Outlander’s Caitriona Balfe Is A Cynic, Like Me

Photographed by Danielle Kosann

I will admit, it was my Mom who first told me to watch Starz’s series Outlander (anyone who’s a fan knows being tipped off to this show by your Mom, or watching it with your Mom might be a tad awkward) but, upon watching it by myself, I immediately fell into the romantic escapism of it that has so many wonderful elements. You really do kind of fall into this show, you want to step into the screen. There’s time travel, spirituality, history, romance: It’s all there. But really from the get go, one of my favorites part of Outlander was its lead – the wonderful Caitriona Balfe – who I always felt brings serious acting chops and authenticity to the series. 

Sitting across from Balfe at the Tata Suite at the Pierre Hotel, I realized one thing pretty quickly: She might just be one of the chillest humans I’ve interviewed. Yes, “chill” is truly the word for it. And when I asked her if she’s a romantic Balfe didn’t think twice: “I don’t think I’m a romantic I think actually I am pretty cynical. I think this show definitely made me more romantic…but yeah, Valentines Day is not my thing. I know. My poor husband.” 

A cynic talking to a cynic: These are my favorite kinds of interviews. 

I suggested that maybe she’s an old soul, rather than a romantic (as I know Balfe is a voracious reader) and to that Balfe characterized herself as somewhat of a blend: “I’m very young at heart, but combined with a bit of an old soul. I have two sides of myself, one side is this crazy-likes-to-party side, and then the other side is likes-to-hibernate-and-keep-quiet-and-read. Those two sides constantly battle and that’s why I’m crazy!” 

OK this was getting witchy. And it was the last line of her answer I especially loved. I’ve always been convinced all the best people are crazy.

To rewind some odd years, Balfe first got her start in modeling, an opportunity that arose while she was at drama school in Dublin, “I got scouted, and it was like ‘OK I can stay in Dublin in this shitty theater program or move to Paris.’ So I said ‘I’m moving to Paris.’ So then I was living in New York and it was coming up to almost a decade doing modeling, and I was miserable. I was in a bad relationship and I wasn’t doing what I wanted in life…So I broke up with the bad relationship and moved to LA and started taking acting classes.” 

Something I think was key to Balfe’s success is she never really considered things wouldn’t go her way: “I was very naive and I lived in a little bubble of delusion that it was going to work out. I think that was the best thing. I didn’t know how I was going to get a job but I was just like…‘It’ll happen.’” 

When I expressed how rare and refreshing that was to hear about an actresses’ start, Balfe chimed in pretty quickly, “I mean I’d come out of fashion so I was deeply insecure and my self confidence was in the toilet. I think that’s what happens after spending ten years in the fashion industry.” 

(I agreed with that last sentiment whole-heartedly.)

“But I loved that I had those years to study and get my feet back underneath me properly.” Balfe said. 

One thing I’ve read about Outlander, is there’s real effort to staff female writers as well as female directors. It when we got on the topic of what work’s still to be done for gender equality that there was obviously a lot to say. And I loved everything Balfe said about it so I’l need to do the full quote:

“Oh god, there’s so much to be done. It’s crazy that it feels like it’s revolutionary or that we are ‘championing’ by trying to have parity when the world is split 50/50 female, male…Why is there such a skew?” Balfe quipped.

That is the perennial question. 

Balfe went on, “It’s one thing talking about writers and directors, but it’s also really the crew. When you look at why the crew is so male skewed you also look at the hours that people work. At entry level you get a lot of young women, but if you want to have a family you can’t work those hours. So we have an entire camera crew who are all male. All their partners have had kids in the six and a half years that we’ve been doing this show. And they get to go to work and they get to have their career and they get to advance and move up the ladder. But if there were any women in that position they would have to take time off, they would have to be moved out of the ladder of ascension in their career because they have to make that choice of ‘Do you want to have kids or do you want to have a career?’ And that I think is something we really need to keep discussing. Because it then affects who becomes Directors of Photography, who becomes first ADs, who becomes producers. And it’s all of these positions of power that I think affect how the atmosphere is on a crew. Or the type of material that gets greenlit.” 

I sat nodding whole-heartily in agreement and at some point Balfe looked at me and said, “Sorry I can go on about this for a very long time.” 

I asked her to please…go on. 

“That’s why you’re still finding that we can have a female director come on to our show, but if she is trying to manage a crew that is 99% male skewed, how much influence can she really have? Because she might say something and then gets completely overruled by the technical side of things with the camera crew and the DP. I see it all the time. There’s so much work to still be done.”

When I followed up about the culture of Outlander, inquiring if it’s a good one she was quick to say this: “Oh my god yes, and I think that we really try very hard to have that kind of balance, but it’s still a very male skewed crew. And I think you find that everywhere. And it’s tough to change the culture.” 

I particularly enjoyed talking with Balfe about her most recent film – Ford v Ferrari – and what that set was like: 

“It was amazing to see Christian and Matt.- how they worked with no ego. I think it’s just such a great lesson to see that people who get to the pinnacle of their careers – like them – their main focus is still the work. And it was very much like whatever Jim (the director) needed, whatever was needed to make the scene, that they were just there for the work. And that’s a beautiful thing. And I think both of them are the kind of actors that I admire and aspire to be. And Tracy Letts as well, these really amazing, talented creative people — they don’t care about the bullshit. It’s all about the work. And I think that’s a really lovely reminder.” 

By “bullshit,” Balfe meant the skewed priorities of certain actors, “I think you can see with other actors: It just becomes about being a brand.” 

(Cut to our mockumentary about social media celebrities.)

Looking into who so many of Balfe’s fans are, I especially wanted to ask her what her advice would be for young women growing into themselves and trying to find their voice, to which she said: 

“I think you have to speak up. The difference between growing up as a young woman and growing up as a young man is that somehow…men don’t seem to have that fear of ‘oh god, what if I say something — how will that be perceived?’ They just kind of go and do it. And I think that’s something that we need to do more of as women. Own that space. Take up that seat. Put your voice forward. Don’t worry about how it looks or how it sounds, just take up the space. And it’s unfortunate that that space isn’t just given to you, but at the same time if you don’t take it then somebody else will and they probably will have a penis.”

On that last note we all cracked up. And then I promised to end the interview with that, and I will keep my promise. To the possible chagrin of Balfe’s PR team…

Here is Caitriona Balfe’s ideal food day…

Brunch is probably my favorite meal ever. So it has to start with eggs…as long as there’s black Americano and eggs I’m good. Then I would go have ramen somewhere. Momofuku, why not? Let’s go there. And then I’d go for sushi. And then I’d get drunk and I would have a burger.

*Location courtesy of The Pierre New York, A Taj Hotel

40 thoughts on “Outlander’s Caitriona Balfe Is A Cynic, Like Me

  1. Thank you for that endearing article – it’s refreshing to see actors as people and not a version of their character or being out of reach from “normal” – the pictures capture so much emotion and raw truth into who Caitriona is. I think sometimes as a fan, I tend to forget actors are people and sometimes their opinions do align with mine ( not always, especially politically ) but when in comes to women’s equality in a male dominated world, there is too many women who are afraid to rock the boat ; glad to see an influencing voice not sway from her convictions .

  2. A great interview with Caitriona as always. She is always straightforward with her answers and no beating around the bush. Hopefully in her time she will get to see the changes she is advocating for.

    1. Really enjoyed your interview, and admire Caitriona’s first hand knowledge and responses! Thanks so much ladies!

  3. Wow, the very best interview of Catriona I have read. I feel as though I know her as a person……..very grounded. Plus, I think I could really follow that diet! No wonder I’m not succeeding with others.

  4. Perhaps one of the best interviews I have read about Balfe.. She explains the dilemma of women in film, and her advice about stepping up is so true,.

  5. @caitrionambalfe. Is a person who has a very special arura. You feel when she walks into a room. You will be getting the real person not someone superficial. Caitriona has a beautiful soul,kind hearted,fun,honest not to mention beautiful inside and out. I appreciate all her hard work and dedication to bring us entertainment to our homes. Caitriona Is a brilliant actress and very talented, I have so much love and respect for her❤💕 I would love to hang out enjoy some sushi and party all night. Just have fun talk ,laugh,cry or whatever. But drink and party with everyone in the bar. Lol

  6. Yes, a wonderful insightful interview. Just let them talk! I am sharing her comments with my 21 year old daughter who just got her first “real” job. Caitriona is a great role model.

    1. I feel sharing her comments with young women would be valuable. My oldest granddaughter is ready for university. I think this would be good info for her hear. Actually it would be good for all of my granddaughters to hear.

  7. Great interview. Enjoy her acting and look forward to following her career. Love that she is straight up, no nonsense and has her head on straight.

  8. This was a very good interview that focused Caitriona as a very intriguing woman!! Not her age, not who she’s dating, not her stellar acting skills….just a Caitriona that we hadn’t heard from before!! Well done!!

  9. Loved the quiet reflection Cait exuded in this interview. You ask great probing questions. Super smart dialogue. And to Cait’s last point … she’s so right!

  10. Best interview ever with the exceptionally talented, brave and very real Catriona Balfe. So glad that you just let her talk. Thank you. Love the Pierre and miss Manhattan.

  11. Was an exceptional interview and very insightful. Learned a lot about her I never realized. She seems quite intelligent and spotaneous in life and on the show. I think there ought to be more tolerance for women to succed as well with or without children because men do dominate the work world and look down on women….but the tend is changing. I just hope the change will be reasonable fo all.

  12. Fantastic, grounded, authentic article. I am that women. Broke through to higher level leadership while raising children and leading almost all male teams. It’s a grind and unfortunately high risk. Will your relationship survive? Will you ever be granted real access into a continued male dominated business world? Will your children hate you for putting them second to a career even though what you were doing the whole time was putting them first ? In the end will you look back and say it was worth all the effort and sacrifice? I want but can’t answer that question just yet…
    Thank you Ms. Balfe for keeping it real and bringing this subject to the forefront.

  13. I love Cait’s honesty. She gives 0 fucks about censoring her thoughts and comments. Plus, the girls got mad acting skills❤️

  14. Maybe the camera equipment and work is too harduous for females and that’s why not many women are in the job. It’s not just hard for women to succeed but men as well – especially in this day and age.

  15. What a great interview. I am a great admirer of C B and the professionalisms she maintains at all times. Even when being silly with the rest of the cast. Her portrayal of Claire in Outlander through all the time travel is so important for women today! Good job Laura!

  16. Cait’s beauty and talent is matched by her intelligent articulate manner. She is a person of substance and integrity.

  17. Go back to Genesis, when the Lord basically says to Eve, because of what you’ve done, the female sex will always be behind the male sex, and unfortunately that’s true. And the female sex was created to have children and children need both parents, especially the mother. So females today do have to choose motherhood or career? the only way she can have it both ways is if she has a very supportive husband or family and they raise their children together. Otherwise, the children lose out and you can see that in our society today. We have a lot of angry adults walking around. I have experienced both; I had my career and then I had my child and was fortunate to be able to stay home and work to raise her. I feel sorry for the males, as there is no way they can even begin to understand this, as they are not female!! We also have to remember as an actor, the work is usually pretty sporadic, so you have to do something to fall back on. So do you do all the other “bullshit?” I think you better if you want to survive, especially for a male providing for a family. There are a lot of actors who have ended up homeless because they did not do the “bullshit.”

  18. I think Catriona speaks from a position of power. Her words are true but the majority of women don’t begin acting from her position. She spent 10 years making all kinds of money just because she was beautiful. She is strikingly beautiful and tall and just happens to be a good actress but she got the part because of that beauty. Most women have not been gifted with her physical traits and thus have to make concessions to careers or life.

  19. Wonderful article. She jut seems so genuine when you listen to her. Now I can’t wait to meet her at the Cleveland wizard world comic con even if only to get my photo, an autograph and a selfie taken with her.

  20. Great advice. The older I get the more I wish I lived without fear from a younger age. As soon as we women learn to stop giving a sh** about what others think, the easier it is to speak up and step up. But too often this comes with age. We need our younger people to unite and women to stop holding each other back.

  21. Amazing article and with ideas I’d never read quite like that before. I’m not into acting at all but I do feel the neglect that because I’m a woman of not being taken seriously much of the time. Even in my own sphere, because women tend to be discounted so often, I get the same concerns. Perhaps it’s simply a sex issue and systemic in our world. But thanks for the glorious photos and beautifully written info.

  22. Loved this interview! One of the best I’ve ever read. Caitriona is such a fantastic role model. I will share this with my 17 and 22 year old daughters.

  23. She’s right about us women speaking up about how we feel and what we want in life and who cares what other people think!I admire her spunk and how smart she is .

  24. Great interview. Caitriona is definitely her own person and doesn’t mind stating her opinion. She advocates for women. I admire her very much.

  25. Outstanding…because of a truly interested interviewer, and a deeply empathetic interviewee. Lovely, and now empowered, Caitriona Balfe is endeavoring to learn what gender equality means in the BUSINESS of creative film making – at a distinguished level.
    Caitriona’ acting skills and grounded demeanor profits an entire entertainment industry. Her intelligent and indefatigable work effort comes from within, something to emulate.
    I’m quite confident that she’ll continue to fabulously blossom as a leading actress, and I hope as a writer and director as well.
    Only the best.

    1. Loveable Caitriona’ acting skills and brilliant demeanor are simply extraordinary. Her indefatigable work effort comes from within, something to admire.
      I’m trusting that she’ll continue to grow beautifully as a leading actress, and I hope as a writer and director as well. I join all who wish only the best.

  26. i think she is pretty darn lucky she was picked for Outlander. and i don’t mean that in a bitchy way only that it is something special and has given those actors a place to shine and make the most of their talents. She is perfect in every way for the role of Claire.

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