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Belfast Star Caitríona Balfe Talks the Power of Irish Moms, Directing Dreams, & Dame Judi Dench

In Belfast, Caitríona Balfe plays a strong, fierce mom who is at the center of a heartwarming story about a family in Northern Island in the 1960s at a time of conflict and violence. The film is based on director Kenneth Branagh’s childhood, and his parents are played by Balfe and Jamie Dornan. In real life, Balfe just became a mother herself, welcoming a son in August. She sat down with us to discuss the power of Irish moms, the beauty of family as seen in Belfast, acting with Judi Dench, and what she learned from Kenneth Branagh’s directing that she hopes to carry on when she directs Outlander — or another project in the future.

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Caitríona Balfe and Jude Hill Focus Features

Some of the best scenes in Belfast are between Balfe and her onscreen son, Buddy (played by Jude Hill). Buddy is constantly getting in trouble with his mother for stealing candy and detergent — as one does, when one is a 9-year-old kid. (Okay, maybe not detergent, but Buddy loves soap, leave him alone!) Balfe somehow manages to capture the essence of all moms: the way they love fiercely, but if you anger them, best of luck to you. Balfe tells us that she pulled inspiration from her own mother, who loved her performance. In fact, she brought her mother to the premiere of Belfast in Belfast last week – the very first premiere Balfe’s mom has ever come to for her daughter. Belfast’s premiere comes at an exciting time for Balfe, who revealed that having a newborn means she’s baby-lagged, jet-lagged, and will never sleep again. Ahh, mom life.

Read on for more of what we learned below and watch the full video above!

Ad-libbing with Judi Dench

One of the best parts of Belfast for Balfe was getting the opportunity to act with the legendary Dame Judi Dench. When Branagh told Balfe she and Dench could just improv, Balfe reacted the way any of us would if we were told this information: Insert overwhelming, internal, panic-induced “Ahhhhh” here. Acting with Dench wasn’t the only terrifying part for Balfe. Dancing with Dornan was another. So I asked Balfe the most important question of all. If Judi Dench were the judge, who would she say is the better singer, Jamie Dornan or Caitríona Balfe? (Fights impulse to make a Judge Judi joke, but makes it anyway in parenthetical comment). Balfe immediately says Dornan is the better singer. When we spoke to Branagh at SCAD Savannah Film Festival, he very quickly said Balfe was a better dancer than Dornan. Balfe laughs and says she’s surprised he said that but then looks not-so-secretly proud of this honor. Both Dornan and Balfe’s dance scenes are a shot of serotonin that everyone needs right now.

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Caitríona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, Jude Hill, and Lewis McAskie Rob Youngson/Focus Features

Directing Outlander

Watching Branagh direct on Belfast was a great learning experience for Balfe, and she hopes to take what she learned from him when she directs in the future. She’s made no secret of her desire to direct on Outlander, a show she and Sam Heughan have anchored as Claire and Jamie Fraser for the last seven years. With season 6 slated to air in early 2022, and production starting on Outlander’s seventh season, I asked Balfe if we’d see her name as a director soon. She reveals she still wants to, but sadly, because she has to be in every scene, it doesn’t look likely. But, anything can change. In fact, let’s just go ahead and say Balfe will direct. (I believe the kids call this manifesting). If Caitríona Balfe wants to direct, she will. (Otherwise, Outlander fans might take to the streets. Trust me, they will. Look out your window, they’re probably already there).

So you think you can dance…

Even though Balfe and Dornan both have said how dancing and singing terrified them, the night of the premiere, at the after-party, Balfe and Dornan were both doing exactly that — dancing and singing their hearts out. Balfe dancing with on-screen son Jude Hill while Dornan sings Everlasting Love will melt your heart. And if doesn’t. Well. Sorry, you’re heartless.

Belfast opens nationwide on November 12 and is available to stream online. It is a film that will make you miss your childhood and appreciate the love of family. And for Balfe, it is yet again another time she is showing everyone that you can throw her on any screen in any time period and she will shine. Frankly, the movie could be called, “Balfest.”

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