Men in Kilts: Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish on Reigniting Clan Feuds, Biking Scotland, and More
The Outlander stars head out to the Highlands in their new Starz travel series.Photo Courtesy of Starz TV Features Men in Kilts
With most of the globe still unable to travel normally, living vicariously is pretty much all we’ve got when it comes to escaping our homes for the more far-flung points of the world. Thankfully, actors Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish are here to the rescue us with their new Starz Scottish-centric travel show, Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham.
The duo worked together in the first season of Outlander as 18th century Scottish kinsman, Jamie Fraser (Heughan) and Dougal MacKenzie (McTavish). Through the series, they learned more about their own ancestral ties to the clans of the land, and kept up their friendship after McTavish moved on to other projects. But the lure of their Scotia roots continued to beckon both of them, and they talked about creating a podcast about their ancestry. However, they quickly determined audio wasn’t going to capture the visual majesty of the country so the idea shifted to something far more ambitious—a travel series hosted by the two of them. They eventually packed into a camper van with GoPro cameras and a minimal crew to put together a pilot presentation which Starz then picked up for an eight-episode series.
Paste got the chance to connect with the two gents to get the details about how they concocted this wee adventure:
Paste: Who came up with the big idea for a Scottish travel series in the first place?
Graham McTavish: We had ideas independently. In my mind, I had an idea 30 years ago, something called Clan Lands. I’d written about it being based around the clans and Scottish history. And Sam really wanted to do something himself, as well, about Scotland. We had a conversation about it in LA once. And then the next thing I know, I’m standing in my kitchen here in New Zealand. Sam rings up and says, “Hey what about us doing something along these lines?” He suggested a podcast, and I pretended to know what that was. And then it was using GoPros, which I was a little confused by because I thought we’d have to wear them strapped to our heads like miner lamps. And then Sam very shortly afterwards came up with the idea of actually doing it with a crew.
Paste: Sam, you’ve been developing your own potential projects for a bit, so did this came out of that?
Sam Heughan: It is exactly that. As Graham said, we both had ideas about creating something Scottish, or around the Highlanders and the clans. I had seen the interest in that from Outlander. I was looking at creating some IP around it, with a TV show, and then it just made sense. I was in Scotland shooting Outlander and I thought, “Why wait for someone? Why don’t we just do it ourselves?” I had access to all this crew that I knew. I had a line producer I’d worked with before. I knew the cameraman and a lot of the guests I knew from either Outlander or other productions. My producing partner, Alex Norouzi, we’ve created other stuff as well. He came on board and we very quickly threw a crew together, a rough schedule and flew Graham over without him really knowing what was going on. And before we knew it, we were in a camper van. I took him hostage. And then we found ourselves driving around Scotland and it was very organic. We knew where we were going and who we were meeting, but the content was really up to us and our guests. And I think that spontaneity really is part of the road trip.
Paste: Were you able to pursue side adventures, or were your destinations locked?
Heughan: We were pretty tight on the schedule. We knew who we were gonna meet and talk to. But when you actually get in there, for instance with Clan Cameron, we knew we were going to speak to the clan chief there. And just walking in, you see the broadsword that was used at Culloden, or in fact, their standard from Culloden. It just makes you stop. And then it goes on a journey talking about what these were used for and how they were used. I don’t think that actually made it into the edit, but you just never know what guests you’re going to meet, or where it’s going to take you in the conversation.
Paste: How many days did you have to shoot everything?
Heughan: We recorded, I think, five days over three weekends.
McTavish: Just incredible how much we covered.
Heughan: We did. We covered a lot. It was mostly locations and guests. But we didn’t have the interconnecting stuff. Boardwalk Pictures came back and helped us reshoot, or shoot stuff in the camper van, and really connect it all together.
Paste: Are there many of your adventures that didn’t make it into the first season?
McTavish: We have so much, when I think about it, especially to do with the clans. The stuff that we shot with the clans, we could have done two or three episodes just with those people. We had to fit it into the eight-episode format. And so, there’s plenty more stories to tell about Scotia history, for sure.
Heughan: And we managed to reignite some clan feuds as well, leaving destruction behind.
McTavish: Sam engineered it so clan chiefs, who are pretty much sworn enemies, are in the same place at the same time.
Heughan: And things have not really changed much. They’re still bickering, dare I say, still arguing. But now they’re doing it via email and they haven’t stopped since we were shooting. They still keep popping up in emails telling us exactly what “actually” happened.
McTavish: One email begins with the immortal line: “462 years ago, one of your ancestors did so and so….”
Paste: What was the most nerve-wracking thing you did for the show?
McTavish: Rappelling off a 300-foot cliff.
Heughan: We met this probably five-foot-five, young girl who’s a professional Highland dancer. We were there in the middle of Braemar [Aberdeenshire, Scotland] with some swords that were remarkably sharp, having to learn to sword dance. It was extremely difficult and also, this young girl was just completely showing us up. It was not even embarrassing. She made it look so easy, and we’re just so useless at it. A five-year-old kid could do, and we couldn’t.
McTavish: And traditionally, when you’re doing the sword dance, if you touch the sword—this would be before battle—it meant that you’d be injured. If you kicked it, that meant that you would die. I kicked my swords within about 30 seconds.
Heughan: He died several times that day.
Paste: What ended up being your personal favorite mode of transportation?
Heughan: I tried to get Graham in a kayak, but that didn’t happen. I liked the motorbike and sidecar.
McTavish: Strangely, I didn’t. Weird. I enjoyed the bicycles actually. Just regular bikes bearing down the road was great.
Paste: Is it in your hearts to do more of this series if you can?
McTavish: Oh, yeah. We’ve got loads to do still with Scotland. Loads that we haven’t included. Loads still to do. And then there’s the rest of the world that, by extension has that Scottish influence. New Zealand being one of them.
Heughan: Or America and Canada. Yeah, as long as Graham’s prepared to do a little driving.
McTavish: I’ll do a little bit. I’ll get us out of the car park.
Heughan: That’s assuming we’re going by car.
Paste: Oh, that’s a threat if we’ve ever heard one.
McTavish: It really does make my blood run cold.
Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham premieres Sunday, February 14 at 9:00PM ET/PT on STARZ
Tara Bennett is a Los Angeles-based writer covering film, television and pop culture for publications such as SFX Magazine, Total Film, SYFY Wire and more. She’s also written books on Sons of Anarchy, Outlander, Fringe and the official history of Marvel Studios coming in 2021. You can follow her on Twitter @TaraDBennett.
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