The Starz series Outlander brought actors and Scotsmen Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish into each other’s lives, making them co-stars, friends, and travel partners. Since then, the duo have joined forces for another TV series, Men in Kilts, through which they go on epic adventures while immersing themselves in the landscape, history, and food and drink, first in Scotland for Season 1 and then in New Zealand for Season 2. And then, after they survive their time together in their camper van, they revisit it all for a companion book, which this time is called Clanlands in New Zealand: Kiwis, Kilts, and an Adventure Down Under.
Collider recently got the opportunity to chat 1-on-1 with Heughan about his experiences with McTavish, which are often adrenaline-fueled for him while anxiety-ridden for his travel companion. During the interview, he talked about how fortuitous their meeting was, deciding to do Men In Kilts while sharing a beer together, working in unison for the books (both print and audio), the incredible opportunities Outlander has given him, why doing non-scripted work was initially terrifying for him, how COVID almost derailed the season, letting McTavish take the reins for their time together in New Zealand, being more nervous than he lets on, and why everyone should write their own memoir when they go on holiday.
Collider: I love the Men in Kilts TV show. I love these companion Clanlands books. You and Graham McTavish are great at making everybody feel like they’re there with you, and it’s so much fun to watch and to read your experiences.
SAM HEUGHAN: Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. Yeah, it was such fun to write. It’s yet another romping, roving adventure.
You and Graham did Outlander together, you’ve done two seasons of Men in Kilts, and you have these books. Did you have any idea when you guys met that your partnership would be so successful? It’s one thing to be co-stars, it’s another thing to be friends, and it’s yet another thing to do all of this stuff together. Did you have a sense that you would develop a friendship like the one that you have?
HEUGHAN: No, I don’t think so. You never know who you’re going to get on with. It’s incredible. I think we have similar humor, but I think everyone on the set of Outlander did, and we all got on very well. It was almost fortuitous. I was looking to create a TV show and was talking to Graham about it, over a beer in Santa Monica. He also talked about a desire to do that. So, I thought, “Let’s just do this.” It really was the catalyst of, “Why not? I’ve got all the contacts here. We’ve got the locations. Let’s just give it a go.” The book series, as well, was something that I was toying with, at the time. I spoke to the publisher and they jumped at the chance. It’s been great. Even finding the voices in the dialogue that we had in the books was something that came out of COVID. It was us writing in unison on the same online document. I think that banter is something that we’ve captured, not only in the TV show, but in the books. We lean into it even more in the books, and especially the audiobook. It’s great. It goes back to having the same sense of humor and having a shared experience, as well.
In your dreams of being an actor, had you ever envisioned yourself traveling the world in kilts and making award-winning alcohol? Do you find any of these ventures particularly surprising? Are there people in your life that think you’re just absolutely mad, or would they all be like, “Nope, that totally tracks with what we know of Sam”?
HEUGHAN: God, I don’t know what people would say. They’d be surprised, maybe. I don’t know. Being an actor was never about being an entrepreneur, but Outlander has given me these opportunities. It’s made me realize some of the things I love about Scotland and it’s opened doors to opportunities. It’s made me realize, as a businessman, as an entrepreneur, and as a creative, I have different outlets and different ways that I can express myself. Perhaps it’s blind ignorance or stupidity, but it’s like, “Well, let’s give this a go and see what happens.” So far, touch wood, it’s working out. Maybe it is a naive innocence that I approach things with, and maybe that’s the relationship with Graham, as well. He’s the more elderly statesman, the experienced one, and I play the role of this Energizer bunny.
Do you always want to make sure it stays fun and doesn’t just become something you have to think about for business reasons? Whether it’s the show and the books, or even doing the different alcohol, do you make an effort to keep that balance between fun and business?
HEUGHAN: Yeah. I would say all these things are things I’m just so passionate about, whether it’s the spirits business that I’m in, or even the My Peak Challenge, or going on these adventures. It really is an extension of who I am. I haven’t ever branched out beyond the boundaries of what I enjoy, and I’m very lucky that people do enjoy, or seem to enjoy, our adventures. It would be interesting to do something that’s outside my comfort zone. It’s never about business, per se. It’s certainly not about making money. For me, it’s about sharing what I love and what I’m passionate about, and if people enjoy it, that’s the end goal.
Do you ever feel bad for tormenting Graham, or is there just too much joy in it?
HEUGHAN: Oh, it’s absolute joy. I put together the pilot schedule and amongst that were a couple of things that I thought he would be happy with. There was kayaking, there was going on chairlifts, and we were doing Highland games. I saw that he was reserved in doing that and I’d known that from being on set, as well. So, when we then went to shoot the first season for Men in Kilts, I was like, “I have to put in, as much as possible, things that are going to challenge him.” I think Kilt Rock and him abseiling was the big one, and it made such great viewing for me, personally. I enjoy it. I love it. It just gives me so much satisfaction to put him in precarious situations. And then, New Zealand was a no-brainer. It’s the home of adrenaline country. And I’ll give his dues, he agreed to a couple of things that he then pulled out of, but he agreed in prep to do them. It’s just so fun. I love tormenting him, and there’s still a long way to go.
Do you feel like you let him get away with things that you might not otherwise let him get away with, if you weren’t also participating in tormenting him as you do?
HEUGHAN: I don’t really know if he gets away with anything. He’s a bit lazy. He doesn’t do any driving. He doesn’t really pull his weight in any of those areas. But it means that I’m in control. It means that I have him almost in captivity, really. He has no say in the matter. I pretend that I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s actually all been preplanned and is just an excuse to get him to the highest point, and then push him off.
The work that you do on Outlander is often very physical. Do you find it more challenging to pull off the physical work that you do within the confines of a set and a production like that, or is it more challenging to do these real-life adventures that you participate in, either on your own or with Graham?
HEUGHAN: That’s a good question. I wouldn’t say physically it’s any different, but I actually became an actor to not be myself. I don’t enjoy being myself in front of people. I haven’t found it easy, over the years, but it’s something I’ve learned to do. So, presenting or doing non-scripted for me was terrifying. I really didn’t know if we could do it. We assume these characters. There is a lot of truth to it, but it is a character play between the two of us. That’s the most terrifying, or writing a book, or making a spirit. It’s like, “Well, this is what I like,” and God, it’s so nerve-wracking. Those have been the big ones for me, releasing the gin and the whiskey, which are really expressions of my home and where I’m from and what I love. It’s like, “God, are people gonna like this, or are they gonna pour it down the gutter, and essentially pour me down the gutter, as well?” It is much more challenging, in some ways.
It feels like something was testing you on your journey to even have this experience. You had to give up Christmas with your family to travel to New Zealand only to find yourself with COVID and quarantined. It just all sounds like a crazy story that you couldn’t make up, if you’d tried. When something like that happens, do you worry about what will not only happen to the series, but also then the book?
HEUGHAN: Yeah. Honestly, I wanted the whole thing to be longer. Actually reading the book now, it was very long and arduous before we even get to the adventure, but that was the situation. Around the world, COVID put up many barriers and we were lucky to even have the opportunity. At the time we chose New Zealand, it was free and easy and we were like, “Oh, this is the place to go.” And of course, then I got COVID, I had an accident, and then we were in the lottery system. Landing in quarantine, I was still happy and carefree until I was put into my cell, and I honestly didn’t think I could do it. There were a couple of days there where I thought, “I’m gonna have to pull out.” I knew we had a TV show and a book series, and I was like, “What are we gonna write about in the book series, if I don’t last?” So, there was a pressure on us. But as soon as we got over that hurdle, which was a very big one, we didn’t hold back and had an amazing time. We were lucky. Starz was very supportive in trying to get the TV show made. It was a really tricky process. And the publisher, as well, helped guide us into another book. Everyone was very flexible because our schedules are always changing, Graham and I. It’s hard sometimes to nail everything down. But it’s been great. It’s been a real challenge, but a really rewarding one.
Prior to doing this, what was it about New Zealand that made you want to visit there, and what was it like to do so alongside Graham? How did he guide things, as somebody who is experienced with living there?
HEUGHAN: Season 1 was very much guided, I think, by myself because I had feet on the ground and I knew a lot of the guests and a lot of the locations. And Graham had a good say because he has experience there. But when we finally decided on New Zealand, it was like, “Okay, we’ll let him take the reins here because it’s his home.” It’s fantastic to have this yin and yang, and have these two sides. He really gave us insight, and we met a lot of his friends there. He’s also a great historian. He loves really leaning into that, which I think is really interesting and gives a slightly different view than maybe other travel books or travel writing. We went all over. At first, we were gonna do another Men in Kilts in Scotland, looking at the islands and the Highlands. And then, we were also thinking about Scandinavia. I was really interested in that. And at some point, it was gonna be Men in Kilts in Boats because I really wanted to do everything by boat. But we were struggling with the season. The only time we could shoot would be winter and that’s challenging because we knew that the weather would be bad. The thought of going to New Zealand in the height of summer, where there was no COVID, was a no-brainer. And of course, there’s the Scottish connection, as well. It all fell in place when we realized that it was definitely a natural progression.
It seems like you’re game for just about anything when it comes to adventure. Do you ever question yourself, or is it mostly just Graham that does the questioning?
HEUGHAN: That’s a good question. Honestly, I think I’m game, but I’m actually probably a lot more nervous than I let on. It’s because of his complete fear that makes me more brave. For instance, in the book, we talk about going zip-lining and it was this enormous cliff. I was keeping him distracted the whole time going up, trying not to let him see over the edge. And then, he went first and when I saw over the edge, I got nervous for myself, not for him. I didn’t really care what happened to him, but I was terrified. It makes me braver, when I see how scared he is. There are a great many things that I’m nervous about. The helicopter, for me, was one. I’m not that comfortable in a helicopter, but I could never let him know that.
You do the series, you do the companion book, you do the audiobook, and then you do interviews with people like me to talk about it all. As you relive the experiences, do you get a different appreciation for what you were able to do? Are you able to fully appreciate it while you’re there and in the moment, or does it help to be able to look back on it all?
HEUGHAN: Actually, the book series has been so fun to write. Like all of us, if you go traveling or you’re on holiday, and you have great experiences and you take photos, you tell people, but that’s about the full extent of reliving it or thinking about this amazing time that you had. But for us, getting to go back over the experience we had and to relive it and write about it, you remember small details. Reliving it has just been so rewarding. Writing the books has been a great way to reflect on our experiences. I would suggest to everyone, the next time you go on holiday, write a little memoir about it.
Is there another location that you have in mind? Are you already trying to plan out a Season 3?
HEUGHAN: Yeah, we do have a particular location in mind and we’ve talked at great lengths about it. Obviously, it will come down to timing and schedules. He’s still alive, so there’s still time.