Although she defends him now, before she got a look at his audition tape, Outlander author Diana Gabaldon wasn’t eager for Sam Heughan to play Jamie Fraser.
As the author of the Outlander books, Diana Gabaldon had a lot invested in how her characters would appear on the small screen. More than anyone else, she had a very specific idea of what the cast should look like in order to properly represent the characters she had spent years writing about.
So when Starz told that before filming began that they had found Jamie Fraser in actor Sam Heughan, she was quite eager to see who this guy was. While she waited for the audition tapes, Gabaldon did some Googling, and she was not pleased.
Gabaldon talked about her experience with The List in 2015, after the show had premiered. “With Sam, he was the first person cast,” she recalled. “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 – his IMDb page is strange. He is a very magnetic, charming young man and a very chameleonic actor, but he’s different, physically different, in every part. Some of his photos are strange! I was sitting there typing, “this man is grotesque, what are you thinking?” But that’s a running joke with Sam and I, now.
Of course, in the days since, Gabaldon has come to adore Heughan as Jamie Fraser just like the rest of us. Her original remark is now “a running joke with Sam and I.”
And if anyone questions Heughan’s casting now, Gabaldon is quick to come to his defense, as she shared with Entertainment Weekly in 2016:
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.
So while Heughan wasn’t off to a great start in Gabaldon’s eyes, it didn’t take long to convince her and the rest of the world that he was precisely the man to play the character.
h/t Cheat Sheet