Caitriona Balfe Talks Outlander Fans and How Sam Heughan Is Her Total Opposite

Caitriona Balfe grew up in a tiny village in Ireland and took off for Paris at age 19 when she was signed to a modeling contract. That was years before she became known to TV fans as Claire Fraser, the time-traveling heroine of Outlander, the Starz show based on Diana Gabaldon’s popular series of books, which begins its fourth season on November 4.

The 39-year-old actress, who is newly engaged to Irish music producer Tony McGill and working on a new movie about car racing in the 1960s, Ford v. Ferrari, recently talked to Parade about avid fans and growing up a “ballsy” girl.

What were Sundays like growing up in Ireland?

Sundays always started with my mom bribing us [Balfe, her three brothers and three sisters] to get out of bed. She makes the most incredible homemade brown bread and scones. She’d bring us up tea or coffee and scones and then we would be dragged out of the house to go to Mass.

And afterward?

We’d have a big noisy lunch and then everyone retreats to their corners. There was always a lot of reading, or if TV was on, I’d watch Formula One racing with my dad. It was always quite a noisy, big family day because everyone was in the house.

In your house, the girls outnumbered the boys.

Yes, and in more than just numbers. My sisters are all quite strong. Ballsy is another word. I think the boys just did what they could to survive.

What’s a typical Sunday like for you now?

I’m a big brunch person, so I drag myself up, then find the best brunch place close by. I love to get the newspaper and sit around and read. If I can get a walk in, that’s always really nice. Sundays are supposed to be a guilt-free day where you can just relax, but usually there’s a little bit of homework to be done, especially if we’re filming Monday.

If it’s wintertime, you turn the fire on and put on a good movie before bed or cook a nice meal. Sometimes I’ll spend a few hours prepping some food for the next few days as well. It’s nice to put on some music and spend some time just puttering around the house.

What is your favorite thing about your Outlander character, Claire?

Her empathy and her ability to connect with people and understand the difference of right and wrong and where justice should be—that’s all of the stuff I love about her. And her capacity for loving and living and even fighting so immensely. She has such an immense capacity for feeling, and that’s such an incredible thing to be able to play. You get to really go for those big emotions and express yourself quite strongly. Playing her has given me a lot of confidence and strength that I don’t think I had five years ago.

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