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"I was obsessed with King Arthur legends and Robert the Bruce." His part in David Greig's Outlying Islands in 2002 saw him nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award as most promising new performer.

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"The show has been well received but it is always odd when people recognise you in America or at airports and come up to you. "So far people have been really delightful when they do recognise me." Gabaldon's Outlander novels started appearing in 1991 and the eight-book series has since sold more than 26 million copies.

It is very nice but quite strange." The £50 million first series, which made extensive use of Scottish locations and was screened on the US network Starz last autumn, finally became available here in March through Amazon Prime Instant Video. Heughan, 35, cheerily admits to having no fears of being mobbed on the streets of Cumbernauld where production is based in Wardpark Studios, a former factory which has been converted by Sony Pictures Television. The author drew inspiration from another time-travelling series, Doctor Who.

It is a description that Heughan gives short shrift to. It is not just a romance drama: it is historical, has time travel and sci-fi aspects. It is a very good story with great characters and I think that once people watch the first few episodes they will be hooked." Born in New Galloway, Dumfries and Galloway, Heughan spent his teenage years in Edinburgh cutting his teeth among the youth ranks of the Royal Lyceum Theatre before going on to study at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) in Glasgow.

"I think the New York Times should watch it again," he says, dryly. In contrast to the honed, chiselled physique which leaves his fan base drooling, Heughan describes himself as "probably quite fat" as a child. "I spent a lot of time running about outdoors with a wooden stick pretending it was a sword," he says.

Devotees include the Heughligans, a group which was 35,000 strong at the last count and continues to grow.

"The Heughligans are just one part of it," he interjects. There is the Caitriots and the Menziatics [fans of fellow actors Balfe and Tobias Menzies]." Others include the Outlandish Bakers who rustle up sweet treats for the cast and crew.

When it was my birthday they sent to the studios the most enormous cake that was shaped like Craigh na Dun [standing stones] and had Jamie and Claire on the top." Heughan shares an electric onscreen chemistry with Balfe and it transpires he had a hand in casting the Dublin-born former model.

"I was very lucky to [screen] test with everyone they looked at for the role of Claire," he says.

"It is very sweet that they think that and the job has certainly brought us closer," he says.

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