Sam Heughan is farmer, fugitive and all round Scottish spunkrat Jamie Fraser in fantasy-drama Outlander, the second season of which arrived exclusively to Lightbox on April 10 this year. Longtime fan Tara Ward swallowed her nerves and spoke with Sam ahead of the premiere (please note, contains spoilers from season one).
Originally posted March 24, 2016
Last week my social media overflowed with the mind-blowing news that Sam Heughan was in Sydney. It was his second stop in a worldwide press tour promoting season two of Outlander, and of all the exciting things planned for his visit, Sam Heughan tweeted he was most looking forward to speaking with me*. (*this happened in my own head while I was asleep).
An online fan reckoned Sam Heughan smells like “champagne, mint and unicorns.” I’ve never met anyone who smells like a unicorn, so this interview would be a big day for us both. I was supposed to chat to Sam last year, but he stood me up – something about a ‘schedule change’, if you believe that. I know he was playing hard to get; unicorns are notorious for that sort of shit.
This year, I kept the interview prep deliberately low key. No more frame-by-frame artistic examination of the ‘fixing the water wheel’ scene, no more time spent contemplating how Jamie Fraser’s hair retains its body and bounce, no shouting ‘tulach ard!” every time I left the house. I did, however, clean my kitchen, because I could not chat with Sam Heughan while sitting in a three day old pile of cornflake crumbs. I have standards.
The pressure was building. Mostly, I was shitting myself. What if he’s sick of talking about what’s really in Jamie Fraser’s sporran and only gives me one word answers? What if I start impersonating his accent and hysterically screech “och aye the noo?” Or even worse, what if he’s so impressed with my interview skills that he demands I marry him and have his ginger babies?
I screamed when the phone rang. “It’s Sam Heughan!” It wasn’t Sam Heughan. It was his PR rep, telling me he was running late. Bloody unicorns. The minutes ticked by. I drank three glasses of water and wondered if I’d have time to run to the toilet before The Unicorn called back. I didn’t. The phone rang again. There was some PR rep small talk, a long pause, and suddenly Sam Heughan’s deep voice echoed down the line.
“Tara!” he boomed, with a glorious Scottish brogue. Is that champagne and mint I smell?
I could have stopped the interview then and died a happy woman. But if nothing else, I am semi-professional, and I had questions about mythical monsters and crazy wives to impress him with. For the next few minutes, he was mine and I was his. I was the neeps to Sam Heughan’s tatties as we discussed the new season of Outlander, the flag referendum, and his plan to take over New York.
Well I got here this morning and it started raining, so I guess I bought Scotland with me. I went out and had a little look at the bridge and the Opera House. I love it. I think I might stay.
Were you aware that you sent New Zealand fans into a tailspin when you mistakenly tweeted our flag instead of the Australian one?
[groans] I know. Do you know how hard it is to see those little tiny emojis, whether there’s a star missing or not? I do apologise.
We’re experiencing a right proper flag debacle at the moment, trying to decide if we should change our flag.
Yes, I think you probably should. I mean, it would certainly help me when I’m finding emojis.
I’ll let the Prime Minister know. In the meantime, can you describe Outlander to someone who hasn’t seen the show before, in fifteen seconds? Go.
[speaking very fast] Outlander is based on a series of books by Diana Gabaldon. They’re best-selling novels, they are hard to pigeonhole, there’s romance, drama, there’s time-travel, there’s sci-fi elements, there’s history. It’s a dashing good yarn.
What will surprise us about season two?
I think from the very first moment it’s a completly different world that Jamie and Claire have entered. They’ve gone to Paris to try and change history, to stop the Battle of Culloden, to stop fate from happening. They enter this high society of Paris and Versailles and learn to deceive people. They basically are not themselves.
They’re also dealing with the effects of what happened at the end of season one. There’s Jamie’s trauma, what happened at Wentworth, and the fact that they’re now expecting to be parents. There is so much to contend with. It doesn’t go well.
Is season two the ‘difficult second album’ – are you coping with all the pressure or are you drinking all the on-set whiskey?
The whiskey, to be honest, was all drunk in the first series. We’ve moved on to red wine, now we’re in France. The second book is complex and difficult, and a completely different vibe. Jamie and Claire really struggle and it does put a rift between the two of them. It’s certainly not what it was in season one. If season one was the young love, the honeymoon, the getting to know each other season, then season two is the complex, grown up marriage.
How does it feel to be the most famous ginger in the world, after Ed Sheeran and maybe Ron Weasley?
The problem is that I’m a fake ginger. It’s kind of upsetting because they really are ginger, and they’re pasty and white as well. Whereas I’ve got that Jamie Fraser, slightly dirty, swarthy skin. I’m very proud to be a pseudo-ginger.
When we first met Jamie, he just wanted a simple life and now he’s trying to change the future. What the hell has his crazy wife got him into?
Honestly, what the hell. It’s her and her big mouth, to be totally honest, and that she’s from the future. Exactly, he just wanted a simple life and by no means is Claire falling into a given with that. He loves her dearly, and they need to do this. They need to stop this battle, because if they don’t, everyone that they know and everything that they love will be destroyed.
There was a lot of anticipation about the rape and torture scenes at the end of season one. How difficult were they to film?
They were really intense episodes. I’m just really proud of what we did. It’s some of the toughest stuff I’ve ever had to do. It’s really important, it’s not just about the torture or the rape. It’s about two men battling in their wills to beat the other. Black Jack Randall not only physically tries to break Jamie, but ultimately, he’s trying to break him mentally. He succeeds in doing that.
Jamie’s size and physicality is such an important part of who he is, yet Black Jack manages to psychologically reduce him to nothing.
Absolutely. Jamie’s body can be broken, we’ve seen that for the whole of season one. He puts his body on the line constantly. Jamie has this strong will and strong resilience, but the one thing he has is his love for Claire. What Randall ultimately does is affect that memory, so that when Jamie ever thinks of Claire, he thinks of Black Jack Randall. He’s really, to his very core, broken him. Jamie is this rough, tough, capable man, yet he’s been mentally scarred.
How do you think Jamie would fare in 2016? What would his Instagram look like?
I don’t think he’d have time for Instagram, to be honest. He could probably put his iPhone in his sporran, I suppose. He’d certainly like using Google for finding good places to eat, or good places to sleep. He’s a very forward thinking man, he’s very modern. He’d get on well, but I think he’d rather stay in the past.
There’s a lot of Scottish iconography in the Outlander series, so I have to ask – do you think Nessie is real?
[laughs] God, I’m going to be shot down here. I think she is. I went to Kelowna in Canada and they have their own Ogopogo, which is some sort of sea monster. I didn’t even know about it, but I was sitting by the side of this beautiful lake, and I saw something go right across the lake. I still don’t, to this day, know what it was. But it was definitely very large.
What does a show like Outlander mean for you as a Scotsman?
It’s an opportunity to take the country that I love, it’s customs and history, and get the chance to portray them as aesthetically as possible to the rest of the world. I think, since doing the show, I’ve really fallen in love with my country and learnt a lot about it. The more that I know, the more that I want other people to share in that.
It’s showing a new audience that there’s more to Scottish history than Braveheart.
It is. Bonnie Prince Charlie is very romanticised, and we’re certainly portraying him in a different light. He was clearly ineffectual and not well suited to leading men. Also, it’s so tangible to now. In Scotland we have the referendum, there’s still infighting, there’s still a struggle. It’s 200 years later, we’re still dealing with the same politics.
What’s it like to be at the centre of the very passionate Outlander fanbase?
Terrific. We’re very lucky. They’ve helped us not only win many fan awards like the People’s Choice Awards and all sorts of these lovely things, but also they support the charities that we support. I created my own physical fitness charity this year called My Peak Challenge and the fans have helped me raise over $170,000USD for blood cancer research. It’s just great that they support what we do and really get behind us.
What’s the most intense fan experience that you’ve ever had?
The premiere last year was incredible, in New York. That was just amazing to see. We filled up the movie theatre several times. The people on the street, just off Times Square, it was really overwhelming. I think season two may be bigger.
You’ve finished filming season two, what are you up to now?
We finished about two weeks ago. We had a terrific party where all the cast and crew got to let their hair down, and it was quite wild. Now I’m on a press tour. I’m travelling to Tokyo in a couple of days, then Los Angeles, and then we finish in New York, where we have the premiere. Also it’s Tartan Week in New York, I’m the Grand Marshall, which will be terrific. Basically Outlander is taking over the whole of New York for a week.
Then we go back to finish season two. We have some pick-ups to do, just little bits. It’s pretty much done. Then we hold our breaths, and hope that people enjoy it.
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