ASK Sam Heughan about the prospect of life after Outlander and he would be the first to admit it is a surreal prospect to wrap his head around.
The Scots star has spent the past decade playing dashing Highlander Jamie Fraser in the historical drama, a role that has made him a household name around the globe.
Yet, with the hit Starz TV show now in its seventh – and penultimate – series, the myriad possibilities of what comes next are beginning to creep closer on the horizon.
It is early June when the actor’s face pops up on Zoom. Heughan, 43, is in New York to promote the latest instalment of Outlander (this interview was done prior to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA actors’ strike, which has shut down production on many TV and film projects).
These days the Outlander phenomenon is firmly woven into the tapestry of the actor’s own life, a ubiquitous presence through every landmark moment since 2013. Does it feel strange to see an end point in sight?
“I think you absolutely hit it on the head there and I guess some people might not be able to understand it, but it really is woven into my life,” says Heughan. “It is my life. It has taken over my whole life for the last 10 years.
“It feels natural to be shooting every day or in New York doing press – that cycle and recurring itinerary we’re on. And it is all going to end, I am very aware of that. It is making me want to enjoy it more.
“But we still have a long way to go,” he adds. “We were very conscious while shooting this penultimate season that towards the end you could feel it. It was tangible. Everyone was like, ‘Oh my God, we are actually only going to do this one more time …’
“So, yeah, I am going to need some serious therapy, I think. It is going to be a real change.”
Outlander is based on the bestselling novels by US author Diana Gabaldon, left. To date, she has written nine of 10 planned volumes. The TV series has reached book seven, An Echo in the Bone, which means that the final on-screen ending will likely differ from Gabaldon’s as-yet-unpublished version.
It had been mooted that the show would conclude after the seventh series, but an eighth run has been announced – something that Heughan lobbied hard to help bring about.
“We were supposed to finish this season and I didn’t want to finish without finishing the story and that is the reason why we are going back to do one more,” he says. “I want to finish the story, not only for myself but for the fans. It wouldn’t feel satisfactory to just end it, left in the air.
“Having said that, Diana is still writing the 10th book and there is plenty more that we haven’t been able to cover. We will have to end it some way. Perhaps not a way that the books end it. I am pushing for a different ending, but I don’t think I am going to get what I want.
“Whatever the writers do, I guess we will find out. I don’t think it is ever going to be satisfactory for everyone, but hopefully we can get to a place where at least our Outlander is told. It won’t be the full book, but at least it’s our story and it will hopefully give some sort of finality.”
As Heughan himself rightly points out, we are not quite there. Filming is yet to commence on the eighth and final series with delays expected due to the ongoing Hollywood writers’ strike, which began in May.
In the meantime, Outlander fans have the mid-season finale of series seven, available to stream on Lionsgate+ from Friday, to look forward to and it promises to be a jam-packed episode that will bring about seismic changes to the lives of all the characters.
While Outlander began against a backdrop of the Jacobite rising of 1745, as the storyline has progressed, the show’s main protagonists – Heughan as Jamie Fraser and Irish co-star Caitriona Balfe playing his wife Claire – have upped sticks across the Atlantic for colonial America.
The action, although still filmed in Scotland, is set in North Carolina as the spectre of the American Revolutionary War (also known as the War of Independence), fought between 1775 and 1783, looms.
The sixth series, which aired last year, made for dark viewing and covered tough themes, including rape and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
“Yeah, six was, you’re right,” says Heughan. “That is obviously the storylines but also shooting during Covid, it was a really dark season. And, I think, a really intense one.”
How does series seven compare? “This season is the XL season. So much happens in it, from the many battles during the War of Independence to returning characters. There is time travel. And obviously, I have got to mention Jamie and his son. There is a lot for the characters and also the audience.”
There will be a bit of a wait to see how that all plays out – a further eight episodes from series seven will air next year – but Heughan reckons it will be well worth it.
Familiar characters set to return to our screens include Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek), Brian Fraser (Andrew Whipp), Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish), Ian Murray (Steven Cree), Joan MacKimmie (Layla Burns) and Laoghaire Fraser (Nell Hudson).
Was it fun to be reunited with his cast-mates, many of whom Heughan worked with on the first series of Outlander back in 2013? “Absolutely,” he says. “I can’t say in what capacity, but they are back – it has been announced.
“My good friend and travel companion from Men In Kilts, Graham [McTavish], is back, as well as Steven Cree and all these other characters. We also have a new Jenny [played by Kristin Atherton] and she was utterly fantastic.”
It does mean Heughan has been seeing a lot of Graham McTavish lately. “Too much,” he deadpans, as we move on to talk about the second series of the duo’s travel show, Men In Kilts, set to premiere this week.
While the debut run charted their travels around Scotland, this time the pair have been exploring McTavish’s adopted homeland of New Zealand, where the Glasgow-born actor has been based since filming The Hobbit in 2011.
“We have also been writing our book that goes along with the series – Clanlands in New Zealand – so that has been more time that I have spent with him than I would like,” jokes Heughan. “I was hoping that I might knock him off in New Zealand, but he has a lot of stamina and fortitude. I will need to try harder next time.”
For those unfamiliar with the premise of the show, as well as delving into food and drink, sport, culture and history, an overarching theme is Heughan’s knack of devising increasingly fiendish methods to terrify McTavish (chiefly through high-octane, adrenalin-inducing pursuits).
What can we expect from their tour of New Zealand? “It is a very fun season,” says Heughan. “Basically, much like the first season, we explore the food, the culture, the music and the adrenalin side.
“In season one, when I threw Graham off a cliff and he panicked and hated it, I realised that was TV gold and exactly what we needed. So, I essentially just spent the whole season trying to put Graham in very uncomfortable places.”
Although, as Heughan admits, McTavish, 62, wasn’t quite the pushover he expected. “Yeah, he surprised me, actually,” he says. “There were some things I wanted him to do that he was fine with and other things he just refused point blank.
“But it is an epic little season. And so beautiful. New Zealand is incredible. Graham introduced me to some stuff that I didn’t know about. For instance, some of his life there in Wellington.
“We went to the Weta Workshop that did The Hobbit, we went to see glaciers, we spent time with the Maori, we ate some weird food and drank wine.” Heughan smiles. “It is hard work, but someone has got to do it.”
Did they visit the adventure capital, aka Queenstown? “Well, as you can imagine, that is the place I would love the most. So, yes, we did. And I thought I would ease Graham in slowly, but I got him to do pretty much all of it, so there is a lot of swearing and obscenities.”
What about New Zealand’s famed vineyards? Heughan looks mock-appalled at the mere suggestion they might have missed that off their itinerary. “Of course, we did,” he says, jovially. “We drank everything we could. We sampled the local whisky and went wine tasting.”
Was there a memorable dining experience from their odyssey? “I did have to spend a Valentine’s Day meal with Graham. They put down a lot of rose petals and we drank the most expensive wine – several bottles of that – which I then had to pay for. So, nothing changes, really …”
In the end, says Heughan, they shot far more content than could make it into the final edit. “We recorded so much,” he says. “But the new book gives a lot more of the background as to why we went to New Zealand with that Scottish connection. It is super fascinating.”
Would he and McTavish like to do a third series? “It is something we have talked about a lot,” says Heughan. “We actually have a firm idea of what we would like to do. It depends on whether people keep watching and enjoy it. We would love to. I am sure the old man has one of his nine lives left …”
Heughan clearly has a passion for travel. What’s top of his wish list? “I would like to go back to Australia,” he says. “I have only been there for a week doing press, so I would like to explore more. I would also love to go to Asia and South America.
“I have done a lot of travel recently but not so much outside of work, so it would be good to take some time out and do a bit of a holiday.”
What about closer to home? He traversed the West Highland Way while writing his memoir Waypoints. Any other trails or routes that have caught his eye? “I really enjoyed the West Highland Way and going on my own,” says Heughan, hinting that he fancies trying a similar hike/camping trip.
“I am a big motorbike enthusiast and the North Coast 500 would be fun to do. I might try and get somewhere up the coast at some point. Scotland is such a fantastic place. It is just the midges that are awful. I am excited to do a bit more exploring in Scotland when I get time.”
Heughan has previously shared his belief that we humans aren’t the only life forms in the universe and is a self-confessed fan of documentaries about UFO sightings. Does he fancy a jaunt into space?
“I would love to,” he grins. “I know that space tourism is going to be a thing soon and hopefully in my lifetime I will be able to go up. I am absolutely fascinated and obviously my conspiracy theories about aliens would then be confirmed if I saw one.”
Heughan, who is originally from Balmaclellan in Galloway, spent his teenage years in Edinburgh. His first acting job, while still a student, was in David Greig’s 2002 play Outlying Islands, seeing him nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award as most promising performer.
Almost every time I have chatted with the actor over the years, he has spoken about his desire to return to treading the boards in a stage production. While Heughan’s hectic schedule hasn’t allowed that to happen yet – despite his best efforts – he is determined to keep pursuing that dream.
“Yeah, I had some meetings here in New York recently,” he says. “Again, it is all about timing and whether we can find something. But I am certainly open to it. I would love to do something with the National Theatre of Scotland. I am desperate to get back to where I started, and it would be fun to challenge myself.”
Before landing the role in Outlander, Heughan enjoyed parts in Midsomer Murders and Rebus, he played a footballer in River City and was cast as Hugh Tennent in a series of tongue-in-cheek commercials for the lager brand.
In recent years, he has starred in sci-fi action film Bloodshot alongside Vin Diesel, as well as adventure comedy The Spy Who Dumped Me with Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon. Heughan played Special Forces operative Tom Buckingham in SAS: Red Notice, adapted from the Andy McNab book.
His latest movie role was as the lead in the romcom Love Again with Priyanka Chopra Jonas, released in May. “It was delayed quite a long time – it was a real Covid movie, shot in the height of Covid,” he says. “It was a challenging shoot to do but I had such a good time on it.
“Priyanka Chopra is an incredible co-star. Celine Dion wrote five original tracks for it and made her acting debut. She has not been well recently, so it is a nice way to celebrate her and her music. I enjoyed it. It was a challenge. I had never thought of doing a romcom before.”
Heughan has also been shooting The Couple Next Door, a six-part thriller for Channel 4. Its cast includes Poldark star Eleanor Tomlinson, Jessica De Gouw from Pennyworth and Alfred Enoch, known for his roles in Tigers and How To Get Away With Murder.
“It is based on a Dutch book and TV show about a couple that moves to suburbia where they meet their next-door neighbours who happen to be swingers,” he says. “It is a thriller and there are crime drama aspects as well.
“Eleanor Tomlinson is phenomenal. They all are. Jessica De Gouw and Alfred Enoch are such great people to work with.”
This marks Heughan’s second Channel 4 series in the last couple of years, having previously starred in Suspect, alongside James Nesbitt, Joely Richardson and Richard E Grant.
“The director [for The Couple Next Door] is Dries Vos who I worked with before on Suspect. He is incredible. It is so nice to be shooting something very different and I am enjoying it.”
Away from acting, Heughan has launched his own whisky brand, The Sassenach; a tequila, El Tequileno: The Sassenach Select; and newly debuted The Sassenach Wild Scottish Gin (all three are multi-award winning and have been well received by the international drinks industry).
He has co-written two bestselling books about Scotland’s history, clan heritage and culture, as well as Waypoints, a memoir celebrating his love of adventure and the great outdoors. The latest Men In Kilts companion volume, Clanlands in New Zealand, is due out in November.
In 2015, Heughan set up a wellness programme and charity foundation, My Peak Challenge, which has raised almost $7 million (£5.8m) for worldwide causes to date.
So, even when his time on Outlander does draw to a close, Heughan is unlikely to be twiddling his thumbs. A packed diary appears to suit him well. “I am not very good at not doing stuff,” he concedes. “I am busy with a bunch of other things and hopefully will stay busy.”
Then there are his ambitions within the TV and film world. “I would love to direct something,” he says. “I have been finding projects I am interested in and there are a couple of things.”
Heughan is understandably reluctant to be pinned down at this stage. “I don’t know, if I am totally honest,” he muses, returning to our earlier conversation about life after Outlander. “I am kind of at this point where, once the last season is done, we will see where we are at.
“I am excited, though. I want to try new things. I would love to do more movies. But, yeah, I am going to take a moment and see what is out there and hopefully choose something interesting. It will be cool to see what’s next.”
The Outlander series seven mid-season finale is on Friday, with Men In Kilts series two premiering that same day, both on Lionsgate+