Outlander has made a star out of Scottish actor Sam Heughan. But he came close to losing the role of Jamie Fraser nearly a decade ago because he didn’t look the part. As the fans of Diana Gabaldon’s books know, the leading male character in her Outlander novels is a tall, red-headed Highland warrior. But Heughan doesn’t fit that description in real life.
Sam Heughan almost didn’t play Jamie Fraser in ‘Outlander’
When Heughan auditioned for Outlander executive producers Maril Davis and Ronald D. Moore just four days into the casting process in 2013, they knew they had found their Jamie Fraser. But when Gabaldon saw a photo of the then unknown actor, her first thought was that he was “grotesque.” The author simply couldn’t picture him as the hero of her story, and she had objections.
“With Sam, he was the first person cast. They sent me his audition tape and they said, ‘we think we’ve found Jamie,'” Gabaldon recalled, per The Daily Record. “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.”
In the author’s mind, she was picturing a redhead who looked like a young Liam Neeson or Sean Connery. But after looking at Heughan’s photo, she texted Davis and Moore and told them he was “grotesque,” and wondered what they were thinking.
The “grotesque” photo is an old headshot that shows a young Heughan with dyed black hair wearing a v-neck T-shirt.
Sam Heughan is a natural blonde
When it was announced that Heughan had been cast as Jamie Fraser, Gabaldon wasn’t the only one who had doubts at first. Once the author saw Heughan’s audition she realized that Moore and Davis were right, and she took to social media to defend their choice to other skeptics.
“Really…how would you know if he has Jamie qualities or not, until you see him play the part?” Gabaldon asked one fan on Facebook who said that Heughan simply didn’t have Jamie qualities. “I have seen him do it, and can assure you that he’s got Jamie coming out his ears.”
One of the biggest complaints from fans was that Heughan wasn’t a redhead, but instead a natural blonde. But once again, Gabaldon came to his defense by posting a photo of Heughan from a beer commercial where he had his hair dyed red.
“Sam’s an actor. Actors change their hair color like they change their clothes. His natural hair color is dark blonde. This red version was done for a series of advertisements of Tennant’s Lager a couple of years ago–I’m sure that he’ll look Just Fine when in character as Jamie Fraser,” Gabaldon wrote.
The ‘Outlander’ star says it’s ‘hard being a ginger’
During the first few seasons of Outlander, Heughan actually dyed his hair red to play Jamie. But because the color faded so fast, he had to do it every three weeks.
“I’m a natural blonde. It gets dyed. It’s pretty horrific. I have to get it dyed a crazy amount — it’s like every three weeks. It’s not easy. It’s hard being a ginger. But I think everybody has a little bit of ginger in them. I’ve got some in my beard,” Heughan told Entertainment Weekly in 2017.
But in early 2022, Heughan told InStyle that he no longer dyed his hair because it had been done too many times and was no longer working.
“[My hair] got dyed so many times it eventually just wouldn’t hold the color and it turned purple,” Heughan revealed.
The 41-year-old actor now wears shoulder-length red wigs when playing Jamie, while keeping a short dirty blonde haircut underneath.
Season 7 of Outlander will premiere in late 2022 or early 2023 on Starz.