Interview: Graham McTavish Talks “Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other”


Outlander fans got quite a special treat this November with the release of Graham McTavish and Sam Heughan’s new book Clanlands: Whiskey, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other. Although these two play uncle and nephew who are at odds in the show, their real-life relationship is much different. The book showcases their unfiltered friendship filled with witty banter and some great educational moments.

The writing reflects a conversational format that had us literally laughing out loud. Having seen them in prior interviews, such as the NYCC Metaverse panel this past October, we could clearly hear them going back and forth at each other throughout the chapters. Aside from the laughs, readers learn more about Scotland’s history as both McTavish and Heughan recount historical figures and the tales from each location.

We recently had the pleasure of talking about the Clanlands with co-author McTavish (Dougal McKenzie on Outlander), and it did not disappoint!

Shikha Bajracharya: The book was fantastic! It was hilarious and actually made me laugh out loud cause I could see you and Sam bantering throughout the journey together. When you were planning your road trip, what did it take in choosing those locations?

Graham McTavish: The first trip we did, we were somewhat limited by time. Cause we did all of this in a remarkably short amount of time. And some of it was just based on what we could easily get to or relatively easily get to. So we couldn’t go to the islands, for instance, because it would have just taken too long given the limited time we had. We made that trip the second time. On the first trip, we tried to really plot it to cover as much ground as possible within the time that we had allotted to us. It was also driven by the guests that were available. The people we wanted to speak to – we wanted to speak to Clan Chiefs, there were certain characters we definitely wanted to meet with like Charlie Allen. Some came in at the last minute. A lot of it was kind of random, as so much of that experience was. It wasn’t scripted – not planned in that sense. So it was very spontaneous and organic. Hopefully, that’s what contributes to it being the way it is, which is just two friends kind of bumbling along and hoping that they know what they are doing. We were very lucky in lots of ways. Lucky with the guests, very lucky with the weather, and lucky that the van didn’t break down.

SB: Some of the locations that you had to forego because of time, do we see those locations in Men in Kilts?

GM: Yes, you’ll see a lot more in Men In Kilts. The islands being the obvious one. Wanting to go to Skye, we just couldn’t do it the first time. We did it the second time, such as going to the Outer Hebrides. We really wanted to do that, and we managed to do that this time. Even then, we just scratched the surface in terms of what’s available to see in Scotland. We did obviously the ones that a lot of people know about, like Culloden, Glencoe, and Loch Ness. We probably found a few more unusual ones on the second trip.

SB: Of the places, you had visited in the book, if you had to suggest one location to see, what would you suggest?

GM: For me, it would have to be Culloden. It’s such an important moment in Scottish history, and as a historic site, it’s so atmospheric. It really is. I’ve been to lots of historic battlefields, and none compare to Culloden. You feel the presence of those people that died there. And it hasn’t changed, the ground is the same, and you really get a sense of what it would have been like for them. So yes, I would highly recommend it.

SB: Of the historical figures you mentioned in the book if you had the opportunity to meet any of those people, which would you choose and why?

GM: Without hesitation, Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat. What an extraordinary man. He would have been such an entertaining character to spend time with. He was very charismatic, wonderfully devious. An evening spent with him would have been absolutely fantastic. There is a lot of Dougal in Simon Fraser.

SB: One of the things I found funny in the book is all the different ways that Sam tried to scare you with the modes of transportation. With your upcoming adventures, is that something you’re taking charge of in terms of deciding what to do, and will you take the wheel?

GM: No…I think there must be some sort of masochist streak in me, really. I like him doing it. It’s like that syndrome that develops when you’ve been taken hostage; I think it’s call Stockholm Syndrome. I think there is some of that going on with Sam, that I now just love being with him cause he is so cruel to me.

SB: When you travel with someone, you really get to know them well. It’s kind of like a different kind of experience. What was one thing that pleasantly surprised you about traveling with Sam, and what was one that you wished you had never known?

GM: I wish I hadn’t found out that he only passed his test when he was 30. That was a shock. He’s great company. He is very easy-going, and he’s somebody that brings somebody like me out of my comfort zone, and I have a lot of fun as a result. He’s a funny guy. And the two of us together in the van, we would forget that we were filming. It was just like we were on holiday even though it was very cramped.

SB: In the book, I noticed you put in Duncan Lacroix’s tips for a legendary night out. What are some of your tips for a memorable night?

GM: Don’t go out with Duncan Lacroix. That’s it in one tip. Find out where he is going and avoid that bar. People think it’s a bit much, but that’s pretty much him. It took me as long as it took me to write it to come up with that. This is what Duncan does in a night out, and it’s frightening the number of them that are absolutely true. He’s great fun.  I’m seeing him next weekend. He’s’ calmed down a lot.

SB: Speaking of Duncan, who plays Murtagh on Outlander, there were other guests such as Gary Lewis, who plays Colum in the book. In the upcoming Men in Kilts, do we anticipate seeing more familiar Outlander faces or other familiar faces, along with the historical folks you’ll meet along the way?

GM: Maybe a couple, but not really. On Men in Kilts, obviously, there is a connection with Outlander by simple virtue of Sam and me being in it, but it really is its own thing. We weave appropriate stuff about the show in Men in Kilts. We didn’t want to make it a spin-off of Outlander. It’s very much its own beast. We really wanted to keep it that way. The other thing as well is that the people we do meet are so interesting. You couldn’t make them up. They are extraordinary. Some of the things they come out with and the way they look are wonderful and very informative. The guests were the star of the show; they really are along with the landscape. We’re just there to keep things going and not bump into the furniture when we are interviewing people. We let them do the talking.

SB: Filming is one type of medium, and writing is different. How did you find the writing process?

GM: I really enjoyed it, and I think Sam did too. We did it during the lockdown, so it was very welcomed. We would write literally from other sides of the world. I was in New Zealand, and he was in Scotland. I would see what he was writing on the shared document, and then I would start writing something in response, and you would see the cursor come up, and then he would respond. It naturally evolved into a conversation, and that’s how the book was put together – the very different perspectives on the same experience, which in itself, I find interesting.

SB: Do you see yourself doing more writing in the future?

GM: I’d love to, yes. I think we definitely would like to do a second book. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. That was my ambition when I was a teenager. I kind of fell into acting by accident. I really enjoy the process, and Diana Gabaldon’s been really supportive of that. She’s been lovely and been so behind it and helpful. She’s quite the inspiration, really. That’s a very interesting example of somebody who had a science background, multiple PhDs in science disciplines, who decided to try writing – almost as a scientific exercise. And now she’s a best-selling author. Extraordinary!

SB: In the book, you write about how the trip and this whole experience was to help pitch Men in Kilts. Could you talk a little bit about Men in Kilts and what we expect to see?

GM: In Men in Kilts, we look at many aspects of Scottish culture. Ranging from the obvious ones to do with the clans and Culloden, right through to the food and drink, the traditions, song and dance, the witchcraft and superstitions – all of these different things we explore in different episodes. The thing that runs through it all is our own genuine curiosity about all of those things. That’s the sort of spine of it, and it is a lot of us in the van bantering away to each other. It’s all unscripted. It’s not like reality TV shows that say they’re unscripted. We didn’t meet the guests until we were literally filming, so we would just naturally start talking to them. I think it gives its a genuine, honest, spontaneous feel, and that’s definitely was what we were going for with the TV show. We get to see some beautiful places. We were in all different parts of Scotland. You’ll get to see us herd some sheep. That was an experience! The moral of that is to make sure you have good dogs. They do all the work. Great people, the farmers that we met were amazing.

SB: If there was one piece of advice, you could give your younger self, what would that be?

GM: I’ve been very lucky, so there nothing I would have advised against, like don’t do that job. The main bit of advice, stop worrying so much. Relax. It’s fine. Just enjoy it and not give in to that sort of thing that many actors suffer from, which is thinking that they’ll never work again. Be confident in your ability and trust in that. All will be well.

SB: What attracts you to a role?

GM: I like characters who are emotionally complex, and I like dressing up. I’m very much in touch with my inner child, I guess. Children don’t want to dress up as lawyers and doctors, they want to dress up as pirates or cowboys, highlanders, vikings, dwarves, whatever it is, and I’ve been lucky enough to do that. And that’s the thing I love is playing those people that are so different from my life. In many ways, I envy the lives of the people that lived in those different times. Life was much simpler in some ways. I wonder what they would make of the world we live in at the moment, for instance.

SB: You’ve done projects like Outlander and Lord of the Rings that have huge fan bases. Is there anything in pop culture that you’re a huge fan of and geek out when you see it?

GM: I’m a comic book fan. I like comics. I like good graphic novels. Preacher was one which I ended up doing. That was my kind of number one fan thing, I just loved those books, so the opportunity to be in it was insane. American Gods because I love Neil Gaiman. And Game of Thrones – it’s such a great universe that they’ve created. I would geek out if I met some of my heroes like Clint Eastwood. I still hold out the hope that I’ll meet him one day. The dearly departed Sean Connery. He was a man who represented a world that I don’t think we’ll ever see again. When a 007 movie came out in the ’60s and ’70s, you would literally have queues around the block to go and see it. And that just doesn’t really happen because there is so much to choose from now. When a Bond movie came out, it was a big deal, much bigger than now. I mourn the loss of those sorts of characters. I love the fact that somebody like Sean Connery would never have been on Instagram. I loved their anonymity. Their lives were only seen through the characters they played, and that was enough. That’s what I love about entertainment. Entertainment is about taking us out of ourselves and taking us into whole new worlds and escaping.

SB: I know you have attended some conventions in the past, such as NYCC. What do you love about conventions?

GM: I really love the camaraderie of the people that go to them. I never see unhappy people at conventions. Everyone is enjoying themselves. It’s wonderful and so rare. There are whole communities that get together at these things. The Outlander community being an obvious example. They know each other and travel the world together. It’s a very pure thing and innocent, which is really refreshing. I love the fact that you can interact with people who really enjoy things you’ve been in and want to talk about them. It’s a lovely thing to know that you’ve done a job that has touched people’s lives. I’ve had people say extraordinary things to me about The Hobbit. The number of times I had people say at conventions that The Hobbit had helped them through a very difficult period of their lives, which is very humbling, and you have to take it seriously. It’s the same with anything I’ve done. The way it touches people’s lives is amazing, and it really gives you the chance to know that as an actor cause you don’t. People who do reviews, you know roughly if people are enjoying it, but to actually hear it from people themselves is lovely.

A big thank you to Graham McTavish for taking the time to speak with us and giving us some wonderful insight into his book, the writing process, and his upcoming show Men in Kilts! Make sure to follow him on his social media pages:

For travelers stuck at home due to the state of the world these days, this book was a refreshing opportunity to “travel” without having to get off the couch. Scotland is filled with such rich history, and the book only scrapes the surface. There is so much more to discover, and their new show Men in Kilts will explore more locations. It’s slated to come out sometime in early 2021 on Starz, and we can’t wait!