Adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s international best-selling books, the Starz series Outlander spans the genres of romance, science fiction, history and adventure, all in one epic tale. The story follows Claire Randall (Caitroina Balfe), a married combat nurse from 1945, who is mysteriously swept back in time to 1743, where she is immediately thrown into an unknown world that is threatening and dangerous. Once there, she meets a chivalrous and romantic young Scottish warrior, named Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), and they are undeniably drawn to each other.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Scottish actor Sam Heughan talked about what drew him to this project, the audition process and chemistry reads that he went through, helping find the right actress for Claire, when he realized the extent of the popularity of this book series, what he most loves about being a part of this world, having the author available as a resource, getting to work with such a beautiful landscape in the background, what he’s had to learn to bring Jamie to life, what draws Jamie and Claire together, and what viewers can expect from the season. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: What drew you to this character and made you want to be a part of this show?
SAM HEUGHAN: All of the elements to the show were just really exciting to be a part of. When I first heard about it, I was super excited to hear that Ron Moore was the executive producer. I was a big Battlestar Galactica fan and Star Trek fan. I grew up watching those. I couldn’t believe that he was on board. And then, to be honest, as an actor, it’s great to be able to have source material. I’ve done a lot of costume dramas and things that are set in the past, and it’s great to be able to have things that you can research and material that you can look at. And Diana [Gabaldon] has certainly written a lot of material, so it’s great to have that back-up material to look at when you’re doing a production.
Did you have to go through an audition process for this and do any chemistry reads?
HEUGHAN: I had just come back from pilot season in Los Angeles. I tested on a few shows and it was really exciting, but then I came back and this came out of the blue. It was a pretty quick process for myself. I went in, I had a couple of auditions, and then I had a Skype meeting with Maril Davis and Ira Behr. And then, maybe a week later, Ron and Maril flew over and I did a screen test in London. It was a whirlwind, really, ‘cause I was also leaving to go do a film in Norway, so we had to wrap it up pretty quick. But then, it was really great to be on board. It’s so exciting to be a part of this whole process. To find the actress for Claire, they were looking all over for her and they auditioned some great actresses. I was lucky to be part of that and to read with the actresses. We went to L.A. a couple of times to test, and did it in London, as well. We were beginning to think we wouldn’t find her, but ultimately Caitroina [Balfe] walked into the room and everyone knew, straight away, that she was the one. We haven’t looked back, and it’s been fantastic.
It’s one thing to hear the statistic that over 25 million copies of the book have been sold, but it’s another thing to actually be able to grasp the reality of that. Was there a point where you realized just what you were getting yourself into by signing on for this?
HEUGHAN: Over in the U.K., it’s not as commonly part of people’s psyche. It’s there and it’s a book that people have bought, but in America, especially, it’s a large part of people’s lives. It’s been out there for 20 years. I had no real concept of how popular these books were until I went to a private screening of a small independent film that I had done, and out of the blue, a couple of fans turned up and were like, “Oh, wow, you’re gonna do Outlander!,” and they had printed t-shirts. I was like, “Oh, wow, how did they even find out?!” I’m quite vocal on Twitter, and the fans there are so supportive and so excited. They really got behind us, and their support has been amazing. They’re created their own fan groups and organized events. It’s been international, as well. I was at a screening in Inverness, Scotland, for a film that I did, and I went to speak before it, and fans from Germany, Los Angeles and Canada had all flown over, just for this small event. They were so wonderful, and I was just really excited to meet them. I can’t wait for people to get to see this thing that we’ve made.
HEUGHAN: I think everyone seems to find their own particular thing that they latch onto. For me, it’s a very personal thing. It’s been wonderful to come back to Scotland, to revisit my childhood and to revisit the things that I love about this country. And then, to transfer that onto the screen and let people see the wonderful locations we have and the great costumes and the history. And there are all the characters, as well. The first three episodes set up the story, but then the character relationships really start to develop. Episode 6 is unbelievable. It’s great. It allows the viewer to learn who these characters are, and then it really begins to twist those relationships.
With Diana Gabaldon being so closely involved with this, have there been specific questions that you’ve had for her, or are you more concerned about what you’re working on with each script?
HEUGHAN: Diana has been great. She’s been really supportive of us. When I first got cast, we contacted each other over Twitter. We started emailing each other, and she sent me some short stories that she’d written that were related to Outlander, but also some things that were not related, as well. We bonded over the emails, and it was really great to have her there. If you ask her a question, she’ll reply with 10 pages of wonderful dialogue. She’s researched everything, so she’s a great source. I know that she’s been consulted throughout the whole process of the scriptwriting, and then she watches the dailies, so she’s very aware of what’s going on. She quite regularly tells me what she thinks of things that she’s seen, so that’s been good. In a way, we do have to approach the script because this is a TV show. The books have to be adapted and storylines have to be rearranged and little things need to be expanded upon. So, there are going to be some surprises in there, but nothing that’s not already in Diana’s world.
This show is so ridiculously beautiful to look at. How much does that help you, as an actor, in getting into the headspace to tell this story and live with this character?
HEUGHAN: Honestly, we can’t believe it. Every time you look at the show, you think, “That’s not real!” We were shooting some episodes in Doune Castle, which is the Castle Leoch in Episodes 2 and 3. You see the scenery in the background and you think, “That’s not real. That must be CGI.” There’s no CGI in the show, or there’s very little. It’s all there. It all really is Scotland. We’ve got an amazing light here, and amazing locations. The set design has been fantastic, and the costumes, as well. It is just such a joy for an actor to be able to go on a set like that. It’s done for you. When you look at the background, it’s amazing.
There are so many little details to telling this story the way it needs to be told. What have you had to learn to bring your character to life, and has anything been particularly challenging for you?
HEUGHAN: Oh, god, where to start?! There are so many details in the books. There’s a lot of stuff in there that we’ve tried to keep as close to the books as we can. We put little things in there for the fans that they’ll recognize, but if you’re not a fan, you won’t miss something. We try to keep in as much as we can, but obviously, you can’t put everything in. For me, I had to learn to speak Gaelic. There’s a lot of Gaelic in the show, which is the language that these Gaels spoke. That’s been a way into the character for me, with the way he speaks and his accent. That’s his native tongue. It also puts Claire and the viewer into this position where they’re like an alien species, with their different ways of doing things and their different language. Slowly, she becomes a part of them, understands them and their ways, and gains their trust. That’s been an interesting thing to research, with the Gaelic culture and the clan culture. And we’ve had lots of horse-riding and sword-fighting and learning how to deal with your kilt. Trying to put that thing on is quite a process. It’s a real joy to be able to do all of these things.
The relationship between Claire and Jamie is so loved by people, and it’s an interesting relationship because it starts out as one of suspicion. What do you think Jamie thinks of Claire, initially, when they first cross paths, and what ultimately draws them together and makes them see more than that, in each other?
HEUGHAN: Like they are to her, she is almost like an alien species. Firstly, she’s a woman, who has very strong, outspoken views. In that day and age, it was unheard of, or certainly frowned upon. She’s completely different to anyone he’s ever met before, and that’s very striking about her. She looks different. The way she conducts herself is different. He’s also aware that there’s some secret that she’s not revealing. Like most of the characters, and certainly in Jamie’s case, he’s got a background with a quite complex history. He has his own secrets, as well. I think there’s a lot of respect between them. They see in each other that they’re both trying to hide something. And there’s a humor there. They get on with each other. He’s very forward-thinking, and she’s from the future. They learn through each other. Maybe not always easily, but she teaches him and he teaches her. That’s where the relationship starts.
There is so much character growth and development with each episode. What have you most enjoyed about the journey, especially in the first half of the season, since you’ll be airing eight episodes before a break?
HEUGHAN: The thing I’m enjoying playing with Jamie is that his character does develop. When you’re introduced to him, you think he’s one thing, and then you find out that he’s an outlaw. And then, slowly, through the series, you discover that there are a lot of other sides to him, as well. He constantly surprises me, and hopefully he will the viewers, as well. By the end of the season, he goes somewhere completely different. By Episode 8, you’ve gotten to know the characters and it’s really exciting, but the second half of the season has even more intrigue. The characters go to some very different, very dark places, as well. There’s a lot to discover. That’s the joy of working with these characters.
Outlander airs on Saturday nights on Starz.