Education and early life
Heughan was born on 30 April 1980 in Balmaclellan, in the historical county of Kirkcudbrightshire in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. At the age of five, he moved to nearby New Galloway where he attended Kells Primary School. During this time, he lived in converted stables in the grounds of Kenmure Castle. Moving to Edinburgh at the age of twelve, he attended James Gillespie’s High School for a year and then moved to the Edinburgh Rudolf Steiner School until the end of the sixth year. He subsequently spent two years working and travelling, before enrolling at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) in Glasgow, graduating in 2003. During his schooling, he performed in numerous plays, including The Twits at Citizens Theatre, an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, Aeschylus’s Greek tragedy Prometheus Bound, and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Prior to his graduation, in 2002 Heughan was one of four students chosen to represent RSAMD at the BBC Carlton Hobbs radio talent competition.
While he was still a student, Heughan appeared in Outlying Islands, a play by Scottish playwright David Grieg. The play premiered in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the Traverse Theatre before moving to the Royal Court Theatre in London. Heughan was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Most Promising Performer for his performance. In 2004, Heughan appeared in his first professional television role in the miniseries Island at War, a WWII drama about the German occupation of the Channel Islands. The following year, he appeared in several episodes of the Scottish soap opera River City and portrayed adulterous husband Pony William in David Harrower’s play Knives in Hens at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, Scotland. Between 2006 and 2009, Heughan appeared in a number of made-for-television films and miniseries, including BBC and PBS’s collaborative miniseries The Wild West (2006), Channel 4’s docudrama A Very British Sex Scandal (2007), and BBC Four’s Breaking the Mould (2009). During that time he also made appearances in a number of television series, including an episode of ITV’s Midsomer Murders, ITV’s crime drama Rebus, and two episodes of BBC’s political drama Party Animals. Between 2007 and 2009, Heughan made appearances in several live productions, including Noël Coward’s The Vortex at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Shakespeare’s Hamlet at the Citizen’s Theatre, Iain F. MacLeod’s The Pearlfishers at the Traverse Theatre, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at the Dundee Repertory Theatre, Macbeth at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, and Nicholas de Jongh’s Plague Over England at the Duchess Theatre.
Heughan landed a recurring role as Scott Nielson in 2009 as Nurse Cherry Malone’s boyfriend and a secret drug dealer in the BBC soap opera Doctors. He was nominated for a British Soap Award, in the category Villain of the Year, for his twenty-one episode stint on the series. The following year, Heughan starred as the title character in the direct to video feature Young Alexander The Great, which was filmed in Egypt and explored the life of the teenager who would become Alexander the Great. He went on to star in BBC’s television film First Light, the story of RAF pilot Geoffrey Wellum’s experiences flying a Spitfire in the Battle of Britain, as documented in his WWII memoir of the same name. From there he featured in PBS’s BAFTA winning mini-series Any Human Heart, the story of author Logan Mountstuart’s life in the context of historical events surrounding him, based upon William Boyd’s novel of the same name. Heughan returned to theatre later that year in dramatist Phyllis Nagy’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr. Ripley at the Royal & Derngate. Throughout that same year, Heughan portrayed Hugh Tennent, founder of Tennent’s Lager, in a series of comical commercials, which won a number of accolades at the Scottish Advertising Awards.
Hallmark Channel’s original film A Princess for Christmas starred Heughan as Prince Ashton in 2011, a role which saw him appear opposite Roger Moore and secure a nomination for Most Inspiring Performance in Television at the 20th Annual Grace Awards. That same year, he featured in Steve Waters’ sold-out play Amphibians, a dual story of Olympic swimmers Max and Elsa, at the Bridewell Theatre. For the next two years he starred as Batman in the touring stage show Batman Live. During this time he made the news for his assistance in a real-life citizen’s arrest. In 2012, he performed the title role in Shakepeare’s King John at the Òran Mór Theatre.
The year 2013 saw Heughan cast as Jamie Fraser in the Starz time-travel drama series Outlander. He was the first cast member officially announced, to great praise by the author of the series, Diana Gabaldon, who said, “That man is a Scot to the bone and Jamie Fraser to the heart. Having seen Sam Heughan not just act, but be Jamie, I feel immensely grateful to the production team for their painstaking attention to the soul of the story and characters.” The role is recurring, with Heughan reprising the character of Jamie Fraser in seasons one (which premiered in 2014) through four and the upcoming seasons five and six. He and co-star Caitriona Balfe assumed the additional role of producers on the series in 2019.
Turning to independent films in 2014, Heughan appeared in the psychological thriller Emulsion, the story of a man haunted by the disappearance of his wife. He also starred in the comedy Heart of Lightness, in which Heughan appeared with two of his future Outlander co-stars: Laura Donnelly, who plays Jamie’s sister Jenny Murray, and Rosie Day, who played Mary Hawkins in the second season. He went on to portray Jacob in the 2016 independent film When the Starlight Ends, which premiered at the Other Venice Film Festival.
In 2018, Heughan co-starred as MI-6 agent Sebastian in Lionsgate’s comedy The Spy Who Dumped Me, opposite Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon, which he filmed during an Outlander hiatus. That same year, in his first voice-acting project, Heughan appeared in the Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment video game Lego DC Super-Villains as the Mirror Master. In May of that year, Heughan was a guest on BBC Two Scotland’s special The Adventure Show, alongside Cameron Mceish, in an episode titled “Take A Hike” that focused on Scotland’s passion for walking. It was also announced that Heughan would portray Corporal Jimmy Dalton in Bloodshot, an adaptation of the best-selling comic book from the Valiant universe, opposite Vin Diesel and Michael Sheen. In November 2018, Heughan was cast as Tom Buckingham, the lead role in SAS: Red Notice, a film based on the novel of the same name by Andy McNab.
In additional to acting, English clothing label Barbour named Heughan their first Global Brand Ambassador in 2016. He has released several collections since his initial autumn/winter line in 2017, all of which he co-designed.
Charity and politics
Heughan was a vocal supporter of Scottish independence from Great Britain during the 2014 independence referendum, going on record as saying “I was a no and thought independence wasn’t a good idea initially, but then I did a 180 and towards the end became quite vocal in the Yes campaign. I thought that ultimately it was a move towards more democracy for the people of Scotland.”
Heughan attributed much of his early success to his participation in youth theatre and, in August 2014, became a patron for Youth Theatre Arts Scotland. Of his position as patron, he has said, “I think that what I’d like to instill is that if you join the youth theatre, it’s a gateway into greater career prospects.” He supports the charitable organisation’s mission ‘to transform lives through youth theatre by providing inspiring participatory opportunities for young people in Scotland.’
In 2015, Heughan started the charitable foundation My Peak Challenge, a training, nutrition and support program that provides participants with a sense of community as they work toward personal goals, while concurrently raising money for charity. The foundation has partnered with Leukemia Lymphoma Research, Bear Strength Clothing and Fight Camp Glasgow to raise funds for cancer research. In 2019, Heughan teamed up with Omaze, raffling off a date to the 2019 MPC Gala, which raised $2,892,080 for Bloodwise UK.
In September 2016, Heughan took part in the Great North Run to raise funds for Bloodwise, which he has supported since 2011, and became president of Scotland Bloodwise.
In 2018, he ran both the Stirling and EMF Edinburgh Marathons in the space of a month to raise money for Cahonas Scotland and their Testicular Cancer Education and Awareness Programme. He raised £38,224 for the charity.
- Sam Heughan won the BBC Anglo Fan Favourite Man of the Year for 2014 with 61% of the votes over David Tennant.
- Narrated the 8th Installment of author Cassandra Clare’s “Shadowhunter Academy” series, “The Fiery Trial” which was released September, 2015.
- Grand Marshall at the 2016 New York Tartan Day Parade, which was led in past years by other illustrious Scots, including Sean Connery, Alan Cumming, Brian Cox, Kevin McKidd, and Graham McTavish.
I never once dreamed of sort of being able to be in an American TV series, you know? It was all about theater and touring and sort of being an actor around Scottish theater.
People forget actors can adapt and change their appearance. In this industry, people sometimes cast to type, or as close to type as possible, but actors are a lot more versatile than you think!
Working on ‘Outlander’ has been a delight, it really has. I had kind of forgotten what Scotland was like, and I’d turned into a bit of a Londoner.
You do have to learn how to wear a kilt, and it’s certainly very liberating and very freeing, but surprisingly very comfortable to wear, to ride a horse in a kilt. I was surprised by that.
I auditioned for ‘Game of Thrones’ seven times! Loads of times.
Shakespeare language is fantastic, and to be honest, you don’t need to do anything to Shakespeare.
There’s something about the silence of people listening to someone or watching someone – I just… I love that.
I actually got an initial sense of how big ‘Outlander’ was going to be on Twitter. We’re all on there to help promote the show and also interact with the fans.
My accent is… sort of an Edinburgh sort of soft southwest Scottish accent. It could almost be English.
I’m obsessed with the moon and space travel, so if I could incorporate that, I’d love to go to space.
I’m very lucky. I had a great childhood.
I was a big ‘Battlestar Galactica’ fan and ‘Star Trek’ fan. I grew up watching those.
I was born and brought up in the countryside. I used to live in a sort of converted stables on the grounds of a castle, and I spent a lot of my childhood running around with a pretend sword pretending to be Robert the Bruce.
I’d like to be remembered as someone who made a difference and left the world a better place… and was a reasonably good actor.
She (Sam’s mother and artist, Chrissie Heughan) instilled in me how tough it would be as an artist, how difficult it is to make a career out of it… probably my work ethic as well, that you have to work hard to get something.
First time abroad was as a teenager to Eastern Europe. (It was) a rather scary train ride to St. Petersburg (Russia). At that time, it felt very different to the United Kingdom – like going back in time. Crossing the border felt like being in a James Bond movie.
[on constantly showing off his six pack abs in Outlander] Do I enjoy it? No, but it’s a part of Outlander. I enjoy working out and getting a six-pack, but I just wish I could be unbuttoned maybe only three or four buttons for those scenes.
Sources: Wikipedia – IMDb