Tuesday 17 September 2019

Caitriona Balfe: The enigmatic Irish actress who discreetly soared to the top of Hollywood's A-list

Irish actress Caitriona Balfe stars on a hit TV show with four Golden Globe nominations: how did she keep her wedding a complete secret?

Caitriona Balfe attends the 2019 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 24, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
Caitriona Balfe attends the 2019 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 24, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
Caitriona Balfe attends The BAFTA Los Angeles Tea Party at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
Caitriona Balfe during 8th Annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show - Runway at The New York State Armory in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Caitriona Balfe during 8th Annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show - Runway at The New York State Armory in New York City, New York, United States. Photo: KMazur/WireImage
Caitriona for Victoria's Secret
Irish actress Caitriona Balfe arrives for the 76th annual Golden Globe Awards on January 6, 2019, at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP)
Caitriona Balfe during 8th Annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show - Runway at The New York State Armory in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Caitriona Balfe (L) and Tony McGill attends The BAFTA Los Angeles Tea Party at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/BAFTA LA/Getty Images)
Heughan with Outlander co-star Caitriona Balfe (Jane Barlow/PA)
Actress Caitriona Balfe attends the 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
Caitriona Balfe. Photo: PA
Actress Caitriona Balfe spotted with fiancée Tony McGill close to St Stephen's Green
Caitriona Balfe (L) and Tony McGill attend the Grey Goose 2018 BAFTA Awards after party on February 18, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Grey Goose Vodka )
Caitriona Balfe on Outlander
Caitriona Balfe on Outlander
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 05: Caitriona Balfe arrives to the BAFTA Tea Party at The Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 05, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for BAFTA Los Angeles )
Caitlin McBride

Caitlin McBride

It’s still something of a mystery why Caitriona Balfe isn’t recognised outside Hollywood as an A-lister.

Ireland, a country which tends to make celebrities out of commercial models, opticians and solicitors, hasn’t quite enveloped her with overwhelming approval in the same way we do others; for no obvious reason.

Perhaps it’s because Caitriona moved from her native Monaghan when she was a teenager, after being scouted by a Ford Models agent while she was studying at DIT Rathmines and within a few months, she was walking the runways in Paris, Milan, London and New York.

In the late ‘90s, her 5’9” height and naturally slim frame made her one of the most in-demand runway models in the world, working with

Caitriona Balfe on Outlander
Caitriona Balfe on Outlander

Perhaps because she was never part of a set which earned the most column inches in tabloids and beyond, she never got the recognition publicly for her work. She remains the only Irish model to ever walk in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show (in 2002), a feat which was only uncovered when she hit the big time in 2014.

By then, she’d transitioned from modelling and focused full-time on pursuing acting and like many before her, landed bit parts with little meat to sink her teeth into and show she’s more than a pretty face.

"When I left the business, I moved to LA and I am so grateful that I was able to take a year...a lot of that was just dismantling a lot of the mental issues I had taken from the business because your confidence and your self-esteem is in the toilet after you've been in that business for so long.” she said last year.

That all changed when she was cast as Claire Randall in Outlander, a time travelling nurse who was transported from the 1950s to 18th century Scotland and beginning a love story which transcends time, space and requires a bit of imagination.

It was the perfect antidote for fans in withdrawal after the Twilight trilogy ended in 2012 and it was just before Netflix took its iron grip on the industry. It’s based on an equally successful book series by Diana Gabaldon and when it launched in the US, on cable network Starz, it had an established cult following.

It was easy to dismiss as just that - a cult television show - but Caitriona has managed to crossover into mainstream appeal in a way so few others have. Just ask the lead actors in The Walking Dead, one of the highest rated shows on American television, who have been on air for nine years but have never been nominated for a major acting award.

By 2016, she landed her first Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Drama (three more would follow) and every year, she’s tipped to finally get the recognition in the Emmys and SAG Awards; something more likely to happen during - or after - the show’s final season.

Filming for Outlander is, as expected, gruelling and time consuming and she spends all her time in Glasgow, where the show is shot. Downtime involves consideration for other projects and after a disappointing box office for 2016’s Money Monster, she's getting top billing alongside Matt Damon and Christian Bale in Ford vs Ferrari.

Caitriona Balfe during 8th Annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show - Runway at The New York State Armory in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Caitriona Balfe during 8th Annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show - Runway at The New York State Armory in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)

She has also managed the oft thought impossible balancing act of asking for privacy in a charming manner. Earlier this week, she wed her long-term partner Tony McGill, a film producer, and in typical style, she hasn’t made a public announcement.

While others in her position desperate to elevate themselves even further up the ranks of Hollywood would jump at the chance to monetise an engagement and wedding, she remains faithful to her desire to keep her work and personal lives separate.

News of her engagement broke only because she wore her ring to the 2018 Golden Globes.

Back in 2015, she told the Irish Independent: "People were like 'oh, everything's changed' and I was like 'fantastic', but I'm still flying below the radar. I don't get recognised that much. People haven't been sending me swag. I have the same friends, the same routines. It's terribly boring.”

Her Irish self-deprecation might mean she feels compelled to describe herself as ‘boring’, but her enigmatic approach to celebrity culture is anything but.

Caitriona Balfe (L) and Tony McGill attend the Grey Goose 2018 BAFTA Awards after party on February 18, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Grey Goose Vodka )
Caitriona Balfe (L) and Tony McGill attend the Grey Goose 2018 BAFTA Awards after party on February 18, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Grey Goose Vodka )

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