“Outlander” executive producer Ronald D. Moore underestimated the difficulty of casting the central character for the Starz adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s popular novel of the same name.
“Initially, I thought it would take us longer to cast Jamie,” he told TheWrap.
In fact, it only took about two weeks between Starz’s announcement that it had ordered the series and the news that British soap opera star, Sam Heughan, had been cast in the lead male role of chivalrous Scottish warrior Jamie Fraser.
Moore explained, “We thought we’d cast Claire easily. She’s a sort of a modern character and it was exactly the opposite. But, we cast Jamie early. So, he was the first one.”
Television reporters and fans alike expected that the actress playing Claire would be announced fairly soon after the series’ leading man. Instead, the supporting roles began to fill with no word of who would serve as the series’ most important character.
“We looked at a lot of actresses,” Moore explained. “It was difficult, because you were looking for a lot of indefinable qualities. Smart, because you’re going to have to watch this person think; we’re doing a lot of first person narrative. She’s literally with you continuously. She’s in every scene. This had to be somebody who can carry that kind of load, play a lot of different beats.”
It would take two months before the network revealed that Caitriona Balfe, a former model with a relatively short list of acting credits, had been cast in the role.
“It was a long search to find Claire,” Moore said. “But, it was the same kind of moment when casting Sam. We saw Caitriona’s tape and we thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s Claire.’ So, it all kind of fell together.”
“Outlander,” which will debut later this year, follows Claire Randall, a married combat nurse from 1945 who is mysteriously swept back in time to 1743. In the past, her life is threatened and she’s forced to marry Jamie Fraser (Heughan), a chivalrous and romantic young Scottish warrior. As a result, Claire becomes torn between her two lives.
Balfe said she immediately understood the significance of the role. “I was supposed to go to India, waiting on my passport to come back from the embassy,” she told TheWrap.
“I was going for vacation and then I found out they wanted to test me,” she continued. “So, I thought I better stay in L.A. Sam flew into L.A. and we tested. A week later, I found out I got the job. And then I was on a plane and I was in Glasgow.”
When news of her casting broke in September, Balfe was suddenly thrust into the spotlight and she was introduced to the book’s voracious fandom quickly.
“I was a very sparse user of Twitter,” she said. “I had 280 followers at the time, which I thought was a lot. And overnight, I think I had three, four thousand and it just kept going and going. So, I was like, ‘What is this?’ And my friends who were on Facebook and all that told me there are all these video blogs of the announcement, commenting on it. That to me is really exciting, to be part of something that people love.”
Although Balfe didn’t have a lot of on-screen experience before nabbing the role, the few projects she had done came from well-known names like Bryan Singer and J.J. Abrams.
But the fact that she is a model-turned-actress did raise some eyebrows among TV critics and the fandom, though Balfe views her former career as an advantage.
“I think with anything people can have their prejudgments,” she said. “I was studying theater before my career as a model. There are so many elements of my life then and it all helped me and I can put it in to this role. I lived in Japan, Paris when I was 18 and didn’t speak French. Things like that I can draw on. I know what it’s like to be in an alien world. I know what I’m capable of. If people are initially, ‘Oh, she was a model. That means she can’t act,’ hopefully when they see the series they’ll feel differently.”
Moore, whose credits include newer chapters of the “Star Trek” franchise and cult sci-fi series “Battlestar Galactica,” added: “I never thought twice about it.”
“I worked with Tricia Helfer on ‘Battlestar’ and she was a model,” he continued. “And she was one of our best characters. There was a lot of depth to Tricia and there was nothing I could throw to her that she wasn’t capable of doing.”