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Sam Heughan was a struggling actor for years before he was cast as leading man Jamie Fraser on Outlander. After graduating from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (formerly the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama) in 2007, Heughan went from audition to audition and landed mostly bit parts in TV shows and made-for-tv movies. At the same time, he got snubbed by a classmate who found success before he did.

Sam Heughan attends the "Outlander" FYC Screening + Panel at Television Academy's Wolf Theatre at the Saban Media Center on March 09, 2022 in North Hollywood, California
‘Outlander’ star Sam Heughan | Michael Kovac/Getty Images for STARZ

Sam Heugan was dubbed a ‘bad actor’ while attending drama school in Scotland

Heughan revealed to the Happy Sad Confused podcast that when he first arrived at drama school, he was told he was a “bad actor.” 

“My first year at drama school, my acting coach took me to one side after my first term and said, ‘You can’t act,’ and I thought, ‘I’ll just continue then,'” Heughan recalled. 

It wasn’t until his second year at university that he started to think a successful acting career might be a possibility. He told Square Mile that was the year he played Romeo in Romeo and Juliet

“I remember one day in rehearsal, before we were onstage, I realized: ‘ah, f** I can do this,'” Heughan said.

Heughan did end up finding some success during his time at the Royal Conservatoire. His performance in the play Outlying Islands by Scottish playwright David Greig earned him a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for Most Promising Performer. 

The ‘Outlander’ star had an interaction with a ‘Game of Thrones’ star that left him ‘headed for the closest exit’

In his new memoir Waypoints: My Scottish Journey, Heughan shared that both he and Game of Thrones star Richard Madden attended the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland at the same time. While there, the two future stars met a handful of times and also had some mutual friends.

But when they ran into each other after graduation at an event hosted at the V&A Museum in London, Madden didn’t recognize Heughan. He had just been cast as Robb Stark in Game of Thrones, and his star was on the rise. Meanwhile, Heughan was at the event working as a waiter. 

“I’d been tasked with holding a tray of the guests’ drinks while they nipped out for a puff, and I was gossiping with a colleague when I looked up and saw Richard Madden walking over to place his gin and tonic on my tray,” Heughan wrote. 

When he started to greet his former classmate, Heughan said that the words caught in his throat. Even though they had met a few times — and his ex-girlfriend lived in Madden’s Glasgow apartment — the Game of Thrones star didn’t recognize him.

It wasn’t long before Heughan “headed for the closest exit” feeling “ashamed and embarrassed.” 

Sam Heughan doesn’t blame Richard Madden for the snub

Heughan noted that the snub “wasn’t Richard’s fault.” The Outlander star added that Madden is “the loveliest fellow” and they have met since. 

“But the fact that he was my peer and I wanted to be on the other side of the serving tray hurt,” Heughan admitted. “The whole time, I just gripped tightly to the tray, my knuckles turning white, hoping the ground would swallow me up.”


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Upon reflection, Heughan says that this embarrassing experience with Madden made him “more resolved” to continue pursuing an acting career. And, it wasn’t long before that perseverance paid off. 

Considering Game of Thrones premiered in 2011, this interaction likely took place at some point in 2012 or 2013. Heughan made his debut as Jamie Fraser on Outlander in the summer of 2014.

Outlander Seasons 1 through 6 are now playing on the Starz app.