Yesterday evening Outlander star Sam Heughan sat down with hundreds of women and a few dozen men for an intimate Q&A. Dubbed 'Calling all Sassenachs,' the event was part of “the first time in NYCC history” Sam Heughan Meet & Greet packages, in which would be lassies could spend upwards of $1500 to get a a 25 minute small group meet & greet session with Heughan, including a selfie, an autograph and a group photo with him, followed by front row seating at the evening Q&A and priority seating at today’s “Sunday Morning Tea with two Highlanders and a Lord,” which features Heughan and other Outlander stars talking with Outlander author Diana Gabaldon. (Other tier packages dubbed “Brown-Haired Lass” and the “Sorcha” offered slightly less, like just an autograph, a one-day pass instead of a four day, and slightly more distant seating, for $200-$400.)
Based on the number and three-glasses-of-pinot-into-tonight's-book-club energy of those in attendance, Heughan had definitely had a very full day. He emerged from backstage with a certain humorously shocked (and exhausted) quality, and spent the event flopped in a comfy chair fielding questions which had been submitted from Sassenach-tier attendees. Inquires ranged from the nurturing— “What’s your favorite memory from childhood?"; “What are you most proud of?”—to the naughty: “How did you come up with the Jamie Fraser dismount?” to which his moderator and protector Steve tartly added, “From a horse, that is.” The range seemed to capture the two speeds that Jamie fans come in: they either want to mother him or they want him to do things to them that would make their mothers blush.
The event was regularly punctuated by whooing, cackling and comments shouted out. After being asked whether he was a cat person or a dog person—he replied a cat person, to self-affirming SCREAMS from the audience—he wondered if anyone had any weird pets. Someone yelled “Husband.” That pretty much captures the vibe.
As the night went on, I noted a certain mysterious quality to Heughan. He was charming, of course, but always in a slightly restrained or cautious way. Never once did he play into the "Sam-tasies" into which he was clearly being invited. When things approached the raunchy, as when someone brought up a play he had been in that The Daily Telegraph named as having one of the five best sex scenes ever, Heughan would simply say “Oh dear.” And while he was dressed stylishly, in a deep blue coat with a white tee and jeans, the jeans were not too tight, the blue of the coat was not a shade that would make his eyes pop. And his short-cropped hair, while perhaps slightly boyish in style, accentuated his cheek bones and forehead in a way that made him look worn.
But then he’d turn for a moment toward the camera that was broadcasting his face on two massive screens on either side of the stage, and the impact was still overwhelming, like seeing the sun for the first time, or standing before God at the Pearly Gates and finding in his eyes complete and total acceptance. When the event began, I wondered at the women all around me who had their phones up recording the screens. It only took a couple momentary glances like that to understand.
At one point near the end of the show eight or nine women (and one man) were called on stage to read to Heughan parts of his new memoir Waypoint—yes, that was as weird as it sounds. And while each person read Heughan listened, looking directly at them, and even though the readers weren’t looking back, the chemistry was still insane. Once again, Heughan wasn’t even trying to create a moment. He was just being polite.
It all made me wonder at whether his general demeanor of cautious warmth wasn’t much more than the end of a long day spent being nice to fans. Heughan stood before us playing Clark Kent, except he was hiding his true power not out of any sense of humility but because he’s afraid if he reveals it, it will drive us insane and him out a window. He is his own kryptonite, or maybe his own Lex Luthor, and God, that must be exhausting.
At one point in the evening Heughan was asked the question, “What is one thing you would never do again?” As with other questions that did not have an immediate link back to his memoir, he just sat there speechless for a moment, baffled and probably brain fried. (The evening was clearly designed as a shadow book launch; Heughan was even able to turn the question/personal fantasy “If you were to dress up for Halloween, who would you be?” back to his memoir.)
After a long pause, Heughan looked over his shoulder to Steve and gave a one-word answer out of earshot. And if that answer wasn’t “This,” I will eat the autographed copy of his book which I bought after the show.
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