THE author of the best-selling series of Outlander books has admitted she feared producers of a new TV series set in the Scottish Highlands had chosen the wrong man as male lead for the show.
Actor Sam Heughan was greeted with screams from fans at the world premiere of Outlander – billed as Scotland’s answer to Game of Thrones – in the early hours of yesterday morning at the popular Comic-Con convention in San Diego, along with his main co-star, Irish actress Caitriona Balfe.
Writer Diana Gabaldon had said she felt the little-known Dumfriesshire actor looked “grotesque” when she checked him online, after hearing he had been cast as red-haired Jacobite warrior Jamie Fraser in the fantasy series, which will be broadcast in the US next month.
American-born Gabaldon – whose books have sold more than 25 million copies – revealed that Sir Sean Connery and Liam Neeson had been among the names touted for the role, but it was felt they were too old.
Ron Moore, the former producer of hit series Battlestar Galactica who is at the helm of Outlander, said he hoped his new show would appeal equally to both men and women.
Meanwhile, Gabaldon also told the convention that she had fought bitterly to have the book regarded as historic fiction, rather than romance.
Outlander has been in production in Scotland since September, filming in a vast temporary studio created in a warehouse in Cumbernauld, as well as at a range of outdoor locations, including Doune Castle in Perthshire, the villages of Falkland and Culross in Fife, and Loch Rannoch, in the Highlands.
Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government said the show, which has a budget of more than £50 million for the initial series, represents the biggest single inward investment in a film or TV production in Scotland, with around 200 crew based here working on the show.
Gabaldon had leapt to the defence of Heughan being cast in the role when the news was leaked last July amid concern from fans that he looked unsuitable for the role of the rugged warrior, who falls in love with a married nurse sent hurtling back in time from just after the Second World War to the mid-18th century.
She said at the time: “That man is a Scot to the bone and Jamie Fraser to the heart.”
However, she told the Comic-Con event: “They sent me Sam’s audition tapes and I was Googling him, looking up his photos saying: ‘This man looks grotesque, what are you thinking?’ ”
Gabaldon admitted she felt Heughan “didn’t look anything like” the image she had in her head of his character – but had to swiftly revise her opinion after watching his audition tape.
She added: “Five seconds in, I said, ‘He’s fine. He doesn’t look anything like his photos.’ ”
Heughan, 34, is best known in the UK for his starring role in the TV series Doctors