Since its debut in 2014, Outlander, Starz’s sexy historical-meets-mystical Scottish drama, has become a phenomenon, eliciting breathless praise from its legion of fans. Now the show’s stars, Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish—who play Outlander’s saucy leading man Jamie Fraser and Dougal MacKenzie, the clan’s war chief, respectively—have a new buddy road trip miniseries, Men in Kilts, that celebrates all things Scotland.
The eight-episode series, which debuted on Starz on February 14, sees the pair of pseudo-Anthony Bourdains-but-with-Scottish-brogues take to the Highlands to showcase all the dramatic treasures Scotland has to offer—and, naturally, to take the piss out of each other in the process.
We caught up with McTavish to talk scotch, spoiler alerts, and skinny dipping.
1. The idea for Men in Kilts began as a podcast.
While McTavish had long dreamed of developing a travel series based on Scotland’s many clans, the show was actually Heughan’s brainchild. “Sam called me one day he said, 'Hey, what about what I've been hearing about podcasts?'" McTavish tells Mental Floss. “I had to really pretend I knew what he was talking about, like, ‘Oh, yeah, podcast. Great. Great.’” Two days later the plan had evolved into crafting a Scottish TV travel series pilot. In 2019, on their own dime, using a small team and a rented camper van, the pair shot the pilot. By 2020, they’d sold the concept to Starz.
2. Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish are real-life friends.
Unlike other manufactured travel reality shows, this one is built on a true blue buddy foundation. Heughan and McTavish, both native Scots—from Edinburgh and Glasgow, respectively—bonded over their love of country while filming Outlander and had been toying with the idea of doing a project on their homeland for a few years.
In Outlander, the two play uncle and nephew, but in Men in Kilts, fans get to see just how close these two really are, even eating off each other’s plates at Kitchin, an Edinburgh restaurant, in episode one. “Graham is a big pussycat,” Heughan told Condé Nast Traveler of his co-star. “He has such a big heart, he’s a lot of fun, and he’s a great historian.”
3. Men in Kilts inspired Clanlands, Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish's bestselling book.
As if creating and producing a travel series in the middle of a pandemic wasn't work enough, Heughan and McTavish also managed to write a book based on their road trip called Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other, which reached the top of the New York Times Best Seller list.
“The book primarily deals with our first trip in 2019 and a few other things,” McTavish says. Even The Scotsman newspaper had to admit the book is pretty great. Critic Fiona Shepard wrote, “Their odyssey is self-deprecatingly styled as ‘the story of two men who know nothing.’ In fact, Heughan and particularly McTavish are keen students of Highland history, the harsh and uncomfortable realities rather than the sexed-up fiction of the television series.”
4. Men in Kilts was filmed in between the UK’s lockdowns.
McTavish confirms that Men in Kilts was one of the “first productions to get up and running under the new COVID-19 filming protocols,” as the Los Angeles Times reported.
“There was this window in between lockdowns in the UK and we just fell deeply into it,” McTavish says. “Really not by design, because we definitely had phone calls earlier in the year where we were going, ‘Well, are we going to be able to do this?’” But they did. “We went all over Scotland in our camper and with the crew and everything, and we got to meet all these guests. And if we'd done it two months later, it wouldn’t have been possible.”
5. Graham McTavish and Sam Heughan might be responsible for Scotland’s second TV-based tourism bump.
In 2020, The Washington Post reported that Scotland saw a 67 percent jump in tourism following the release of the TV series, which has come to be known as "The Outlander Effect." Now its stars might be responsible for a second tourism boom post-pandemic thanks to Men in Kilts. McTavish is more than OK with that.
“I hope that this show and the book really inspire people," McTavish says. "The ideal outcome would be to inspire people to do their own Scottish road trip ... [to] come up with a different itinerary, and really see that it has a huge amount to offer in all sorts of different ways."
6. Cover your eyes: Men in Kilts includes explicit content.
Thanks to a playful wager between Heughan and McTavish, Men in Kilts features a scene with decidedly less kilt. During the second episode, the men placed a bet on who could achieve various feats of strength like lifting a neolithic stone and competing in the hammer toss in Braemar, the home of the Highland Games Gathering. According to McTavish, the loser had to lose his shorts (and more) for a dip in the North Atlantic.
“Sam was completely confident that he was going to win,” McTavish says. But no spoilers here. McTavish says viewers will have to watch to find out who actually took the inevitable skinny dip.
7. Men in Kilts’s barley body surfing scene was not rehearsed.
In the first episode, McTavish and Heughan get to tour the Laphroaig on the isle of Islay. There they’re invited into one of the most important rooms in a distillery, the barley drying room, and like a pair of puppies next to a pool full of kibble the two adult men euphorically leap into the cereal.
“There are some cheesy moments, but they’re genuine cheesy moments,” McTavish says of their wide-eyed whiskey belly flop, which he assures was intentional.
“We were very careful not to try and imitate anything because I think our approach was always to be very genuine and spontaneous,” McTavish says. “We kept it very loose. So we had the locations, we had the guests lined up, but we hadn’t spoken to the guests before we met them. We had nothing. We had no preparation in that regard. We weren't given a cheat sheet or homework or anything like that. Hopefully that creates the sense that the audience is joining us for the first time with these people rather than us presenting something. We really wanted it to feel very intimate and kind of the moment.”
8. Graham McTavish hopes Men in Kilts dispels two Scottish myths.
One is that Scotland has horrible food. “There's been a misconception that Scottish food was not that great and just haggis,” McTavish says. “Scottish food is among the best in the world. It's absolutely fantastic, especially the produce. It’s the envy of Europe. And the second thing which hopefully comes across in the show, is that stupid idea that the Scots are mean and kind of tight and all that sort of stuff,. Honestly, they’re the most generous people I’ve ever met. They would do anything for you.”
9. Men in Kilts might get a season two.
With each episode running just 30 minutes, McTavish says Men in Kilts's eight-episode season required its creators to leave loads of footage on the cutting room floor.
“There was lots of stuff on different clans that we weren't able to fit in, like a visit to Cawdor Castle,” McTavish says. “We'd love to do more on the eastern side of Scotland, more around the Lowlands, and tell the stories of the Lowlanders as well. The story of Scotland, the history of Scotland is itself the constant war between the borders of Scotland and England, which is stealing from each other and killing each other.” Which is another way of saying, there’s plenty of content for a season 2 should the men get the greenlight.
10. One Men in Kilts star doesn’t actually live in Scotland.
McTavish’s Scottish pride runs deep, but his address is New Zealand not Scotland. When the bearded thespian won the part of Dwalin in The Hobbit, he had to commit to two years of living and filming in New Zealand. “Once we finished it, my wife and I came to the conclusion that this was a great place to bring up our kids,” he says.
But that doesn’t mean he won’t return to his beloved Scottish home one day.
“I still maintain property there. And I very much plan to make that footprint larger than I can in the years to come, because I love being in Scotland,” he says. But for now, he’s a wannabe Kiwi, which he adds isn’t a stretch: “New Zealand is the Scotland of the Southern Hemisphere.”