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Men In Kilts: Exclusive interview with Graham McTavish on the grandeur of Scotland

Graham McTavish and Sam Heughan in Men In Kilts
Graham McTavish, left, and Sam Heughan take us on a spirited road trip in Scotland for Men In Kilts. Pic credit: Starz

If you’re a fan of Outlander then it’s time to start getting excited, as Men In Kilts — a nonfiction offshoot of the dramatic series created by writer Diana Gabaldon — arrives on Starz this weekend.

This new effort starring Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish (Jamie Fraser and Dougal Mackenzie on the show) is part road trip, part immersive journey of self discovery all laced with humor, awe and tantalizing food and drink.

The new series follows the pair, both Scottish to the core, as they hit the road and travel in their own land.

The half-hour, eight-episode series is a send-up of Scottish history and culture as Heughan and McTavish revel in their adventures, eating, drinking and traversing across their country, rich with a complex heritage.

The two actors were made worldwide stars through Outlander as they brought a uniquely masculine and lusty three-dimensional presence to their roles, helped by the fertile imagination of Gabaldon. The screen version of this romantic, and paranormal-tinged, literary phenomenon is still going strong for Starz.

Now, in Men in Kilts, our two strapping Scottish guides take us for a curated look at their own backyard, as we focus on the adoration, admiration and love of Scotland and meet a colorful cast of locals.

The chemistry of Sam and Graham has been distilled like a finely blended whisky to create a nonfiction spin-off of sorts, creating a fresh documentary show that takes us along for the ride of a lifetime.

The show is based on the pair’s book, Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other, and in her foreward Gabaldon explained succinctly the appeal of a man in a kilt.

“Well, I suppose it’s the idea that you could be up against a wall with him in a moment,” she wrote.

We’re sold.

Scotland the beautiful, brave and bold

Monsters & Critics spoke to Graham McTavish ahead of the premiere this Valentine’s Day, about this high-spirited guided tour of Scotland that will have you counting the days until you can board a plane and go see it for yourself.

Monsters & Critics: Now, the actual Clanlands book came first, correct?

Graham McTavish: The book came out first, we’d shot the first road trip in 2019, and then that led to the book [that year]. But in the meantime we had persuaded Starz to do the show, Men In Kilts. So we shot that just after the first lockdown in the UK.

M&C: Was there anything in your road trip about your own country that surprised you or impressed you that you weren’t really aware of?

Graham McTavish: Yes. I’d always fancied myself as a history buff, understanding about Scottish history, but I was amazed actually at how the linear view that we have of history that has happened, and then this happened… really doesn’t allow for the truth.

Which is that history is full of little side roads and dead ends.

And there’s all sorts of other things going on and crossovers and overlapping, et cetera.

So regarding the clans, I learned that two clans that were fighting each other could also intermarry. They could become allies. They could go back to being enemies. They could start another feud.

There was this constant ebb and flow in Scotland with how these people interacted with each other. And other things I think were just confirmations and things that I already knew, which was that Scotland’s full of very warm, generous, humorous people and also full of extraordinarily eccentric people.

We were lucky enough to meet a lot of them. That was a great joy because we didn’t plan it that way.

In terms of script… there was no script. It was very spontaneous.

So the audience, when they are with us on this journey, when they watch the show, are kind of experiencing it in real time.

When you see a star talking to these people, we really have no idea how it was going to go. Hopefully it’ll work out. But we were flying by the seat of our pants a lot at the time.

M&C: Would you say that… your relationship with Sam has obviously grown, you’ve worked together for so many years now. Your friendship doesn’t look forced. When did you first meet Sam?

Graham McTavish: Well, we were talking about that earlier. Actually I suspect our paths might have crossed in theater in Scotland because it’s a small world.

But I didn’t know him as such because, when I was doing a lot of my Scottish theater…Sam would have been — well, I hate to even say it, [laughs] — he would have been in school.

We may have overlapped and he may have seen me at shows, but physically when I was to have met him [in person] was really at the chemistry read for Outlander in London in a very hot, cramped studio, that is where we met.

And I was annoyed to discover that he was an inch taller than me, which immediately put me against him. I found him annoyingly good looking, but then he was just so warm and generous and kind, and on that day, I thought, I liked this guy.

And that proved to be the case from then on, really. We knew each other pretty well during Outlander, but we definitely got to know each other a lot better in a caravan riding around Scotland. That experience was great. It was really, really wonderful.

M&C: Are there going to be more seasons of this show?

Graham McTavish: We hope so for sure. Yes. I think the story of Scotland — just on its own — has many more stories to tell and that we’ve barely scratched the surface.

I think in terms of the clans, in terms of the history and the culture and the areas that we could visit.

But then the wider world of Scottish influence is out there too. America, obviously Canada and New Zealand, Australia, you know, there is influence in India, there’s influence in Brazil. The old alliance between France and Scotland.

These are little areas to explore and I am just really searching for that Scottish link with the Maldives and Tahiti…

M&C: That’s funny. That would be great.

Graham McTavish: It would.

M&C: What is it about Scotland that has your heart?

Graham McTavish: Gosh. Just honestly, there are so many places, I guess really, for me, it is the cities of Scotland which are great. They are amazing and Edinburgh, particularly, is stunningly beautiful.

But it is the landscape that really speaks to me. I cycled a lot around all over Scotland and that is, for me, the perfect way to see it.

To just take your time, and to really take in that landscape around you. Feel its grandeur, take in the sounds and the smells and just how you can stop along the way and discover that history is just right there, all around you in the buildings. And they’re carved into the landscape.

That’s what I love. So that, the outdoors, which is obviously a very, very large place, is the place that I feel at home where my heart is in Scotland.

M&C: Favorite distillery tour, and favorite scotch that you would never be without? That could be two different answers!

Graham McTavish: Yes! Favorite distillery… the one that Sam and I had at Laphroaig was pretty incredible because it was very detailed and we got to see things perhaps others wouldn’t.

But I remember I was doing a theater season at Pitlochry in Perthshire, and I went to the Edradour Distillery, which is, I think, the smallest distillery in Scotland. That was lovely and it was so beautiful, nestled in these hills. It’s gorgeous.

But the whiskey that I would never be without it, if I have to be honest… and that does change. Your palette changes. You become interested in different things.

The one that I’m really into at the moment is Springbank and she’s a Campbeltown malt whisky with a kind of Highlands and Islands mix of flavor.

And I really, really like that. That was a beautiful discovery that I only made a couple of years ago.

M&C: Aren’t you afraid that Americans are going to be overrunning Scotland once COVID travel restrictions are lifted, as you reveal more beauty and wonder of Scotland?

Graham McTavish: Yes, I think it’s really going to be interesting for everybody when they will [be able to travel], and they are able to travel — how, what that would mean and how they will feel… it will be profound.

So no, the more the merrier!

Men in Kilts premieres this Sunday, February 14, on Starz.

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