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Interview: The many hats of Graham McTavish

Graham McTavish is a Scottish actor, author, and entrepreneur, who chatted about his latest endeavors.

Graham McTavish
Actor Graham McTavish. Photo Courtesy of Graham McTavish.
Actor Graham McTavish. Photo Courtesy of Graham McTavish.

Graham McTavish is a Scottish actor, author, and entrepreneur, who chatted about his latest endeavors in the contemporary entertainment landscape and in lifestyle.

A triple threat in the business: Actor, author, and entrepreneur

As an actor, McTavish is known for his roles in “The Hobbit” films, “The Witcher” series, “Preacher,” “Outlander,” and most recently, “House of the Dragon.”

As an author, he just released the book “Clanlands in New Zealand: Kiwis, Kilts, and an Adventure,” which he co-wrote with Sam Heughan (“Outlander”).

As an entrepreneur, he is venturing out in the spirits world with his own bourbon, McTavish Spirits.

American track and field running legend Jesse Owens once said: “We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” Graham McTavish is a multifaceted entertainer and individual that embodies this quote.

‘House of the Dragon’

McTavish described his experience in “House of the Dragon” as “extraordinary.” He portrayed Ser Harrold Westerling, a knight of House Westerling. “The only comparable experience probably was working on ‘The Hobbit’ in terms of its scale. It had so many parts and moving units filming, again in a cumbersome heavy costume, that’s another similarity,” he said.

“The one benefit was that I didn’t have to wear prosthetic makeup so that was good,” he admitted. “The show was great. I know the showrunner, Ryan [Condal], we’ve worked twice before, and we did a show called ‘Colony’ in the United States, and he wanted me to be involved in ‘House of the Dragon.’ I came in, I donned the armor, and then, I became Ser Harrold Westerling,” he explained.

When asked what he liked the most about playing Ser Harrold, he responded, “That is quite an easy question to answer… I liked his moral set, and his honesty. I would argue that he is pretty much the only character in the entire show who is morally upright. The rest is just a nest of vipers, who are out for their own interests.”

“Ser Harrold’s only interest is in serving the king, or his successor, and serving the kingdom, that’s it. I admire people who have that moral certainty, and it’s very black and white,” he added.

His own bourbon: McTavish Spirits

On his McTavish Spirits and bourbon, he said, “It has been an extraordinary ride. I’ve always loved bourbon, I always have. I’ve been a closeted bourbon lover for at least 10 years. When you come from Scotland, you have to keep those things secret, really.”

“Then, I met Paul and Connor, who I am working with on the bourbon, and they introduced me properly to it, and they asked me if I wanted to do this with them and I said ‘yes.’ I could hardly believe that we’ve only been launched nearly four months, and I’ve been touring all over America doing bottle signings, and visiting distilleries,” he said.

“I’ve been doing events in Scotland and London, and it has been an incredible experience. The great thing is that the actual product is really good. I get a bit cringy when it comes to ‘celebrity brands,’ and I want the bourbon to be judged on its quality as a drink, and that’s all I care about. So far, it has been doing really well, and that’s how I want to appeal in terms of the bourbon,” he elaborated.

“I want people that know and love bourbon to love ours, so that’s what we are trying to do,” he admitted. “I owe a lot of its success to Paul and Connor, the people I’m working on it with. It has been a great experience. I’ve learned so much about business and the things we take for granted each day such as distribution and supply chains. It may sound so boring but it’s actually quite fascinating.”

Graham McTavish
Actor Graham McTavish. Photo Courtesy of Graham McTavish

“I want people to enjoy the taste of it; that’s it,” he told his fans about his bourbon. “If you are not somebody who has ever tried bourbon before, I think it’s something that you should try. Never mind my bourbon, I think bourbon is something you should embrace, and if you get into it through my bourbon, then that’s great.”

“I want people to enjoy it with their friends and family. It’s a communal drink in my view, very much like scotch, in that regard. I want them to have special memories and moments while they are sharing it,” he added.

‘Men in Kilts’ docuseries

McTavish opened up about doing the “Men in Kilts” docuseries on the TV network Starz. “That has been great,” he admitted. “We’ve done two seasons now, and we’ve written three books, where the third book just came out now,” he said. “I love the history side of these things. I love learning about a place. I learned so much on those trips.”

“It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience apart from the near-death experiences that I’ve had at the hands of Sam Heughan,” he said about “Men in Kilts.” “It taught me to embrace fear, it really did. It was a good thing to challenge myself in that way,” he said.

“Sam Heughan put me through a lot of things in it but afterward, I was glad I did it, and I try to pass that thing on to my kids as well, especially to embrace fear. In doing so, you open up other possibilities in your life,” he added.

New book: ‘Clanlands in New Zealand’

McTavish and Heughan’s new book “Clanlands in New Zealand: Kiwis, Kilts, and an Adventure” is the follow-up to “Clanlands,” where they continue their immersive adventure, and this time they do it in New Zealand.

“I really enjoyed writing this book. I enjoyed learning about the history of a country. New Zealand’s history, although it’s very young, is very rich and varied,” he said.

Best piece of advice that he has ever given

On the best piece of advice that he was ever given, he shared, “I always think of my father, and it’s a very simple piece of advice. Whenever I was preparing to do anything such as exams, or when I was becoming an actor, all he said to me was ‘just do your best.’ If you’ve done your best, you can ask for nothing more.”

“Know that you’ve done your best, but you do have to do your best. You have to do your best, that way, you can’t criticize yourself and nobody can criticize you. That’s a good starting point for most things,” he acknowledged.

Career-defining moments

Regarding his career-defining moments, he noted that there have been “so many.” “Moving to America, doing ‘Rambo’ and doing ‘The Hobbit.’ I did a play called ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ and the great Brian Cox came to see me in that, and invited me down to London to be in ‘Richard III.’ There are folks in the road in anyone’s life or career,” he said.

“Even agreeing to being in a school play when I was 17, when I had no idea in being an actor, was a defining moment because in taking that leap it led to something, which I have now enjoyed for the last 40 years of my life,” he expressed.

Dialogue-heavy

When asked how he handles being dialogue-heavy (learning lines) on projects and shows such as “Outlander,” he said, “I have done a one-man show, where that’s me on stage for nearly two hours, and just me talking. Anything where anyone else speaks is a bonus.”

“Doing a one-man show changes you as an actor, so you are always appreciative or being on a set or on a stage with at least one more person, so that you are able to actually take a break from doing all the talking,” he said with a sweet laugh.

“I’ve never had a problem learning lines. The first play I ever did, I had three days to learn the entire part (and it was a big part), and it didn’t even bother me. I don’t enjoy learning lines, but I have a good way of retaining them. The brain is a muscle; the more you do it, the more you are able to do it,” he elaborated.

“Anybody can remember lines, they just need to have the practice to do it,” he added.

Stage of his life

On the title of the current chapter of his life, McTavish said, “Being open to new possibilities.” “I am always trying to be open to things, and not sitting back. I am always moving forward. That’s what I’ve always tried to do, and constantly, I am challenging myself,” he said.

The digital age

On being a part of the digital age, McTavish said, “Honestly, I struggle with it a bit, I do. In all my formative years, I didn’t even have a phone until I was 40 so it’s a catch up process for me. I should probably embrace it a little more. I try my best on social media and I do my own social media.”

“I want to have an honest voice on social media rather than one that is curated and manufactured, I try to do that. I struggle to even get on a Zoom call, it’s just not something that I am plugged into. I read books and I don’t read them on a Kindle. I like physical objects and I like to be in nature,” he said.

“I try to keep as much as possible away from the digital side of things, and I try to shield my two children from it as well. I do worry about how it is affecting the minds of young people, and how completely plugged in they are to it. I try and avoid it, if I can,” he added.

Future plans

On his plans for the future, he remarked, “I want to keep doing what I am doing, really. I want to keep acting and do more writing. I also want to pursue the bourbon, I want that to be something that I can really sink my teeth into.”

“I am really being embraced by the bourbon community that I didn’t necessarily dream that I would ever be a part of. It has been lovely,” he acknowledged.

“Then, there’s my children, obviously,” he said. “They are still young, ages 17 and 11 respectively, so seeing them growing, and all of the different challenges and joys that they will experience. I’m not seeing the future as something to be afraid of, really. It is something to be excited about. That’s the plan,” he explained.

Advice for hopefuls that wish to go into acting

For young and aspiring actors, McTavish said, “The main piece of advice would be it’s not enough to want to do it, you have to do it, that’s the thing. If you have a real burning desire to do it, and you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else, you will need that to get you through the difficult times, which everybody will experience in this business.”

“Actually, get out and do it,” he said.” Don’t wait for people to ask you to act. Put on your own show, write your own show, perform it. Do it in pubs or do it anywhere. Get out there and actually experience acting because that is what will keep you moving forward.”

Favorite mottos to live by

On his favorite mottos to live by, he responded, “I don’t really have mottos, more attitudes, I suppose. I like to embrace challenges like I’ve said. I like to keep busy; I like to work. I don’t like to rely too much on other people to give me things.”

“I try and go out and get them myself,” he underscored. “I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and I work hard. There is no substitute for hard work. You get out what you put in. If you work hard and push for things and pursue them, I am a great admirer of that.”

Success

Regarding his definition of the word success, McTavish said, “I think success is tied to that bit of advice that my father gave me: knowing that you’ve done your best, really.”

“Success is a sign that you’ve tried your best,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean being better than other people or winning awards or anything else associated with success in that way.”

“Success is more about an inner feeling of contentment and understanding that you have worked as hard as you possibly could to do what you can. That’s really how I view success,” he expressed.

“Clanlands in New Zealand: Kiwis, Kilts, and an Adventure” is available on Amazon by clicking here.

To learn more about Graham McTavish, check out his official website, and follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

Markos Papadatos
Written By

Markos Papadatos is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for Music News. Papadatos is a Greek-American journalist and educator that has authored over 21,000 original articles over the past 18 years. He has interviewed some of the biggest names in music, entertainment, lifestyle, magic, and sports. He is a 16-time "Best of Long Island" winner, where for three consecutive years (2020, 2021, and 2022), he was honored as the "Best Long Island Personality" in Arts & Entertainment, an honor that has gone to Billy Joel six times.

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