On Season 5 of the Starz drama series Outlander, the Frasers find themselves fighting for their family and their home, as Jamie (Sam Heughan) must defend all that he’s created in America, alongside his wife Claire (Caitriona Balfe). Now looked to for leadership, Jamie must also hide his personal relationship with Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix), who he has been ordered to hunt down and kill.
During a 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Heughan talked about what makes Season 5 a really strong one for the series overall, getting to spend time with the whole Fraser family, how he and Balfe evolved into producers, where things are at in the Jamie and Claire relationship, and much more Outlander-related goodness. He also talked about why he was so excited to sign on for Bloodshot, playing Paul Newman in An Unquiet Life, and his road trip TV series Clan Lands with Outlander co-star Graham McTavish.
Collider: Like I’m sure all of the fans of the show are, I’m excited that Outlander is back. Since fans have waited so long for Season 5, what are you most excited about, as far as what the season has in store for them, now that the Droughtlander is finally coming to an end?
SAM HEUGHAN: We know that they’ve waited some time, so we appreciate them for that. I hope that they’re not gonna be disappointed. This is a great season. We have a really strong opening, for the fans. I think they’re gonna love the wedding, at the beginning of the season, and really getting to spend some time with the whole family, before things go terribly wrong. This season, there is some great stuff. The Revolutionary War is fast approaching. The finale, this season, is probably our strongest yet. It’s very stylized and quite different. So, we stick to the books, of course, but we’re using parts of Book 6, as well. There’s also different storylines in there, that are not in the books, so there will be some surprises, as well, for the book fans.
Because there has been such a break between seasons, was it important to everyone to have this first episode back be something really special and have some really touching family moments at the wedding?
HEUGHAN: Yeah, I so. It’s nice to give the fans what they want, and they want to spend time with his family, and there are so many great characters that are this extended family. So, yeah, it was fun to give them some breathing time, and to really set up the season and set up where all of the characters are at. It’s feels right that it’s at a wedding. We had fun with that episode. I think it might lull people into a false sense of security because it does feel like everything’s pretty good, but we soon find out that there’s gonna be trouble. But we’ll let the fans enjoy themselves for an episode, at least.
You and Caitriona Balfe both became producers with Season 5. What led to that, and did that change things for you, at all? Does that allow you to be more involved, in any ways that you weren’t, before now?
HEUGHAN: Yeah. We’re really, really happy to be given that title. It was quite late in the process, so we didn’t get to have as much influence, in the beginning, as we wanted, especially with the breaking of the scripts and storylines. But as the season went on, we had more say in the scripts and we were more heavily involved. It was great to be a part of the creative process. The last couple of seasons, we hadn’t really been a part of it, so it felt right to be back there and collaborating with the writers. We’ve been playing these characters for six years, and it feels that we are the constant and the continuity of the show. It was really fun, even to be a part of the production production meetings, as well. We went to every single one of them and got to see the work that goes on behind the scenes. They have great preparation and great extensive work that goes into getting everyone on set, for that day, to shoot a particular scene. There’s just so many decisions to be made. It’s been a great learning curve.
Where are things at in Season 5, in Jamie and Claire’s relationship, and are there any favorite moments that you have between them, this season?
HEUGHAN: They have finally got what they’ve always wanted, which is a home and their extended family around them. Jamie has his daughter, from the future, who’s there. So, in a way, they have everything they want, but yet they still yearn for things. We see, this season, that Jamie certainly still wishes that he’d had the chance to father a child with Claire and been a part of that process of raising that child. They’re very much in love still. They’re very strong together. They miss each other, as well, when they’re apart. One of my favorite scenes is probably when Jamie comes back from having been told he needs to gather his militia. He rides all night, and he gets back to Claire late at night, and we see them really touch base with each other, and not just physically, thought that is a huge part of their relationship. They need each other’s company, but they also need each other as a sounding board, to bounce off their ideas, to discuss, and to work out how to make the next move or how to play their cards. They really are a great team together, and they have a loving, interactive relationship.
You’re personally turning 40 while your character’s hitting 50, and since it’s quite unusual to get to play a character long enough that he surpasses you in age, what’s it like to get to see Jamie, at this point in his life? How was it for you to really take that journey with him?
HEUGHAN: Thanks for reminding me that I’m 40 this year. No. It’s great. Jamie was supposed to be 23, when we first met him. So, to play him for six years, so far, and for what looks like could be many more, it’s a real journey that you go on with that character, and we’ve seen him grow up and become the leader of men that we always knew he was. He never wanted to be a general, but he has that natural ability and people are drawn to him. Also, to see him use his experience, now he’s the less tempestuous, he’s less quick to fly off the handle, he thinks a lot more about decisions, he certainly is emulating, a bit, his uncle Colum, who was a great tactician and a great leader. Jamie has the natural ability and intellect, as well. He’s not just a man of action, but also a man of intellect, and when the two come together, he’s a great, formidable leader.
With Jamie put in the position of having to be at odds with Murtagh, how long can he continue to avoid what’s expected of him? Will he have to really confront and deal with that, this season?
HEUGHAN: This is my favorite storyline, this season, certainly for me and for Jamie. It’s not in the books, of course, but it really is a wonderful, difficult dilemma for Jamie. He’s always been a man of word and a man of honor, so therefore, this really tests him. And yet, as time marches on and the stakes are raised, on both sides, Jamie really is forced to act. Without giving away spoilers, for me, it certainly was one of the hardest and most interesting stories. It’s gonna be tough for him to decide which way to go.
It’s also really interesting to have that visual of seeing him in the Red Coat uniform. What does it mean to him, as a character? And as an actor, what was it like for you to get to that point with the character where he has to confront all of these things that he’s fought against, for so long?
HEUGHAN: Yeah, it was a huge point. Before we finished last season, I knew that this moment was coming, where Jamie was gonna be on the side of the Red Coats, so I asked if we could see him in one ‘cause I knew it would be, visually, very arresting and, and such a big 360, with everything that the uniform stands for and his history. So, I spoke to Matt [Roberts], and the other producers and writers about it, and fortunately, we got to make it work. I was so excited because, for me, it felt like a really big challenge, having to actually put that thing on and have to stand there as a British officer. That’s certainly not who Jamie is. And it’s a real power play, by Governor Tryon, and certainly is one of the ways to try to test Jamie’s loyalty.
I love that this is a show that can explore history, but at the same time, get you to dance. How was the experience of having to learn how to do the Highland dance? Was that easy, or was it harder than you expected?
HEUGHAN: It’s in the book, so in the script, they wanted it to be a sword dance, but I felt we’d already seen that in the show. So, I did a bit of research and wanted to do the Highland Fling, which is a different dance and not traditionally done with swords. It was dance that the men would do in the front of battle, to show their prowess and strength, but it also had a lot of symbolism. The shaking of the leg would show the shaking off of the shackles of the British, and the hands above the head were the stag’s horns. It’s a very patriotic dance, so it felt like the right dance to do. It was fun and different. It was difficult in those big boots, to be nimble on your feet, but it’s a great moment. It’s where all of the men really let their hair down and enjoy themselves. It’s a light moment. There’s a really nice connection between Jamie and Claire there, as well.
Having heard the producers of the show say that they’ll keep making episodes of Outlander until Claire and Jamie are a hundred, does that make you nervous about how long you’ll be playing this character, or is it exciting to know that you’ll get to explore at least a bit more of this character’s life?
HEUGHAN: It makes you slightly nervous to think, “Oh, my god, a hundred? Wow!” But we’ve played the characters for six years, and it feels like a lifetime ‘cause it is a long time to spend with one character. We’ve learned so much about them and we’ve come so far. Looking back at past experiences and different countries that they’ve been in, different challenges they’ve faced, and different drama, it would be right to follow this through to the natural end, and to really explore that and make it a strong one. We’ve got a really strong show, and as long as people keep watching it, we’ll keep making it. Who knows? Maybe Jamie will get to a hundred. That’s if Diana [Gabaldon] and the books get there. She’s got a few kicks up her sleeves.
One of the downsides with a long hiatus is that we have to wait a long time for more episodes, but the upside is that you’ve been making some really interesting films. What was the appeal of something like Bloodshot?
HEUGHAN: I was so excited by it. To be honest, for me, it was primarily about the character. He’s completely different to Jamie Fraser. He’s got a very unique personality. How can you turn down an action movie with Vin Diesel? The director Dave Wilson is incredible. He’s a first-time director and he’s done an amazing job. It’s just such an interesting take on comic book heroes. It’s very dark. I’m really, really proud of that. I saw it last week. Hopefully, fans will see a completely different side to me and to some of the characters that I’ve been playing recently.
It also seems quite unusual to get the opportunity to play Paul Newman. How did you find a way to play him, in An Unquiet Life, that felt comfortable to you? Did you do a lot of studying of him?
HEUGHAN: What a huge character to play, and it was a great honor. It’s a beautiful script, about Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal. I really only was a small part of that movie. I was quite daunted, at first, by it, but excited by the challenge. To be honest, I just started watching as much of Paul Newman’s movies as I could. I started reading his autobiography, and just learned about him. Fortunately, the way that the scenes in this movie pan out, he’s in his own natural habitat. There were a lot of mannerisms that I could copy. I don’t think I look like Paul Newman, really, but I thought I could capture a bit of the essence of him. He had a particular energy and a rhythm to him that I tried to emulate. Hopefully, it’s a bit of an homage, but I’m not trying to copy him. What an amazing man, as well. Even in his other business dealings and his private life, he sounded like a really inspiring man.
You had announced that you were going to be doing this project with the Graham McTavish, Clan Lands, and now it seems that it’s evolved into a TV series. When did you realize that was something that could become more? How are we going to be able to see that?
HEUGHAN: I’m glad you asked. So, initially we had that year to do a podcast about Scotland, and about his clans and the history. And then, when I started gathering together a team, and then working out how to produce it, I realized that we should really make it a TV show. I produced it, financed it and directed it, and just went for a really high end look to it. We had three cameras and drones, and it was a lot of fun. I’m really, really proud of it. We’re in post-production, at the moment, and it’s looking like it will probably be a series, or at least a one-off movie, and we’re in negotiations with a few people to sell it. Hopefully, it will be out, maybe later this year. There’s definitely been a lot of interest. We’re actually gonna go shoot another one, later this year. So, I’m excited for everybody to see it. It’s basically just a road trip around Scotland, drinking whiskey and learning as much as we can about the Highland culture and Scotland.
Do you feel like getting the opportunity to do other roles, to do these other projects, and to try different aspects of the business has really strengthened your performance and your work, as an actor, when you then return to Outlander to play Jamie?
HEUGHAN: Yeah, I think you’re totally right. Not that you would ever get bored or lose your way, but I think these other projects all help. Going and doing Bloodshot gave me more skills, made me more confident, and made me realize that there are certain things I can do. It all feeds back into Outlander. You then go back to that, after you’ve learned new things. As an actor, it’s important to try different things and keep yourself fresh. These other projects actually energize me more, and get me more creatively inspired and excited. It all helps.
You’d worked as an actor before Outlander, but this series has really put you on the map with fandom, in a huge way. What was it like to suddenly find yourself in that fandom? Was there a bit of an adjustment period, in realizing that you have this huge fan base for the show, and that they love the characters and are willing to follow you guys, all over the place?
HEUGHAN: Yeah, absolutely. We were unaware, when we first got the job, and it’s still an adjustment, to be honest. There are a good number of fans, and with the show being on Netflix now, as well, the show has grown again and become more recognizable. For me, how to operate with this power, or this voice, we’re constantly learning about that. I’ve discovered that we can lend our voices to charity work and to things that we believe in, but also, we have to decide whether we should be involved with them. For instance, politics has always been a tricky one for me, whether we should talk about it, or just keep quiet. It’s interesting to have that interaction with fans and learn about what they require, what they want, and what they expect of you. The first couple of years, you lose a little bit of yourself because you’re unsure and don’t want to upset people, and you don’t want to sway the boat. But in recent years, we’ve become more comfortable with it. Hopefully, fans like us for the work that we do. We appreciate the support that they give us, as well.
Were there moments, in the shooting of Season 5, where you just kept cracking up during a scene and couldn’t get through the takes? Because this can be such serious and intense material, do you try really hard not to crack up?
HEUGHAN: It’s no secret that Caitriona is notorious. She cannot hold it together, at all. So, if she’s gonna laugh, that’s it. She will literally turn her back on you, during a scene, and just start laughing. I generally manage to keep it going. When everyone else is getting really tense on set, for some reason, that seems to affect the actors more, and they just can’t help it. I think it’s because you can feel the tension that it makes you try not to laugh, which makes you laugh even more. So, I apologize to our crew. There have been times when we just couldn’t contain ourselves. Generally, we’re pretty good, but we’re on set long days, and it’s always good to have a laugh, as well. I think it’s always good to keep it light. I always try to keep things not too heavy. There’s plenty of opportunity for that, when those scenes come around. It’s important that everyone has a good time. We love our crew, and we love to interact with them, so we have some good times.
Outlander airs on Sunday nights on Starz, beginning Sunday, February 16 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.