From appearing nude on an Edinburgh stage to advertising Tennent’s Lager, actor Sam Heughan grafted long and hard before reaching Outlander super stardom.
Known to millions of fans as the show’s handsome rebel Highlander Jamie Fraser, the actor started out in theatres around the capital with a role in David Greig’s play, Outlying Islands, first staged at the Traverse in 2002, arguably the turning point of his career.
Later nominated for a Laurence Oliver Award, Heughan became one to watch given his take on a Cambridge-educated ornithologist pushed to the limit of human experience on a far flung isle.
This emerging talent caught the attention of critics and audiences alike. His bare bottom, on show in a sex scene, didn’t go unnoticed either.
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“Edinburgh theatre-goers will know him by his rather pert behind,” said a profile of the up-and-coming actor in The Scotsman in 2002, with other critics homing in on his striking looks and square jaw.
Heughan was 22 and still a student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland at the time of Outlying Islands.
Originally from Balmaclellan in Dumfries and Galloway, he moved to Edinburgh to attend school and signed up to the Lyceum Youth Theatre.
“I didn’t want to be one of those arty nutcases,” was the view of a young Heughan but after travelling for a while, he recognised that acting was his calling.
Colin Bradie, founder and leader of the youth theatre, recalled the strong impression Heughan made on him the first time they met.
He said: “We had a massive response of people wanting to join the youth theatre and we very quickly got 30 people together. About two days later, we got a phone call from Sam saying that he really wanted to join.
“We were going to be hard and say ‘tough’ but he made the effort to come to speak to me in person. I always thought it was a very brave thing to do. He would only have been about 14 at the time.
“Sam seemed really genuine, that this was something he really wanted to do. Sam became our number 31.”
Sam proved to be a different kind of recruit.
Mr Bradie added: “There are usually two kind of boys in youth theatre. You have the alpha male-type who are really trying to prove themselves infront of all the girls and then there are a lot of boys who are quite quiet.
“Sam was very confident, but not annoyingly so. He was very polite and very genuine. He was there because he wanted to learn. A lot of people in youth theatre like the idea of being an actor but Sam knew it was something he would have to work for - and he worked incredibly hard.”
The pair became good friends with Mr Bradie, former chief executive of Youth Theatre Arts Scotland, of which Heughan is now a patron, later asking him to return to star as Theseus in the opening scenes of a A A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“He had appeared in Outyling Islands by this point but agreed to come back and do this over the summer. The funny thing was, he came on stage and forgot his lines - they were whispered to him by a nine-year-old fairy. I still have a laugh about that.”
He added: “I always had a bit of a joke with Sam that I was going to become his manager - I suppose I always knew he was going to be big.”
In 2002, Heughan starred in A Christmas Carol at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre with the actor returning to the Gorbals institution five years later to play Guildenstern in Hamlet.
From the stage, Heughan made strides into television with a part in River City as smooth-talking Livingston FC footballer Andrew Murray.
After leaving Shieldinch in 2005, parts in Midsomer Murders, Rebus and Doctors followed with time on the small screen split with parts in Scottish theatre productions of Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and King John.
Advertising work was offered and in 2010 his series of madcap adds for Tennent’s Lager swept the board at the Scottish Advertising Awards.
The US then called for Heughan with his part in Outlander secured a couple of years after his larger commercials. From there he stepped on the “rollercoaster” of the smash hit show, as he described it.
Back in The Scotsman’s profile in 2002, Heughan, then 22, was described as “always on the go and a real flirt.”
“It’ll be hard to keep track of this one,” it concluded.
For now, at least , Sam Heughan is right where the world can see him. Where he will go after the time travelling fantasy of Outlander comes to a rest is, as yet, unclear.
Mr Bradie added; “Sam is a real quality actor. I hope he will still find a chance to do some hard work and perhaps more theatre work, things that will really test him.”