CAITRIONA BALFE IN NEW YORK, MARCH 2015. STYLING: MICHELLE CAMERON. COAT: VETEMENTS. DRESS: CALVIN KLEIN COLLECTION. HAIR PRODUCT: SHISEIDO MEN, INCLUDING HYDRATING LOTION. HAIR: DAVID VON CANNON/ STREETERS. MAKEUP: VIOLETTE FOR CHANEL BEAUTÉ/ MANAGEMENT + ARTISTS. MANICURE: DAWN STERLING FOR DIOR VERNIS/ MAM. SPECIAL THANKS: FAST ASHLEYS.
When I ask Irish actress Caitriona Balfe how she feels about her recent success, she answers with a frank laugh, “A huge relief?” Balfe studied theater at a conservatory in Dublin, but she had a nearly ten-year sidetrack into modeling, walking in several shows for brands like Dolce & Gabbana and Chanel, and appearing on covers for international editions of Vogue and Elle. “Even though I had an incredible time, and I got to travel the world, it just wasn’t what I wanted to do,” the 35-year-old beauty admits. “After a while, that gets really old.” Balfe moved to Los Angeles in 2009, where she appeared in films such as Super 8 (2011) and Escape Plan (2013). But her real coup was landing the lead role in the ongoing Starz series Outlander, a British-American TV drama that began the second half of its premiere season this spring. She plays Claire Randall, a WWII-era nurse who is transported back in time to 1743 Scotland. Balfe, who did not grow up riding horses but does plenty of it in Outlander, loves the physicality of the part. “Claire’s so passionate and vital; she loves hard and fights hard and works hard, and all of that felt like a very whole woman, very elemental and timeless in that sense.”
When we speak, Balfe is halfway through production on Jodie Foster’s new film, Money Monster, a Wall Street financial thriller starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts, in which she plays a CCO for an investment bank that’s recently suffered a massive loss. “You see her coming to terms with, ‘Okay, this is what I’m telling the public, but what’s really going on?’ So many people are just trying to do a good job every day, and they don’t realize the repercussions of what they do for a living.”
Despite packing boxes in L.A. to prepare for a few months of travel and shoots between New York and Scotland, Balfe takes it all in stride. Asked about the lingerie-catalog photos that pop up prominently when you type her name into Google Images, she groans, “Oh God,” and answers smartly, “I am a product of every experience I’ve had up to this point, and I’m sure I was damn glad for those two days of work at the time.” Besides, she says, “It gives my friends something great to flag me off about. For their amusement alone, it was worth it.”