Performers put themselves out there for the world to judge them. Every little thing they do will come under scrutiny, judged by their looks and their talent. They are even judged by the normal everyday things they do. It is a hazard of their profession. Some performers have trouble determining how to balance real life with their professional responsibilities. Others, on the other hand, know exactly what to do and they use their influence to do good in order to help some cause. When that sort of powerful drive for humanitarianism meets immense talent is where the very best of the acting profession emerge. It is in this area of elite convergence where Outlander’s Sam Heughan sits. It is because of his vast talent that he is so well known, but it is his drive to be a humanitarian that has endeared him to his fans around the world. It is his looks that likely grab most people at first, but that is only skin deep. He is so much more than that and it is everything that he stands for that makes him a beloved performer. It is his talent and dedication to doing good that has earned him the title of SpoilerTV’s 2017 Reader’s Choice Performer of the Year.
In 2017, during Season Three of Starz’s Outlander, Sam Heughan really got to shine as he delivered one heart-breaking and heart-warming performance after another. Unlike the two prior seasons, he spent nearly the entire first half of this season separated from his regular scene partner, Caitriona Balfe (Claire Randall Fraser). Together they have always been a powerhouse duo, but this season got to showcase just how fierce each performer is on their own. While Balfe had some incredible storylines, it was Heughan who got some of the most powerful material in the early half of the season. Throughout the season he took Jamie on a complex journey. At the start of the season he was an injured and broken man ready for death and by the end, he was full of life and fighting for the lives of those he loves most. Throughout each emotional and heartfelt moment, he further endeared Jamie to the audience. What is to follow will be a look back at some of Sam Heughan’s most memorable acting moments from Season Three of Outlander.
This season started with The Battle Joined (3×1), an episode that showcased Heughan portraying Jamie in a way he has never been seen before, in a very vulnerable situation. He had just sent his beloved wife through the stones and sustained nearly mortal wounds on the battlefield. There was no fight left in his broken body. The Jamie Fraser fans had come to know is a strong fierce man with a heart of pure gold. This Jamie Fraser was defeated and ready to move on to the afterlife. No matter how much he wanted to just forego the pain and slip away it is not in Fraser blood to just give up. His heart and mind were not in agreement as to what to do. His heart was broken and ready to just end it all. Thankfully his brain was still fully engaged and not ready to give up without one hell of a fight. What is so stunning about this is Sam Heughan managed to portray all of this extreme complexity with little more than his body. He had some terrific lines and he delivered them beautifully, but in regards to this episode, it was what he expressed between the lines that left the biggest impression.
The first couple episodes of the season were quiet ones for Heughan. That’s not to say he didn’t have a lot to do because he did, but Jamie was lost in his own head for a while. He was more or less just going through the motions of life without really truly living. He was a shell of the man his family and fans had come to know. To be fair to Jamie, he had a lot of trauma to try and process and no one could ever blame him for pulling back the way he did. Surrender(3×2) was a powerful episode to display Jamie’s grief. Even given the time that passed and his physical wounds that healed his heart is still bleeding. Jamie turned to trying to avoid feeling altogether to mitigate the pain. Heughan has immense control over his line delivery, but these first two episodes showcased just how profoundly talented he is. He’s so at one with his character that he has this profound ability to emote exactly what the moment calls for effortlessly. He also knows when to emote nothing and that’s absolutely not a bad thing. The way he made his eyes void and blank was such a powerful display of what Jamie was feeling. The lack of emotion from Jamie said so much and was a powerful message of indescribable pain that he was suffering.
Jamie would go on to allow himself to be captured to protect his home and family. He felt a great responsibility for what happened to Fergus (Romann Berrux) and a noble duty to protect others from that same fate. That event, along with Jenny (Laura Donnelly) confronting him brought him out of his head and back into the fight. But, he is a man of honor and needed to pay the debt he felt he owed. It was through these moments that Jamie’s heart began the slow process of healing. As the episode wore on Heughan picked the perfect moments to start letting life slip back into Jamie’s eyes and ever so slowly Jamie came back to life under Heughan’s diligent attention to detail. Jamie’s heart would never be whole again without Claire and it would go on to be broken many times more, but this is the moment it healed enough for Jamie to become Jamie again.
This season was full of big milestone moments. There was, of course, one huge one for which everyone was waiting. But, there were many other big moments before and after it. One of those moments occurred in All Debts Paid (3×3) where Jamie met the now adult Lord John Grey (David Berry). The introduction of adult Lord Grey was a big moment for the story. This is a man who goes on to play a big part throughout Jamie’s life, so they had to nail these early encounters to secure the bond of the characters. Heughan has this innate ability to almost instantaneously connect with someone. It’s a characteristic that he shares with Jamie. Both men are massively charismatic. The fact is that this is exactly how Jamie is written in the books. What audiences are witnessing is the result of complete perfect casting. In spirit, Sam Heughan is Jamie Fraser and Jamie Fraser is Sam Heughan.
Heughan and Berry had an instant best buddy’s chemistry that they easily translated to their characters. Even through these first tense encounters, there was an easy energy between them. Despite Jamie being the prisoner and John the governor, there was an ease between them. The performers played to that perfectly. There is a moment in the episode where Jamie escapes and makes it to the island to search out if there was any truth to the rumor he had heard regarding the possible return of his wife. The rumor turned out untrue and Jamie had to return. Well, he didn’t have to, but he did and for a very specific reason. He’d later go on to say it was because his men needed him, but there was more to it than just that.
Upon his return, he sought out Lord Grey. After a brief confrontation and a reminiscence of their first encounter, Jamie reminded Lord Grey of a promise he had made when he was just a young boy. That was a promise to kill him upon the discharge of the debt that he owed Jamie. With the debt discharged by Lord Grey’s brother at Culloden, Jamie took to his knees and offered himself up to Lord Grey. The acting in this moment was stunning. Heughan kept Jamie composed while at the same time expressed a man crumbling from the inside out. Even with all the time that passed Jamie’s heart was still raw from losing Claire. The failed exploration of the island had reopened festering wounds. He was spared on the battlefield by Lord Grey’s brother even though death was the outcome he prayed for. This time he hoped that Lord Grey would finally dispatch him so his heart could find peace again. And yet again, while the words Heughan spoke were wonderfully delivered the moment with the greatest impact was the one where he said nothing. With Lord Grey’s sword to Jamie’s throat, Heughan chose to play that moment in a way that made Jamie look at peace. He was ready for the ache in his chest to stop. Then, when Lord Grey chose to not be “a murderer of unarmed prisoners”, there was this soul-crushing look of disappointment that overcame Jamie. Heughan made the transition from at peace back to tormented in a split second and it was jarring, but that is how the moment had to be played, the audience needed to feel that for it to have the right impact on the scene and Heughan nailed it.