Contemplating Caitriona, if I May Be So Bold…

[Nearly every post you read here at is and will be stand alone. This one is not. It is an offshoot of my ECCC 2017 post and will likely make more sense if you read the ECCC 2017 post first…]

There were so many comments generated by the (now more than) 14,000 views of my ECCC 2017 post. Comments, of course, about Sam’s twirl, Nicole’s beautiful testimony, the photos, and how much people enjoyed it. But the overwhelming majority commented on “experience-taking” and Cait’s response to one fan, about which I wrote: “Personally, I kept thinking about this question and this answer off and on over the next few days. I feel like Cait missed the point.” 

Now, one of the reasons I love to do (and let’s be honest, aspire to do is more appropriate at this point related to Outlander) interviews is to ask thoughtful questions of, and get thoughtful answers from, people I find interesting and want to know more about. In general, I try not to make assumptions about people’s thought processes, or presume to speak for them (especially people I don’t know). But I feel like I opened a can of worms, and then left this comment about Cait hanging out there. The options I see are: let it go/forget about it, ask Cait about it, or say more. I don’t have access to ask Cait, so far I haven’t forgotten about it, and the comments keep rolling in, so I guess I’ll say more…. 

When I approached Cait at ECCC for our picture, I was struck by how young she is. Despite being larger than life in this series, and a strong woman in her own right, she’s also just a 37-year-old with a very busy, high profile job, who happens to be playing an iconic role in a story which millions of people have internalized and experienced as life changing ? <gulp>. I’m not sure it would serve Cait or any actor, to carry the enormity of that around in her daily consciousness. In fact it makes me think of something Terry said in the Thru the Stones panel. She said that she’s not trying to do costumes according to the book anymore, because it’s too hard. She said, “I can’t be in everybody’s head, and it’s better that I’m not in anybody’s head, except my own… I just have to make the best costume I possibly can, and when I switch over and try to make what other people might be anticipating and thinking, or even what Diana was thinking, I lose me, and I lose whatever my natural flow is….”  

I do think Cait gets it, but putting myself in her shoes (as best I can, without talking to her) I see that her experience has to be so different from ours. From day one, she and Sam were reading these books with time pressure, for a purpose: doing a job. And her every day since has been filled with the logistics, preparation and realities of playing Claire. I think the result is she is so close to the material, that some parts (like losing Faith), she gets in ways we never could. But as for the “being swept away at our leisure” angle that we millions have enjoyed and still do, no. I don’t think she has the time and space to relate to the material in that way. She is reading for her job, or acting for her job. When she watches the show, she is seeing herself and no doubt remembering the experience, or critiquing the product vs. being swept away by the storyline. She is “in” it, and the storyline continues. She is constantly looking forward, preparing for what comes next in being Claire. Of course Outlander has changed her life, and she realizes that her performance has impacted others (my conjecture).

 In case you’re lost, the statement/question to which I’m referring is…

“Your embodiment of these characters has profoundly, and I don’t use that word lightly, has profoundly changed my life. I mean it brought me out of terrible depression, and I know it’s done that for millions of other people. As performance artists, how does that affect you, that you have profoundly changed and altered the course of people’s lives?”

Here is that clip, with both Sam and Cait’s answers:

In my ECCC piece I wrote about this phenomenon, called experience-taking. “…my take on that question is that as readers of these books, (and as watchers of this show) we experience so many things with these characters. So many trials and tribulations, joys, and intimate moments. Going through these experiences with Jamie and Claire actually makes us more resilient and more empathetic as people. Experiencing their struggles and their tenacity to their core values, even through excruciatingly hard things, makes us stronger. It’s called “experience-taking,” and it’s a real thing. People aren’t just experiencing escape when reading Diana’s books and watching the show, we are actually being enriched by these characters and their experiences. This, in my opinion, is the reason there is such a devout following of these books, and this show. It’s not simply escapism.

“Experience-taking changes us by allowing us to merge our own lives with those of the characters we read about, which can lead to good outcomes,” Source: The OSU Research and Innovation Communications
We fans have all read these books, or watched the show for pleasure, at our leisure, without time constraints or needing to extract anything in particular from them. We have no agenda, no pressure, and are able to be effortlessly transported by Diana’s magic, or the magic of the production. I don’t think Sam, Cait, and probably many others on the cast and crew have had our same experience (with the exception of those who read the books before this project). It’s ironic, but the idea is that the very people who play these characters are at once less and more merged with them than we outsiders. 
As I was doing some looking around for material for this post, I came across an interview that Cait did with Robert Licuria, who does really great interviews for Gold Derby. In watching it again, Caitriona responds here to my lingering question.
She talks about reading the book with anticipation of playing the scenes. She also talks about processing and internalizing the role for the losing Faith sequence. Listening, it became clear to me that of course she gets it, but she’s so close to the material, that she gets it in a different, more immersive way than we, who are not living and breathing these characters do. As she says here, she was a vessel; as Claire she channeled the grief of women who have suffered loss over centuries, and particularly those who’d come to Glasgow Cathedral (where they shot those scenes) for solace. That’s pretty intense, and not something you’d be able to or even want to carry around with you all the time, I suspect.

Another moment in the panel that stood out for me, which I neglected to include in my ECCC post, was when Cait talked about how she was raised by her Irish parents. I have a ton of respect and admiration for this woman, and at the same time, she’s just a person, like you, like me, like Sam (it’s true!) She is an amazing Claire, and if my work ever does land on her radar, I hope that my admiration and respect shine through. I’ll leave you with this…



To read more about how novels can change our brains, CLICK HERE.


24 comments on “Contemplating Caitriona, if I May Be So Bold…

  1. Wonderfully written. We all do well to remember that for Clare, Sam and the rest of this marvelous cast it’s a JOB. Just like we go to the office they go on set to work. I admire all artists that manage to take me away once in a while. It’s called Escapism. Claire cannot experience the same reaction because she’s not watching, she’s working.

  2. I think we have to respect that an actor is doing a job … and if they do their job well, they get it … and the fans love it. They understand and interpret their character. Does this mean they ARE their character? Of course not, and the next job will involve another character. Sad (and a bit weird) that good actors may get morphed into their characters and it becomes an odd, intrusive part of their life.

  3. Mark me… I love Outlander the TV series and I read all the books last year within a six-month period That shows how much I enjoyed Diana’s writing and the characters. I look forward to Season 3 as much as any diehard fan. The theory of ‘Experience-taking’ probably has some value. However I feel obliged to say that we must remind ourselves that this is a story imagined by a great writer. It is very romantic and probably caters to a lot of women who never met ‘their Jamie’. In other words, we have to put Outlander in perspective and see it for what it is. We should not attribute to it some deep psychological impact on us the fans. Our minds should be focused on more serious subjects such as the war in Syria, the Trump excesses and famine in Africa and how these affect our psyche.

  4. I’m so glad you said something about this Courtney! I often wonder how anyone, not just Cait, can only read up until a certain point. When I got into these books I devoured them within 2 1/2 months. I couldn’t stop! But I think you’re right. She’s reading it as a professional would, about her character, not just as a “fan” of the series. I am sure she loves them and enjoys reading them, but I think she definitely looks at it differently than we do. Here is another thought: I am sure she has some favorite books of her own and also loves seeing them made into movies or series. This may be why she does such a good job at playing Claire. I think she knows how important it is for people. Thank you for this article!

  5. I don’t think a television series has ever touched my life the way that this one does. Maybe its because, by heritage, I am a Fraser and I am a MacKinzie and this is a story about my people, what they went through. While watching I feel like I’m back in Scotland with them and I enjoy seeing all the countryside and mountains that I have come to love on each visit we’ve made there. But then there’s the story line of Claire and Jamie. I can’t get enough of them. it is intoxicating to say the least. It’s like being with them, yet they can’t see me. I feel every emotion they are conveying. Sam and Cait and the entire cast and crew are doing a wonderful job of bringing these stories to life for all of us. I started watching from episode 1 last night. Now I have to get the books.

    • You will never be sorry you read these awesome books!!! How wonderful that you can relate on such a very fundamental level with your your own family history!

  6. I had another take on both Sam and Caitriina’s responses. I believe from what little I’ve seen of them in interviews that they are genuinely NICE people who seem to care about those to whom they relate–that’s anyone. So with nice usually comes a sense of humbleness AND not a little bit of embarrassment at such a heavy tho’ well meaning and deeply moving comment. I got the impression that they were almost resisting any thought (subconsciously) that it had to do with them, and much more to do with the production as a whole. I love your blog about the conference and this too. Thank you!!!

    • I agree Linda. I have also noticed this in other interviews that I have seen.
      Along the same lines, I went to ECCC & had to opportunity to observe both during the autographs & saw the same there.
      I was with a friend (we both are part of MPC) who currently has a blood cancer & has lost 50 lbs in the last year with MPC (100 overall in the last couple of years) thank Sam for the program & also let him know how much it has changed the quality of her life, her doctor has been stunned, among many other positive things, she has not yet had to begin treatment for her cancer!
      You could tell it deeply affected him to hear this, and as stated above, he turned it back to how much she had done, not what he might have done.

      Thanks Courtney! Interesting article!

      • I agree Linda and Lori. I observed the same thing at ECCC. In addition as I watched that clip again, it is obvious that they were both touched and more than slightly humbled and maybe a bit embarrassed by the comment.

        I also want to say that your discussion of experience taking was very valid and helpful as I thought about the reaction. Depending on where we each are in our lives, the experience taking can have a very deep emotional connection with us. I think that perhaps for those of us who have lost spouses or suffered through a miscarriage or some other trauma such as rape, the connection may be stronger. Speaking personally it is much more that “escapism”. I know the healing power that the books in particular have had in my life. Unless you have experienced that it may be hard to understand. Added to the fact that it is a job for them, there may be as you say, a different perspective. That does not take away from our own very personal experience taking and yes, healing, that we experienced.

    • Yes Linda, I agree with you. But ultimately, artists, directors, costume designers, teachers, doctors, et al put their whole being into their job, their vocation. They do this as a responsibility to their teammates, patients, students, the people with whom they work. They do it for themselves, knowing they put forth their best effort.

  7. It’s a great show and all but I can’t help feeling that some readers are “living in” these stories and characters. That’s a bit sad and speaks to lives perhaps unfulfilled and with voids that these books and characters are filling. That’s a huge burden for the actors who are doing this purely for the entertainment value. And there’s a big world world out there . . .

  8. These people are doing a job, they are actors. They want, presumably to do the best job possible and do credit to the excellent production, but they aren’t responsible for changing anyone’s life, that is up to the person experiencing the change. It’s ridiculous to ask them what they think about it. Get on with your own life, and great if a television show makes you feel better.

  9. Thank you for writing this. Very good.

    My perspective is different regarding the books and Claire in particular. I discovered the series first, and was completely taken aback by Caitriona’s Claire, that strong and wonderful woman. So much so that, when I started reading the first book, I almost didn’t recognize her. I thought she was cold and distant in a way. It makes sense, of course, because she is the narrator, but I liked the TV Claire *so much more* than the book Claire that I think I may be reading it wrong (English is not my native language, as you probably realised already), and for me all the credit goes to Caitriona’s huge talent.

  10. Love your thoughtfulness on this subject. Having thought about it a lot, I will say, with absolutely no criticism toward the fan, that the best thing to say to an artist who has touched one is, “Thank you.” How they feel about their art and how others feel are different sides of the same coin. The fan was expressing her gratitude, but asking how Cait felt about that is a difficult question and I believe she was both touched and thrown about what to say. She spoke truth. How she feels performing.

    I love your writing. Looking forward to more

    Joan Tinnin

  11. I really enjoy Outlander Sam and Cait are both beautiful people inside and outside, Linda was so on point they are so down to earth and humble it’s a refreshing change. They do such an awesome job bringing Jamie and Claire to life no screen for us…Loved the article

  12. In all of our lives, choices and decisions have impact in ways we can not always imagine and quantify. Cait and Sam’s lives are really changed by their decisions to take these roles, forever. In many positive ways, but in many ways their lives are not their own, anymore. I thank them for what they have given and sacrificed for us in their own personal and private lives. I want them to know I appreciate all their sacrifice has given to us as they bring such a vibrancy and reality to these characters.

  13. I think the assessment is fair. Both actors seem very centered, modest, and appreciative. I also understand the “vicarious living.” However, there is somewhat of a line between adoring fan and obsessed fan. I love the books and series, however, I have a full, busy life, and it is my entertainment, not my reason for living.

    I’m happy if it’s pulled someone through a rough time or helped them through a time of recovery. But I see comments where women want their husbands to BE Jamie, or they reread and rewatch the series 4, 5 times over. To each his own, but the actors can’t be burdened with saving someone or it almost can become scary and creepy…and unhealthy. Simply saying, maintain a balance…love, family, work, spiritual life, health…and let Outlander be the icing, not the cake.

  14. I just love all of the comments and the fact that we have a community of thoughtful respectful contributors here. I appreciate you all so much x

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