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Diana Gabaldon’s global bestseller Outlander celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. The epic novel about Claire Randall, a British World War II nurse who accidentally travels back in time to 18th century Scotland and meets her soulmate, Jamie Fraser, has sold 25 million copies and been adapted into the hugely popular Starz series of the same name.
Not only has Outlander connected countless like-minded fans around the world, forging life-long friendships, but it’s done the same for actors Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish. The two met in Season 1 of the series playing nephew Jamie Fraser (Heughan) of uncle Dougal MacKenzie (McTavish) and the actors have since remained close. Their shared Scot lineage even inspired them to create their own travel show in which they explore the beautiful isle together, bickering and drinking whisky all the way. Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham drops Feb 14 on Starz with an eight-episode season covering a variety of topics from sports to the supernatural.
SYFY WIRE got on a Zoom to connect with Heughan and McTavish from Scotland and New Zealand (where they reside, respectively) to find out what spooky spots they can recommend…
You’ve separated each of the eight episodes into specific themes. Was that your intention for the show from the start?
Sam Heughan: Initially, it was actually [Scottish] clans. We had six clans to look at. And then I was thinking about the most central location, the easiest to get to from where we're based and that was Glencoe. And that became our first destination. And then from there, we really started to look at where we could get to where it's easier. And that was the initial shoot. And then when we brought on Boardwalk Pictures, who are very experienced with this sort of thing, they really looked at the material we had and we worked out the themes that work best. We were heavily involved in looking at the scheduling and where we could reach because it was also about how do we do this in a short space of time? There's so much travel, but we also have to shoot everything as well.
Graham McTavish: The logistics of it were difficult.
We have a lot of Outlander fans on SYFY WIRE, but also many who love unexplained mysteries. Thus, we have to ask: Did you go to Loch Ness?
McTavish: We did! We rowed around Loch Ness.
Heughan: It's in the “Natural Beauty” episode.
McTavish: He does the rowing. I do the sitting. [Laughs.]
Did you see anything out of the ordinary? Were there any breaches of the water?
Heughan: Oh, you see something out of the ordinary. [Laughs.] It's actually one of my favorite episodes. That's an interesting one because, obviously, Scotland is so beautiful. We just really tried to cram that episode in with as much as we could. It's a great episode. It really shows you the scale of Scotland.
Are the tales of haunted Scotland something you touch on in any of the episodes?
McTavish: Well, we do touch on it. Episode 4. Yeah, it's scary stuff. I mean, they really hated witches. [Laughs.]
Did you gain any new stories or experiences that swayed your belief of ghosts or spirits?
Heughan: We went to Castle Leoch which is the home of the MacKenzie's. It didn't make the edit, but we were talking to the Clan Chief MacKenzie there, and he is a scientist himself. He's very science based. But he told us a number of stories about living in this old castle and things that happened to them. One of them was about this [ghost] night watchman who patrols the house. There's a blocked-up staircase that goes down to the guard room and there was a time when he had some guests and Spanish tourists there listening to music. And this watchman appeared amongst them and freaked everyone out. And as he was telling us this story, the door opened, and then closed... slammed shut! We were all just sitting there and it was like [the ghost] hated what we were talking about and walked out of the room. [Laughs.]
McTavish: And what was the one that he told about somebody hanging a picture on a ladder? He was hanging a picture of a woman, wasn't it? And this woman had replaced another woman in the house, in the family. She was on the ladder and something yanked the ladder backwards and made her fall off.
Heughan: It was a him. He was on the ladder and he said he felt a pair of hands push him off the ladder. He landed on the floor. He was fine. But he looked at the picture and it was cut right across the center of the picture. He had been trying to place this woman next to this other couple, of this man and his wife...
McTavish: And the other woman wasn't having it.
Heughan: There was another one with [the chief's] wife. Now this castle is ancient. And she said she just felt like there's a lot of people in the house. And once, she knocked on the wall. And apparently, a lot of people knocked back.
Getting to travel the country of your ancestors, was there any particular moment that was deeply moving or humbling for either of you?
McTavish: There was a very moving, and I guess you would say humbling moment, when we were in this museum and they allowed us to handle the weapons that they discovered at Culloden battlefield; an actual broadsword and a pistol. We've spoken about it before, but when you're able to hold it, and know that there was a hand around that hilt 250 years earlier —probably sweating with anxiety and with fear—running into battle, firing that pistol then throwing it aside, to be discovered hundreds of years later by an archaeologist...you really have to take a moment to take that in.
Heughan: There's so many moments like that, especially in Culloden. And we actually visited the Isle of Glencoe, which is a tiny burial island in the loch there at the end of Glencoe. It's where all the clansmen were buried. And on this island, there is very little earth so if you are higher up [in society], you get buried in the soil. But those poorer people were just left and their bodies are there. The boatman who took us there, he remembers getting there and seeing a skull that was just lying there and a bird had made a nest in the skull. When we were there, it was such a remarkable place. Very eerie, but also very beautiful as well, seeing the setting sun over the mountains.
McTavish: Oh, yeah. The graves were positioned to face the sun as it set.
Considering some of these stories didn’t make it into the series, is it safe to assume if the show does well that we could see more seasons?
Heughan: Yeah. We shot a lot of stuff that didn't make it. A lot of locations or guests, who were very generous with their time. It was brilliant, but for whatever reason. didn't make it in there. There's so much of Scotland we haven't actually even touched on yet. I know that we would love to do more, because there's so much more to explore.
Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham drops Feb 14 at 9pm EST on Starz
Listen to Graham McTavish and how his family story inspired his Colony character: