‘Outlander’: Diana Gabaldon Now Defends Sam Heughan’s Jamie Fraser Casting After ‘Grotesque’ Audition Tape

For millions of fans, Outlander is one of the best shows to debut on television in the past decade. The historical romance blends multiple genres, enthralling viewers with each successive season.

There’s no doubt that the actors involved are a big part of why the series is so successful. The series’ stars, Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe, have both received critical acclaim over the years.

Still, there was a time when Diana Gabaldon, who wrote the books on which the series is based, wasn’t at all convinced about Heughan, and even slammed him during the audition process. 

Outlander Sam Heughan
‘Outlander’ star Sam Heughan | Michael Kovac/Getty Images for STARZ

What is ‘Outlander’ about?

RELATED: ‘Outlander’: Sam Heughan’s Jamie Was Almost Played By Liam Neeson and Sean Connery

Outlander premiered on the Starz network in 2014. The series, which is set in 1945, tells the story of a former World War II nurse named Claire, who magically transports to Scotland in the year 1743. When in Scotland, Claire encounters a dashing Highland warrior named Jamie, and the two embark on an epic love affair that spans decades. 

The premise might be outrageous, but the realistic setting, gorgeous costumes, and convincing performances by the lead actors helped to “sell” the concept of Outlander, and shortly after it debuted, it became one of the most popular shows on television. The fifth season of the show recently ran, and although the sixth season has been temporarily sidelined due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fans are as invested in the show as ever before. 

Who plays Jamie in ‘Outlander’?

The actors in Outlander do a lot to help make the show so popular, with Sam Heughan at the forefront. As Jamie, Heughan captured the imagination of viewers everywhere, convincingly playing the role of a Scottish warrior who falls in love with a time-traveling woman.

Prior to his work in Outlander, Heughan had made a name for himself in a variety of BBC roles and even has experience in the theatre. 

Heughan’s big breakout role was Jamie Fraser in Outlander. He has received significant critical acclaim for his work, and has won a number of awards, including a People’s Choice Award in 2017 and a Saturn Award in 2019.

In the years since his star-making debut on Outlander, Heughan has parlayed his fame into several high-profile projects, including films like The Spy Who Dumped Me and Bloodshot. As successful as he is these days, however, there was a time when Heughan was not what Diana Gabaldon envisioned for her literary hero, and was firmly against him playing Jamie onscreen. 

Author Diana Gabaldon originally thought Sam Heughan was ‘grotesque’

In 2015, Diana Gabaldon opened up about the audition process that Sam Heughan went through in order to land the role of Jamie. According to Gabaldon, he didn’t exactly impress her at the start.

“With Sam, he was the first person cast,” Gabaldon revealed. “They sent me his audition tape and they said, “we think we’ve found Jamie.” This is four days after they started looking. I was amazed, because we thought it would take six months. ‘They said they were sending me the audition tapes, but I was on the road, so I googled him on my iPhone as we were driving. At this point he had relatively little film work and just a series of extremely bizarre still photos.”

Gabaldon explained that the photos attached to his IMDb page were not exactly flattering, which led the author to text showrunners, exclaiming “this man is grotesque, what are you thinking?”

Still, Gabaldon gradually became convinced that Heughan was perfect for the part, and these days, she claims that the “grotesque” remark is a running joke between the two. These days, Gabaldon is proud of the work that Heughan has done in Outlander, and has stated that she is “astonished” by his ability to fully inhabit the character. 

In fact, when Entertainment Weekly asked Gabaldon about how she reacts when fans question the casting, she replied: “They read Jamie is head-and-shoulders above the crowd, which he is because everybody else in the 18th century was 5 feet 8 inches. Sam is not head-and-shoulders above everyone, so everyone thinks he’s puny. He should be bigger. His hair isn’t red enough. It just went on and on. Finally I just wrote a little piece and said, look, do you have any idea what it is that actors really do? Actors act. They embody the character. It doesn’t actually matter what they look like beyond certain rough physical parameters. Then I explained to them what Sam had done in his audition. I had no idea what to expect when they sent me the audition tapes, but five seconds in, I was thinking he looks fine. Another five seconds, he was Jamie Fraser. I was astonished.”