The collective noun for Sam Heughan’s fans are Heughligans, who number in the tens of thousands and act as a testament to his success: as an actor, philanthropist and, as you’ll probably agree, a rather stand-up guy. This affection is directed at one of Heughan’s characters in particular: Jamie Fraser, a soldier and the central protagonist of the cult T.V. series Outlander. Based on the books of Diana Gabaldon, the time-travelling show is set mainly in Scotland, but enjoyed most of its early success outside the U.K. — from America to Chile, Australia to Japan — despite Heughan himself hailing from Caledonia.
While he’s been enveloped in this world for four seasons, Heughan will this year venture into more varied roles, including as a secret agent in the action-packed Bond spoof The Spy Who Dumped Me. He plays Sebastian, a secret agent who aids co-stars Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon in their far-fetched journey around Europe, and who leads a rather different life to Jamie.
Away from set, Heughan keeps a fairly busy schedule: he runs a charitable initiative called My Peak Challenge, which encourages people to improve themselves physically and mentally while raising funds for Bloodwise and Marie Curie; he participates in marathons around the world to raise money for other charities; and, rather fittingly, he is developing his own brand of whisky, which stems from enjoying “a little dram now and then”.
How did growing up in Scotland inform your career?
I was born and brought up in rural Scotland, in the southwest, and I think I was very fortunate living in the countryside: being alone but being in the outdoors, there’s a lot of freedom of expression and creativity — you can use your imagination a lot. I moved to Edinburgh when I was 12, and to me that was a great time to move, because you’re getting older and I started going to the theatre there, and that was certainly how I fell in love with acting. But I think Scotland is definitely a huge part of who I am, and through the show it’s given me a recognisable identity.
When did you realise you could make a living out of acting?
I don’t think I have yet. If you’re a jobbing actor, or doing anything in the arts, you’re only as good as your last job. There’s always that fear that something is going to come crashing down. Things are really good, and have been very good for me recently, but I guess you’re always slightly looking over your shoulder. It’s not a bad thing, you’re just ready for everything to change.