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

Book adaptations present a unique set of challenges for all parties involved in the production. Nowhere else in the medium does an audience come into watching something with expectations of where the story is heading. It’s also the only time that an audience knows the big story changing moments before they ever air on screen. That puts a ton of pressure on the production. Meeting longtime fan expectation for the big moments is a nearly impossible task. Let’s be real and honest here, fans often times have very unrealistic expectations that a production will never be able to achieve. What works perfectly in books does not always translate well when adapted for the screen. While every member of the production feels the pressure to bring these moments to life, the most pressure rests on the shoulders of the performers. They are the faces of these characters and they will either be lauded or ridiculed for what ends up on screen. Starz’s Outlander has and will continue, to face these situations. Thankfully for Outlander, the show has exceptional performers who always seem to rise to the challenge of meeting and exceeding fan expectations. Sam Heughan certainly did that in October while bringing to life Jamie’s reunion with Claire (Caitriona Balfe). It’s part of the reason why he so easily won the title of October’s Most Outstanding Performer.

The moment referred to by book fans as “the print shop scene,” a critical moment in the evolution of the characters had been anticipated even before the series debuted. The whole third book, Voyager, is a bit of a transitional book as Claire and Jamie spend twenty years apart separated by time. This book takes them through one trial and tribulation after another all leading up to their reunion in the print shop. Make no mistake, there are a lot of big moments after their reunion, but the reunion symbolizes the end of one part of their journey and the start of a whole new stage of their relationship. Recreated in A. Malcolm (3x6) this scene had to hit just right or everything that comes after it could fall flat. A huge amount of the weight for the success of this iconic moment was strictly on Sam Heughan’s shoulders. It is Jamie’s reaction to Claire’s miraculous return that sells the whole reunion. Heughan was presented with a strong script that was relatively faithful to the source material, but it was his interpretation of what was on the page that sold the moment.

The look of shocked stunned surprise on his face as he turned and saw Claire standing there couldn’t have been any more perfectly executed. A big element of this scene was the faint that Jamie suffers as the shock of the reunion overcomes him. It could have played cheesy and ridiculous, but he made it feel organic and real as Jamie crumbled to the ground. When he came to and saw Claire over him the look on his face was of continued shock, but the glint in his eyes spoke of incredible hope. The execution of this moment was paramount to the scene playing right, had Sam Heughan had Jamie immediately bolt to life, kissing Claire, the moment would have been both unfaithful to the source material and out of character for Jamie. This is a man who always tries to keep up a strong exterior even when his eyes tell a whole different story to what is going on inside. Heughan played the moment right on point allowing all of Jamie’s confusing feelings to wash over him in a matter of moments. This moment allowed the audience to feel immersed in the reunion as they experienced the same array of emotions as Jamie. When Jamie sat up and looked into Claire’s eyes and said her name in an awe-filled tone, everything fell into place. In that moment the characters were truly reunited, as Jamie finally allowed himself to accept that she was indeed before him. The sparkle of bright light that sprung into Heughan’s eyes in this moment couldn’t have been any better executed.

The whole scene then transitioned to the awkwardness of two people who haven’t seen each other in twenty odd years trying to figure out how to interact with one another. The reason this scene relies so heavily on Sam Heughan’s performance is because Claire knew she was going on this journey to find Jamie. The delivery of that scene relied on both performers to nail the confusing emotions of the moment, but if Jamie’s side of the equation wasn’t perfectly done it would have thrown off Claire’s side. In other words, if Sam Heughan hadn’t delivered, then there would have been very little his scene partner, Caitriona Balfe could have done to turn it around. This is one of those rare shared scenes that the performers couldn’t equally share the weight. Sam Heughan was front and center and if he had faltered the whole scene would have crumbled around them. Thankfully, and expectedly, that wasn’t the case. He didn’t just excel and defy expectations, but he raised the acting bar so high that even he himself should have had trouble reaching it. Of course, he has yet to reach the proverbial ceiling of his abilities.

This portion of the scene was quite literally sealed by a stunningly beautifully choreographed kiss. It was reserved and tentative at first with both Claire and Jamie trying to figure out how to close the twenty-year gap between them. They both changed so much in their time apart that it was almost as if they had to relearn how to touch one another. The performances both Heughan and Balfe delivered really sold the intensity of the moment. It was, in truth, the first moment where these two fully reunited in heart and soul and relied on them both to deliver even-keeled performances that fed off of the other yet still showed the proverbial distance between them. Even as they stood centimeters apart they still felt miles apart right up until the time their lips met. It was truly stunning acting on both sides, but once again so much relied on Heughan’s performance. Jamie was baring his soul to Claire and confessing his longing for her. With each word spoken the distance faded a bit more with each stolen glance into her eyes, their reignited connection grew stronger. Balfe had the heavy responsibility to react perfectly to the words Heughan was speaking, but it was his words that guided them towards that kiss of reunited unity. The beauty of this acting partnership is the way these two effortlessly volley back and forth the burden of a moment. When one has to be deep in the moment the other stands strong as a rock for the other giving them both plenty to play off of, at any given moment one carried more burden than the other, but never once did either performer feel abandoned. They have one of the most beautiful co-dependent acting relationships on television. This reunited unity would go on to serve them well throughout the rest of the episode.

Another big moment that relied heavily on their reignited unity is when Jamie learns about his daughter. In the books and even in the script this moment is played with intense emotion, but Sam Heughan chose to approach the moment different and played it more subdued. That caused a bit of controversy and showcases what can happen when what appears on the screen deviates from the books, in this case, that change was completely on Heughan as the scriptwriter had remained faithful to the books. Still, the controversy is, to a degree, unwarranted, because the moment was beautifully executed and played out wonderfully on screen. Now, in the case of this scene, it’s all a bit in the eye of the beholder as to whether someone loved it or not. Some fans adored the change while others scoffed at it. What is important to note here is that there are very few people on the planet who know television show Jamie better than Sam Heughan does. If he felt that his version of Jamie would act a certain way he was well within his rights to bring his interpretation of the material to his performance to do what he felt was best for his character. It might not have been the popular decision, but it takes a strong performer who wholeheartedly believes in his character, to take such a risk in the name of being loyal to the man he’s bringing to life. So, no matter where you stand on the topic, one can’t fault him for fighting so hard to preserve the character to whom he has given so much of his heart and soul. He delivered a truly admirable performance that did indeed feel very true to who television Jamie is.

When Jamie was learning about Brianna there was deep emotion in his eyes and a painful remorse for lost years. As Claire handed Jamie the photographs of their daughter there was deeply guarded emotion he fought to hold in. He was so overcome by seeing his daughter that he had to walk away and sit down, this was his little girl and he had missed all these moments of her life. When Jamie found out Brianna’s first words it was hard for him to not smile. As he went through the pictures, Sam Heughan skillfully transitioned Jamie through feelings of pride and fatherly protectiveness. Those reactions were worth more than some big emotional breakdown. It played so much better than a big breakdown would have, giving the moment so much more depth. This is one of those times where what worked so well for the book was best changed for the screen.

He also took the same approach when he had to guide Jamie through confessing to Claire about his son William. Jamie was afraid of losing Claire so soon after getting her back and yet he was bursting at the seams to tell someone about the son he is so very proud of. There was trepidation and pride in his tone as he spoke of his son. This entire episode was like this, back and forth emotions of pride and worry. It was the telling of what happens between two people separated for so long and was also meant to highlight Jamie’s attempt to reconcile what was with what once again is. There were so many scenes like these that showed these two characters reuniting and relearning about one another.

The characters and the performers sealed the reunion in their moment together alone in Jamie’s room at the brothel. When they went to bed with one another this love scene was like no other that had preceded it this season. All the other sexual encounters each character had were about survival and going through the paces. This one was all about the pure, passionate, unbridled love that not even twenty years of separation could damage. Again, so much of this episode was about both Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe working in unison to create this bond between their characters. One can’t be praised without acknowledging the other. They worked together in perfect unison. This whole sequence was the icing on the cake as it capped off and gave great emotional connectivity to all that came before it in the hour. Sam Heughan was strong in his delivery of Jamie taking Claire to bed for the first time in so long, yet he showed off his character’s sensitive side, as well, as Jamie began to allow himself to feel full and whole again for the first time since he sent Claire to safety through the stones.

While A. Malcolm was the big reunion episode that allowed Sam Heughan to deliver one tour de force performance after another there were still many powerful acting moments for him in Crème De Menthe (3x7). His performance throughout much of this episode dealt with Jamie trying to maneuver around issues surrounding the trading deals he’d made. He got to show off Jamie’s clever business savvy ways and cunning smarts. Through his performance, he also showed that despite the difficulties Jamie loved the life he was living. This episode, for Jamie, was all about figuring out how to envelop Claire into the life he has been living. They shared a lovely moment where Jamie declares how grateful he is for all she did and gave up to get back to him. It was a nice quiet moment where he got to tell her that the journey she underwent to get back to him was all worth it. That moment was also fascinating because it fell right in the middle of all of Jamie’s business dealings that he was trying to juggle. The way Heughan transitioned Jamie from business mode to caring husband played terrifically for the situation and gave weight to everything Jamie was doing in order to reintegrate Claire into his life while also protecting her.

Still that desire to protect her only went so far. They spent a long time apart and when confronted by Ian regarding Young Ian, the couple was forced to face their differences. Jamie had played it coy regarding his disapproval of how Brianna was raised, but in the heat of an argument, he laid everything on the table. He was her father yet got no say in how she was raised. The pain and anger in his eyes as he confessed that spoke volumes. Heughan has intense expressive eyes that he knows how to wield with as much powerful force as a sharp sword. When he gets into the emotions of a moment his line delivery is flawless, but his expressions can sometimes be more powerful than any spoken word. In the case of this moment, powerful acting mixed with intense expressiveness gave so much more meaning to this scene. Jamie was beyond grateful to have Claire back yet at the same time he was hurt by all that he missed, yet, he knew he only had so much right to be angry over certain things. His character is passionate, short-tempered, and strong yet softhearted at times and all of that came out in this one scene.

The biggest moment in this episode came at the end as his print shop went up in flames and he had to race inside to try and rescue Young Ian. Everything he had worked so hard to build up was quite literally going up in flames. This was a tricky scene to portray because there were a lot of moving parts and it was all on Sam Heughan to deliver. He had to show Jamie’s calculated side as he ensured that all incriminating papers went up in the fire while also saving his precious portrait of young William and in the process saving Young Ian from the flames, all of this went down in the span of minutes. He had to execute this very carefully calculated choreographed scene all the while making every action feel believable to the audience. A task he deeply excelled at as his performance made the stakes feel very real. His intense performance allowed this scene to be as impactful and important as the story required it to be.

Sam Heughan is a truly gifted performer who never fails to deliver in whatever he’s tasked with. He’s not afraid to deliver his own interpretation of the material when it is best for his character. He is a performer who never lets down his fellow performers. There is not a single scene he has ever delivered as Jamie Fraser that hasn’t hit with every bit as emotion and intensity as was needed to captivate the audience. The October episodes this year gave him so much to work with and he delivered on every front amplifying the words on the page to deliver some truly exceptionally memorable performances. October provided him so many great acting opportunities that it was impossible to include them all in this single article, so please feel free to use the comments to talk about everything included and not included in the article.

This is his second win this year disqualifying him from any more eligibility for the year. Please make note that he will be included in the 2017 Performer of the Year contest so there will be one more opportunity to have him recognized for his 2017 work. Keep an eye on the site for that in January.

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.


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