She already has a loyal fan base thanks to TV’s time-travelling romance Outlander, but now Caitriona Balfe’s role in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast is set to propel her to Hollywood stardom and Oscar glory.
Balfe, 42, was born in Dublin before moving with her six siblings close to the Irish border in Tydavnet, County Monaghan, where her father was a police sergeant in the Garda Síochána.
A lover of theatre and voracious reader, a teenage Balfe studied drama at Dublin Institute of Technology in Rathmines, but before she had a chance to properly start her performing career, a model scout spotted her in a supermarket and launched her onto the catwalk.
During a decade in the industry, Balfe stepped out for Chanel, Givenchy, Dolce & Gabbana and Louis Vuitton, and in a 2009 article for the Irish Independent, Derek Daniels, founder of Assets Model Agency, described her as ‘arguably the biggest model to come out of this country’.
However, Balfe ‘was slightly miserable doing what I was doing’ and wished to give performing another go – gathering small movie credits including as an extra on The Devil Wears Prada, where viewers would have only caught a glimpse of her feet running across the camera during the opening.
Her acting career truly started again after she landed one of the leading parts in the critically acclaimed Starz romance series Outlander, playing time-travelling heroine Claire Fraser for six seasons; soon she’ll prepare to shoot a seventh.
Yet it’s her latest role in Belfast, released on January 21 and inspired by Branagh’s childhood in 1960s Northern Ireland during the Troubles, which has her tipped for Oscar glory.
The mother-of-one is married to musician Tony McGill, but keeps their relationship out of the spotlight, and managed to keep her pregnancy a secret, announcing on Instagram last year that they had welcomed a son.
Caitriona Balfe during the 8th Annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show at The New York State Armory in New York City
She already has a loyal fan base thanks to TV’s time-travelling romance Outlander (pictured), but now Caitriona Balfe’s role in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast is set to propel her to Hollywood stardom and Oscar glory
Balfe wed her husband Tony McGill (pictured together during the year they were married) in 2019 after announcing their engagement at the Golden Globes in January 2018
Last week, it was announced Balfe, who plays Ma, the matriarch of a pacifist Protestant family in the film, had been nominated for an Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role for Hollywood’s Screen Actors Guild awards.
The SAG Awards, voted on by members of the SAG-AFTRA acting union, are scheduled to be handed out at a ceremony in Los Angeles on February 27.
The results are closely watched because actors form the largest voting group in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organisation that will present the Oscars in March.
Proving her increasing popularity thanks to her performance in Belfast, ‘every magazine [also] wants [Balfe] on the cover’, according to The Irish Times, with the actress already appearing on the front cover of Vanity Fair’s Awards Insider issue.
Balfe came to acting late – she was in her late 20s when she gave up a career as a runway model to act, shooting to fame on the first series of Outlander in 2014, which was adapted from a successful book series.
Three years ago, she won acclaim for her performance opposite Christian Bale in the Oscar-winning and crowd-pleasing sports drama Ford v Ferrari. But Belfast is her biggest feature film role to date.
Balfe was ‘slightly miserable’ in her modelling career before quitting to become an actor and has previously detailed her struggle while working in the fashion industry.
She reflected on her time as a model in a candid chat on the Thanks A Million podcast with Angela Scanlon in January 2021.
It’s her latest role in Belfast (pictured), released on January 21 and inspired by Branagh’s childhood in 1960s Northern Ireland during the Troubles, which has her tipped for Oscar glory
Balfe appears in a scene from Belfast. Balfe, 42, was born in Dublin before moving with her six siblings close to the Irish border in Tydavnet, County Monaghan, where her father was a police sergeant
Looking back, Balfe hit out at the ‘s**t agencies’ she worked with in the past as she criticised the ‘weird balance of power’ in the industry as a whole.
The actress worked in advertising campaigns with brands like Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Balenciaga for a period of ten years before going into acting.
While she didn’t name companies, Balfe said: ‘You’re supposed to automatically be this fun, interesting, edgy person that fashion people want to be around. But then at the same time you have to be so skinny and so androgynous.
‘There was always people doing better and constantly being compared to people. I think, as a young woman in your teens and twenties, it’s hard enough.
‘You know, there’s so many times where you would go into castings or even fittings for jobs that you already supposedly had and somebody in the room would just be annihilating how you look, or your lack of personality, or you talk too much.
‘All in front of you. It’s really tough. I have so much admiration for girls who can come through that unscathed.’
She went on: ‘I think everybody goes through a really wobbly phase afterwards trying to sort of find their footing or find what their next step is, because in one way, it opens up so many doors and it does open your mind to so many things and it does give you an incredible education in a certain way.
A lover of theatre and voracious reader, a teenage Balfe (pictured in 2021) went off to study drama at Dublin Institute of Technology in Rathmines
‘But in another, it infantilises you and it stunts you in so many other ways. I think it takes a while to sort of like rebalance all of that… There’s such a veneer of like “everyone’s so cool in this industry”.
‘And that’s drilled into you from quite a young age about, you know, don’t rock the boat, don’t be uncool, being uncool is defending yourself or questioning something or being deaf and not stiff or not taking your top off.
‘”Why wouldn’t you take a top off? It’s just t**s. Come on, like just be cool.” I can’t tell you how many times that situation happened. I was very lucky.
‘I had some amazing bookers and had some amazing agencies, but I also had some absolute s**t agencies, and they’ve positioned themselves, I think, as they protect the girls.
‘But because they’ve made themselves management companies, they also take zero responsibility. So all the girls are self-employed and, in fact, they employ the agents.
‘It’s such a weird balance of power because the people that you are supposedly employing are the people who are the gateway to all the jobs.
‘They dictate your earning power, but they also dictate everything… The worst thing, I think, if you talk to any model, used to be the days you’d have to go into the agency and you walk in and literally everybody is scanning you head to toe.
But before she had a chance to properly start her performing career, a model scout spotted her in a supermarket and launched her onto the catwalk. Pictured, Balfe as Claire Randall, right, and Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser, in a scene from Outlander
‘What are you wearing? Do you look cool? Are you thin enough? Are you going to the right places or dating the right people?’
But Balfe did add that she felt there were ‘parts’ of being in the industry that ‘were good’.
Following her modelling career, Balfe swapped the catwalk for the TV screen to star in Outlander, yet the actress wasn’t even attached to the series with only days to go before production started on the first season.
The series’ showrunner Ronald D. Moore revealed in May 2020 in an interview with Collider that Balfe had to immediately hop on a plane for Scotland after winning the role.
While speaking via video chat with Collider Editor-in-Chief Steve Weintraub, Moore said he initially expected Balfe’s role as Claire to be the easiest to cast.
Instead, he immediately knew Sam Heughan was right for her lover, but had trouble nailing down Claire’s part.
‘We read a lot of actresses, we saw a lot of tape,’ Moore continued.
He needed Claire to be ‘really smart’ and someone ‘you could see thinking,’ while still having great chemistry with Heughan, which limited the possibilities.
Balfe’s audition tape arrived ‘late in the game,’ and she instantly rocketed to near the top of the pile, though a chemistry audition with Heughan sealed the deal for her.
‘Once we cast her, she was on a plane to Scotland within a day and shooting, like, two days later. We were so close to the beginning of production there,’ Moore said. ‘It was really starting to scare everyone.’
During a decade in the industry, Balfe (pictured in 2020) stepped out for Chanel, Givenchy, Dolce & Gabbana and Louis Vuitton, and in a 2009 article for the Irish Independent, Derek Daniels, founder of Assets Model Agency, described her as ‘arguably the biggest model to come out of this country’
‘In the beginning, I said, “We’re going to cast Claire first because she’ll be the easiest to find because she’s a smart 20th century British woman, and there’re lots of them,”‘ Moore said.
It was Jaime, the role that Heughan filled, that Moore anticipated being difficult to cast, but instead he was the first person cast for the series.
Outlander follows the romance through time between Claire, an English combat nurse in 1945, who becomes transported back in time to 1743, where she meets her soulmate Jamie.
There are currently nine books in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novel series, with the most recent book, Go Tell The Bees That I’m Gone, published in November.
Unlike other series that may differ from their original adapted works, Balfe said during a recent TV appearance that for the most part Outlander stays true to the original.
‘We change things here and there but, for the most part, you know and Diana is such a huge part of the show, she’s been on the show, she’s written an episode.’
As a result of the book’s popularity, the series had an instant fan base when it debuted on television.
Balfe said she and her co-star Sam Heughan were greeted by 2,500 fans of the book when they attended an event not long after beginning filming.
‘These were book fans. The series was huge, and the series has been around for 20 years, and so when we started we filmed I think for about two months and Sam and I were brought to LA and we were brought to this auditorium where there were over two and a half thousand fans who went mental.’
Since signing on to Outlander and cementing her status as an actress, Balfe has steadily built up her stock of acclaimed roles.
Yet while the public becomes more and more aware of her, Balfe continues to keep her personal life largely private.
Yet while the public becomes more and more aware of her, Balfe continues to keep her personal life largely private. Pictured, Balfe and Tony in 2017
The 42-year-old even managed to keep her pregnancy under wraps for nine months, taking to Instagram in August 2021 to make the surprise announcement.
She shared a black and white shot showing her holding her baby’s hand and a lengthy, impassioned caption.
She penned: ‘I’ve been off socials for a while as I was taking some time to enjoy cooking up this little human …. We are so grateful for this little soul’.
Her post went on: ‘That he chose us as his parents. I’m in awe of him already and can’t help stare and wonder at all the possibilities of who he will become, where he will go and what he’ll do on the big adventure of his life…
‘Right now he seems so small and fragile and I constantly think how grateful I am that I live in a place, in a time where he is born into peace and safety…
‘Yet at the same time I see so many in the world right now that aren’t afforded that same privilege and opportunity who are born into famine or war and how unjust it is that the same safety isn’t there for all children…
‘Here in the west we have so much, we are so lucky and so if you’d like to join me in supporting any of the wonderful charities that need help trying to give those that are forgotten dignity and hope…
‘We can give the gift of peace and safety and opportunity to a few more children … @wchildcancer @chooselove @unicef @refugees’.
Balfe wed her husband Tony in 2019 after announcing their engagement at the Golden Globes in January 2018. Filming for Outlander season six wrapped in June, meaning Balfe would have been keeping her baby news under wraps on set.
The Dubin-born actress previously told People that Tony popped the question over the festive period, saying: ‘It happened over the break. I’m very happy.’
Balfe and her husband, who dated for two years before becoming engaged, predominantly keep their relationship out of the spotlight, and are rarely seen together.
The 42-year-old even managed to keep her pregnancy under wraps for nine months, taking to Instagram in August 2021 to make the surprise announcement (pictured)
She shared a black and white shot showing her holding her baby’s hand and a lengthy, impassioned caption (pictured)
The pair were first pictured together in 2015, after a friend shared an Instagram video of the actress sat on her partner’s lap.
They were then photographed together at the 2017 Oscar Wilde Awards in Los Angeles, after also attending a 2016 ceremony which saw Jodie Foster received her star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.
Tony is a musician who also managed Scottish band The Fratellis. The couple first met in London before settling down in Glasgow, with the family now splitting their time between the two cities.
The couple tied the knot in September 2019 at St. Mary’s Church in Bruton, Somerset.
She told The Irish Mirror: ‘I managed to squeeze it in on a weekend during production, but it was beautiful and I had all my close friends and family there.
‘Once you are in a room full of people that you love and who love you, it’s just so special and fun. I just want to be happy and to try to stay sane.’
Recently speaking to USA Today, Balfe revealed she enjoyed a tiny role in the opening credits of The Devil Wears Prada.
She said: ‘It’s the opening scene where everybody’s walking in front of the (Runway magazine) building, which is when I think my feet might be in it.
‘I saw Meryl, but we weren’t hanging (on set). I don’t think we were allowed to get too close.’
She also spoke to the publication about her own personal connection to the Troubles, recalling shopping trips and dentist visits where they’d pass through British Army checkpoints and soldiers would point machine guns at the family’s vehicle.
‘That was quite normal in my mind as a kid, because that was just what we saw,’ Balfe said.
But admitted that she was shaken by one bombing not far from her home when she was aged just seven.