By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As one of the leading actors on Starz's new time-travel romance series "Outlander," Scottish actor Sam Heughan suddenly found both himself and kilt were under scrutiny.
"I always find it quite strange when people want to know more about the actor than they do about the show," Heughan said of his recent U.S. tour to promote the show.
"There were a lot of questions about the kilt and what's under it," he added with a laugh.
The premiere of "Outlander" last month drew 5 million viewers, the largest multi-platform audience in Starz history. The genre-bending series based on Diana Gabaldon's book series follows a woman named Claire, who is swept back in time to the Scottish Highlands in the 1700s.
Heughan, 34, plays Jamie, a Scottish clansman who becomes embroiled in a star-crossed romance with Claire (played by Caitriona Balfe).
The actor spoke to Reuters about what drew him to Jamie, how the show plays into the upcoming Scottish independence referendum, and how he feels about being a pin-up.
Q: Why does a story set in 18th century Scotland resonate with a contemporary U.S. audience?
A: I think (author Diana Gabaldon) creates a world you can escape to, they're quite extensive worlds that she's written. I guess it's a form of escapism for people because you see it through the eyes of Claire. We all like to imagine how we would be maybe in that scenario, and even though there's the time traveling element, it is a very realistic world.
Q: The discord between England and Scotland in the 18th century is echoed in the upcoming referendum where Scots will vote on whether to become independent from the United Kingdom. What does the show lend to that conversation?
A: I suppose you can't help but draw parallels. Scotland has a really important decision on its future, however in the period we're dealing with, yes there's a lot of politics, but it's not so black and white. There were a lot of Scots in the British army, the Scottish clans were always battling each other unless there was a common enemy, which was generally the British army.
It's an age-long battle that Scotland has had with itself, it's always in fluctuation, the border has always changed. If anything, I hope (the show) draws a focus to Scotland and it makes people think about the decisions that have to be made. It feels like the right sort of time for the show to come out.
Q: What qualities did you admire in Jamie?
A: He's irrepressible, he doesn't let things get to him, he's got a straight forward way of thinking, which I quite like. It's that period in the show, coming to understand what it meant for a man to give his word about something, about honor and about justice as well - the lines are a lot more blurred these days, maybe we don't take people for their word.
Q: How did you and Caitriona interpret Claire and Jamie's attraction?
A: We didn't want to get ahead of ourselves, we didn't want to make any prejudgments, we wanted for them to discover each other as the viewers discover them. Obviously they're thrust into this wedding and therefore married, but that's the only thing that really connects them, they have to find out more about each other.
Q: How does it feel to be a newly minted heartthrob?
A: I'm flattered, I just feel lucky that he's a great character. You start watching the series and you think he's one thing, but you find out he's an outlaw, and he changes a lot.
I love his relationship with Claire, I think it's nice to see something that's complicated. He's quite honorable and true to his word, which I think in this period is quite admirable.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Ken Wills)