Toronto Star Q&A
Heughan, 34, has made a name for himself in TV, film and stage, but this is his biggest role yet. The Scottish actor sat down with the Star last week.
Q: What did you do to become Jamie Fraser?
A: Initially, I got a trainer. He was sent down to London and I spent five weeks lifting heavy things and eating lots and lots of food to pack on weight. . . . Eventually, we went to Scotland and had a boot camp where we did a lot of horse riding and sword fighting and all that sort of Boy’s Own stuff. We were also taking Gaelic lessons and researching Scottish history and clan culture.
Q: What did you bring of yourself into the role?
A: You’ve got to bring yourself to any character you do. In this case, our lives are actually quite parallel. He’s a young man who’s returning to his homeland; I was doing the same. . . . Later on, in the second part of the season, Jamie’s making a lot of decisions about who he wants to be as a man and where he wants to go in his life. Ultimately, those are questions that everyone has to ask themselves at some point.
Q: How involved is Diana Gabaldon in the day-to-day of the show?
A: Her presence is felt. She’ll regularly send me emails or messages on Twitter. I love the fact that she’s there for advice and guidance, but she’s not controlling. I regularly speak to her about my character and the show.
Q: Have you read Gabaldon’s books?
A: I read them as we’re filming. I’ve almost finished book two and we’ll probably go over it quite a few times as we’re shooting the second season. But I don’t want to read too far ahead. I don’t want to know the future — I want to discover it for myself.
Q: Do you feel proud to be working on a series that’s so quintessentially Scottish?
A: Absolutely. I’d been living away from Scotland for 14 years. While I’ve been back to do bits of theatre or TV, this is the first time I’ve been back for a long time. I’m rediscovering Scotland; I’m falling in love with it again. Learning more about its history and culture has been one of the joys of working on this show. I also do a lot of hill walking now, which has been a great way to reacquaint myself with the land.
Q: The show takes place during a Scottish uprising against English rule. You also supported Scotland’s recent push for independence. What was it like filming the show with this happening in the background?
A: I personally love the period the show takes place in — it’s a really interesting moment in history. It’s just amazing that Scotland is now . . . questioning itself about what kind of nation it wants to be and where its loyalties lie. It was an amazing moment in history to be there and to be filming something so similar.
Q: The show’s sex scenes are quite explicit. Have you done work like this before?
A: I have to varying degrees, mostly onstage, but it’s kind of different doing it on camera. It’s always a strange experience, but you’ve got to trust that the scenes are useful insofar as they move the characters forward and help develop their relationship. It can’t just be gratuitous.
Q: Do you get anxious when you shoot the show’s steamier scenes?
A: Absolutely. There’s a lot of Dutch courage going on there — you know, a strong nip of whiskey before we start. But honestly, Caitriona and I use all that energy and we’re there for each other.
Outlander’s Sam Heughan on Actor’s Nomadism, Scotland, and His Travel Bucket List
We sat down with Sam Heughan, Scottish-born star of the epic STARZ original series Outlander on the eve of the show’s midseason premiere. On the agenda? His heritage, what it’s like filming in the Highlands, and what viewers can expect from the midseason premiere.
You're Scottish. Tell us about home.
I was born in southwest Scotland, in a place called Dumfries and Galloway, which is kind of the bit that sticks out—the bit that no one really goes to. It’s a very rural area, but it was a fantastic place to grow up. I lived in sort of old castle grounds and converted stables, which sounds much more glamorous than it actually was, but I had incredible access to the outdoors, which I think is important as a child.
And then you moved to Edinburgh.
Yes, I relocated to the capital city at age 12, which was fantastic. It’s such a beautiful city—one of the best in the world, I think. There’s so much history. I love walking up Arthur’s Seat, which is this very old dormant volcano near Edinburgh Castle. On the other side, there’s the Salisbury Crags, which is this series of 150-foot-tall cliffs. If you walk down from there, there’s a small village called Duddingston, which is home to the oldest pub in Edinburgh, the Sheep Heid Inn. They’ve got a bar and restaurant, and a bowling alley in the back with these old wooden pins. It’s a fun place to go and drink beer.
Do you live in Edinburgh now?
I’m not really based anywhere at the moment, since we’ve been traveling all over. We film the show in Glasgow, which is a city I know well. I went to drama school there. It’s very different from Edinburgh—a lot more urban. There are some incredible restaurants that have just opened up, especially in an up-and-coming area called Finnieston. Crabshakk is one that does amazing seafood. They’ve got a couple of local sister restaurants that are also really good. I love to order the razor clams ceviche, because I’m a big seafood guy. They do a mean martini, as well.
What’s been your favorite location to film in Scotland?
We filmed a lot of scenes round and about this small village called Kinloch Rannoch. That’s where we shoot the standing stones—called Craigh na Dun in the show. At the center is Loch Rannoch (that’s Lake Rannoch for non-Gaelic speakers), and at the other end is a mountain called Schiehallion, which they call the mountain of the fairies. It’s this beautiful peak that looks quite iconic.
We shot there last year on my birthday, and I was very lucky to have the following day off. Everyone else was filming, but I managed to sneak off and climb up the top of the mountain. The view was just incredible. It was so dramatic; everything was still covered in snow. There’s lots of wildlife—pheasants, grouse, wild deer, sometimes you see stags. It’s just a very magical place.
What do you do in Glasgow when you’re not filming?
I love to get outdoors as much as I can. I go hill walking, mountain climbing, and do a bit of rock climbing, as well. It’s so easy to get around. You can get in the car and drive, and in 20 minutes and you’re outside of Glasgow at Loch Lomond, and from that point onward there’s countless Munros (mountains in Scotland with a height over 3,000 ft) that you can climb up. I’ve done about 20 to 30 Munros now, and this next year I can’t wait to get back and do more.
You’ve been traveling around on a big press tour. Do you have a favorite new destination?
We were in Toronto a couple of days ago, and that last time I was there was maybe 10 or 14 years ago, so I didn’t really remember much about it. I was only there for one day, but we stayed in an area called Yorkville, at the Hazelton, which is an incredible hotel. The restaurant scene is really buzzing, and the people are relaxed and friendly. I’d love to go back and spend more time there.
How do you feel about the incredible popularity of the show?
It’s really exciting. We’re very much removed from it when we’re in Scotland, which is kind of nice. And the show is only just premiered in the U.K., so people are kind of unaware of it, but that’s building now, which is great. But it’s always odd when you get on a flight to the U.S., and you see a billposter of yourself or your face on the side of a bus. It’s pretty awesome.
What can viewers expect this season?
This second half of the season is a lot darker. The momentum has carried right through. So much happens, even in the first episode. You find out a lot more about Jamie’s character—who he is, where he comes from. His relationship is tested a lot with his uncles, and also with Claire. Their relationship is very much challenged throughout the season, but it climaxes in some pretty intense episodes coming up.
Before you go, any bucket list destinations?
Wow, yea. Well, going on the theme of climbing, I would love to visit the Alps, the Himalayas, certainly Everest. I’m kind of fascinated by these men and women that climb up the highest peaks in the world—there’s a bit of a draw there—so those places are definitely on my bucket list.