Out­lander’s fierce and frank Caitri­ona Balfe.

Elle (Canada) - - #Sto­ry­board - By Sarah Laing

caitri­ona Balfe will talk about any­thing: her body image, her emo­tional state, even her pre­ferred place in his­tory to jour­ney to (al­though she’s pretty sick of that one af­ter two years of pro­mot­ing Out­lander, a show about time travel). Just, please, don’t ask her about “home.” “That’s a touchy one right now,” says the Ir­ish ac­tress rue­fully. “Right now, it’s my suit­case.”

Balfe is talk­ing to me over the phone from New York, where she just ar­rived that morn­ing. It has been a busy few months for the 36-year-old: She’d barely wrapped her du­ties on the sec­ond sea­son of Out­lander, the pop­u­lar and crit­i­cal-hit fan­tasy that earned her a Golden Globe nom­i­na­tion last year, be­fore she was back on the road to pro­mote her new film, Money Mon­ster, re­leased this May.

Chat­ting about the film (the ac­tion of which re­volves around a man who loses mil­lions af­ter a bad tip from an on­screen talk­ing head and then takes a TV stu­dio hostage), the Dublin na­tive re­veals “a fas­ci­na­tion with eco­nom­ics”— even though it “far out­weighs my knowl­edge or abil­ity to com­pre­hend.” Her char­ac­ter—a mem­ber of the com­mu­ni­ca­tions team for a huge cor­po­ra­tion—has a mo­ment of awak­en­ing that Balfe de­scribes as “ques­tion­ing her ac­tions as a lit­tle cog in a mas­sive wheel.” This is some­thing the for­mer model (who fronted cam­paigns for ev­ery­one from Os­car de la Renta to Dolce & Gab­bana) has also grap­pled with: “I’m an ac­tor and I used to be a model, and I ques­tion the con­se­quences of these pro­fes­sions on women, how women are per­ceived, how I per­ceive my­self be­cause of them, all the time,” ex­plains Balfe, who stopped modelling five years ago to fo­cus on her first love, act­ing.

“A few years ago, my friend Sara Ziff and her boyfriend at the time started mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary on the modelling in­dus­try [ Pic­ture Me, which Balfe co-pro­duced],” says Balfe. “That was a mo­ment that re­ally made me look at what we’re a part of—how it af­fects us as well as other peo­ple who look at the in­dus­try.” She pauses. “But at the same time, ev­ery­one does the best they can, and I don’t think any­one, or most peo­ple, starts out with ma­li­cious in­tent. But it’s im­por­tant to al­ways ques­tion these things.”

For Balfe, com­ing up through the “2-D world” of fash­ion was ex­cel­lent prep for the life of an ac­tress in what she de­scribes as a “very ap­pear­ance-cen­tric busi­ness.” But it cer­tainly hasn’t made her bul­let­proof: “I know how unattain­able most of those images are, but I’m still like ev­ery woman; there are days when I’m very much like ‘I don’t care what I look like, and why should I care what I look like?’ and then there are days when I feel ter­ri­bly in­se­cure and wish I wasn’t eat­ing the mas­sive bag of salt-and-vine­gar chips I’m eat­ing.”

Some­thing Balfe is very con­scious about when look­ing at po­ten­tial roles is whether that fe­male char­ac­ter “does” any­thing for women: “I hope that at some point I don’t need a job so badly that I play the in­con­se­quen­tial girl­friend or some­one who’s just there for gra­tu­itous ogling. I can’t ever see want­ing to do some­thing like that.”

That’s prob­a­bly one of the rea­sons Balfe lists Out­lander— a his­tor­i­cal fan­tasy epic set in Scot­land that is hailed by fem­i­nists for its nu­anced treat­ment of its male and fe­male pro­tag­o­nists—as her proud­est ac­com­plish­ment. There’s a warmth that en­ters Balfe’s gen­er­ally quite mea­sured voice when she talks about the show that has made her one of tele­vi­sion’s ris­ing stars. “We laugh a lot,” she says of life on the set. “It is usu­ally the most be­nign, ridicu­lous things that have us all in stitches.” (An ex­cep­tion is when Balfe is get­ting ready to film one of the show’s fairly fre­quent in­tense dra­matic scenes; she re­treats in­ward in­stead and lis­tens to some­thing from her “vast col­lec­tion of de­press­ing mu­sic”—“Song to the Siren” by This Mor­tal Coil is a re­cent favourite.)

She’s also ob­vi­ously close to her male co-stars: To­bias Men­zies, who plays her time-trav­el­ling char­ac­ter’s mod­ern hus­band, and Sam Heughan, who plays her Scot­tish 18th­cen­tury hus­band.

“We know each other so well,” she says. “With Sam es­pe­cially, we do so many fight scenes to­gether that I know what will push his but­tons; I can see in his eye when he’s about to go for my jugu­lar.”

Balfe is aware of how spe­cial her ex­pe­ri­ence with Out­lander is and how in­cred­i­bly warm its re­cep­tion has been. “I don’t think I had the ma­tu­rity that’s needed to be a lead on a show like this when I was in my 20s,” she re­flects. “I feel very grate­ful that I came back to act­ing when I did, be­cause I feel like I lived a life, I ob­served a lot in the world and I had sto­ries to tell. I think ev­ery­thing sort of hap­pened for a rea­son.” n

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