CAITRIONA Balfe is giving a masterclass in how to move in restrictive 18th-century garb. The Outlander star looks like plane coming in to land during strong crosswinds, swaying left and right above the runway. Finally someone appears with a backless director’s chair and she plonks her behind down, breathing a sigh of relief.
When we meet the Dublin-born actor is at Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld where the historical romance drama series – set in Scotland just before the 1745 Jacobite rising – is filmed.
The second season of Outlander will see the action switch to the opulence of Paris as Balfe’s character Claire and her husband Jamie – a swashbuckling Highlander played by Sam Heughan – attempt to infiltrate the brewing Jacobite rebellion led by Charles Edward Stuart.
Balfe smiles when asked how she is coping with the mechanics of ostentatious French fashion. “It is obviously very beautiful, but there are certain restrictions so it can get a little trying,” she admits. How long does a bathroom break take? “Quite a while because it all has to come off first.”
As for Balfe, the 36-year-old actor has won a legion of fans in her role as Claire, a strong female lead that doesn’t flinch from breaking convention. Many are captivated by her sizzling on-screen chemistry with co-star Heughan, who plays Jamie.
Balfe, who was a model before moving into film and television, is sanguine when asked why millions of viewers have become so emotionally invested in the couple. “There is something about the equality of power in that relationship,” she says. “You have two fully formed characters who are equals. They challenge each other, allow each other to grow and sometimes force each other to grow. I think that is what people respond to.
“It is an imperfect relationship, but because of that it is sort of perfect. It is something that everyone can relate to. At the end of the day, they really support and care for one another. It does feel like they are soulmates.”
Does she have that in her own life? “Erm …” Balfe pauses for several seconds. “No,” she says finally. Is it what she would like? “Umm, let’s leave it at that.”
She is on steadier ground talking about the wider themes in the show, including the overwhelming sense of displacement she believes is part of Outlander’s global appeal.
“Diana [Gabaldon] says a lot of her readers are people in the army who have to experience these long distance [separations] with either their husband or wife,” she says. “These are situations that affect a lot of people in today’s modern world.
“Our economies are so global that people don’t stay in one little place all the time, but we still have that yearning for a home spot – a place we feel rooted and connected.”
In person Balfe is disarmingly charming, speaking in a soft Irish accent that is strikingly different to the clipped English tones of her character Claire. Her dark hair is piled artistically on top of her head with a single ringlet hanging down, curled delicately towards a swan-like neck.
Balfe’s already tiny waist is cinched by a tight corset, a white pendant on a silver chain nestled atop her heaving bosom (yup, this is 18th-century Parisian costuming in all its rib-crunching glory).
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