Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

Outlander's Sam Heughan: I don't feel objectified

Outlander's Sam Heughan talks about the hit show's second season
Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser in Outlander.
Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser in Outlander.

Aye, as a proud Scotsman, Sam Heughan was worried when he first heard about Outlander, the television series that would change his life.

After all, the show was to be an adaptation of American fantasy author Diana Gabaldon's series of best-selling novels. They were tales of time travel, a marriage between and 20th century Englishwoman and a 18th century Scot set against pivotal events in Highlands history. And all done for the Starz network in the US, which had previously had its way with Arthurian legend in Camelot and Roman history in Spartacus.

"I was very aware, being a Scotsman, this could be 'here come the Americans' and that made me nervous," laughs Heughan, who plays Outlander's leading warrior-lover Jamie Fraser.

"But as soon as I met Ron Moore, who had I been a big of fan of - and understood what they were trying to do - it just made me realise that here is an opportunity to really show an authentic side of Scotland, even though we are in a story that is quite fantastical."

Ron - or Ronald D. Moore - is the American television writer and producer best known, until Outlander at least, for his work on various Star Trek incarnations in the 1990s before he successfully revived Battlestar Galactica in the late noughties.

Taking on Outlander might have seemed an unlikely venture for the sci-fi specialist. Except season one attracted some five million viewers in the US, helping Starz become the second most popular American premium cable network after HBO.

The series was also nominated for three Golden Globe Awards, while winning praise for being a feminist-minded fantasy with a sexually empowered female lead character.

And it's made Heughan, along with Catriona Balfe - who as Claire, the 1940s British army nurse, pops through time to 1740s Scotland and eventually marries Jamie - international stars.

Claire Randall played by Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Fraser played by Sam Heugan in their early courting days.
Claire Randall played by Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Fraser played by Sam Heugan in their early courting days.

Until his casting, Heughan, 35, was a London-based jobbing actor with a sizeable theatre CV and some television bit parts.

Now he has been tagged as the sexiest ginger bloke on the planet, though Heughan admits Jamie's red locks need some help from the show's make-up department.

His mild Scottish accent is cranked up a notch too.

It sounds like Heughan doesn't mind being Jamie Fraser, kilted object of desire.

"Oh no I don't feel objectified at all. He's a great character and I know a lot of fans of the books think he's perfect really - he's a strong, emotional and loyal and honest kind of character. So he is something to aspire to. I am just very lucky I get to play such as an inspiring character. He is one of the great characters, a great character to play for an actor."

If he's so perfect, how do you make him interesting?

"That's a good question. He can't be perfect and in season one he is pushed to his limits and loses part of himself and in season two he is not himself. He struggles to find purpose and find who he is and reconnect to Claire. It takes quite a while for him to get back to being the Jamie of season one. He has changed a lot from where I first started playing him."

Well, Fraser has been through a lot. Near the end of season one he was tortured and raped by the show's villain, Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall before escaping and reuniting with Claire.

In season two, the pair head to Paris where they hope to stop the exiled Charles Stuart -- Bonnie Prince Charlie - leading the clans into the disastrous Battle of Culloden with the English.

Sam Heughan as Jamie and Catriona Balfe as Claire in a scene from season two set at Versailles.
Sam Heughan as Jamie and Catriona Balfe as Claire in a scene from season two set at Versailles.

But though the Paris excursion might make it appear that Outlander has become a more gentile, more costumed period drama, Heughan says that's not actually the case.

"I think Jamie and Claire are struggling to fit into that world and they are there for a reason -- to change history and to change fate - but they are also dealing with a lot of personal problems as well. It's certainly not a good place for them.

"It's quite poisonous, Paris, with all the gossip and backstabbing. It really gets to them and all their personal problems.

"It really does drive a big wedge between them and their relationship. It takes a lot for them to reconnect."

If the series comes burdened by time travel contrivances - "Black Jack" is the spitting-image ancestor of Claire's 20th century husband, Frank, both played by Tobias Menzies - the drama still feels grounded in show's central relationship.

With their on-screen chemistry, Fraser and Balfe make for one sexily believable married couple.

"We certainly have tried to make this relationship very realistic and not glamourise it. In season one it was about two people falling in love and getting to know each other and it was the honeymoon. Season two is definitely more complex and more of a modern-day marriage - there is more that Jamie and Claire have to work on to keep their marriage and for them to survive."

At least the new setting allowed the production to get out of the chilly pluvial highlands to the more pleasant surrounds of Prague and southern England, doubling for pre-revolutionary France.

Outlander's second season heads to pre-revolutionary France.
Outlander's second season heads to pre-revolutionary France.

"He does get some new finery but when we got back to the second half of the season there was a real sense of relief to get back to the familiarity of Scotland -- and the mud and kilts and the cold and rain."

The second season follows Gabaldon's second book in the series, Dragonfly in Amber, and there are a further six novels - which must please Starz as well as the Scottish tourist authorities who are reportedly welcoming Outlander fans to the show's many locations.

How long does Heughan think he'll be playing Fraser?

"Wow. I have absolutely no idea. We have signed on for the duration and Diana has written eight books.

"It does start to get quite difficult because the characters age a lot, but we seem to be ageing with these characters quite well. So we will see what happens. As long as people want to keep watching, that will be great."

- TimeOut

What: Outlander series 2

Where: Lightbox (series one also available)

When: Second season first episode available now

- NZ Herald

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