When Outlander‘s Sam Heughan sat down for our roundtable interview at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con, the first thing we chatted about was whether he’d seen any Comic Con attendees walking around dressed as Jamie. He hadn’t, but he confessed the opportunity had not come up to actually look around much as he’d been kept very busy.
Describing his second Comic Con experience as insane but wonderful, Heughan opened up about filming those incredible Wentworth Prison scenes (which garnered Emmy buzz in response to his performance) and the journey Jamie and Claire will be on in season two.
How did you mentally prepare and get into that specific mindset for the Wentworth Prison scenes? How were you able to take yourself there?
Sam Heughan: “We knew it was coming up. I was excited by it, nervous, but we knew it was going to be challenging. We wanted it to be a challenge for the actors but for the audience as well. We approached it like any other theater piece; myself and Tobias [Menzies] started from a theatre background. We sat with the director and the writer for about a week worth of rehearsals. Discussed the scenes, sort of cut it down a bit. We worked on what we wanted the audience to feel, what we wanted them to see. Pretty much set the guidelines, set the boundaries of filming the scene. And then we filmed it over a space of 10 days, two weeks. It was pretty intense stuff, primarily because of the content, but also there was a lot of prosthetic work. I’d be in at 4am and not finish until 10 at night or something, so they were long days. But in a way that was perfect because it got me into that mindset of I had to work three or four hours in the morning to prep, to stand there as someone painted something on your body. Then in the evening taking it off was a good way to lose the day’s filming, but it was heavy stuff. We knew that we were doing something quite bold, so I was excited to see the end product.”
How do you play a damaged character without playing him as a victim?
Sam Heughan: “Jamie did get some resolution at the end of season one. I mean he was not cured in any way, but he’s looking forward. I spoke for hours with some doctor about the medical conditions and what happens with the psychology as well. But, ultimately, everyone is different. Everyone deals with torment in different ways. Jamie is very particular in the way he deals with things. Before we’ve seen when he got whipped or other scenarios in season one, he lets it fall of his back. But this has certainly affected him. But he’s not a victim; he’s moving forward. He’s got this mission. He’s there for a purpose and it’s not weighing him down or incapacitating him. But he has things that he’s got to deal with and we’ve just finished filming for the moment. He maybe finds some resolution and that’s kind of nice to see. I’ve discussed that and we see that in a lot of cases where people had some sort of trauma it would be something really random that would trigger that moment of healing or moving forward. I’m very lucky to be able to play that part of the character.”
Jamie begins season two in a completely different place than season one. What did you feel were the specific challenges of this season?
Sam Heughan: “In a way I suppose it’s more of a challenge actually because the first season Jamie’s got no responsibility. He’s out looking after himself. He’s reacting to every moment. And, yeah, in season two it’s completely different, you know? He’s got the trauma of season one and also the responsibility of having a wife, being a father, of becoming a parent. So he’s had to grow up, and in season one he certainly did.
In season two he’s trying to come to terms with that, but also he’s gone to Paris which is not alien to him but it certainly is a world that he’s not particularly comfortable with. He’s having to assume a new identity there as well. It feels that he’s a different person.”
You and Caitriona Balfe are obviously the two main actors we follow throughout the series, and lots of supporting characters come in and out of the story. How does that feel as an actor to constantly have different actors and characters to act with?
Sam Heughan: “I think it’s wonderful. We are in the French Court at the moment. Murtagh is the other character who is with us, Duncan Lacroix who’s terrific. But it’s just a few of us and we’ve got this cast of French actors who are amazing and brilliant, totally different energy to a different world. And that’s what the joy of our show is, constantly changing our locations and the storyline. But also it’s a little sad. We’re all kind of missing the old Scotland boys, but we know we’re going back there. The second half of the season is very much going to be the antithesis to the first half. The first half is very ostentatious and luxurious, the costumes are amazing. The second half is going to be more blood and battles. It’s like being in a different world. I know that this series does constantly travel and that’s going to be the journey that Jamie and Claire and the characters are going to develop.”
What are Jamie and Claire trying to accomplish in this first half of the season?
Sam Heughan: “They’re here to change history, basically. The Battle of Culloden…it was very popular. [Laughing] The Battle of Culloden was basically this big battle between the British and the Highlanders. Bonny Prince Charlie believed he was the rightful King…and he probably was. He came to Scotland to try to rally the clans to put himself back on the throne and overthrow the king. It failed basically, this battle they got wiped out. The repercussions were that the British army bans the whole Highland culture, the wearing of kilts, the speaking of Gaelic, the bagpipes. So we’re there to change history. That’s pretty much what we’re there for.”
Can you talk about how Jamie and Claire’s relationship changes as a couple?
Sam Heughan: “In season one they were newlyweds; they were young, new lovers and they were finding out about each other, and obviously they’re still finding out about each other. Before the trauma at the end of the first season has affected their relationship a lot. Also the fact that she’s a parent, she’s a mother and he’s obviously got responsibility regardless. They’re working it out together, but there’s a lot of issues they haven’t dealt with yet and we do play that out in the season. But ultimately the mission is the most important thing to change history and make sure that everyone survives. But, yeah, their relationship will definitely change.”
Who are some of their new allies and foes?
Sam Heughan: “Well we have a lot of terrific actors that have come in, Dominique Piñon, Marc Duret. There’s countless of them. Frances de la Tour. So there’s really powerful and amazing actors coming in and bringing in a different dimension to the show.
It becomes almost a different kind of battle with the politics that are played out. Our St. Germain is the extraordinary good-looking actor, Stanley Weber. He’s French and I think he’s going to do very well. It’s a different kind of enemy that they’re facing. They’re also have this surrogate son almost that they get, this adopted son named Fergus who brings another dynamic to their relationship. It’s all moving their relationship forward.”
Is being an unexpected father going to change Jamie’s behavior?
Sam Heughan: “Yeah. I think before he met Claire he was more than happy to put his body on the line but now he has to think twice about that. And that’s one of the lessons he’s learned in season one. In season two he’s still the same guy and still can be hotheaded at times or stubborn, but he certainly has grown up a bit and knows that he’s got a responsibility. At times he does forget that.”
What does being on such a Scotland-celebrating show do for your country’s identity?
Sam Heughan: “I think I’m very proud of Scotland. I’ve gone back and rediscovered my country, and I’ve fallen in love with it again. I’m very proud of the production. It really shows off Scotland. The craftsmanship, the locations, the studio, we’ve got now has four sound stages, you’ve got whole workshops, you’ve got one workshop where they’re just building French furniture. We’ve got another workshop where they’re doing props. It’s creating a lot of industry within Scotland. It’s attracting more production, a lot of TV shows and films as well. I’m delighted that we’ve been given it that opportunity.”