The Stunning Transformation Of Caitríona Balfe

Few shows have had as big a cultural impact as "Outlander." Based on the novels by Diana Gabaldon, the show follows a World War II nurse who finds herself transported to 17th-century Scotland when she finds magical stones in the Highlands. The show was Caitríona Balfe's big break — previously, the Irish actor had worked as a model and appeared in only a few small productions. However, since playing "Outlander's" Claire, she has become one of TV's most recognizable faces. She has also landed roles in films like "Ford v Ferrari" alongside Matt Damon and Christian Bale and Kenneth Branagh's Oscar-winning "Belfast."

With "Outlander" nearing its series finale in 2023, Balfe is looking ahead to new projects such as the upcoming "The Amateur," as the era draws to a close. It's the perfect time to reflect on her career so far. So, without further ado, here is the stunning transformation of Caitríona Balfe.

Caitríona Balfe upbringing in Northern Ireland colored the rest of her life

Caitríona Balfe was born in 1979 in the rural village of Tydavnet near the Northern Irish border. Her upbringing in Ireland has colored her entire life. "It's such a part of the fabric of your life when you live in those areas," she told Vanity Fair in 2022. "It's really not until you get older that you look back and you realize the craziness of it, or the strangeness of it."

And by the sounds of things, it was certainly an abnormal place to grow up. Growing up so close to the border, Balfe was used to being surrounded by British soldiers and once even found herself in the middle of a bomb scare. 

Her father was a garda, the national name for the Irish police force, and she was sometimes bullied for it. "Let's say being the daughter of a garda in 1980s borderland counties was not the easiest thing," she later told The Irish Times.

Caitríona Balfe was a voracious reader as a child

As a young girl, Caitríona Balfe filled most of her time with reading. In fact, when she was young, her father took away the family's TV, so instead, she looked to literature for stories and entertainment. As she told The Irish Times, she raced through the classics, including Emily Brontë, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and Robert Pirsig — she also was a fan of modern writers like Ian McEwan. 

When Balfe reached adulthood, her love of literature continued to be a big part of her life. "You always find her on set with a book," her co-star Maria Doyle Kennedy said. "She's a ferocious reader." And, in 2019, Balfe told Stylist, "I could just lock myself away and just read for a month, which would be so lovely."

She even started her own book club on Instagram where she posts vides about what she's reading for her fans. "First rule of book club.... We read ! Then we talk..!" she wrote in one of the first posts in 2020.

Caitríona Balfe grew up wanting to act

From a very young age, Caitríona Balfe knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life: acting. "It's in you, right?" she said to Backstage when asked about her first inspirations. "Like it's something you're either cursed with, you know, this need for attention and need to perform and all those things," she added, laughing.

Not only was she the fourth of seven children and therefore used to seeking out attention, she also had acting in her blood. After all, her father was something of an amateur actor himself, having appeared in a comedy troupe. "If my dad has some inclination towards it, there is probably something passed down," she mused to The Irish Times. Plus, she added, acting offered a much-needed form of escapism. "[T]here wasn't an awful lot of things to do," she said.

When she got older, Balfe pursued her passion for acting taking a course at the Dublin Institute of Technology.

Caitríona Balfe moved to Paris and began working as a model

Before Caitríona Balfe finished her course at drama school, she was scouted by a modeling agent. "I took what I thought was going to be a year out," she told Backstage, "and I never went back. Very, very bold of me."

Balfe dove into her unexpected modeling career, setting off for Paris. "I always just wanted to travel," she explained to Vanity Fair. "Growing up, we never did that — there were too many of us. We didn't have the money."

Even though Balfe had always dreamed of acting, modeling also appealed to her innate desire to perform. As she put it, "There was something about the theatricality of the runway shows — and the event of it — that I really loved." And she was pretty good at it. She appeared in shows for all of the big designers, including Chanel, Alexander McQueen, and Valentino, and even walked the runway as a Victoria's Secret Angel. And so, for a while at least, she committed herself to a career in the modeling industry.

Caitríona Balfe moved to New York City as her relationship with modeling soured

Throughout her 20s, Caitríona Balfe's modeling career careened from success to success. She modeled all over the world but eventually found herself settled down in New York City. "That's been the longest of anywhere since I left Ireland," she told Backstage in 2020. After a decade of modeling, Balfe began to crave something new. "For the last couple of years [of modeling] I was miserable, really," she confessed to Vanity Fair. "It's not exactly the nicest industry or the healthiest industry."

So, discontented with modeling, she revisited her passion for acting, first taking a few classes and later landing a tiny role as one of the "clackers" in the 2006 film "The Devil Wears Prada." "I think they just came to modeling agencies and were like, 'We need a bunch of women who can walk in heels,'" she recalled of the lucky break during an appearance on "The Hollywood Reporter's Awards Chatter" podcast. "My agency knew I wanted to act and if people would come looking for stuff, they were sending me out to a few auditions." 

Caitríona Balfe moved to LA to start an acting career

When Caitríona Balfe had finally had enough of modeling, she decided to take a leap of faith into the world of acting — so, she left New York behind and set off for Los Angeles. "LA is where I came and said, 'OK, this is what I wanna do with my life,'" she said to Backstage of her first impressions. She continued taking classes — one was even a $5 class. As she told The Irish Times, "These are the weird things I did when I was wanting to be an actor in LA when I first got here."

In fact, it sounds like Balfe's early years in L.A. were filled with bold, "weird" decisions. For one thing, she only knew one person in the city when she moved. Balfe knew that moving to LA was a bit crazy — but she committed to living in a "bubble of delusion." As she put it, "I guess ultimately I was like: 'I can make this work.'"

At first, following her dream of acting wasn't easy

Life in L.A. was anything but easy for Caitríona Balfe when she first arrived. Initially, she faced rejection after rejection. "I started from scratch. I didn't have any managers, I didn't know any agents, I hadn't acted in almost a decade," she told Backstage of her initial struggles to land work.

But even though Balfe dealt with lots of rejection, she persevered. Luckily, modeling had given her a thick skin that served her well. "In an audition, if it didn't work out, it wasn't always because you didn't do a good job, or you weren't good," she explained to The Guardian. "It was other arbitrary things like your name's not big enough. Which can also be soul-destroying, but I don't know, it's different."

Balfe did land a few roles, but they were few and far between. In 2011, she had a small role in the film "Super 8." In 2012, she landed a guest role on "The Beauty Inside" and the show "H+." In 2013, there were several films: "Crush," "Now You See Me," and "Escape Plan." Slowly, she was building a stronger CV.

Caitríona Balfe landed her big break with Outlander in 2014

Everything changed for Caitríona Balfe in 2014 when she landed the lead role on the much-hyped Starz show "Outlander." "It was a total crapshoot," Balfe later recalled of the audition for the show while speaking to The Guardian. "I had done a few jobs, nothing of note really. I was living in LA and I was really struggling, actually, it was about four or five months since I'd had a job." 

At the time, she didn't realize how big the book series was. "I wasn't even aware of the book series when I got the first audition," she said to Vogue. "Apparently, they had been searching for [Claire] for a very long time."

Balfe landed the role when she was about to head off on a holiday in India. Because her career was going slowly in LA, she decided to leap headfirst into a new life, filming in Scotland. "I didn't realize I'd still be there almost eight and a half years later," she later admitted to The Guardian. 

Caitríona Balfe shot to fame almost instantly afterward

Almost as soon as "Outlander" came out, Caitríona Balfe became one of TV's biggest names. Ronald D. Moore, who developed "Outlander," had warned Balfe about just how life-changing the role would be. "I walked her to the elevator, and just before the doors closed on her, I said, 'Your life is about to change forever,'" he said to Backstage, recalling the day she was cast. "And she gave me a grin that was both thrilled and slightly nervous. I never saw her hesitate after that."

The first episode premiered at Comic Con. "It was insane," she told Vogue. Soon enough, she began to notice her fame growing. As she told Backstage, she had only a few hundred followers on Twitter before playing Claire. "Within about a month or two, it was thousands of people — and my phone, I didn't know how to turn off the alerts, so it was just going all the time," she said. That's when she realized just how big she was becoming.

Caitríona Balfe became lifelong friends with her co-star Sam Heughan

Fame wasn't the only life-changing thing to come from her role in "Outlander" — Caitríona Balfe also gained a lifelong friend in Sam Heughan, her co-star. As Balfe explained to Parade, the pair made a conscious decision to become friends before filming even began. "We were just talking about it and we were like, 'Who knows what this is going to be?'" she recalled. The pair agreed to "have each other's backs." She added, "[W]e've done that from day one."

Since then, the pair have only become closer. In fact, during ATX TV's Women of "Outlander" panel, Balfe explained that she and Heughan have never even argued — although they have bickered. Heughan chimed in: "As our lives have gotten more complicated and busy, we may not see each other as much as we used to, but that core and that friendship and that base that we have has never changed." How adorable is that!

Caitríona Balfe landed a number of big roles in the 2010s

As Caitríona Balfe's fame grew in the wake of "Outlander," she landed more big roles in Hollywood — and worked with bigger and bigger stars. 

In 2016, she landed a role in Jodie Foster's all-star film "Money Monster" — her co-stars included George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Dominic West, and Giancarlo Esposito. Sadly, Balfe didn't get to work with them too much as most of her scenes were filmed in front of a green screen. Nevertheless, she was starstruck to be working with Roberts. "I couldn't stop staring at her during our first read-through," she told W Magazine

In 2019, she played Mollie Miles, the wife of Christian Bale's character, in "Ford v Ferrari." Matt Damon also starred in the film. "I walked into that film with the idea that I was gonna be very intimidated by both him and Matt [Damon]," she told Collider. But she was pleasantly surprised. "Immediately, when you meet both of them [and] the first thing that struck me about both of them is that they're just these great, humble family men. There was no ego or bravado. It was lovely."

Caitríona Balfe starred in Kenneth Branagh's Belfast in 2021

Caitríona Balfe landed a huge role in Kenneth Branagh's "Belfast" in 2021, playing Ma, the mother figure in Branagh's semi-autobiographical tale about the Troubles in Ireland. For Balfe, the role was particularly meaningful — after years of acting in Scotland, "Belfast" was much closer to home for the Irish actor. "As an Irish person, you read so many of these scripts about the Troubles, and they all have this romantic version of the violence," Balfe told Vanity Fair. "Belfast," she explained, was different.

In fact, Balfe even saw her own family in the script. "Even though this is very much Ken's story, there's a universality to it that allows you to see your own," she told The Scotsman. "I definitely thought of my own mother in playing Ma."

Clearly, Balfe was extremely proud of the film. It was a huge hit and quickly generated awards buzz. However, Balfe remained characteristically humble. "I'm just happy that it's turned out as beautifully as it has and that it's getting the recognition it deserves because it's shot so beautifully and the hard work and heart and soul that went into making it are second to none," she said.

Caitríona Balfe had her first child in 2021

Caitríona Balfe began dating music producer Tony McGill in 2015. The pair married in 2019, and in 2021, they had their first child. Naturally, having a child gave Balfe a new set of priorities. Even though rumors circulated that she'd be nominated for an Oscar for her role in "Belfast," she found her self preoccupied with her new son. "Luckily, I'm doing a lot of that [changing nappies], so I'm actually not thinking about the awards too much: It's more, 'Stop peeing on me!'" she joked to The Guardian. 

However, having a child also brought out Balfe's protective side — especially when she found out that a small group of fans online were convinced that her child was actually the product of an imagined affair with her "Outlander" co-star Sam Heughan. "I don't want those crazies — because that's what they are — I just don't want them talking about [my son]," she told Vanity Fair. Apparently, that's why she and McGill have kept their son's name private.

Caitríona Balfe is preparing to say goodbye to Outlander

In 2023, Starz announced that "Outlander" would be coming to an end after its eighth season. After the WGA and SAG-AFTRA writer/actor strikes, filming for the final season was delayed. However, Balfe has already begun to mourn the end of the show that gave her her big break.

"Sam and I were doing a video for this season and I started to get emotional already," she told the Express. "It's going to be so weird. It's been such an amazing ride that it's nice to wrap it up while we all still love each other and we are all still feeling like we're making a good show."

Even though "Outlander" may be ending, we can't help but feel that Balfe's career is only just beginning. In fact, she's already set to appear in the film "Amateur" in 2024 alongside Rami Malek, Rachel Brosnahan, and Laurence Fishburne. We can't wait to see what else she does next.