The 2015 Primetime Emmy Awards are taking place this year on September 20, but before that happens the nominations are going to be officially announced come July 16. Will “Outlander’s” own Sam Heughan have a place at the table? We have been impressed thoroughly by his work all season along, and some of the harrowing scenes between Jamie Fraser and Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) in the final episodes “Wentworth Prison” and “To Ransom a Man’s Soul” have left an indelible mark on everyone.
As an extension of our current Emmy Preview series we had a chance to speak with Sam, who is currently filming the show’s second season in Scotland. We chatted briefly about the filming progress, but for the most part we focused on his experiences filming the first season, some of the more difficult moments, what he learned about his craft through the process, and the Emmy campaign both for his show and for a category that is an extremely competitive year: Outstanding Lead actor in a drama series.
CarterMatt – So how are things going? I know that [you’ve at least started] season 2 filming.
Sam Heughan – We’ve been doing night shoots, so we’re still walking around like zombies. We’re actually almost finished the first three episodes. We’ve sort of done a super-block across [these] three episodes. At some point we’re doing location work, which we’re doing in Prague and elsewhere. It’s going really well; it’s good to be back! It’s almost like we haven’t left.
What is that feeling like of being back? At a certain point it must be very familiar given that you are working with so many familiar crew members, but you also have many new places, many new cast members…
It is a completely different world that we’re dealing with. Different locations, different costumes, different actors as you said, different storylines … There’s a familiarity, but also there’s this slightly unsettling feeling about it because you don’t actually know this world that you’re in. It’s been really interesting because we know these characters and their relationship, but they’ve been thrust into this new world and it’s been really a journey of self-discovery. Obviously with the end of this past season and the finale there, both Jamie and Claire have a lot to deal with. It carries through to this season, and it is a lot about their relationship and the psychology with that.
I want to jump back in a time machine for a minute to when you were auditioning for the show. Obviously you knew that there was this book series and there was a popularity there [with the source material], but could you predict in advance the sort of success or praise that the series has received?
I guess you can never really imagine it. You try not to (laughs). You do everything in your power to think ‘oh my god, this is nothing, nobody’s going to see this!’. Obviously I knew it was based on this series, and everyone around me was very excited for me, and saying that this has potential to do great things. I guess you always dream a little smaller because you don’t want your expectations to be smashed. But also you can’t think about that; you just have to concentrate on the work and the job at hand, and there is very little time to think about that stuff, just with the schedule that we’ve got.
But yeah, I would love to go back in time just to tell myself to enjoy the moment, which I have been, but it’s been a real roller-coaster and I’ve been very busy and it’s been great.
When was the moment that you knew that [executive producer] Ronald D. Moore was involved? Was that during the audition process?
I knew straight away. When I was asked to audition I was told that he was the executive producer and showrunner, and that just made me want to jump at it. Had he not been involved, maybe I would have been slightly wary of the project, but I loved his work and I just felt like he seemed like [the right person] to do this. I think he’s proven that with his edits and crossing the story and this world. He’s such an amazing character to work with.
You went through a really extensive process making season 1. Was [working on it] longer than a year?
It was. Even with all the prep, screen tests, looking for the Claire character that [Caitriona Balfe] plays, it was maybe a year and a half from the moment I got taken on. And it’s another ten months now plus post-production, so it really has sort of overtaken our lives for the past couple of years.
You mentioned this earlier, the notion of just concentrating on the work. As you’re filming some of these scenes, and there are extremely difficult scenes from this past season, is the notion of the Emmys or any awards show really on your mind?
I don’t think so. I think we’re quite removed over here in Scotland. I think that’s one of the joys of the job, we’re removed from that vibe. The shows these days [that do really well], it seems to come from word of mouth. They become hit shows. Your friends and family talk about it, and they recommend it for you to watch. I just hope that our show goes that way. Even if people do mention our show in conversation about Emmys or awards, that’s fantastic.
It seems to be the fans really [offering tremendous support], and their response is more than enough.
I know everyone will talk about your performance in ‘Wentworth Prison’ and really the final two episodes as a whole, but I’m curious if there is a moment from the season that you are particularly proud of that maybe isn’t getting that same sort of attention.
I would say episode 9, the first episode of [the second part of the season], after the rescue from Fort William [there is a scene with] Claire and I at the river where we have this argument. I think it was the first time that we got the chance to use our acting chops to get our teeth into something. Up until that moment, especially with my character, I felt the character was kind of on the periphery, and you don’t really get to use all of the skills that you’ve got as an actor. I think that’s why the show has been so great to me; you get an opportunity to go to some places that you don’t really get in a cop show or regular television. I think what we’re doing is quite new and quite different.
When you were shooting some of those scenes in prison with Tobias [Menzies], was this a situation where you filmed these scenes as a progression, where you could start to build to the point where Jamie becomes, as he said on the show, broken? Or was this a situation where you were filming [bits and pieces] at a time, and you were having to play up a variety of different emotions for each scene?
We pretty much shot in sequence [the final episodes], which was really helpful. I think the producers and the director [Anna Foerster] were really aware that it was important that we shot it in sequence rather than jump around. It was about a two-week period where we were in this cell where [the scenes took place] … That really helped, to be locked in this cell. It was a really dark place and claustrophobic, and that really helped to get into character and into those dark places.
Are these emotions things that stay with you, and do you feel them almost before you begin work and after you finish?
It certainly took a lot of concentration. They weren’t fun days; there certainly wasn’t a lot of joking. The prosthetic process every day was three or four hours in the morning and maybe another hour in the evening. I was pretty beaten-down and worn out by the end of it, and so was the rest of the crew and again, that helped. Being in prosthetics was the part where I could really prepare for the day, and then in the evening I could take it all off, that would help to discard the psychology and the emotions from that day.
That’s kind of part of the process, and that helped to get into the mindset of the character, where Jamie is at.
Can you talk for a minute about working with Tobias in these scenes? I feel like his performance was just so effective and shocking and even terrifying.
He’s a wonderful actor, and terrific and terrifying as Black Jack. That’s really important, that he does scare you, he scares me, and you have someone to play off of. I feel like we both spoke the same language. We both come from a theater background, so through the rehearsal process we both understood what we wanted to get out of it, what the scene needed.
When it filmed, we just kind of just went for it. We didn’t spend much time together, we were in separate cells, and I think that was important for us to go there and really challenge each other, and I think the director really challenged us, as well. All of us were striving for something and pushing each other, and that produced this great work.
Everyone says that you want to be always learning, really no matter what you are doing in life. Is there anything that you personally learned from the process over the past season that you’re applying to the future both of this show and your work in general?
I think technically you learn a lot, but I think it’s also remarkable just how much your personal life goes into these shows, and how much is reflected. I cannot tell you whether it’s the show reflecting on my personal life or my personal life reflecting on the show; I don’t know. Whatever it is, it’s great to be able to use that and it just feels like the relationships that we’re playing on screen are very much being fed into by working on this job and working in this situation. It’s a really interesting journey for an actor; sometimes really hard to separate, and sometimes very easy. Ultimately it feels like it is all really building to something really truthful and honest.
We’re in a golden age of television right now, and in some ways this is both a wonderful and trick. The wonderful thing is that you’re making [TV] at this time, though there is also so much competition for your show and every other show in the context of [awards]. Are there any other shows that you are keeping an eye on? I saw a ‘Game of Thrones’ live-tweet happening on your Twitter recently.
You’re absolutely right. Television is at its height, and that is reflected when you talk about the Emmys. There are terrific shows and terrific actors being nominated, and it is really hard to choose anyone.
I am a huge fan of ‘Game of Thrones’; I was catching up on an episode overnight and was really overwhelmed with the action sequences, by the look of the show. The writing is terrific. There are so many [great shows] out there; I especially think American TV shows are terrific, and really pushing boundaries. I hope that we have a place there, as well.
I think people really want more TV shows these days. They want to immerse themselves more in these characters and storylines. It’s an exciting industry to be in.
A major thanks to Sam for taking so much time on a Saturday afternoon to speak about the show and his process; we will ultimately have to wait and see what Emmy voters decide, but his work was exemplary and not to be forgotten.
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