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Performers Of The Month - September Winner: Outstanding Actor - Sam Heughan

1 Nov 2017

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Television is in the middle of a trend of remakes and adaptations which has inundated television screens with an array of iconic characters with storied histories. That puts a lot of extra weight on the performers tasked to portray these characters. Unlike a show with no prior iterations, the audience is tuning in with preconceived notions of what they expect to see. The performers are scrutinized a little harder than they would be if they were playing an original character. If a show is based on a book the diehard fans will deep dive into the character description and compare their idealized version of the character to the performer tasked with the part. Many simply can’t hold up to fan expectations. Though, those that can overcome all the odds stacked against them can go on to become as iconic as the character they are portraying. In some rare cases, they can even transcend their character and gain a level of popularity that even their iconic character has yet to achieve. That is the case with Outlander’s Sam Heughan who plays Jamie Fraser.

From the moment the television adaptation of Outlander was announced there was massive speculation as to who should portray the male lead. Every well-known actor had his name tossed around the internet at some point for someone who could take on the larger than life Jamie Fraser. Then Sam Heughan was cast and immediately the scrutiny began. As with any major casting, there were naysayers, but he quickly silenced all negative chatter the moment he first graced the screen. He proved throughout those first moments that he was the right man for the job. For the past two seasons, he has far and away exceeded all expectations. He has taken what fans expected and launched the character to a whole new level that longtime fans of the book franchise didn’t even know was possible. He took an iconic character and made him even more iconic, and in the process became a household name. His talent more than warrants all the accolades and attention. It’s for these reasons, and so many more, that it was no surprise that he was named SpoilerTV’s Most Outstanding Actor of September.

The work he did throughout the first part of Season Three has been exceptional starting with the haunting first episode of the season, The Battle Joined (3x1). The season opened with Jamie on his back and gravely injured leaving Heughan not much more to do than lie there except for the flashbacks to the battle. Though, those scenes were significant and included the pivotal moments like when Jamie saw Black Jack which resulted in the men charging one another. Still, most of the hour was spent with Jamie incapacitated by his injuries. Given how overpowering his tall and broad form is when he is standing it was visually alarming to see the character seem so small. While that may have been the initial visual impression, it was far from what was really going on. The moment Heughan opened his eyes it was on and there was nothing small or weak about his performance. Jamie may have been beaten down, but he was far from quitting. Though, the irony is, that he wanted to quit and give in. Jamie would have rather succumbed to his injuries than go on without Claire (Caitriona Balfe), but there was still an ember of life in his eyes throughout the hour.

Heughan had to walk a very fine line between showing Jamie wanting to quit and showing the life still left in him. Jamie was down and even though he felt it was the end, there was something inside of him that was still clinging to life. Despite the physical pain from his injuries and his emotional anguish over losing Claire to the stones, he was still fighting. It isn’t in the Fraser blood to quit and even though Jamie thought that’s what he wanted he still had a lot more to do with his life. With that said, one of the most poignant scenes of the episode was when Jamie was begging with Lord Hal Melton to shoot him. For most of the episode Jamie was fighting to cling to life, but by this point, he was prepared to accept his fate in order to move onto what comes next, he was ready to reunite with his lost friends and family in the next life. If he couldn’t have Claire he would at least have them and he was desperate for that sort of familial connection. To him, by this point, he had justified it as not quitting, but moving onto the next stage of existence.

When Lord Melton wouldn’t give that to him he grew frustrated. It was sort of ironic that Melton refusing to kill him is what rejuvenated his red-hot Fraser temper. He was in dire straits and extreme pain, but still defiant with Melton. He didn’t want to accept Melton’s gift of life, because to him at that point it was a graver punishment than shooting him. The Fraser spark in him was prepared to fight to his final breath, but the broken-hearted man encasing that heart was done with the trials and tribulations that had befallen him in the wake of having to send his true love away.

Now, take just a moment, and think about all these emotions. Think about the energy it takes to endure a rollercoaster ride of emotions like this. Then factor in the fact that a typical episode takes seven to ten days to film with twelve to eighteen hour work days. Sam Heughan has to maintain this level of intensity throughout the entire shoot because Jamie’s condition opened the episode and closed it. He got reprieves between shooting scenes, but when he was on camera he had to keep this up for that long of a period of time. That is a feat of epic proportions, but then it’s also prudent to factor in the fact that his performance never once suffered from the duration he had to sustain such intensity. In fact, his performances were amplified because all he had to rely on was his facial expressions and moderate movement from the rest of his body. Jamie was in intense pain, so he was limited in his movement yet he was still as present as ever. His performance was slightly subdued due to the circumstances, but all that did was further display his talent. This entire episode was a tour de force for him, but not in a physical way. This was all about pure up-close personal acting that impacts the audience and he certainly achieved that.

Fortunately, this season is tasked to cover a huge swath of time which allowed Jamie to be in peak health by the time the next episode rolled around. Surrender (3x2) was a very different episode for Heughan who once again faced a whole new set of challenges in portraying Jamie’s journey without Claire. This episode gave him far fewer lines than usual yet he dominated the hour with his big booming charisma. The scenes where Jamie said nothing were some of Heughan’s most defining moments in this episode. He was asked, once again, to emote in a different way than performers are used to. In the absence of words, focus was put onto his every movement and action. Most importantly, without words, he still managed to convey so much. In fact, one might say that words would have ruined those scenes. It’s ironic, when he was on the ground near death in the prior episode there was more hope and life in his eyes than when he was able-bodied and back at his home in this one. Jamie had accepted his demise then was spared and that broke him to a degree. But, by being back at Lallybroch, he had responsibilities. What Heughan managed to portray is a shell of a man just going through the motions. Jenny (Laura Donnelly) hit it spot on when she said that her brother didn’t really make it back from Culloden. What is so stunning about Heughan’s acting is that before those words were even spoken the audience already knew that Jenny was right. The Jamie that fans know and adore was barely there and that’s exactly what Heughan intended.

These scenes of shell-Jamie were important for the way the rest of the hour played out. Seeing him protect Jenny’s wee newborn baby Ian and try to silence the lad were the first signs of the Jamie everyone knows starting to make his return. More signs became obvious later, when he saved Fergus (Romann Berrux), after the foolish yet well-meaning young man egged on the Red Coats and subsequently lost his hand. Seeing young Fergus risk so much to protect Lallybroch and its inhabitants reminded Jamie of what his true responsibilities are. The moment he shared with Fergus while the young man was recovering was eye-opening for Jamie. It was a powerful transformational moment for a man lost in the darkness of heartache. Heughan stunningly transitioned between all these extremes showing Jamie’s full journey. Every aspect of the hour worked so well because Heughan fully embraced the journey. At the exact right moments, he let some light slip into his eyes and typical Jamie strength back into his actions.

Then, there was the scene with Mary MacNab (Emma Campbell-Jones) where Jenny tried to entice her brother with a lady to mend his heart. Perhaps she had hoped it’d keep him around, but she should have known that a romantic romp would never ever mend his heart after the loss of Claire. It was still a terrific scene for Heughan as it was in this moment that the Jamie fans know and adore kicked back into gear as a powerfully emotional tear trickled down his cheek. In that moment Heughan showed Jamie finally feeling everything he’d been trying to hold back. Mary couldn’t replace Claire, but for a brief moment in time, she helped remind him how to feel. In that way, Jenny’s plan worked, but Jamie Fraser is a man of honor and nothing was going to keep him from fulfilling the obligations he felt towards accepting his punishment and protecting his family.

Even though he was starting to come back into his own by the end of the hour he was still struggling to cope with life without Claire. When he was being carted off, as he stared up at the sky, there was this calm expression of acceptance on his face. He was finally being punished, something he seems to have felt he deserved after surviving when so many of his friends and clansmen had fallen with honor at Culloden. In the process, he even managed to protect his sister and her family. It wasn’t ideal, but to him, it was a satisfactory ending and was the right thing to do to honor his duties to everyone that did and do count on him. And all of that was on Sam Heughan’s face throughout the sequence. He’s a powerhouse actor and can pull off big grand moments with expert precision, but he’s just as masterful with these quieter moments of reflection.

The following episode, All Debts Paid (3x3), finally showed that Jamie had come back into his own. Being around his men and taking on a leadership role rejuvenated him. Even though he was in prison and shackled he seemed to be more alive than in the prior two episodes combined. There was a sadness to him, but that spark of life that was just barely flickering in the first episode and that only started to regain steam in the second was burning brightly in this hour. Jamie Fraser was back as a leader and even without Claire, he was surviving. This episode introduced him to the grown-up Lord John Grey (David Berry) and through him, Jamie really sprung back and a friendship was forged in the most unlikely or circumstances. Whether it was them dining together having an intelligent conversation, challenging each other to games of chess, or simply Jamie standing up to him in defense of the rights of his men, their every encounter was dynamic.

It has been said before, and it must be said again, Heughan has remarkable chemistry with every performer he is paired with. The very nature of the story isolated Sam Heughan from his regular scene partner, Caitriona Balfe. Their chemistry is spectacular and what they can do together on the screen is nothing sort of magical. That fact made it a bit sad, coming into the season because that magic would be separated for an extended period of time. But, the pro he is, Heughan charged into the season forging new connections and developing stunning new bonds. As always, his sibling bond with Donnelly is spot-on. The love and banter they perfectly portray are what all siblings encounter, love for each other and a biologically ingrained need to protect one another, but also typical sibling disagreements. These two performers perfectly nail everything that their characters endure. But, perhaps, the most poignant relationship of the early part of this season was forged between Jaime and Lord Grey. In fact, Lord Grey was one of the few people he spoke to about Claire. The prospect of finding her even led Jamie to stage an escape before being bound again. Despite what he thought he knew to be the truth, in that Claire left, the prospect of perhaps finding his lost love still in his time was enough for him to risk his honor to see out his sentence. Ultimately, their friendship allowed Lord Grey to not only understand why Jamie did what he did but to ensure a comfortable servitude for him after the prison was shuttered. It was the connection the performers forged that made these scenes seem so believable and impactful to the overall story.

With David Berry being new to the cast, his dynamic with Heughan could have gone badly. These two men charged into the complicated friendship between Jamie and John putting into place the early makings of a very long powerful friendship. Simply put, Heughan knows that truth comes across on the screen. He cares about his co-stars and it comes across in their performances. They all just click and while the other guest and recurring performers are all exceptional in their own right a lot of the weight of the connection rests with Heughan. As one of the series leads the show either thrives or falters on his and Balfe’s shoulders, they each carry a heavy burden and it’s usually one they can shoulder together. By being split apart they were left to carry heavier weights on their own. For anyone who wants to know what makes a perfect onscreen romantic duo, all they need to do is look at these two. Even separate they felt connected. Heughan did proud by his part of the episodes and was stunningly powerful and delivered emotionally profound performances.

Sam Heughan delivered some of his very best performances in September. They were emotional and powerful while also showing vulnerability and humility, in episodes that were chalked full of noteworthy and memorable moments. There was no way that even a fraction of his stunning performances could be covered in a single article, his work was simply too impactful. That is why he is September’s Most Outstanding Actor because he does so much and always delivers high-quality work. He has exceptional depth to his performance and is beyond deserving of this title. Since this article couldn’t cover every mind-blowing scene please feel free to highlight some of the outstanding moments that were your favorites. One thing is without debate, Sam Heughan is one of a kind with a heart of gold and talent beyond comparison.

PLEASE READ: Please keep comments on topic and just discussing the performances of the winner.

Special thanks to Donna Cromeans, freelance editor/proofreader (@DJRiter on Twitter) for editing this article.