By Luaine Lee
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
PASADENA, Calif. –When Caitriona Balfe headed for L.A. to become an actress she’d already spent 10 years as an international high fashion model. She’d left home at 18, answering an invitation to Paris to shimmy down the runway.
But her dream was to be an actress, and modeling proved an impediment. “You pick up a lot of bad habits in the modeling world in comparison to acting,” she says in a noisy restaurant here, the sound reverberating off the etched glass walls.
“Modeling is all about the ‘poised’ look, everything you do has to look a certain way. Whereas in acting you can’t care about what you look like. It’s all about what you feel or what your intention is, or what the other person’s intention is. You have to throw all that self-awareness out the window. I worked really hard and thank God it paid off.”
It paid off in a massive way when she was cast as the time-traveling combat nurse who is thrust back to 18th Century Scotland in Starz’s smash hit, “Outlander.”
But Balfe was sweating over casting calls for two years before she snagged any kind of acting job. “I was lucky. Obviously from modeling I’d saved quite a bit, so I was in that sense, I was very lucky. I could come here and I didn’t have to wait tables or any of that. But straightaway I took classes and spent a year and a half just taking classes and just working on my craft and sort of learning.”
Her very first acting job in L.A., found her playing a dead woman with no dialogue in J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8.” Everything seemed rosy for a brief moment of time. But just before “Outlander,” Balfe was unemployed for a hopeless stretch of time.
“That was really hard because you’d get close on a few things, so that carrot’s always dangling,” she sighs.
You’d think, ‘I’m getting close so I must be doing something right, but I’m not getting it. So what does that mean?’ When I first moved here I thought, ‘Oh, that’s fine. I’m in a bubble of delusion that’s how I’m getting through all the rejections.’
“But then you begin to wonder, are you really deluding yourself because so many people come here with the dream to work? But I knew that I was a hard worker and that I had something to bring to characters, and that it was something I loved to do. So I didn’t have any desire for huge fame or anything like that. I just wanted to be a working actor. I’m really glad it worked out.”
Part of the reason it worked out is because the Irish Balfe (who pronounces her first name Katrina) admits she’s both stubborn and inflexible. “Everyone in my family are hard workers, and we’re all quite strong-willed,” says Balfe, who’s wearing a gathered skirt and a black blouse with ruffles down the placket.
“I think those are good qualities as long as you keep them in check. My dad’s probably more stubborn than my mom, but my mom raised five children. And by the time my little brother was 5 or 6, my parents became foster parents. There’s always been so many kids in our house. I have a foster brother and sister who came to us when they were 1 and 2 and they’re now 26 and 27. Both my parents are hard workers,” she adds.
“My father was a police sergeant and he worked very hard and. . . we didn’t grow up with loads of money or anything like that, but they always worked very hard to give us whatever we needed.”
Being No. 4 of five kids, she says she was always vying for attention. “But also it generates a lot of independence. . . so you’re very self-sufficient in that sense. I left home at 17, went to college. After a year, I moved to Paris then lived in Japan, Germany, Italy, France, and you have to rely on yourself a lot.”
Unmarried, she says she’d like to have a family someday. “I think it puts things in perspective and keeps you grounded. My sisters manage it and they’re both an inspiration to me. They’re very successful career women. My one sister is manager of human relations in Hong Kong. The other one is a quality manager at a pharmaceuticals company in Dublin.”
Balfe, 38, won’t say whether she has a boyfriend or not, but insists she doesn’t date actors. “I haven’t and I won’t. I have friends who are fantastic actors, but I think two people in a relationship who have this up-and-down career, for me it wouldn’t work. That’s not to take away from lovely actor men. Being handsome is fine, but don’t marry somebody who has to make money off their handsomeness.”
By Luaine Lee