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.”

Based on the bestselling books of Diana Gabaldon, Outlander is about a woman who travels through time from the relative tranquility of post-war life in 1945 to the Scottish Highlands in 1743 where a frenzied battle for survival ensues amid volatile clan politics and patriarchal society.

Her heart, meanwhile, is torn between clean-cut, bookish Frank Randall, the husband she left behind in the 20th century, and embarking on a passionate love affair with ruggedly handsome warrior Jamie Fraser.

It may sound trite, yet Outlander deftly combines elements of science-fiction, fantasy and high-octane adventure, not to mention some steamy sex, alongside darker undercurrents (watching the brutal torture and rape scene that befalls one of the main characters in the first series will quickly put paid to any claims of fluffy romantic guff).

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Broadcasters in more than 87 territories worldwide have bought the rights from Sony Pictures Television including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China and Brazil. It is available in the UK exclusively via online streaming service Amazon Prime Video.

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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A successful model who worked for Chanel, Givenchy and Dolce & Gabbana among others (Balfe walked the famed Victoria’s Secret runway alongside Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum, Gisele Bundchen and Naomi Campbell), she made the switch to acting in 2009, moving from New York to Los Angeles to enrol in drama classes.

The part of Claire in Outlander marked a breakthrough for Balfe, who has appeared in JJ Abrams’ alien blockbuster Super 8, Escape Plan co-starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and played Michael Caine’s wife in Now You See Me.

On the back of her Outlander success, she landed a part in the Jodie Foster-directed Money Monster, alongside George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Dominic West, due for release this summer.

The casting search for Claire was not without its challenges. Four months after Heughan was confirmed to play Jamie and not long before production on series one was set to begin, the show’s makers were still seeking their leading lady. When Balfe rocked up to audition, according to legend, they instantly knew she was their woman.

What does Balfe see herself as bringing to the role? “I don’t know – you would have to ask Ron [D Moore, the Outlander executive producer] why they zeroed in on me,” she says. “I came to this role with not a huge amount of experience, but I think from day one it felt like it fit really well.

“I loved the story and the character. I feel that characters find you as much as you find characters. It felt like everything aligned at the right time.”

One of seven children who grew up in Tydavnet, County Monaghan – her father is a retired Garda sergeant – Balfe admits that her family has already drawn comparisons to her feisty on-screen alter ego.

“My sister, when I had just got the job, started reading the book,” she says. “I got a text from her a couple of weeks later saying: ‘Oh my God, you are so Claire …’ I’ve heard that I can be quite opinionated. I like to speak my mind – and Claire does that too.

“I’d like to think I have as much lust for life and I’m as empathetic as she is. When you play a character, you end up absorbing as much from that character as you have put in yourself. As time has gone on we have probably become more similar.”

While LA has been her base in recent years, Balfe has enjoyed calling Glasgow home while filming Outlander. She has garnered some favourite haunts around the city. “Argyle Street is the new little restaurant row and I always go to The Gannet,” she says. “Porter & Rye and Ox and Finch are good, too. I like to go and see some music – Glasgow is great for bands.”

Outlander has a loyal following with fan groups that include the Caitriots, Heughligans and Menziatics (devotees of Balfe, Heughan and Tobias Menzies, who plays Frank Randall). If Balfe had to choose between her on-screen lovers Frank and Jamie, who would she pick?

“I’m usually a brains-over-brawn person,” she says, before catching herself. “Not that Jamie doesn’t have brains because he does. The relationship Claire has with Jamie is, you know, they’re soulmates so I guess I would have to choose that – even though I have such a soft spot for the Frank character. Claire and Jamie: that’s the relationship which is meant to be.”

Time for one last question: why is Claire rarely without a glass of whisky or wine in her hand? “She fell through time 200 years and got discombobulated,” exclaims Balfe with a wry smile as she gathers her skirts to sashay back to set. And if that’s not good reason for a tipple, I don’t know what is.

Outlander season two will be available exclusively on Amazon Prime Video from April 10 with new episodes airing weekly

Read more: Outlander star Sam Heughan on Scottish independence, super fans and his life changing role as Jamie Fraser

Read more: a journey behind the scenes of TV series Outlander