It’s a long way from the stoney grey soil of Mon­aghan

Out­lander’s Caitri­ona Balfe talks home-town mem­o­ries, find­ing love, and sex scenes

Irish Daily Mail - - Week­end - BY PA­TRI­CIA DANA­HER

CAITRI­ONA Balfe has lived a peri­patetic life, ever since her par­ents moved from West­meath to Mon­aghan when she was a tod­dler. Her fa­ther Jim was trans­ferred to the Garda bar­racks there as Garda sergeant in 1976 and with the Trou­bles sim­mer­ing and bub­bling away, the fa­ther of seven chil­dren was of­ten fear­ful for his safety when he left for work every morn­ing.

‘It wasn’t the eas­i­est time when we moved there. We were blow-ins and some peo­ple had no dif­fi­culty in let­ting us know di­rectly to our faces,’ she tells me over break­fast of mint tea, smashed av­o­cado and poached eggs at the Chateau Mar­mont.

The 37-year-old is wear­ing a colour­ful dress from Bri­tish de­signer Emilia Wick­stead, very light makeup on her flaw­less skin and the most sub­tle of di­a­mond rings.

‘I re­mem­ber a wo­man com­ing to our door one time to tell us that “our kind”, mean­ing cops and their fam­i­lies, were not wanted in Mon­aghan. My fa­ther would work crazy long shifts be­cause at that point there was 24-hour border pa­trol and he was head sergeant in the area. It’s in­sane now to think of Brexit and the whole idea that the border is go­ing to go back up again.

‘Any­one who grew up on the border re­mem­bers the check­points and sol­diers with ma­chine guns in cam­ou­flage. It is so de­struc­tive to com­mu­ni­ties on ei­ther side that you just hope it’s not go­ing to hap­pen again.’

Fast for­ward 30some­thing years and the Balfes are very much part of the fur­ni­ture and land­scape of Mon­aghan, and the same fa­ther who strug­gled to be ac­cepted in his of­fi­cial role, is one of the most pop­u­lar ac­tors in lo­cal drama in the town.

‘I think I got my love of act­ing from him, be­cause de­spite his pro­fes­sion, he was al­ways in­volved in per­form­ing com­edy sketches and he was part of a com­edy troupe that wrote and per­formed their own orig­i­nal ma­te­rial. They used to com­pete and win in Scór [drama con­tests] and they won All-Ireland medals. I have seen my 6ft 4in fa­ther in a wed­ding dress on stage! Be­ing a mid­dle child of seven, I was al­ways fight­ing for at­ten­tion and I used to dress up and do im­pres­sions of peo­ple to try to make the fam­ily laugh. I got in­volved in the Youth The­atre at the Beachill school. The first thing I ever did was a pro­duc­tion of Oliver! when I was seven, where I played Mr. Bum­ble.’

Caitri­ona got di­verted into mod­el­ling at 19, while study­ing act­ing at DIT, when she was spot­ted by a tal­ent scout out­side the Swan Cen­tre in Rath­mines, where she was col­lect­ing money for char­ity.

For the next ten years or so, she en­joyed a hugely suc­cess­ful and lu­cra­tive ca­reer as an in­ter­na­tional model for all the ma­jor de­sign houses, as well as Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret. She was a pop­u­lar face and a well­liked col­league, but she found the pro­fes­sion va­pid and ex­ploita­tive.

‘Most of the per­vi­ness had been cleaned up by the time I was work­ing, but I saw so many girls be­ing ex­ploited fi­nan­cially. I had money stolen from me that I had earned.I was for­tu­nate to have good rep­re­sen­ta­tion but still, you can get ex­ploited.’

When she took her courage in her hands seven years ago and moved to Los An­ge­les to study act­ing, she had a nice nest egg put aside which gave her the space to pur­sue the craft she had wanted since she was a small girl in Mon­aghan.

‘It’s been a huge re­lief to find my place in the pro­fes­sion and to be a part of such a suc­cess­ful TV show like Out­lander. There were a cou­ple of scary years af­ter I moved to LA that were very wor­ry­ing and I found my­self do­ing the typ­i­cal LA ac­tor thing of go­ing out for com­mer­cial au­di­tions when some of the act­ing ones weren’t work­ing out.’

Four years ago, Caitri­ona was cast as the lead in the hugely pop­u­lar show Out­lander, based on the book se­ries by Diane Gal­badon. She’s been nom­i­nated for a Bafta and a Golden Globe and this week it was re­vealed that she is one of the high­est-paid dra­matic ac­tresses on US TV, re­ceiv­ing $100,000 per show.

There are 12 books in the se­ries and three sea­sons have been recorded and broad­cast so far and they are about to be­gin film­ing the fourth. She could con­ceiv­ably play this part for years to come.

Caitri­ona moved with her cat Ed­die from Los An­ge­les to Glas­gow four years ago and this is her base while she is film­ing Out­lander.

‘Where feels like home? I’ve spent most time as an adult in the US and I love be­ing in LA but I am get­ting used to call­ing Glas­gow home at this point. I’m re­ally a gypsy. ‘I love the sun­shine and the healthy lifestyle in LA, lik­ing hik­ing and surf­ing and the food is so great. But Glas­gow has good restau­rants and a great vis­ual art and mu­sic scene. Mon­aghan will al­ways be home, but I think I’ve de­vel­oped the abil­ity to set­tle in any­where.’

She’s been in a very happy re­la­tion­ship with Brian McGill for the past two years. He’s based in Lon­don and works in the fi­nan­cial world.

‘We met through friends in the UK and I’m very happy. He’s from a small fam­ily and when I’ve bring him to Mon­aghan, he’s fine for a few days and then he finds the big, noisy Balfe fam­ily a bit over­whelm­ing. I have more sta­bil­ity in my life now than I’ve ever had.

‘I’m lucky to be on a show that films in the same place, be­cause all the mov­ing around you do as an ac­tor can be so tax­ing on a re­la­tion­ship.

‘I think at this point in my life, I’ve made all the mis­takes and hope­fully from do­ing work on my­self, I’ve learned how to make things work in a re­la­tion­ship. It’s not an in­nate skill that ev­ery­one has. It’s in­ter­est­ing when you’ve gone

I got my love of act­ing from Dad. I have seen my 6ft 4in fa­ther in a wed­ding dress on stage

through many re­la­tion­ships and you’ve been on all sides of the ar­gu­ment, so to speak.

‘I’m in a very nice place in my life. Things are go­ing good and it’s nice to feel con­fi­dent and to feel that you know your­self bet­ter. Grow­ing up dur­ing the Trou­bles I think makes you aware when you look at con­flict. I re­mem­ber cousins com­ing to visit us from the South and they would be ter­ri­fied of go­ing through check­points. I think the ex­pe­ri­ence made me less fear­ful of go­ing to un­known places and also made me more sen­si­tive when I see con­flict in other places.

‘Go­ing to school in Mon­aghan was hard at the start, be­cause of be­ing a blow-in and also be­cause ev­ery­one seemed to cousins. Maybe that’s why I al­ways wanted to travel. I was al­ways a rolling stone.’

She hasn’t bought a place in Glas­gow yet al­though she has grown to love it. In­creas­ingly, she is think­ing about buy­ing a place on the west coast of Ireland, ei­ther in Donegal where the fam­ily went on hol­i­days reg­u­larly, or in Kerry which she has grown to love.

‘It was my mum’s 70th birth­day re­cently and we all got to­gether in Kil­lar­ney. Be­tween the seven chil­dren and their spouses and chil­dren, there were about 27 or 28 of us. It’s my tribe and I love that.

‘It’s fan­tas­tic be­ing part of a big fam­ily. There is al­ways some­one to go to if you are go­ing through some­thing in your life. They all have real jobs. One sis­ter is a sci­en­tist and one of my broth­ers is a garda. I’m num­ber four in our big, loud, messy fam­ily.

The only draw­back was be­ing the third sis­ter, so I got a lot of hand-me-downs. I am also an aw­ful lot shorter than my sis­ters, if you can be­lieve that. I am the runt of the fam­ily!’

Two of her sis­ters live in Lon­don with their fam­i­lies and the Balfes get to­gether reg­u­larly for Sun­day brunch.

Her best friends from her school­days in Mon­aghan still num­ber among her clos­est friends to­day – one lives in Lon­don and the other lives in Ed­in­burgh and they all re­main tight.

When there are sex scenes in Out­lander – and they are plen­ti­ful – her sis­ters and mother ‘pro­tect’ their fa­ther by warn­ing him in ad­vance and send­ing him out. ‘He is very proud of all of his chil­dren and I think proud that I’m do­ing some­thing that I love and that makes me happy. He ob­vi­ously doesn’t watch cer­tain things and I don’t think any fa­ther needs to watch that stuff!

‘I think they all watch bits and pieces of the show, but for broth­ers and fa­thers, I think it’s a lit­tle dif­fi­cult to watch, but my mum and my sis­ters, they all watch.’

She loves re­turn­ing to Mon­aghan, and flies over from Glas­gow reg­u­larly. In the tiny bit of free time she has, she has been writ­ing a script for a movie set in Mon­aghan which she hopes to di­rect one day.

‘At the end of the day, I’m a coun­try girl who grew up climb­ing trees and muck­ing out. We grew up on the po­etry of Pa­trick Ka­vanagh and the land­scape of Mon­aghan is very much im­printed in me. It’s a much more vi­brant place now than when I was grow­ing up.

‘We didn’t have a cin­ema in the town when I lived there and I still re­mem­ber the first time I was al­lowed to take the bus to Castle­blaney to go to the cin­ema. Robin Hood was the first film I ever saw in the cin­ema – Kevin Cost­ner in all his glory on the big screen in Castle­blaney!’

She has a few weeks free be­fore re­turn­ing to Scot­land and as we say good­bye she is off to spend the day in Mal­ibu with a good friend for her birth­day.

Caitri­ona is a cit­i­zen of the world, at home ev­ery­where.

Mon­aghan will al­ways be home but I’ve de­vel­oped the abil­ity to set­tle in any­where

Great Scot: Caitri­ona Balfe and Sam Heughan in Out­lander

Big earner: Caitri­ons Balfe has be­come one of the higest-paid ac­tresses in the US

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