“Outlander” star Sam Heughan on fan reaction to him and the show: “It’s been so positive and supportive. They are very vocal and I’m sure if we mess this up they’ll be the first to let us know. I love the support. There were people outside this morning when we were doing some taping and it was freezing cold but they were there, waving flags and supporting us. It is fantastic. We make it for them and for new fans as well. I’m pleased that we can give them what they want but also keep surprising them as well.
“We’ve been filming in Scotland, so we’re kind of in our own bubble. The show has only just aired in the UK so there is no recognition there, which is fantastic because we can concentrate on the job. We flew to Comic Con this past year and the reaction was incredible. We did a big panel and I’ve been in Los Angeles recently and people do recognize you. On the whole it is very genuine, very friendly. They just sort of siddle up next to you and whisper, ‘I really enjoy the show. I’m a big fan,’ and they’ll leave you to do your thing. But that sort of thing is very new to me.”
Sam Heughan has become something of a heartthrob playing a fiery 18th-century Scottish warrior married to a Second World War combat nurse who mysteriously transported back in time in the sci fi romance Outlander.
The show, which returns to Showcase for its midseason premiere on Sunday, April 5, has developed a rabid fan base with as many as five million Americans tuning in to catch Heughan and his kilt each week. The British Film Institute even reports that the show’s popularity has inspired a tourism boom in Scotland.
On Heughan’s recent trip to Toronto fans lined up in the cold to catch a glimpse of the handsome 6′ 2½” actor. “They were there,” he says, “waving flags and supporting us. It is fantastic.”
He says “that sort of thing is very new to me,” although a recent trip to Comic Con was met with much excitement and on a stop over in Los Angeles he was recognized for his work on the show.
“On the whole it is very genuine,” he says, “very friendly. They just sort of sidle up next to you and whisper, ‘I really enjoy the show. I’m a big fan,’ and they’ll leave you to do your thing.”
Ironically the one place he isn’t as well known is his home country, which also happens to be where they shoot the series.
“We’ve been filming in Scotland, so we’re kind of in our own bubble. The show has only just aired in the UK so there is no recognition there, which is fantastic because we can concentrate on the job.”
Heughan trained at the prestigious Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama but says before signing on to do Outlander he was a “jobbing actor. I had done a lot of theatre and period drama in the UK.” He cites one strange acting gig in particular, playing the lead role in a touring production of Batman Live, as a real confidence builder.
“A terrific job,” he says. “So different than anything I had done before—doing acrobatics, flying across stadiums over thousands of people. It did give me a lot of confidence to stand in front of twenty or thirty thousand people and have to fight thirty henchmen every night.”
“I’ll always remember the first entrance as Batman, flying two hundred feet across the auditorium with people below and you’re looking down at them thinking, ‘This is something else.’ They don’t teach that in acting school.”
Diana Gabaldon is notoriously protective of her work. Her website asks amateur writers to refrain from producing any fan fiction based on her characters and it has taken decades for her to OK a screen adaptation of her best known novels, the eight-part Outlander series.
The former academic-turned-bestselling-author writes thick books that Entertainment Weekly describes as containing a “time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
Since the publication of the first Outlander book in 1991, rumours of a film franchise have flitted about, with big names like Liam Neeson and Sean Connery attached. The mix of romance, time travel and adventure sounds tailor-made for the screen, but Gabaldon wanted to make sure the story was told properly.
“Outlander is a very big story,” she says. “The very intricate plot fits together like the pieces of a watch. You start pulling things out and the whole thing isn’t going to work. Consequently a two-hour movie cannot be made and reflect the integrity of the work.”
Enter Battlestar Galactica producer Ronald D. Moore who says he “read the book and was quite taken by it. It’s a page-turner in the truest sense of the word. I really liked the central character of Claire because she was intelligent and strong; very capable and interesting.”
He saw Outlander not as a movie, but a television series.
“There were surprises along the way, reversals of fortune I didn’t see coming,” he says, “which I thought would be really great for a television series. I got it. We’d do one season a book and there’s seven more books in the series.”
His take on the material won Gabaldon over. “I told Ron when I saw the pilot script, ‘This is the first thing I’ve seen based on my work that didn’t either make me turn white or burst into flame.’”
The show, which premieres Aug. 24 on Showcase, stars Irish model/actress Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall, a married Second World War combat nurse mysteriously transported back in time to 18th-century Scotland.
“We’re trying to keep the show grounded throughout,” says Moore. “You want to really believe that both those places exist. I’m a strong believer in the idea that if you’re going to take the audience on a fantastical journey, the more believable you make it, the better. That way the audience will go with you when something crazy, like time travel, happens.”
Gabaldon gives the show her stamp of approval, saying, “I feel very fortunate to be able to share with them in this production.”