Out­lander and Money Mon­ster tes­tify to the suc­cess of Caitri­ona Balfe’s tran­si­tion from cat­walk to screen, writes Emily Ritchie

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile - Money Mon­ster Out­lander

For Caitri­ona Balfe, walk­ing away from the cat­walk and into the act­ing world af­ter a suc­cess­ful, decade-long ca­reer modelling for brands such as Chanel and Dolce & Gab­bana was a leap of faith. “Es­pe­cially at 30, which is a dirty num­ber in the [film] in­dus­try, you know,” she says.

Al­though modelling to act­ing is a well-trod­den path in Hol­ly­wood, the 36-year-old Ir­ish ac­tress says cross­ing the thresh­old be­tween the in­dus­tries was the most chal­leng­ing thing she has done. “I had no idea how to get into the in­dus­try: how I was go­ing to get an au­di­tion, let alone a job,” she tells Re­view from Los An­ge­les.

It was, in fact, some­thing of a full cir­cle for Balfe, who, at age 18, had been study­ing theatre at the Dublin In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy be­fore be­ing ap­proached by Ford Mod­els. “Af­ter a while it be­came clear that modelling wasn’t a pas­sion, and that was get­ting very frus­trat­ing,” she says. In 2009, Balfe dropped every­thing to pur­sue her orig­i­nal ca­reer choice. “For me it was now or never. I think when you have a pas­sion or a dream in life you have to give it a shot, be­cause if you don’t, you’ll be mis­er­able”.

Balfe has cer­tainly landed on her feet with a break­out role in TV’s Out­lander as Claire Fraser, and now a ma­jor role in Jodie Fos­ter’s up­com­ing film Money Mon­ster, which also stars Ge­orge Clooney, Ju­lia Roberts and Do­minic West.

Money Mon­ster is a part of the grow­ing genre of fi­nan­cial thrillers: here, a lead­ing in­vest­ment firm, the fic­tional Ibis Clear Cap­i­tal, has lost $800 mil­lion overnight and Balfe’s char­ac­ter, Diane Lester, is its right­eous and de­ter­mined com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer. Mean­while, fi­nan­cial tele­vi­sion host Lee Gates (Clooney) has been taken hostage by an irate in­vestor de­mand­ing an­swers.

Balfe says that only a few weeks be­fore she read the script, she had been deeply af­fected by a Rolling Stone ar­ti­cle about Alayne Fleis­chmann, the whistle­blower at JPMor­gan Chase who, af­ter the fi­nan­cial melt­down of 2008, gave ev­i­dence that re­sulted in a US$9 bil­lion set­tle­ment to the US gov­ern­ment.

It was the cor­re­la­tion be­tween Fleis­chmann’s story and the char­ac­ter of Diane that res­onated with Balfe. “There is a sense of naivety to her, which I quite liked,” she says. “Diane be­lieves in the company she works for and has no rea­son to ques­tion what she’s be­ing told. But once she be­gins to grasp the full pic­ture of the con­se­quences of her job, she very quickly be­comes a truth-seeker”.

Money Mon­ster is Fos­ter’s fourth film as di­rec­tor and Balfe rev­elled in the op­por­tu­nity to be in­volved in the pro­ject. “She is just this in­cred­i­bly gen­er­ous, down-to-earth per­son who knows ex­actly what she wants and is able to ex­press that in such a di­rect and suc­cinct way; it was re­ally in­cred­i­ble to watch,” she says.

“One thing I found sur­pris­ing was her tech­ni­cal knowl­edge. Of course she’s been around film sets all her life, but I wasn’t ex­pect­ing her to have such prow­ess. She would even ask if I wanted to be taught about dif­fer­ent things, which was great. I al­ways think that it helps you as an actor to have all the in­for­ma­tion; yes, you’re a cog in this big wheel, but it’s so great to know what that whole wheel is do­ing.”

Far from the world of eco­nomic hostages, Balfe has re­turned to our screens in a sec­ond sea­son of Out­lander. Based on the best­selling books by Diana Ga­bal­don, Out­lander is a his- tor­i­cal drama whose first sea­son is set in the rugged Scot­tish High­lands. It fol­lows Claire, a mar­ried nurse dur­ing World War II, who is trans­ported back in time to 1743 where she falls in love with a high­lander named Jamie (played by Sam Heughan). In the sec­ond sea­son, which pre­miered on Fox­tel’s SoHo in April, Claire and Jamie are in France to un­der­mine the Ja­co­bite re­bel­lion and change the course of his­tory.

Since 2014, Out­lander has gar­nered crit­i­cal ac­claim world­wide, gained a fiercely loyal fan base, and re­ceived mul­ti­ple award nom­i­na­tions, in­clud­ing at last year’s Golden Globes.

Ba l fe can’t pin­point the pre­cise rea­sons be­hind the show’s suc­cess, but men­tions a “spe­cial alchemy” on set she hoped would trans­late to the screen. “Ob­vi­ously we knew that it was a very pop­u­lar book se­ries and you kind of hope that those core fans will trans­fer their love over to the show. But I don’t think any­one was pre­pared for the sheer amount of suc­cess. It’s done so well, I think most of us still get bowled over … We’re like, ‘re­ally?!’ ”

De­scribed by Buz­zfeed as the “fem­i­nist Game of Thrones”, Out­lander is praised for its bal­anced rep­re­sen­ta­tions of sex. The show has what Balfe refers to as “the best male fem­i­nist you could ever have at the head of a show” in the form of ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Ron­ald D. Moore. “In my first ever con­ver­sa­tion with Ron he was very adamant that the sex and the violence was never go­ing to be gra­tu­itous, that it would only be present if it was nec­es­sary to tell a cer­tain part of the story of this cou­ple,” she says.

Women ac­count for half of the Out­lander writ­ers’ room and fe­male di­rec­tors are the norm. “It’s al­ways been im­por­tant for us to keep that bal­ance,” Balfe says. She says Ga­bal­don’s source ma­te­rial has also en­abled the char­ac­ters, re­gard­less of their sex, to be de­vel­oped be­yond sur­face level con­cerns. “It’s a great thing about our show: yes, we have a cen­tral fe­male char­ac­ter, but the male char­ac­ters are just as well writ­ten and as com­plex as Claire,” she says. “I think you can get the con­verse on some shows where


Out­lander, Money Mon­ster, it’s a cen­tral male char­ac­ter, the fe­male char­ac­ters are just so thinly drawn and you don’t get a bal­anced view of re­la­tion­ships. It’s some­thing that I’m very proud of”.

So what does the fu­ture hold for Balfe? A third sea­son of Out­lander is likely, but not yet con­firmed. (Moore re­cently re­vealed on Twit­ter: “Noth­ing official yet but I’m very, very op­ti­mistic and we’re ac­tively start­ing to plan.”)

Balfe is re­luc­tant to dis­cuss po­ten­tial up­com­ing projects but says she is keen on chal­leng­ing roles. She is also happy to rule out a re­turn to the cat­walk any­time soon.

“There’s just too much I still want to try. I would love to do theatre and I would love to di­rect and pro­duce at some point,” she says. “For me it’s about hav­ing a long ca­reer, keep­ing my­self in­ter­ested and hope­fully con­tin­u­ing to be em­ploy­able — that would be good.” opens na­tion­ally on Thurs­day. airs on SoHo, Sun­days at 8.30pm.

Caitri­ona Balfe, main im­age; with Sam Heughan in top; with Do­minic West in right

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