Culture

Diana Gabaldon on the 'Outlander' Casting of Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser

The newly cast Sam Heughan

Editor's Note: Diana Gabaldon is the New York Times bestselling author of the wildly popular Outlander novels - Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, and A Breath of Snow and Ashes (for which she won a Quill Award and the Corine International Book Prize) - and one work of nonfiction, The Outlandish Companion, as well as the bestselling series featuring Lord John Grey, a character she introduced in Voyager. Here, Gabaldon shares with Signature her true thoughts on the casting of Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser in the upcoming television series adaptation of Outlander.

A few thoughts. <cough>

Do you, um, know what it is that an actor does?

No, really. Do you? They do what I do -- they make magic happen. They do it with their faces and bodies, while I do it with words, but it's essentially the same thing. They create something that wasn't there before.

Granted, sometimes it helps if you have the rough physical outline for a particular role. MOST of a physical resemblance, though, is really not necessary, and for two reasons:

1) Physical appearance is very mutable. Hair and eye color are so simple to change that I'm amazed anyone is carrying on about what color Mr. [Sam] Heughan's hair is. (For the record, he's blond. Like any other actor, he dyes his hair as needed. It's dark in these photos; it could be red within half an hour.)

2) Much more importantly -- beyond very basic things like height and general build, physical aspects are just not that important, provided that an actor can act.

As one of the producers said to me -- anent the auditioning process -- "We were hoping that somebody would just walk in and be Jamie."

Okay. Now, I got the word about Sam Heughan (I asked him how to pronounce it: "HEW-an is good or, if you can, insert the Scottish throat clearing/spitting sound in the middle ... HewCH-an. Hard to get right first time without spraying close friends with saliva.") while I was driving to Santa Fe with my husband; they thought they'd found Jamie and were sending me the audition videos a little later. Well, naturally, I spent the next hour Googling "Sam Heughan" on my iPhone.

Now -- I think this point may just possibly have escaped a few thousand of you, so let me restate it: Jamie is TWENTY-TWO in OUTLANDER, and a virgin. And as the producers do understand and respect the story very much, they wanted a guy who could believably be a twenty-two-year-old virgin. (Yes, I know half of you are thinking of him as he is in the later books and thus "see" him in his fifties. That doesn't mean the producers should cast someone in his late forties and ask him to play a twenty-two-year-old virgin. Am I right? Yes, I am. Now that that's settled ...)

So I'm lookin' at some of Sam's photos and sayin' to my husband, "Yeah, I buy him as a virgin ... but I think Claire's going to get done for statutory rape!" You know, a bit apprehensive. He's quite big, but a very chiseled face that makes him look a good bit younger than he is, at least in stills.

(Husband approved of the stills from "First Light," btw (where Sam is playing a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain) -- "He looks good beat up," he said. "A good thing for playing Jamie.").

So anyway ... we get to Santa Fe, let the dogs out, air the house, go have dinner ... And then, I sit down at my computer, in a lather of trepidation and excitement, to watch the audition tapes.

First five seconds, I'm interested -- he looks totally different than he did in any of the stills -- and five seconds later, Sam Heughan's GONE, and so am I. It's Jamie Fraser, right there in front of me, moving, talking. One of the biggest thrills ever.

And that's what actors do. Good ones. They can "be" someone else, totally.

[SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN'T READ THE SERIES YET]

Now, I saw him do two scenes: the confrontation between Jamie and Dougal, after Dougal exposes Jamie's back in a tavern. Ferocious, explosive, a glimpse of the warrior. And he ... freakin' exploded.

And then ... the scene in which Jamie explains to Claire exactly why he intends to punish her for disobeying his orders to stay hidden, thus nearly getting them all killed.

1) This is arguably the most controversial scene in all the books. And I'm not about to go into the scene itself -- not the point here. The point is that that's one heck of a complex scene, emotionally, and could be read/performed in a lot of different ways. Now, I happen to know exactly how Jamie acted and spoke during that scene ... and that's ... exactly what Sam did. Thoughtfulness, intimacy, fair-mindedness, annoyance, firmness -- and quite a lot of humor. One of Jamie's hallmarks is the ability to be threatening and funny at the same time -- and Sam pulled that off.

So, yeah. I've watched those videos a couple dozen times, just to be sure I wasn't imagining things. I wasn't.

Now, fwiw -- the necessary physical aspects are all there. Sam's big -- my head would hit about the middle of his chest (he's only an inch shorter than my husband) -- and very well-built, in terms of what Jamie actually looks like. Tall, lean (not burly), rangy (not bulgy), broad-shouldered, muscular (but a young muscular. Young athletes look way different from gnarly middle-aged ones). Face ... chiseled, striking -- but looks different in every single role.

And the bottom line is simply this: He showed up and he was Jamie.

Visit Diana Gabaldon's Facebook page here.

  • Tracy Belbusti

    I am so excited! If Jamie came alive for Herself, then he's perfect! Wonder if those audition tapes could 'accidentally' be leaked only to those of us who are the BIGGEST fans :-)

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Karin Bruenggel

    I am very glad to hear that you think that Mr Heughan will be a perfect actor to play Jamie. I think ,that I am not the only of your fans,who was worried that it would be almost impossible to find someone to play our beloved Jamie. We are soo many, who can't wait to not just read your books over and over again, but also watch the magic come alive! Thank you, for evey word,you write and give us all those moments we can dream. Thank you for have given us Jamie and Claire!
    Karin

  • Jackie Blue Arnett Dodson

    Diana darling, if yo say he is Jaime then I agree 100%, and the more I read, above, the more excited I became!! I always said the same thing, that he doesn't have to have every single physical detail just be able to BE Jaime! Oh how I wish I could see those tapes!! Now I'm lathering with anticipation myself! [hahaha] But I can not begrudge you the privilege of holding them secret , as the Woman who created such an Epic fantasy for us to loose ourselves! A story that as a little of Everything and I use the word in its strongest sense! Thank you Diana for sharing your wonderful mind and obviously a sincerely romantic heart that loves to chew on adventure! Your books will remain timeless! Its a timeless story, actually no that is wrong...hahahah it is full of times from 1500 and another few centuries here and there!!
    ~Blessed Be!
    ~ Blue <3

  • Marta

    Any news on where this series will air (channel)?

    • Dee

      It is going to be on STARZ starting in March 2014 (from all reports), they start filming in September - 16 episodes

  • Deb

    Verra nice!

  • Elizabeth Gayle Fellows

    Can't wait to see the film, however one of the main parts of the character of Jamie Fraser was that he had RED hair??? That totally is out of character as in most of the books it is referred to in some way or other?

    • Erin

      It's going to air on Starz TV
      I'm sure they can dye his hair red.

    • Emily

      Did you even read the article?

  • Beth

    Ok, I'll admit, I was quite skeptical at first. Sam didn't really look like the Jamie in my head, and I adore Jamie, so naturally I'm very protective of the character. But I read all of what Diana had to say about him, and she convinced me to be more open-minded about him. She is the one who created the character, so she knows everything about him. And if she says that he is the perfect Jamie, then I shall have faith in her and Sam.
    I'm very excited to see Outlander when it comes out next year and I can't wait to see what they've done with our beloved world.

  • http://letmeknit.blogspot.com Andrea

    I saw that picture last night. If I was any happier it'd be illegal :)

  • Nikki

    I am SO excited for this series!! I have been a fan for many years, and can't wait to see the books played out on TV. I'm glad to hear that you are so involved, so to keep the intergrity of the stories. Looking forward to 2014!!

  • Sandy

    Wonderful! Makes me excited to see it play out on screen

  • Dana

    I think most of us would give anything to see those audition tapes!! Someone who actually IS Jamie. I think that is what most of us fans worried about. Will the actors completely embody the chartacters. Cannot wait to be taken away to Scotland with all of them!! Still my favorite books of all time.

  • Vanessa

    Every once in a while, I need to look this guy up. As soon as his image appears on the screen, I smile. He's a perfect Jamie.

  • http://www.wordandfilm.com/2013/07/diana-gabaldon-on-the-outlander-casting-of-sam-heughan-as-jamie-fraser/ Barbara

    I read the first book before I watched the series. I could not believe how well the casting was done. Everything about Jamie that I envisioned in my head while reading the books came to life when I saw the first episode. I wish I had discovered the books sooner. I am not an avid reader but I cannot keep these books down. I am almost done with Voyager.

  • Jen

    Just started watching the series,have read all of the books 2x. Yes Sam is what I would picture as Jaime Fraser but to now know he's not an original ginger? Disappointment. Coming from a true ginger of lowland Scots/Ulster ancestry.

  • http://facebook marie rosato

    I can't tell you how excited and glad I am tha Sam got the role of Jamie.I fell in love with Jamie 20yrs ago and I had a diffent image of him in my head.When I saw Sam he was Jamie. Even down to the little quirks his tapping his fingers his crooked grins his cats eyes his voice.Sam is Jamie.It was almost the same with Claire. After the first few minutes Cait was Claire.The casting has been perfect all around even in the secondary charecters

  • Judith Grant

    I have read all the books published on this story twice and have them in my bookcase, never loaned. I was totally immersed when I picked up and started reading Dragonfly In Amber. I read it out of order of the series, but quickly corrected that mistake.

    I was so glad to see Outlander on STARZ and watched every episode with anticipation. Not only do the actors assume the characters from the books, the authenticity of the scenery and costuming is amazing. I do so hope there will be more episodes.

  • http://yahoo barb campbell

    why do I find my self crying when Jamie gives Clair his Mothers pearls. that scene gets me every time.

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