Every week on “The Dinner Party Download” we bring in a fascinating culture figure to tell us what’s new in their world and also to answer your etiquette questions (you can check out more each week by subscribing to our podcast). This week it’s “Outlander” star Sam Heughan.
Just in case your mom, sister, partner, or cubicle neighbor hasn’t informed you yet, Sam stars as Scotsman Jamie in the hit TV show “Outlander,” based on Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling historical romance novels.
Here’s the gist: Claire, a married English nurse from the 1940s, mysteriously time-travels to 1740s-era Scotland and there falls for Jamie. She ultimately marries him, and now, she has a different husband in each era.
The series the series is currently in its second season on the Starz network. Sam chats with Rico and Brendan about the show and the actor had some fun answering a few of our listeners’ etiquette questions.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Sam, welcome back to the year 2016.
Sam Heughan: I like that.
Brendan Francis Newnam: You like that?
Sam Heughan: Nice segue. Yeah. Yeah, it was good.
Brendan Francis Newnam: How does it feel to be in modern-day America?
Sam Heughan: In modern-day America! In New York! Yeah, it’s been good. [My “Outlander” castmates and I] brought the Scottish weather. We’ve just been discussing how glorious it is.
Brendan Francis Newnam: It is miserable outside.
Sam Heughan: Brought the hail and rain and miserable.
Rico Gagliano: It’s very gray.
Sam Heughan: Yeah.
Rico Gagliano: Also, there’s running water here in 2016 New York. And there’s plenty of disinfectant, which turns out to be a problem in the show.
Sam Heughan: That is true. I think hygiene back in the 1700s was, yeah, much to be desired.
Brendan Francis Newnam: But everyone’s hair looks great, and there were no hair products yet.
Sam Heughan: Do you know… that maybe says something about washing your hair. Maybe you don’t need to. It does, after a while, clean itself.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Noted. I’m going to use that.
Sam Heughan: It doesn’t apply to the rest of your body, though [laughs].
Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh, wait. Bummer.
Rico Gagliano: I think when some people hear the word “historical romance,” they might be inclined to overlook the show as perhaps more steamy than having substance. What is your go-to argument for why it’s more than, you know, steamy romance.
Sam Heughan: It is absolutely more than that. People may make this assumption that it’s, you know, a bodice-ripper or a romance novel that’s come to screen. But actually, Diana Gabaldon — who wrote these novels — has put so much into them.
There’s a real historical side. There’s action, adventure, [a] spiritual side. There really is something for everyone there, and I think as soon as you open this book or you start watching the show, it really takes you on this interesting journey.
Rico Gagliano: Although, there is some bodice-ripping.
Sam Heughan: Yeah. Having said that, I think someone does rip a bodice in the first episode, which is remarkably difficult to do. And, I think, you know, that’s because we go back to the authenticity of the show. I mean, even our costumes are magnificent. There’s all these lace and underclothing. And it’s very difficult to rip a woman’s clothes off quickly.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Credit where credit’s due.
Sam Heughan: Oh, yeah. It’s very complicated.
Brendan Francis Newnam: So, the show has been praised for focusing on female desire, but also, for showing men’s vulnerability. There is an article in this week’s New Yorker. I don’t know if you saw it…
Sam Heughan: Yes! Yes, great article.
Brendan Francis Newnam: …Where Emily Nussbaum, the TV critic, praised the show. But she focused, in particular, on a scene that was on one of the last episodes of the first season where your character, Jamie, is assaulted by a man, and then, in subsequent episodes, the repercussions of that assault play out.
And, you know, fans of the book weren’t even sure that this could be pulled off. Tell us about the discussions leading up to the shooting of that scene.
Sam Heughan: Yeah, I think… I mean, the last two episodes, my character is tortured, but part of that torture is he’s raped. His mind is broken down. And, I think, you know, that’s… it’s very interesting to see his sort of journey from being this this traditionally strong, heroic character that kind of is reduced to nothing, and then, how he rebuilds himself.
Rico Gagliano: So, you know that this torturous scene is coming up. How did you prepare yourself for it?
Sam Heughan: It’s a good question and, you know, I was very aware of it. And, actually, it scared me a bit, but also, really excited me. I think, as an actor, you’re constantly looking for challenges, and before you walk on stage there’s that moment of…
Rico Gagliano: Terror.
Sam Heughan: “Can I do this?” Yeah, absolute terror.
And then you get into it and it’s… you sort of find some sort of cathartic reward in it. You know, we did discuss the scenes a lot and how we wanted the viewers to see it, and what we wanted them to feel and experience. And, ultimately [I’m] very proud of what we’ve done.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, that obviously comes from these… we were talking about these novels, which were fiction, but there’s a lot of very real Scottish history in this.
Rico Gagliano: A lot.
Brendan Francis Newnam: But you’re Scottish. What about the history surprised you? What have you been learning?
Sam Heughan: Yeah. Well, no, absolutely. In fact, the whole premise of the show is that — of, certainly, second season — there was this great battle at Culloden, and the Scottish army were massacred.
But then, after that, the repercussions from the British were severe. There was the banning of bagpipes, of wearing of tartan, of the clan culture. You weren’t allowed to speak Gaelic. This whole way of life was pretty much eradicated and that’s what Jamie and Claire are trying to protect and save.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Were you saying bagpipes were eradicated?
Sam Heughan: Yeah. I mean, some people…
Brendan Francis Newnam: I’m going to say, actually, that’s not… next to car alarms, like, I could actually…
Sam Heughan: Wow. That is sacrilegious and I will be-
Brendan Francis Newnam: All right. OK, in that case…
Rico Gagliano: Brendan, don’t get into an arm-wrestling match with Sam over the cultural value of bagpipes!
Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, but before we do that, we need you to answer our listeners’ etiquette questions.
Sam Heughan: Ah, right.
Brendan Francis Newnam: We told them you were coming, and you seem heroic, and you’re going to help them. You ready?
Sam Heughan: I’m very excited about this, and slightly nervous.
Brendan Francis Newnam: All right.
Rico Gagliano: Oh, don’t be.
Dealing with order envy on a date
Brendan Francis Newnam: This first question comes from someone named @sanity0121 in Western Australia. Sent this via Twitter, and @sanity0121 wrote: “You’re on a date and get order envy. How do you make your date swap meals?”
Sam Heughan: Ah. That is a tough one. Probably ask to swap seats.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Interesting.
Sam Heughan: Yeah, you’re like, “Oh…”
Brendan Francis Newnam: Like, “The sun’s in my eye!”
Sam Heughan: Yeah. “Or you’ll get a better view if you…”
Brendan Francis Newnam: You’re like, “Oh, what do you know? I have the crab cake sandwich.”
Sam Heughan:You just dive straight in there, start eating it, and then, “Oh! Oh, I’ve started this.”
Rico Gagliano: Just get your saliva in there, and then it’s too late.
Sam Heughan: Yeah. “How is your pork? Is it all right? The crab cakes are delicious!”
Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s smooth. I like that. You go for the seat, not for the food.
Sam Heughan: Yeah, or just distract them. Distract them, and then just swap them very quickly.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Let’s move to our next question.
Sam Heughan: I hope I’m doing well here.
How to handle haggis
Brendan Francis Newnam: Jeni from L.A. writes: “I’m heading to Scotland for a study abroad program. I have a pretty good suspicion that my host family is going to offer me haggis. I’m not sure I can hack it. How can I politely refuse them? I don’t want to insult them.”
Rico Gagliano: For those who don’t know, you want to tell people what haggis is?
Sam Heughan: Yes. Well, it depends what time of year you go, of course, because if you go out of season, they might not have caught any because they are quite rare, especially during the summer.
Rico Gagliano: You are totally lying about haggis right now.
Brendan Francis Newnam: You’re lying to Jeni. You switched seats with people, you’re lying to Jeni.
Sam Heughan: Sorry, Jeni.
Brendan Francis Newnam: So, haggis is — if I’m remembering correctly — it’s, like, the stomach lining of something stuffed with something.
Sam Heughan: Of a sheep.
Rico Gagliano: It’s a sheep.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Stuffed with grain and oats… offal.
Sam Heughan: Yeah, it would have to be the offal, and the off-cuts, and a lot of pepper. And it’s delicious. So, the haggis: just stuff it down. Just eat it, and you might actually enjoy it.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, Scottish hot dogs.
Sam Heughan: I don’t know what’s in the hot dog.
Rico Gagliano: We make fun of haggis, and it’s like, what the hell is in a hot dog?
Sam Heughan: Exactly!
Brendan Francis Newnam: All right. Well, there you go, Jeni. Eat it. And… yeah.
Sam Heughan: Enjoy it.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Yes.
What to do when hotel staff is rifling through your bags
Rico Gagliano: Here’s something from Rebecca in North Carolina. Rebecca writes: “You realize that housekeepers at your hotel are rifling through your bags daily. Do you tell the management or just leave more messes for them?” I like that those are your only two options this one is giving you.
Sam Heughan: Yeah. I thought I could leave something like a message for them, maybe.
Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s good. I like the middle ground.
Sam Heughan: Yeah, yeah.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Menacing or just goofy?
Sam Heughan: Just something like, “I’m watching yooooou.”
Brendan Francis Newnam: I think you should maybe play into your type, and maybe start buying bodices, and, like, putting them in your bag and stuff like that.
Sam Heughan: That’s a great idea. Exactly. Plant things that they’re not expecting.
Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s right.
Sam Heughan: Just see how far I can go with it.
Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s right, just totally freak them out, like, I don’t know. What else would we put in there?
Sam Heughan: A lady’s wig.
Rico Gagliano: A cat.
Brendan Francis Newnam: They would never imagine… Keith Richards, you know?
Rico Gagliano: That’s weird.
Sam Heughan: A stuffed monkey. Like, yeah.
Rico Gagliano: Who’d a thunk?
Brendan Francis Newnam: Wow.
Rico Gagliano: By the way, you know that your bag has been rifled through if the bodice is ripped.
Brendan Francis Newnam: I have a question, though, about this. Do you guys…you know, they still put safes in hotel rooms.
Sam Heughan: They do, yes.
Brendan Francis Newnam: I’ve never used one, and I have some sort of valuable stuff. Have you ever used…do you guys use safes?
Rico Gagliano: I have, occasionally.
Sam Heughan: I have used them on occasion.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Dare I ask, like, what you’re putting in it?
Sam Heughan: Well, I…one of my…
Rico Gagliano: He put Keith Richards in there.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah.
Sam Heughan: I’m putting my bodice in there.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, all right. All right.
Sam Heughan: No, once I went to South Africa, actually, and I was in a very posh hotel, and I left my wallet in my jacket, and then I flew to, like, UK, and then to Brazil, and I landed in Brazil and got a call, and someone had cloned all my cards…
Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh, my goodness.
Sam Heughan: And they’d gone out to the local grocery store and bought, like, some apples and some bananas.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Wow.
Sam Heughan: But nothing…
Brendan Francis Newnam: Nothing major. Yeah, they didn’t buy, like, a Range Rover or anything like that.
Sam Heughan: Yeah, exactly.
Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s funny. And that could only work, like, in a place where people weren’t watching a lot of TV now because otherwise they would be like…
Rico Gagliano: Stealing your identity.
Sam Heughan: Well, they might be surprised and find there’s nothing on the credit card, and actually, it’s maxed out.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah. Like, wow, Starz, it’s not working out.
Rico Gagliano: They’re like, “Man, Sam did not cut a very good deal with his network.” Sam Heughan, thank you so much for telling our audience how to behave.
IT’S A PARTY IN YOUR INBOX…
…when you subscribe to our weekly newsletter. You’ll find all sorts of good stuff there like bonus audio, musings on culture from our staff, photos of our guests and co-hosts being ridiculous, and new cocktail recipes. Sign up below!