Droughtlander is almost over
With the imminent release of the second in the Outlander TV Series, what is sending Australian fans into the mature version of a One Direction frenzy?
Jennifer Johnston investigates what all the fuss is about?
Outlander fan’s excitement levels are rising rapidly as they count down the days for the much anticipated release of Series 2. This is April 10th for Australian fans. American devotees are secretly smiling as their release date is April 9th. The mainly female and mostly over 30 Outlander enthusiasts, are reaching frenzied status similar to the hysterical reaction by teenagers when they hear One Direction is touring Aus. The only difference is the more mature Outlander fans are not squealing as loud or hyperventilating as madly – it’s more of an inner elation. But there is another cause behind the Outlander fan’s heightened hysteria levels. Foxtel’s SoHo channel in a major coup for Australian Outlander devotees are bringing lead star of the TV series Sam Heughan to Sydney to help promote the second series release.
Facebook pages including SoHo TVAU, the Viewing Lounge and Aussie Outlanders are announcing competitions. Stirring the fans with lines like, “listen up, lads and lasses – the highly anticipated return of our beloved time-traveling drama is almost here, and we’ve got something to help quench your Fraser thirst during this Droughtlander.”
Announced as an exclusive VIP event for the evening of March 21st in a secret location in Sydney, Outlander enthusiasts (myself included) have entered various competitions with the golden prize a ticket to be in the same room as the actor Sam Heughan, who plays the main character Jamie Fraser. Social media has gone wild with hearts all a flutter over the chance of seeing the handsome Heughan in real life. Why are Australian fans – mostly mature, happily married women – gushing like teenagers over the star’s visit to Australia? Why such crazed adoration for this particular actor? He’s not Daniel Craig after all, is he? (personal bias!)
Why all the fuss?
I’ve enjoyed reading some of the Outlander books (I confess to not having read all of them – the intention is there – the time just hasn’t been.) I’m a massive fan of the TV series for its authenticity, the actors cast in the roles as I imagined they would be from the books and also the wonderful Scottish scenery. But beyond good books and a great TV series what’s the big deal?
One fan from the Aussie Outlanders Facebook group, Kathy Callianiotis sums up why she loves Outlander. “I’ve found myself disappearing for years in the Outlander series of books and now, at last the unforgettable television series. I feel as if I myself have gone through the stones and lost myself in all the action, drama, romance and humour created by Diana Gabaldon and brought to the screen by Starz and Tallship Productions,” Kathy said. “How could I not embrace the visually stunning filming of the Scottish Highlands, the tragedy of the history of that time in Scotland and Bear McCreary’s evocative haunting music that assaults my brainwaves and refuses to allow other thoughts to enter.”
Kathy and many others wrote epitaphs about their love of the series and the books, baring their soul for the chance to meet and greet the star. But beyond that, coming through the sentiment is an almost obsessive quality around Sam Heughan who plays Jamie Fraser – one of central characters.
Sam Heughan aka Jamie Fraser
Sam Heughan cast as Jamie Fraser has achieved swoon-worthy status. One Aussie Outlander fan gushed, “What can you say about the versatile actor – Sam Heughan? It’s as if Sam was fated to bring Jamie Fraser to life on the screen and has morphed himself into that demanding role.”
Sam Heughan is a 35 year old actor, born in Dumfries Scotland. He studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) in Glasgow. Until Outlander came along he’d previously acted in various BBC productions including playing Batman in the touring stage show Batman Live. Hardly anything to set the world’s female hearts a racing. But all this changed in 2013 when Heughan auditioned and won the lead role of Jamie Fraser for the Outlander TV Series.
The Outlander Producers, Director and Casting Director were challenged in making choices for the lead roles for Outlander. Millions of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander readers had their own very definite ideas of who should be cast in the role of James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. This fictional character had catapulted into the hearts and minds of millions of female readers of Gabaldon’s books. Caitriona Balfe, the actor in the lead role of Claire Fraser was asked what she thought is the appeal of fictional Jamie. “He’s someone so physically strong but so emotionally sensitive and intelligent. It’s the idea that he can throw you over his shoulder, but he can also sit down and have a conversation with you and open up and share his feelings.”
Surely what many women want in a man Caitriona?!
Thankfully to play the man responsible for sending so many femmes into such feverish states, they chose an actual Scotsman. Not that an actor can’t fool us with an accent. Think of British actor Hugh Laurie who played Dr Gregory House with a faultless American accent on House for eight seasons. As a fan of Gabaldon’s books, I consider the choice of Sam Heughan to be close to how I imagined Jamie Fraser to appear if he left the pages and became two dimensional on the screen. But this still doesn’t get to the heart of the obsession with Sam Heughan. Granted he is a good looking actor, seems to have a generous heart outside of the acting world (with the charities he supports) and comes across in interviews as a bit of a funster. But there’s more to it. There are fans, mature women, even 70yo’s who are doing their darndest to catch a sneak peak of Sam when he visits Sydney for a press tour.
Ok – so what is it?
We were all teenagers once and confess to fandom over some group or actor in those awkward years. Our bedrooms were adorned with posters of who was our one and only to die for person or group. Depending on your generation – for me it was Sherbert’s Daryl Braithwaite, Michael Hutchence from INXS and cringeworthy to admit – Leif Garrett – all three seriously showing my age. As grown-ups, unlike our teenage self we’ve learnt to control our impulsive tendencies. But maybe every now and again we want to forget that we’ve left our teenage years behind. Be a little impulsive. We might be 55 on the outside but can still fixate on someone whether their 35 or 25.
But for rational, sensible Outlander fans it’s still more than that.
Fantasy and reality
Diana Gabaldon’s series of books have been read by millions, which let’s face it – we know the majority are female. It is logical for these women to become heavily caught up in the whole fantasy of Claire, Jamie and the travelling through time adventure. This is my personal opinion on the high appeal of Outlander books – interweaving fantasy (time travel) with reality (history of two periods) and throw in some hot, steamy sex.
There is a fine divide between fantasy and reality. It’s common for healthy, happy people to fantasize about someone else. Psychologists refer to it as the infidelity fantasy. (Where you imagine having some form of intimacy with someone you can’t have.) When those feelings are shared in a group – as in a Facebook closed group – the feelings can be amplified. The reason you are connected to that group is because you like the same thing and feel comfortable expressing that. It’s a safe group because it is closed and people understand your obsession and don’t ostracise you for it. I’m part of a closed writer’s group and receive support and advice from fellow pen sufferers. Without the group I’d probably be drinking a heck of alot more. This sense of connection is special – a bond that not everyone arounds you understands. “Through Outlander I have made many friends through Facebook groups who share my passion and love of Outlander,” says Melissa F.
Blame Diana Gabaldon
In my humble opinion, the protagonist in all of this is the fact the author of the series, Diana Gabaldon is a woman. She knows how we think (and we know she gets us.) Gabaldon has cleverly tapped into an area where women are strong – our imagination. As Kathy Callianiotis said, “it’s the heartbreaking beauty of Diana’s words that makes the reading so visual.”
In the crazy world we live in sometimes we just need to escape from our everyday lives. And there’s nothing wrong with a little infatuation. Sam Heughan’s shoulders seem broad enough to handle the fuss. Judging from his comments on social media – he’s up for it. With 215k Twitter, 214k Facebook and 267k Instagram followers (at time of publishing) Sam generates much discussion. He knows how to play the game and also seems grateful for the fans – knowing without them there would be no show.
Welcome to Aus Sam Heughan – and may you continue to play Jamie Fraser for many seasons to come.
PS> One of the funniest articles I’ve read recently, on the excitement among fans reaching fever pitch is by William Burdick who gives his 10 ‘tips’ for husbands if their wife is obsessed with Outlander. (yes =- there are a few male Outlander fans – for one reason or another!)