Prior to her acting career, she walked the runways for brands ranging from Chanel to Victoria’s Secret.
Prior to playing time-traveling doctor Claire Fraser, actress Caitriona Balfe had a successful modeling career, walking the runways for fashion houses like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Givenchy, and brands including Victoria’s Secret.
“I was privileged to work frequently with Karl Lagerfeld in my early career as a model. Those were truly the highlights of my career back then especially when I got to work with him as a photographer,” she wrote on Instagram, eulogizing Lagerfeld when he died in 2019. “He was a true icon and a creative genius. I am so grateful I was fortunate enough to meet and work with him.
But not everything about her modeling experience was positive. During a recent appearance on the podcast Thanks a Million, Balfe opened up about how “tough” the industry could be.
“You’re supposed to just automatically be this fun, interesting, edgy person that fashion people want to be around, but then at the same time, you have to be so skinny and so androgynous,” Balfe said.
“[I was] constantly being compared to people. I think, as a young woman in your teens and twenties, that’s really really hard.”
She continued, detailing the criticism she faced, as a regular part of her job.
“There’s so many times where you would go in to castings or even fittings for jobs that you already supposedly had and somebody in the room would just be annihilating how you look or your lack of personality or you talk too much,” she said. “All in front of you, and it’s really tough. I have so much admiration for girls who can come through that unscathed.”
During the conversation, Balfe was clear that her career as a model provided her with opportunities she might not have received otherwise, but they came at a cost.
“In one way, it opens up so many doors and it does open your mind to so many things and it does give you an incredible education in a certain way. But in another way, it infantilizes you and it stunts you in so many other ways, and I think it takes a while to sort of like rebalance all of that,” she said.
Now, of course, Balfe is an actress, not only appearing in Outlander, but also feature films like Ford vs Ferrari. Additionally, she’s starting to work behind the camera; for season five of Outlander, she served as a producer, and she recently secured the rights to Sarah Crossan’s novel Here Is the Beehive. She’ll be working alongside Ocean Independent, the production arm of talent agency Emptage Hallett on that project.
Listen to the whole episode here:
Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.
In this week’s episode, Debra Birnbaum chats with “Outlander” star Caitriona Balfe about the fourth season of the hit Starz show. As Claire Randall, a time-traveling nurse balancing both family and love, Balfe finds herself juggling romance with some horrors of early American life in the new season.
“Claire, especially last season, was very much focused on her professional life and this idea that she was this trailblazing professional women in the ’50s and ’60s, and that was really gratifying to play,” Balfe says.
This season, though, the actress continues, “we get to see this woman, and this couple, choose their home and sort of choose how they want to live their life and what that community that they want to build from the ground up, what that will become.”
Some of the challenges of the new season came for Balfe with a storyline that saw her character encountering slavery up close and person, as well as one in which Native American characters force Claire and Jamie (Sam Heughan) to confront land expansion.
“I think in this process of adaptation… it’s a fine line of how you tell these stories,” Balfe says. “Those are never nice subjects when you have to come upon them, but I think it’s important that those conversations are still happening. You have to address it.”
“Outlander” saw immense success as an eight-part book series, but when the television adaptation aired in 2014, Balfe says she wasn’t sure if the series would stick around. Luckily, she says, fans of the books also took to the show, which now boasts four seasons and more than 70 episodes.
“They really embraced us from the start, but…what’s been so nice is that we’ve managed to branch out of that, and the show has sort of won its own fans,” Balfe says. “It’s been quite a wild ride, but it’s been a good one.”
The secret behind the adaptation’s success, she believes, is executive producer Ronald D. Moore whose inspiration for the show comes from the books themselves.
“I think that if you have people who are in the show [and] who are making the show, if they are fans, they retain the essence of what the book fans really love,” Balfe says.
At the same time, however, she says both Moore and the show’s other executive producers are still able to make each episode tell its own story. After all, “you still have to make TV for TV’s sake,” she says.