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Sunday 20 August 2017

'I'm still waiting for the flood of male adoration!' - Caitriona Balfe's difficult road to acting stardom

Caitriona Balfe stars in Outlander (AP)
Caitriona Balfe stars in Outlander (AP)
Actress Caitriona Balfe attends the "Outlander" mid-season New York premiere at Ziegfeld Theater
Caitriona Balfe at the Screen Actors Guild Awards 2015
JOURNEY GIRL: Caitriona Balfe took up modelling before landing a role in ‘Outlander’

Donal Lynch

It was the most nerve-wracking moment of Caitriona Balfe's acting career. She had been summoned to New York to audition for Jodie Foster for a part in Money Monster, which Foster will direct, and which will also star George Clooney.

As the daughter of a Monaghan Garda sergeant stood in the room with the star of Taxi Driver and The Silence Of The Lambs, she tried to banish from her mind all thoughts of Foster's legendary career and delivered the performance of her life.

She told the Sunday Independent: "You have in your head everything she's done and all the incredible things she's achieved. I was brought up watching her, looking up to her. But once you're actually in the room with her, the pressure of knowing all that stuff leaves you a bit because she's incredibly giving. We weren't having heart-to-hearts but she gave me a lot of work advice and how to approach character."

Clooney, too, was easy to deal with: "You had this preconception that it's going to be this star. He was goofy, constantly making jokes, just a very chill person. He gets into the work and treats everyone in the same way."

Actress Caitriona Balfe attends the
Actress Caitriona Balfe attends the "Outlander" mid-season New York premiere at Ziegfeld Theater

Balfe, 35, is currently in Glasgow, filming scenes for the next series of Outlander, in which she has been steaming up screens all year - Rolling Stone recently named the willowy, chiselled Irishwoman as one of the 25 hottest sex symbols in the world. The role also helped win her a nomination in the category of Rising Star at the Iftas - which she describes as "a huge honour" - and marked the belated flowering of her prodigious acting talent after what she calls "a bit of a detour". That would be a modelling career which saw her grace the covers of Vogue and Elle, and walk down the catwalk for everyone from Giorgio Armani to Karl Lagerfeld. To date, she is also the only Irish model ever to model for Victoria's Secret.

Growing up, Balfe considered herself a "lanky, mousy" child and went to "a tough country school" in Monaghan where she suffered some bullying. But she blossomed in her teenage years. She was discovered while studying drama and music in Rathmines, where she did a little charity work in a local supermarket in aid of Multiple Sclerosis research.

"Myself and the other girls were inside the Swan Centre packing bags in our big white charity T-shirts. And Derek Daniels from Assets gave me his card in the middle of the supermarket and one of the cashier girls was like [adopts heavy Dublin accent] 'hey, yer wan just got given a card to be a model'. And I almost died of mortification." Her career quickly soared.

At the age of 30, she moved to LA to try to make it at her first love, acting, and spent years there honing her craft in classes. "I got to a point in my life when I thought if I don't try it now I might not get the opportunity to do it again. There was a feeling amongst my friends and industry people whom I came into contact with that 'oh it's tough for women and it's tougher again for women of your age' and all of these things. But I'd never been interested in being a starlet; the people I've admired had long careers and it shouldn't matter how old you are for those things."

Caitriona Balfe at the Screen Actors Guild Awards 2015
Caitriona Balfe at the Screen Actors Guild Awards 2015

After a period of being single, she has a boyfriend again now - he's a "civilian", she says, ie not involved in the movie industry. She's been heartened by the reaction to Outlander, she says, and the fan mail she gets comes mostly from women: "I'm still waiting for the flood of male adoration!"

Her biggest fans of all are back home in Monaghan and they watch her every move, even the racy bits. "I'm a grown woman at this point," she laughs.

"I've probably given my parents enough sleepless nights in my teenage years for them to worry about anything like that now. I ask my mother and father not to watch, but of course my mum watches anyway. They're very proud."

Sunday Independent

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