According to Sam Heughan, Outlander is “wow, hard to define. It’s a historical romance drama with sci-fi fantasy elements.”
For him, it was those “elements” which were the big draw, as was the show’s executive producer, Ronald D Moore, a sci-fi expert in his own right who’s worked on two major series you may just have heard of… “He’s amazing. I was a huge Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek fan – it’s informed the way I think now.”
The first episode of Outlander sees our protagonist Claire (Catriona Balfe) touch a standing stone in the Scottish Highlands and fall backwards through time, from 1945 to the 1740s. It’s a premise that Scottish actor Heughan is completely on board with – “I kind of do feel that it’s possible” – especially in his homeland.
“There’s something about Scotland. That culture, the Highland culture and the Gaelic culture are very close to their past. We are very aware that the past is still living with us.”
Being around nature, he says, helps, which is good because the show was filmed on location in the country’s wild and rugged landscape, in places like Loch Lomand, Glen Coe and Aviemore.
“I’ve been doing a lot of hill walking, trying to get away as much as possible into the Highlands and get acquainted with all that,” Heughan says. “It’s terrific to be filming in Scotland. You don’t have to imagine anything, it’s all done for you. We don’t use CGI in this show. It looks like we do, but it’s just Scotland in all its beauty.”
The highlands did, of course, pose their own problems. “The wet and cold was absolutely a challenge, but that all adds to it. These were hardy people and they lived outdoors – I have a new found respect for Highlanders.”
Plus, it was nothing his kilt couldn’t handle… “I never got cold on set. All the costumes are completely authentic. There are no zippers or poppers or Velcro or anything. It’s all done exactly how they would have done,” he says, adding: “The kilts are very liberating!”
Outlander sees Heughan play Scottish highlander Jamie, a young and rather handsome warrior who Claire comes into contact with in the first episode, before becoming a vital part of her adventure.
“He’s a very noble character, he’s got a strong moral code, he’s very forward thinking. But he’s stubborn as well.”
Jamie is “growing up quickly and having to take on responsibility” in series one, something that Heughan says “has been echoed in my life. It’s all about growing up, getting older, asking ‘who do I actually want to be?’ and finding a place in the world, I think.”
And interestingly, the origins of his character first came from another of Heughan’s sci-fi loves… Doctor Who.
“Diana [Gabaldon] got the inspiration for Outlander, or the character Jamie Fraser, from Doctor Who. She was watching an episode and there was a character called Jamie [companion Jamie McCrimmon, first seen in The Highlanders] who was in a kilt and that’s where she got the first spark,” he tells us.
“I love Doctor Who – I’d love to do sci-fi,” he says, adding that he’s been trying to persuade his friend and Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss to get him a part.
“Maybe there’s a crossover there as well,” he adds, suggesting that Outlander and Doctor Who could easily combine. “It would work. I could come out of the Tardis – that’d be awesome. Let’s make this happen! If we could do that, that’d be great.”
Although Heughan can’t quite decide whether he’d personally be equipped to cope with life in the 18th century: “I don’t think so. They drank coffee a lot – that’s good, I could do that. But it’s pretty cold. I think I’d probably miss certain things. Electricity, hot water, certainly. Having said that, I could get a horse and a sword which is pretty cool.”
Outlander launches on Amazon Prime Instant Video today