Sam Heughan (‘Outlander’) on why Season 5 felt ‘different’ than past years [Complete Interview Transcript]

Sam Heughan plays Jamie Fraser on the Starz series “Outlander,” which aired its fifth season earlier this year. The actor won a Gold Derby Award for Best Drama Actor in 2015.

Heughan recently spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Rob Licuria about what made Season 5 of “Outlander” different, working with co-star Caitriona Balfe and his upcoming show “Men in Kilts.” Watch the exclusive interview above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: Sam, there was something new and bold about Season 5’s energy and impact. I felt it was more emotional and ambitious than ever. Do you agree that it was probably the strongest season since Season 1 and Season 2? 

Sam Heughan: Rob, great to see you, and totally agree. I think bold and emotional is absolutely right. And I think shooting it, I hate to jinx these things or put any pressure on it, but it did feel different. I felt every time we got the scripts through and we were working on them, they were such big storylines. So much happens. Obviously, they’ve used a lot of the storylines from the next book as well. But I think that the crafting of the storylines were great. And obviously Jamie’s storyline for me was a huge one. And yeah, I think Season 1, obviously, for everyone is one of our favorites. For me, I always loved Season 3 as a sort of personal journey for Jamie but this one was huge. And yeah, the Murtagh storyline for me was just so good to get your teeth into, as they say. Yeah, what a season. Really good. 

GD: It was really good. I’m actually a Season 2 guy, but that’s a whole other interview. We’ll do that another time.

SH: Good to know.

GD: Is it any coincidence that you and Caitriona became producers over Season 5? Did that help with your ability to help mold the way the show was going to go? 

SH: I mean, of course. Yes, absolutely. I’m going to take all the credit (laughs). No, I mean actually we didn’t get the producer credit until quite later on in the process of the scripts being broken down. So to be honest, we didn’t for the early part of the season get as much influence. But definitely, I think towards the end. I think the writers and Matt B. Roberts have always been extremely generous in talking and having a dialogue with us as actors. But I think now being producers, I think, yeah, we definitely have more say. And I think the episode you really feel probably the main influence would be the last episode, the finale. That’s where I think myself and Caitriona were very close with the director and with Toni [Graphia], obviously and Matt, who wrote it. So, yeah, I think that’s where you probably feel most of our influence. But yeah, it was really cool to get that producer credit and to just be involved a bit more and to go to production meetings, to see all the work that goes on behind the process and also to have a say and be in more of a collaborative role, I suppose. 

GD: Yeah. I mean, it was nice of the producers and the network to let you and Caitriona have that involvement. It just shows that they had kind of some confidence in your ability and obviously how critical you thought to the success of the show. 

SH: Also, a lot of the creative side of “Outlander” have left, from costume designers to the showrunner to writers, to the production designer. So actually, really the only continuity of the show is, to be honest, myself and Caitriona in a way, especially on the ground every day. And I think, yeah, it is very wise of the network and the producers to sort of bring us on board. I think it’s great. We are now the guardians of these characters and of the show. It’s a great honor to have that influence. As you said, it was a really clever idea. And it’s been, I think, really beneficial to the show as well. 

GD: Absolutely. If you think about the season finale, that was a very fitting end to a very strong season. After Claire is abducted, tortured and raped, it’s profoundly satisfying when a vengeful Jamie retaliates against the Browns and rescues her. And we have the whole part of the episode where she’s dissociating and she’s in the ‘60s. I know Caitriona had a lot to do with the way that looked and I know you did as well. How did you feel about that episode in particular? Because you should both be very proud of the way it turned out. 

SH: Yes. I think we were very nervous about this last episode. It really deals with some very strong issues, strong emotions and pretty harrowing material. But I think that that’s why it probably worked so well, is that we really did collaborate so much with the writers, with the director, Jamie [Payne], who we have to really thank. He approached us with great sensitivity, great detail for weeks before we were having meetings, myself and Caitriona, in our trailers between takes or shooting other stuff, talking about the tone of the piece, about what you would and wouldn’t see of any of the assault or the violence. And then, yeah, daily, even between scenes shooting it, it was a really strong dialogue between all of us and Toni as well, who I have to say was fantastic, the writer. She was on set with us. Looking at Jamie’s part, I think initially the way it was scripted and the way it was presented, you would see Jamie in the ‘70s, in this ‘70s world and I was uncertain that I wanted to see him fully realized by Claire. This is obviously part of her mind that she knows it’s a fantasy or she knows it’s an escape. So it is fractured and it is disjointed. So I didn’t want Jamie to be fully realized, ‘cause she knows he can’t be there. She knows this isn’t a real world in the back of her subconscious somewhere. So what we tried to do was give a nod to who Jamie was in her most, I guess, the moments that she really treasures with Jamie. Season 1 with the tartan being around her shoulders, the comfort he brings. So he’s more of, I guess, in a way, the feeling that he gives her rather than this fully-realized person in a sense. And I think the costume, we talked about it, it looks like Jamie’s wearing the clothes from the past, but they’re also modern. So it is a really strange, strange place. He’s a bit of everything, an essence of Jamie.

GD: The concept of Jamie. Because we have to remember, when she’s going through her ordeal, the only two words she says are “no” and “Jamie.” I mean, really works. And then the season ends with a shattered Claire and Jamie, who has been through the wringer. They’re holding each other in bed and then we kind of leave it there. It’s a defining moment in their relationship. What really interests me is we end Season 5 with her surviving that brutal sexual assault, just like we ended Season 1 with Jamie having survived from a very similar ordeal. How will this impact and perhaps strengthen their relationship, do you think? 

SH: Yeah, well, just relating to what you said there, the whole time through the ordeal, the only person she wants is Jamie. She knows if he’s there, he’s going to hopefully be able to fix this. So he’s never fully realized in her, I guess, fantasy until he is there in person and real. And it’s almost like she conjures him. But yes, I mean, obviously, there’s a lot of similarities between what happens to Jamie in Season 1 and Claire at the end of this season. And I think they have each other. However, they’re fractured. They’re broken. They’re a family and they’re facing this future together. But yeah, the cracks are definitely there. I would say absolutely by no way is she healed but she’s on that journey towards finding some sort of resolve in this whole situation. I guess that’s what makes it so interesting and so fantastic is that these characters are broken in various ways and they’re facing this unknown future together. But, yes, they are together and they are a family. 

GD: Yes, exactly. I haven’t read the books, but I’m expecting Jamie to reciprocate some of the comfort and help that she was able to provide to him. As you said earlier, it was a really eventful season for Jamie. He almost dies from a poisonous snake bite. It was a really interesting way to put Jamie in an unusually vulnerable position. Do you enjoy exploring that side of him? Because he’s got to be strong for his family but it’s nice to see Jamie kind of in peril and relying on everybody else to help him. 

SH: Yeah. That episode really kind of comes out of nowhere, really. And to be honest, I’d been so concentrated, so consumed by the storyline with Murtagh and losing Murtagh and that whole storyline had been so immersive for me. The snake bite really kind of came out of nowhere. And it is almost like its own little chapter on its own. It’s fantastic because it’s not only Jamie having to confront his mortality but also this relationship with Roger that is finally being formed, this bond between them and again, yeah, it was a really, really interesting episode to see, Jamie having to rely on everyone else and rely on Roger, the man he thinks is the most incapable man in this time. And Roger does it. Roger has his own abilities that I think Jamie is really beginning to realize that he may not be a man of the time, but he does have his own attributes that are pretty special. And yeah, it’s great. To see Jamie at the end, he chose to come back. He chose to come back for Claire because he loves her. It’s probably the second time I think Jamie’s come this close to death. I think he has probably taken his last breath at Culloden is probably the other one. And it’s interesting that when he does, he has that monologue about going through a tunnel and going towards whatever it is, that it’s Claire that brings him back. It’s a conscious decision for him to remain on this planet for her. 

GD: There’s so much connection with what happens at the end of the season. And as you say, Jamie’s relationship with Bree really developed, the relationship with Roger was great to watch, but I think it was that Murtagh stuff that really got us because many of us weren’t expecting that to happen, for him to return as part of that Regulator storyline. And it elevated it to have Duncan Lacroix in that and then to have him die allowed you as Jamie to really go there as a very vulnerable and kind of devastated guy. I’m just wondering, is that still very challenging to do on the show after all these years? 

SH: Yeah, I mean, I think absolutely having Murtagh as the leader of the Regulators really puts Jamie in a dichotomy and really puts him in a position where he’s torn between both sides. And I think if you didn’t have that character, I think for the viewer and possibly for Jamie it would be maybe easier to get him to deal with the situation. But yeah, it really throws up a lot of problems for Jamie. And I think early on, I think it’s the first episode where Jamie tells Murtagh to leave him. I think that really is sort of foretelling where we’re going to go with it. And I just loved all the scenes working with Duncan. He’s such a generous, thoughtful and great character and he’s always been here, that character as well. He’s always been this constant, silent companion for Jamie. He’s been his father figure. He’s been his guide. He’s been his confidant. So for Jamie to lose that, it really is also the last tangible thing he has to Scotland, to the Highlanders and to this old way of life. And now he’s lost that. So he really is now in America and the sort of new world. So it’s hard for Jamie to lose that. And yeah, as your question was is it hard to still get this to this place? No, not really. Not when you have great actors. Not when you have people like Duncan, who just, amidst all the madness of filming, he just brings his A-game and even after Episode 7, the funeral, to see Jocasta mourning him, it’s really sad. There’s actually Murtagh’s cairn, his grave on-set, and I don’t know, there’s something about it. It’s beautifully positioned, just this amazing tree. And it’s a great sort of testament to Duncan and to his character. He’ll always be there for us. 

GD: He’ll always be in our hearts. Speaking of that vulnerability, I think we’ve touched on this before but Jamie’s strength is his emotional intelligence and how that doesn’t fit into the time period in which he lives. Vulnerability and sensitivity are traits that we don’t, unfortunately, see often enough on TV, especially for leading men in this day and age. How important is it for you to define and exhibit Jamie’s masculinity or his version of masculinity in this particular way that’s different and better, perhaps, and something we should be aspiring to?

SH: Yeah, I think on one hand he is the all-action heroic character but I think the appeal for me and I think possibly for the fans is that he’s always had this other side to him, this side that he is emotional, he’s able to dig into those parts of himself. And I think that’s what makes him such an interesting character, and the fact that he grows. He is willing to grow, to change and I think learn from his experiences and also from Claire, his partner. It’s always been a strong part of what Caitriona and I have tried to do with the characters is to try and find the growth with them not only as individuals but together and what is their relationship now? What is their relationship now that he’s 50 years old and they’re grandparents? How do they love? How do they coexist with each other? And it’s really nice to find those moments now, when we get to see Jamie and Claire on their own and just kind of existing together. And it’s something that actually he’s always wanted. Jamie’s always wanted this life, to be surrounded by his family and his loved ones in a home. Yeah, so I think he’s a great character. And it’s also nice to see him become the man he is now using all the attributes he’s had before, the great leader, the great warrior, the general. But also he’s almost the clan leader now, in a sense. 

GD: Yeah, he’s come a long way. And that’s what we love about him and we’ve got so much more to look forward to in Season 6. I have no idea what’s going to happen. I don’t really want to know. I’ll just wait. Caitriona told me a couple of weeks ago that you both clicked instantly and what she loves most about you is how you put your heart and soul into this role. So I would like to know what you think her best quality is as an actor and your co-star.

SH: Oh, well, I think Caitriona’s strength, she’s always led from the front. She’s intellectual, she’s extremely intelligent but very giving, and she’s always very caring as well. I’m just so lucky. As she said we did click, I guess, from the start. And to be able to trust each other and have each other’s back has been the most important part of this. There’s always a weird time when we go away shooting “Outlander” where we leave and we’re always in contact. She’ll call me and I’ll text her and we’ll meet up and whatever. But that first day back at work, it’s almost like we’re slightly tiptoeing or slightly shy of each other and then we fall back into our routine and we’re idiots. We laugh a lot. We talk rubbish and we’re very childish. But it’s great to have her. She drives you. She pushes hard. And she’s very thorough as well. She does a lot of work and I just couldn’t be more thankful for such a great co-star. 

GD: Yeah, obviously, you’re at a point in your career where eventually “Outlander’” will wind down and you’ll have other projects and you’ll move on to hopefully bigger and better things. When I speak to actors, in particular, a lot of them tell me, particularly ones that are around 40, 50, 30 even, they say you’re lucky enough to get that one role, that one role where you get to do everything that defines you, defines your career and your personality. And you’ve had that with “Outlander.” You’ve been very fortunate. Does it occur to you how this role will kind of stay with you for the rest of your life? 

SH: Yeah, it’s nice of you to see that. I think absolutely. You look at other actors in their careers and you realize that there’s always a defining role. And I mean, this is absolutely going to be mine. I think it’s always going to be with me. As we get further on in the sort of the lifetime of this show, we’re going into Season 6 now, I think, yeah, I can see where the end might possibly be. It’s hard to think about that and hard to think about what will happen when the show is over. I think we’ll all miss it greatly. We already are on “Droughtlander,” everything that’s going in the world. I don’t know how I’m going to get through it. Probably therapy or something, but there’s some sort of ceremony that I’m going to have to do to kind of come to terms with it being over. But I think what we’ve got, we’ve created a bond between all of us as actors, as writers, as a whole team. We know we’re on something special. And the fans, they’ve been incredible the whole way on this journey. And they’ve really made it. If it wasn’t for them, obviously, we wouldn’t be here. So I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m going to do when it’s all over. 

GD: I have faith that you’ll be all right. It reminds me when I see you on social media, I see how much you and the cast and crew mean to these fans. And you’ve done so much charity work and your My Peak challenge is so popular. It must be so satisfying to see people posting their results online and you seem to comment on them as much as you can. I’m sure you have lots of things going on in your life, but you seem to make the time for them. That’s really special. It must be very satisfying to you. 

SH: It is, yeah. From day one of being on the show, of being cast, I think we loved having interaction with fans. I would that Caitriona and I still do as much as we can. And actually right now it’s a great time to be able to talk to people online. I mean, it has its own challenges and I think people are aware of those. But you can give as much of yourself as we can. I try to engage with as many people as possible and support as many projects or charities as I can. But obviously, we don’t want to overwhelm people with all these different projects. But it’s great. It’s a great part of the show and I think the fans have got behind everything. They get behind whatever we’re supporting. They jump in with it. And I think that’s a testament probably to Diana [Gabaldon]‘s books and also to the show. 

GD: Yeah. And finally, Starz picked up your new series, “Men in Kilts” with Graham McTavish. That’s really exciting. Tell us all about that, because now everyone’s just buzzing about it online. 

SH: (Laughs.) Good. Yes. I’ve been working on producing things and this was one of the first ideas. I’d been looking for something to produce and I was chatting to Graham and we talked about this idea and initially, we were going to do a podcast and then I thought, “Well, why don’t we just shoot it as a sort of miniseries?” And really, the sort of footage we got and the tone of the piece was so fun. We cut it together, some trailers, and yeah, we’re fortunate we found it an amazing home. Obviously, it’s a great fit with Starz and I can’t wait for people to see it. He’s a great travel companion. He’s grumpy, he’s tired and it’s TV gold. You want to go on a road trip with me and Graham. It’s a lot of fun.

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