Sam Heughan talks Bond rumours, action and Andy McNab
Sam Heughan is in the possession of stolen property. Sitting behind him on a coffee table is a clapperboard he swiped from the set of his latest movie.
It turns out it has come in handy. He was due to receive a backdrop he could set up for his Zoom interviews about his latest project, the action thriller SAS: Red Notice, but it never arrived. “Luckily I had this,” he says. “I stole it on the last day so I just dug it out.”
It’s not surprising that the 40-year-old Scottish actor wanted a memento from the set. Best known for his star-marking role as as Highland warrior Jamie Fraser in the historical drama Outlander, he got the chance to try something very different with the film.
He plays special forces operator Tom Buckingham in the movie, an adaptation of former SAS soldier Andy McNab’s novel of the same name. Buckingham is whisking his girlfriend to Paris on the train with plans to propose, when the train is hijacked by heavily armed mercenaries in the middle of the Channel Tunnel, and all the passengers are held hostage. The soldier inevitably ends up crawling along the roof of the train, fighting the bad guys and being an all-round action hero, which was all part of the excitement for Heughan.
“It was very physical. It is an action movie and there are a lot of fights but strangely I loved it. It was exhausting and fun,” he remembers. “And then you have Andy McNab, who is this relentless ball of energy. He just doesn’t sleep. Well, he does, but he only sleeps enough and then he’s just go, go, go and it was fun to try and keep up with him.”
Heughan has had film roles since Outlander rocketed him to stardom in 2014, including current release To Olivia, playing the actor Paul Newman, but nothing quite like this. “I knew of Andy from Bravo Two Zero (McNab’s partially fictional account of an SAS patrol that becomes compromised while operating behind enemy lines in Iraq). I had read the book and watched that adaptation (starring Sean Bean), and I had also read some of his books from his experiences in the military so I was so excited,” he says. “Then meeting the man himself was just fascinating, he’s such a character study and a lot of Tom is based pretty much on Andy so it was a wonderful experience.”
The film explores the idea of a “good psychopath”, someone who can dial up or down qualities such as ruthlessness, fearlessness, conscience and empathy to the advantage of any given situation. It’s a topic McNab, who identifies as a “good psychopath” has written extensively about and one that Heughan was fascinated by. “When we think of psychopaths we instantly think of Hannibal, these evil people, these evil psychopaths, but Andy has obviously done a lot of work and had written about it and done research with Oxford University about it and there are many high-functioning psychopaths in the military, but also as doctors, surgeons, lawyers.
“Anything where there is a very stressful situation, where they need to remove emotion, that is where these people operate really well, so it was fascinating to look at it and see what that means. It’s not black and white at all, it’s very much a moving boundary. Andy describes it as a fader board, where he can sometimes turn up his emotion and sometimes turn it down or turn up ruthlessness or logic or empathy, so it really depends on what situation they are in.”
It seems entirely possible James Bond could be described as a “good psychopath” – and that probably won’t be where the Bond comparisons stop, as Heughan himself admits. “It’s hard not to look at this movie and compare the two, they are kind of in the same world.
“Obviously this is based on the authentic actually reality of how the military and how the government operate as well, and all the experiences were based on Andy McNab’s experiences so I would say this is, dare I say it, more of an authentic Bond than Bond is. Bond is a lot more heightened.”
And this bears the question, what of Heughan’s own ambition to play 007? He has long been touted as a possible contender to take over the role from Daniel Craig, and this film won’t do anything to deter those who say he would be the perfect Scot to follow in Sean Connery’s footsteps. “I don’t know if there is a conversation being had, apart from in the media,” he says modestly. “But I think it’s an incredible franchise and a great character, so of course I would jump at it. But I feel like Tom Buckingham is equally as interesting and who knows, maybe this could be the new franchise?”
SAS: Red Notice is available on Sky Cinema now.