Sam Heughan is a man of the world, even if his roots are firmly planted in his birth country of Scotland. Starting in his teens, the actor was touring all over the UK, and later the globe, with theater productions. The experience set a passion for traveling to new places and trying new things. Starting his career in London before moving to LA, that life-changing leading role came in the form of Jamie Fraser in the fantastical time-hopping series Outlander, which brought him back home.
“I love filming Outlander in Scotland and it’s great for doubling other places because the landscapes are so diverse,” says Heughan. The hit Starz series is going into its sixth season, prepping a seventh, and has been in production for a decade. Doing the same show for that amount of time is a rare blessing in the industry, but only gives Heughan a few months off a year to go adventuring. “The schedule is tricky,” he says, “and there have definitely been sacrifices.”
Heughan has made it work for the most part. Recently returning from a road trip through New Zealand with his friend and co-star Graham McTavish; the two of them finished the second season of their travel show Men in Kilts. Heughan also flew off to Budapest and Mallorca to film the special forces thriller SAS: Red Notice. Then there was that Christmas holiday a few years ago when he escaped to Thailand for some intense Muay Thai training with local fighters.
Men’s Journal spoke with the Scottish renaissance man about those journeys, finding new hobbies on set, and the possibility of playing a certain globe-trotting secret agent.
Men’s Journal: Outlander has been such a big part of your life. Are there certain moments of the show that stand out to you?
Sam Heughan: We’re about to start filming the next season, which will bring us to 10 years of doing the show. You can’t help but start to look back at the journey you’ve been on. There are so many favorite moments for the fans, mostly ones that come from the books. The first season has a few that are dear to their hearts. No doubt, the wedding is one that stands out. For me personally there are moments that spring to mind—like when Murtagh dies in battle. That was just a huge moment for us, because you aren’t just losing a great character, you’re losing a great cast member.
Are there any interesting skills you’ve had to learn to play Jamie?
Outlander is great like that because we’re always having to pick up new skills for our characters. Back in the earlier seasons, I had to really advance my horse riding and become comfortable speaking Gaelic. This last season I had to learn how to throw knives.
Have you adopted any of these skills into your life off set?
One hobby I’ve taken up is archery. There are always a lot of bows on set, especially in the more recent seasons. I really enjoyed using them, and now I have a couple bows at home. I have a bullseye set up in the backyard and, sometimes, like during a recent wrap party with fellow cast and crew members, I’ll place cardboard boxes around the lawn for us to shoot at. It’s a super fun way to spend an evening along with a few drinks. I beat them all in that competition—and the crew was made up of rodeo riders and true professionals. I mean, we’d all been drinking quite a bit, so maybe we were a little bit loose. But I’m still excited about snagging that victory—although I’m always slightly worried one will go over the wall and into a neighbor’s yard.
Have you enjoyed getting to film in Scotland?
Scotland is great at doubling for a lot of different places, which has been invaluable throughout the run. Right now it’s doubling for North Carolina, which is pretty rad. During the early seasons, it was about using those castles, which we don’t anymore because we’ve moved from that era. This season we spent a lot of time filming in Glencoe, which is one of my favorite places. There’s this beautiful mountain called Buachaille Etive Mòr, or ‘The Great Herdsman.’ The locals call it ‘The Buckie.’ When we were shooting there during the summer, there was still snow. There’s definitely a weight to the hills there. Glencoe also has a lot of history—including a huge massacre, which I covered in Men in Kilts.
Speaking of Men in Kilts, the first season was based in Scotland, but for the second you went to New Zealand. How’d it go?
We just got back from New Zealand and it was a grand ‘ol experience. Our road trip went all over the country. It’s daunting to try to cover a whole culture in one season, but we did our best job. I think people will really enjoy it.
Did you wear the kilts?
Of course! It’d be rude not to at this point.
My favorite episodes are the sporting ones. Did you get one of those in this time around, too?
The whole season is a very active one, because New Zealand is a very active place. There are lots of sports to try out as well—and Graham and I are very competitive. The first sports episode we did in Scotland was one of our favorites. Sadly it ended up in a forfeit where I lost and had to skinny dip in the North Sea as my punishment. I needed payback, so things may have escalated in this next sport episode.
How’s your training going these days?
I’ve been traveling a lot recently and that always takes a toll on your fitness routine. I’ve continued to do what I can, when I can. That’s been a frequent issue for a lot of people, maintaining their fitness while on the road or without a gym. I designed a sort of gym-on-the-go bag with gear to help myself and others out in these situations. It’s a rucksack that has a lot of space you can use when you’re hiking. There are water bladders and a pocket for a weight plate so you can add weight if you want for squats, swings, or cleans.
Now that you’re about to start filming the next season, are you ramping up the workouts at all?
I’m preparing to start hitting it hard again. The normal routine would be a very functional strength regimen with lots of compound lifts and CrossFit workouts. Last season, I was thrown a bit of a curveball. I had a bike accident around Christmas. I was on a bike heading home after this huge CrossFit workout, and my body was completely tapped. I think that was one of the reasons it happened. I fractured my knee and got these tears in my MCL. This is the first time I’ve had a real injury that limited my ability to train. I remember the first couple of days I was just distraught with the fact I couldn’t do active things
I went straight to see my physio, who’s fantastic. I got all the information from him on what I could do and what I couldn’t. Once I had that knowledge, I went to Pieter Vodden, my awesome trainer in the U.S. at Pharos Athletic Club. Right away he was talking me through all the exercises I could still do with my upper body and core while my leg was out of commission. As soon as I had my first workout with him, I felt better. Getting those endorphins really lifted my spirits. You start looking for ways you can move still—and it forces you to train differently. I did a lot more bike work and EMOMs.
How did you go about continuing to recover while staying moderately active?
I did more research online, listened to podcasts, and watched people on social media like the Knees Over Toes guy on Instagram for new ideas. Taking it day by day, I got incrementally better and started to feel my body recover. Beyond the physical side of things, it was also about what supplements I could take to speed the process along. I was smashing turmeric and greens. These days, I’m working out about 50 percent less than I used to, but have decided that’s okay. Even just walking is enough to get the blood flowing a bit more. Getting ten thousand steps a day isn’t as easy as it might seem, and there’s a tremendous benefit to it. I learned over this experience that maybe I don’t need to hit it so hard.
I know you’re still being careful with that injury, but do you have any goals down the road or fitness journeys you’d still like to go on?
I recently signed up for an ultramarathon, which I’ve been very excited about. I’ve wanted to do one for a while. Clearly it’s not possible for me to do it anytime soon, since my knee isn’t at its best. But I look forward to getting back into form where I can take one on. I love taking on the physical side of a role and hope I can take on something meaty soon.
I shot a drama in the UK called Suspect where I play a police officer. It’s set in the gym, and the producers told me that I’d be working out while we were doing the scenes. I assumed it was a traditional gym with weights—but when I got in there I found out it was actually a boxing gym and had to adapt very quickly. We leaned on the Muay Thai background I have.
Where did you learn Muay Thai?
I was inspired by the coaches I was working with in Scotland. I think we were filming the second season of Outlander at the time, and the only chance I had to get away was during the holidays. I went out to a great training camp on the island of Koh Samui where you train twice a day for two hours per session. I had pretty basic skills when I arrived, but I dedicated myself to the lifestyle, leaning into the idea that I was a real Muay Thai fighter. One of the great elements of being at the camp is your life becomes very simple, focusing only on getting better. I really enjoyed that. The days for the fighters would start with a 10K run in the humidity, followed by shadow boxing, pad work, then some sparring. There was more conditioning to do after that.
Once we wrapped up the morning workout, it was time to eat and get some sleep on the beach before the afternoon session. The afternoon workout was more of the same and you were wiped by the end of it. In the evenings, it was time to jump on your moped and ride into the city where they set up these exhibition fights. The whole community would be there, packed into this small space, to watch these incredible fighters. That energy fueled you up for the next morning. Being on that schedule every day of the week, I got ripped pretty fast.
Given all your skills, it feels like you’d be a perfect James Bond—and there have been quite a few speculations.
The rumors are flattering. It’s been nice to be in the conversation. If you’re going to be a character like James Bond, you have to believe you can do it. You have to believe in yourself, and I do. I’d love the opportunity and I’ve auditioned for Bond in the past—back before Casino Royale with Daniel Craig. But it’s hard to know what they’re thinking for the next one—or if they’re thinking about it at all right now. I would love the chance, and feel like I’m ready to take something like that on. I got to do something similar with SAS: Red Notice and I found the possibility of launching my own franchise interesting as well. The first film did really well. It hit the top of the Netflix charts in several countries. I was glad I got to work closely with Andy McNabb, who’s the real deal—the former special forces soldier who wrote the book it was based on. We’re still talking, and we’d love to do some more.
Outlander is now available on Starz
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