character through something so harrowing, something that takes a character who is strong and resourceful almost to the breaking point. We saw it earlier in the series at the end of Season 1 when Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) raped Jamie in prison.

“It was a great challenge for me, for the entire crew, and everyone else in that episode,” she adds. “The risk paid off.”

But not all of the drama surrounding Claire was dark this past season. With the addition of the big house set, where Jamie and Claire live at Fraser’s Ridge, Claire finally got to perform in her very own surgery.

“It helps you so much as an actor when you have such a rich environment to step into that feels so real,” Balfe said. “You open up any drawer and there is an instrument, or there’s a piece of Claire’s notetaking or something like that. There’s just those little details that are so vital to giving you a rich tapestry to work with.”

Balfe also had the pleasure of working with the show’s incredible medical advisor Claire McGroarty, whom she calls the “real Dr. Claire,” who has been with Outlander from the beginning. McGroarty has taken Claire through the steps necessary to handle a tonsillectomy, an appendectomy, an autopsy and the growing of mold to make penicillin.

“It is really fun that you get to create this little world for Claire, especially when we were doing all the penicillin stuff,” Balfe said. “It’s like, ‘How do you think she would arrange all of this?’ I am a little OCD. I’m a little like, ‘I think Claire would have things set up this way.’”

Now, Balfe is counting the days until she can get back to work and see the other cast members and the crew, but to date, it is unclear exactly when production will begin on Season 6 of Outlander.

“What we’ve built upon [Diana’s novels] and tried to go forward with is just this incredible love story at the center of this world,” she says. “It breaks out into all these other amazing things. It has so much action and drama. It has something for everybody, but at the heart of it is this incredible, aspirational love story.” [Source]

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