Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish
Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish share a beer.
Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish go surfing.
If you didn't know better, you might think Sam Heughan was trying to kill Graham McTavish. Not on the Starz period drama Outlander — that's where Heughan's character Jamie did in fact help murder McTavish's character Dougal — but on the hilarious road-trip docuseries Men in Kilts, also on Starz. The two actors travel around Scotland (in season one) and New Zealand (in the upcoming second season, returning August 11) to explore their shared Scottish heritage and participate in adrenaline-producing action such as ziplining, bungee swings and great white shark diving. That is, any chance to terrify McTavish.
'Ways to Kill Graham' isn't one of the lists I keep," Heughan jokes, "but it might as well be."
"He's bent on my destruction," McTavish adds. "His interest in Scottish culture is really a front for his determination to torture me."
Ever the odd couple, the two actors — who are also executive producers — teamed up to talk about touring New Zealand, sharing aquatic adventures and glancing at Heughan's groin. (In more ways than one.)
New Zealand may not seem an obvious choice for a second season. But Graham resides there, and some 20 percent of the population has Scottish ancestry. Beyond the overlapping cultural connections, how else was it a good fit? Could future seasons take place in other countries with significant Scottish roots?
Sam Heughan: After season one, we were like, "We have so much more to explore in Scotland!" We were talking about maybe doing the north of Scotland, and also Ireland and Scandinavia.
Graham McTavish: We wanted to make this more than just about being in Scotland, to show the influence of Scottish migration. I'm in Kentucky at the moment, and the Scottish influence here is just nuts.
SH: But we were shooting in the winter, and daylight hours are very short in the north of Scotland. And at the time, New Zealand was one of the only places that didn't have Covid while the rest of the world was struggling with the pandemic.
Why is Sam still taking the wheel? Graham, it's your adopted country, plus you've complained about Sam's driving. ...
GM: It's massive laziness on my part.
SH: It tied me down to one place as well, didn't it?
GM: You would have been roaming around the camper van otherwise.
The two of you claim at one point that Sam is driving naked from the waist down. Were you actually ever half-naked, Sam?
SH: Of course! I mean, a lot of the show is actually shot that way. It's so hot there in the van.
GM: It was bad enough for me to be subjected to what was going on below Sam's waist. We didn't really want to share that with others. It's edited to protect the innocent.
SH: The driving scenes are the backbone of the show. When we're in the edit, we're like, "We need to include more of those scenes" — for the sheer ridiculousness of the situation.
As EPs, what's your gauge for how much danger is acceptable?
SH: I think Graham's my barometer. If he's not keen, then I know it's probably dangerous, which means we go do it. I do get scared, too, but I think seeing Graham's fear makes me feel more comfortable and spurs me to go further. One of my favorite pastimes is torturing Graham. When I realized that New Zealand was the adrenaline capital of the world, I knew that season two was going to be a success. Graham's very resilient, I'll give him that.
GM: A lot of things I was scared doing, but I didn't regret doing them in the end. It was all worth it.
SH: We only have ourselves to blame.
GM: No, I have you to blame, Sam.
At one point, you talk about getting matching Men in Kilts tattoos. What would those be?
SH: We almost got our Māori tā moko tattoos. We went through the process of creating them, so we're halfway there.
GM: You know Edvard Munch's painting The Scream? My tattoo would be me screaming, in the style of that painting, and Sam laughing.
SH: You give me that look in the camper van when I'm revealing what we're about to do next. That slight terror, fear, anticipation. ...
SH: Yeah, like someone going to the death squad or gallows.
GM: The expression that someone wears just before the noose is put around their neck.
SH: You're sort of formulating an argument, even though you have no say in the matter, and you're about to be thrown off a cliff.
Despite that look of terror, Graham, as an EP, you must have some veto power? Perhaps you even suggest more of the activities, considering you know the terrain?
GM: Interestingly, when we were planning it, I found myself eager to do the shark diving. I'm pretty sure I even suggested it. I probably suggested ziplining. I enjoyed ziplining until I did it with Sam.
Maybe even the bungee stuff. I threw that out there like, "Why don't we try that?" Maybe I should keep my mouth shut.
SH: There were a few things that Graham was very open to in the planning that he then didn't do. When we got there, he was like, "No, I'm not doing it." Like the kayak in a shallow bit of water. He's like a cat who doesn't like getting wet. Strangely, he did the scarier stuff.
Why not the kayak, when you were game for the scarier stuff?
GM: Good question. I think a certain amount of mental imbalance. The kayak, I didn't want to do because I'd actually experienced a real-life boating incident three weeks beforehand where my family and I were almost killed, so I was genuinely nervous about being on the water. It's important to realize that the shark episode was a trifecta of horror, because I don't like being in tiny, closed spaces, I don't like water, I don't like gigantic great white sharks — and to put those three elements together?
SH: I felt sorry for the sharks, to be honest. I think they had seen season one, and they were not keen.
GM: I could swear that the shark on your side shook his head a little bit, like pity.
SH: Or like he was practicing tearing your head off. That episode itself could have lasted a whole season. We were burning daylight because of the time it took to actually get Graham in the water. That was one way of loosening his bowels.
Not everything was death-defying. There is a fun sequence at the [concept design and manufacturing facility] Wētā Workshop, where Sam is transformed into Gróin the dwarf. It was almost the perfect audition for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. A new career path?
GM: Sam was the perfect dwarf! It was absolutely remarkable. His physicality changed. His voice changed. He became this foul-mouthed beast. It was fantastic.
SH: It was a credit to Wētā, the amazing work they've done. There were far too many effigies of McTavish on the wall. I spotted about three different casts of his face [for the process of becoming the dwarf Dwalin in Peter Jackson's Hobbit film trilogy]. But yes, the transformation was remarkable. There's a Gróin in me somewhere. There's a Gróin in everyone. Put on a prosthetic nose, and you'll find your inner Gróin as well.
The interviews for this story were completed before the start of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.