Caitríona Balfe’s Celtic conquest, from “Outlander” to “Belfast”
As a child, Caitríona Balfe never found it strange when a trip to the dentist or to a clothing store involved driving British soldiers with machine guns, or having the family car inspected for explosives. There were also frequent bomb threats, around where she grew up in Tydavnet, a small Irish village near the Northern Irish border, and sometimes on the news she would hear of a nearby community that had been affected. “It’s so much a part of the fabric of your life when you live in these areas,” she says. “It’s really only as you get older that you look back and realize how crazy or how strange it is.”
It’s a hot November day, and Balfe is sitting at an outdoor table in a restaurant in Los Angeles, talking about the concentric circles that are her life and her new movie, Kenneth Branagh’s. Belfast. The film is Branagh’s semi-autobiographical take on his own childhood, set in 1969, shortly after the start of the violence and conflict known as The Troubles. Balfe plays Ma, a mother of two torn between fear of leaving her home in Northern Ireland and desperation to protect her Protestant family. As it turns out, Balfe took her three-month-old baby boy with her to Los Angeles on his first transatlantic trip. Her son didn’t sleep well last night, either. Mind you, you can’t tell: Balfe still has a fresh glow, seemingly flawless skin, and piercing light blue eyes, which makes it completely understandable that she spent her 20s as a model in Paris.
Even without her little one’s nighttime needs, Balfe, 42, has reason to be tired right now. A few evenings ago she attended BelfastThe glitzy LA premiere at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which ended with a late-night after-party where her co-star Jamie Dornan performed “Everlasting Love,” a song her character sings at Balfe’s in the movie. The whirlwind promotional trip started a few weeks earlier with the premiere in London, then a jump to Belfast for the local party, which was the first time Balfe’s mother had attended one of her premieres. Between London and Belfast, Balfe stopped in Ireland to visit family members whom she had not seen since before the pandemic. “They hadn’t met the baby. They hadn’t seen me pregnant, ”she says, ordering huevos rancheros, happy to be babyless for a while and using both hands to eat a civilized adult meal. “It was as if this whole event had happened without seeing them.”
Belfast quickly became an Oscar favorite when it was released in theaters by Focus Features on November 12. Even with a cast that includes Dornan, Judi Dench, and Ciarán Hinds, Balfe clearly stands out. Although he starred in a successful TV show — Starz’s the foreigner– over the past eight years, Balfe will likely be on his way to movie stardom by Belfast, although she rejects this kind of talk. “I feel like I’m at such an early stage in my career because I started so late,” she says, after leaving Ireland at 18 for this ten-year modeling career. the foreigner has won its fans and a rich role to dig, but Belfast brought her to Northern Ireland and a story close to her heart.
“As an Irishman you read so many of these scripts about the Troubles, and they all have this romantic version of violence,” Balfe says. “It always upsets me, because I don’t think this is something that should be romanticized. And here’s a script that really focused on the family and the people and communities that are affected. “
For decades, the unrest gripped Northern Ireland in a long period of violent unrest, which had a lasting effect on those living in the border towns. The conflict raged from the 1960s to the late 1990s and claimed more than 3,500 lives. It has also shaped the lives of so many who have grown up over these decades, like Balfe and Belfast director Kenneth Branagh. “It makes you very observant and makes you realize how careful people sometimes have to be when, like her, they grew up living on a ditch,” Branagh says of Balfe. “You know what it’s like to live in some kind of semi-permanent code red.”
The fourth of seven children, Balfe and her family moved from Dublin to this village near the border when she was very young, for her father’s job. (Balfe was raised in Catholicism but has since quit.) She has wanted to act for as long as she can remember, but is not sure where the impulse is coming from. She thinks that the fact that her father, a sergeant from An Garda Síochána, the Irish National Police, was part of a comedy troupe probably had something to do with it. But her plans took a detour when a model recruiter spotted her while studying acting at the Dublin Institute of Technology. A few months later, she signed with Ford Models and was offered the opportunity to settle in Paris. “I’ve always wanted to travel,” she says. “Growing up, we never did that, there were too many of us. We didn’t have the money.
Balfe couldn’t know that when she left Ireland to work, she would never call him home again. She has become one of the most requested models on the catwalks, walking for Chanel, Valentino, Alexander McQueen and Givenchy. Over a three-year period in the early 2000s, she appeared in hundreds of shows. “There was something about the theatrics of the parades – and the event of it – that I absolutely loved,” Balfe says. But it eventually lost some of its shine as she approached 10 years in the business. “For the past two years, I was really unhappy,” she says. “It’s not exactly the nicest or the healthiest industry. “
At that time, Balfe was based in New York City and she started taking acting classes. She was dating a guy who lived in Los Angeles and decided to take another leap to a new city full of strangers. “I knew I had a passion for the theater,” she says. “I knew it was something that, if I had the chance to do it, I would attack it with whatever I had.” Balfe was aware that she was at a disadvantage as a late debutante, even at the age of 29, who wasn’t exactly old. Still, she began to build a career for herself, starting with the smallest of roles in JJ Abrams. Super 8. “I didn’t speak and I was the dead mother,” she laughs, “but at least I spent a day with JJ. Of approval, so maybe that means something. .