The Highlanders are in France for Season 2 of Outlander, the time-traveling historical romance from Starz which stars the trio of Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies. The show’s second season was teased as a whole new event unto itself, leaving both the Outlander characters and the actors playing them a little off-balance. “It was actually a little unsettling—suddenly, we’re thrust into this entirely new world,” says Heughan, who plays Jamie Fraser.
While the series continues to be shot primarily in Scotland—even scenes at the French gardens of Versailles—the actors had to adjust quickly to new backdrops, new costumes, and, most crucially, the French language. Though Balfe’s Claire Randall, a time-traveling Brit who continues to find herself a stranger in a strange land, is considered by the French characters around her to be the most respectable in her language skills, Balfe says that as an actress, this battle was not easily won. “Oh god, my French is so bad,” Balfe laughs. The actress lived in France over a decade ago, but when she left, her speaking abilities went with her. “The French that we’re speaking in the show is very classical 18th century French, and it’s a whole other beast,” she says.
Also challenging were shooting the show’s many scenes of heavy violence and sex, which require extensive choreography and time to execute. “Because of the sumptuousness of how it’s shot, it does require giving it a bit of time. It’s shot like a film, really. It has a certain grandeur about it,” says Menzies, who received a Golden Globe nomination this year for his dual performance in the roles of Jack and Frank Randall, ancestors who are two centuries and two worlds apart that both share scenes with Claire. This being said, while the production schedule for Season 1 allowed for extended rehearsal periods, as the actors got their footing, this time around, the cast had no such luxury.
Even so, the physicality of these roles—the swashbuckling and riding of horses—is a good part of what attracted the actors to the roles in the first place, and continues to be a significant presence in Season 2. And a lighthearted atmosphere on set is essential. “There’s a great humor on set; Caitriona, I think, is the reason for that,” Heughan notes. “When she gets tired, she corpses—all the time, which can be tough sometimes because you’re trying to get a scene done, and she’s just gone; but it’s very funny.”
Curiously, for an actor portraying two characters, Menzies doesn’t have much to do as Season 2 begins, though this isn’t the case for too long. Reflecting on the evolution of his characters over the course of two seasons, Menzies suggests that viewers will begin to see the familial similarities between Jack and Frank Randall, as a darker side to the otherwise affable Frank comes to light. “It’s a game we’ve been playing all the way along, which always has a rich reward,” Menzies says, referring to the parallel evolution of these characters.
And though the story moves back and forth in time, the Outlander cast members find themselves very moved by what the show is doing in the present, and the various strong resonances of the show in the current day. For his part, Heughan is fascinated by the way in which the fictional series corresponds with very recent Scottish history. “We were shooting the last episodes of Season 1 when the Referendum was on,” he says, referring to the 2014 vote for Scottish Independence. “To be shooting in Scotland, on a show that’s talking about the same politics that we’re still discussing two hundred years later, is incredible.”
The series also continues to meaningfully examine the history of women, and the extremely difficult road that women have had to walk throughout the centuries. Balfe considers this to be no coincidence; though it would be reductive to describe Outlander as a feminist saga, pure and simple, there’s something to be said about the influence wielded by key creatives in opening the door to certain necessary conversations. “Our source material is written by a woman,” Balfe says. “Diana [Gabaldon, author of the Outlander novel series] is a very strong, amazing woman—she has multiple degrees and masters and has written now probably twelve or fifteen books. That’s where we come from.”