Caitriona Balfe has mixed feelings about this week’s episode of Outlander, “The Devil’s Mark.”
“We finally got to explore the relationship [between Claire and Geillis] in a deeper way, but just as we get this big reveal, she’s gone before we can dig deeper. It was heartbreaking when I read that episode,” Balfe tells Yahoo TV. “These are two women who have bonded over similar interests, are of the same ilk, and are adrift in a world that is not their own. The them-against-the-world situation feels very modern, and I loved that finally Claire has a female ally. But before she is taken away, Geillis ends up doing this huge thing to save Claire — sacrifices herself. It was a beautiful scene, all the more powerful [because] it happens after the Laoghaire stuff where two women are being bitchy fighting over a guy. I loved working with Lotte [Verbeek] on those very important, intimate moments. I will miss her and the character very much.”
Figuring Balfe isn’t the only one saddened by the loss of Lotte/Geillis and to help lessen the blow of saying goodbye to a bewitching character, we summoned the multilingual Verbeek to the phone to get her opinions on burning questions like: Why did Geillis choose to time-travel? What was working with a faux baby bump like? Did Geillis really love Dougal? And, most important, why did Geillis take the fall that saved Claire?
I always found myself wanting more Geillis. What was it about her that drew you to the role?
Actually, several things made me not want to read for it. In the book, she is so clearly described as an enigmatic, tall, blond, green-eyed Scottish woman. I’m not checking any of those boxes, and I thought it would be easy for them to find someone who matched the criteria better. My agent said, “Just take a look. It would be so much fun for you.” So I did and I was so glad, because the lines read so easily for me. What fascinated me about this role is that it’s so multidimensional. She’s a chameleon. She’s polarizing and vulnerable. In the first half of the season, she’s very mischievous and nosy. And in the second half, you get to see a lot more about her convictions, love life, and capacity for loyalty to Claire. She takes a lot of risks; some are even a matter of life and death.
Sadly, we never get to hear much of her story. Did you find yourself asking author Diana Gabaldon to fill in the blanks, or did you create more backstory for yourself?
Geillis always keeps you wanting more and keeps you on your toes. Ultimately, Geillis isn’t about knowing facts. It is more about believing and liking her. She stands for something, and you get that by the end of her story. To get a sense of a person, to get their essence, it’s not just about details. It is about something you can’t really describe.
She claims she loves Dougal and is having his child. Do you think she truly loved him, or was it part of her master plan? We also never really find out her reasons for being in that world. Your guess?
I think if you are doing something you believe in, your heart is open, and that’s also when we fall in love. Her love for Dougal is very profound. She feels like she met an equal in him. It seems to all be coming together when his wife dies. Then she takes her actions so that they could move forward and fight for the same cause. But obviously she prepared for and timed her time travel for a specific reason, as opposed to Claire, to whom it just happened. There’s a calculated element to Geillis. But there’s something very visceral guiding her. She is very passionate to the point of animalistic even though she knows better. She knows it is not going to work out. But she still goes for it.
Shooting the summoning scene — did it feel silly, empowering, fun?
Fun, for the same reasons that the fans love these books. We all want to be carried away to a whole other world and have romantic tendencies about escaping to an exotic place and being swept off our feet. We can completely indulge and escape into lives that are very far from our own. With the costumes and the way they walk and talk, you can disappear into a character, and that is a magical experience. Those scenes were really kind of wild, and I could have easily felt self-conscious and silly doing them, but instead I just committed. It is a gift to be given scenes like that. It is very liberating, but also revealing and vulnerable.
Was it choreographed/planned, or were you left to go wild?
We choreographed it all out beforehand because there was live fire involved and I was half naked, so safety first. It was also staged because of the logistics of wearing very little, moving a lot, and making sure not everything shows, but that the right things show, like the pregnant belly. On the night that we shot it, the elements — the fire, night, and forest — helped pull me into the moment. It is ritual, sensual, primal, sexual, animalistic. There is complete surrender to whatever god she is calling. But then Claire shows up and the dialogue starts and she is back to being coy and keeping secrets. She is back in control with her head in the game. I think that is something Geillis pops in and out of really easily.
What was it like working with the fake pregnancy belly?
The belly had several minders. For about a week it was a daily exercise getting the belly on. Every morning I would lie on a bench and they would stick on the belly and add details like freckles and veins. All my dresses had names. I was wearing the dress called the Raven, a black one. At one point it comes off and every time we shot a take, little bits of Raven would be stuck to the belly and that would have to be cleaned off, and then I’d have to be slipped back into the dress. There were like five people working on me before every take. It was a very laborious process. Glad it worked out so well. So many of the scenes start with the preparation and the logistics, but once you start filming, you stop caring about all of that and just go for intention and meaning. And the belly really helped. It is pretty heavy, so it does make you feel protective of it. It becomes part of you and it warms up next to your skin. It was all pretty real. It was a crash course in pregnancy.
They were always friendly, but Geillis always seemed to needle at Claire as well. How would you describe their relationship?
Nothing is black and white. That’s what is very real about it. No relationship is great all the time. Geillis knows from the start that Claire is a time traveler, whereas Claire does not suspect that of Geillis. She wants more details and is trying to nudge Claire into confiding in her. It’s a big reveal, and Claire realizes she could have trusted Geillis and they could have helped each other much more. But by then it is too late. It is very bittersweet. As soon as she and the audience know more about Geillis, she’s being carried to the pyre. That’s so sad in the most beautiful way.
Before she realizes, Claire loses the best female ally she had in the past.
True. It would be oversimplifying to say that they are just using each other. That relationship is important to the story. You can’t minimize the importance of their friendship. They are kindred spirits — strong women who are outsiders and who don’t have a lot of friends so they are kindred spirits and they are bonded. They are surrounded by men all the time, and I think that it is important to explore this positive female relationship. They need each other. They are independent thinkers and herbalists.
In the end, why do you think she made the ultimate sacrifice for Claire?
Geillis has taken a huge risk for love and ultimately it didn’t work out. They realize that they may not make it out alive. Claire refuses to make a move even though she could leave Geillis behind and save herself. That’s when Geillis realizes she has a true friend. The move really touches her heart. She sacrifices herself. She has also seen what Claire has with Jamie. She sees that she really loves him and he loves her back and they have a real chance to make it work. She loves Dougal, but she is not stupid. She knows it is never going to work out, so she takes the fall, which is grand and heroic and beautiful.
Outlander airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.