American author Diana Gabaldon could hardly contain her excitement when she learnt Scottish hunk Sam Heughan would be playing the hero of her hugely popular Outlander novels in the new TV adaptation that premieres on Foxtel today.
"My God! That man is a Scot to the bone and Jamie Fraser to the heart," the author gushed on the website TVWise. "Having seen Sam Heughan not just act but be Jamie, I feel immensely grateful to the production team for their painstaking attention to the soul of the story and characters."
The author clearly knew she was lucky to secure the ruggedly handsome 190cm Scot, who admits he tested for the role of 007 that went to Daniel Craig.
"Oh that's really sweet," Heughan chuckles in his thick Scottish lilt when I relay Gabaldon's quote. "She's been completely wonderful. As soon as I was cast, we were in contact. We started tweeting and emailing each other. She sent me her unpublished stories and she's been really forthcoming."
Outlander, which runs over 16 one-hour episodes, is based on Gabaldon's bestselling series of eight hefty books, which began with Cross Stitch in 1991. A handsomely staged yet heady mix of romance, historical drama and time travel, it follows recently married World War II nurse Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) as she's swept back in time to the Scottish Highlands, circa 1743.
Enter Heughan's strapping clan lord Jamie Fraser, a chivalrous warrior who saves Claire's life and must marry her to protect her. Before you can say Celts in kilts, Claire and Jamie are in the throes of a passionate affair that's threatened by British redcoat "Black" Jack Randall, an ancestor of Claire's husband (with both roles played by Tobias Menzies).
Part Highlander, part Brigadoon and part Mills and Boon, viewers may be shocked at some explicit sex scenes. The show also contains as many ripped bodices and colourful turns of phrase such as "I ken the look of a lass that's been well bedded".
"There's an epic triangle between Claire, Jamie and Randall, which culminates towards the end of the series," Heughan says. "And with Claire torn between two worlds, it's very full on!"
Yet the 34-year-old from Dumfriesshire says there's more to Outlander than a swoony female fantasy.
"There's a lot of drama about the clans and the Scots versus the British, and it builds to the Battle of Culloden.
"Claire knows they are going to get wiped out from early on, and she tries to help them without letting on that she's from the future. So there's a doomed atmosphere to it all."
The series, which fans are already praising for being faithful to the books, also comes with some hefty talent behind the camera. The showrunner and executive producer is Ronald D. Moore, who resurrected Battlestar Galactica as an acclaimed, Peabody Award-winning series. And the crew went to painstaking lengths to create period-perfect authenticity, with many actors feeling they too had time-travelled back to 18th-century Scotland.
"Everything has been researched, from the sets to the costumes to the buildings and weapons. We all had to learn Gaelic (which is dotted throughout the dialogue), to horse ride and sword fight.
"We learnt all the different kilts and where all the clans came from. We shot all over Scotland and there isn't any CGI or anything.
"That really is how Scotland looks, and I think when people watch the show they will be in awe and think we all live in castles over here."
Case in point; Heughan himself grew up in converted stables on the grounds of a castle and said playing Jamie "felt right and like returning home to my old stamping ground".
As for one day playing Bond, James Bond, the sexy young Celt is still hopeful.
"Do you know what? I think it's about time James Bond was Scottish again. And I would absolutely love to do it."
'Everything has been researched, from the sets to the costumes to the buildings and weapons. We all had to learn Gaelic.'
Outlander airs today begins Thursday at 6.30pm (WST) on Foxtel’s SoHo channel.