“Since I’m English, I must be funny,” kids SAM CLAFLIN as he struggles with the stereotypes put on British actors. if it’s not the dashing prince then it’s the comic fool. With luck on the rise and room to stretch his abilities, Sam switches from one role to the other with ease.
There are two ways to view a British actor in the international spectrum. He is either Laurence Olivier or Peter Sellers.
The first is a handsome man of mystery who sweeps women off their feet with his accent and piercing glare. It doesn’t matter if his hair is combed, or slightly disheveled from a fistfight. He has the promise of a saint with the charm of the devil—one just as tempting as the other.
Then there’s your socially awkward lad, thin as a reed with kooky glasses and a tweed hunting suit. You know he doesn’t mean to make you laugh, but he always says the wrong thing or goes about matters in a manner that you can’t help but find him amusing.
Embodying the latter in an upcoming film with Lily Collins, actor Sam Claflin had a few years out of drama school and four feature films that have put him in the mold of Olivier rather than Sellers. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides saw him as the staunch and righteous defender of an innocent mermaid being exploited for her tears. Snow White and The Huntsman elevated him from scallywag to a duke’s son, riding a white steed, making his way through evil forests and frightening beasts to save the princess Snow White from any harm that might befall her.
But it’s Sam’s latest role as Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire that aims to knock it all out of the water as he steps into the shoes of what he describes as “a tall, blond, athletic, tanned, muscular, green-eyed, sex god,” which he admits was quite different from his reality as an “averaged-sized, by no means in-shape, pale Englishman with brown hair and stubble.” He says, “I’ve kind of felt like this surfer dude and considering that I live in London and have never experienced surfing, it was quite tough.” Still, Sam admits “he’s never felt more happy in himself than when playing Finnick Odair.”
“The tough thing about competition in this particular industry and the competition that I come up against for the most part is that they tend to be a lot of my friends.”
But of course, you are playing this tall, blonde sex god. Why wouldn’t you be happy with yourself? [Laughs]
I know! I definitely feel that I never embodied that even when I was transformed. But nonetheless, I’m one of those people who’s quite insecure about their figure. I’m not manorexic; I’m not one of those people who can live on the beach and take their top off at any given opportunity. It’s one of those things where when you have a personal trainer with you everyday, all day, and a team of people keeping you in the best shape of your life, then yeah there’s definitely an element of being comfortable for the first time ever. Whether or not I get that back is another thing entirely.
It’s getting harder to be a young British actor in the industry. Not only are you highly sought-after but there’s just so many of you talented gents gunning for the same roles.
The tough thing about competition in this particular industry and the competition that I come up against for the most part is that they tend to be a lot of my friends, fellow peers, and people I work with, people I want to work with, or kind of got to know because we’re English. [Laughs] We’re all going up for the same part. But it’s never competitive [in the traditional sense]. I’m happy to know when friends have got the parts. Every so often, I get a script and go, “D’you know what? I’m not really right for this part but my friend is perfect!”
It’s kind of good to know that you lose out to someone who’s deserving of it as opposed to an obscure stranger who can’t act for his life. I’m only friends with people who can act. [Laughs]
Given that Catching Fire is one of the most exciting things to be a part of especially this early in your career, do you ever miss doing stage plays and quiet BBC dramas?
I have absolutely, definitely, not lost my love for the theater. Only last night, I went to a friend in a show in the West End in London and was completely in awe of the craft that being a stage actor brings, and I definitely want to get back to that at some stage.
Obviously, with the wave that I’m riding now and with the excitement that’s about to come, it hopefully will open doors within the film world. I don’t want to jeopardize that by going to the stage for seven months. But with the right part, the right amount of time, the right director, and the right show—I’d definitely be happy enough to tread the boards again.
And with regard to the smaller productions; my CV thus far has been filled with big franchise movies, and no offense to sort of productions, but it’s definitely something I kind of want to get away from to explore what it’s like to do other movies.
Only this year, I’ve done a small romantic comedy with Lily Collins… and then I had one day off before I went straight into a very English story in a very independent kind of film. Fondly enough, [the cast is filled with] majority of my competitors for parts as well. Douglas Booth is in there as well as Max Irons. We’re kind of, “Oh, we’re all in this one together,” instead of competing with one another. I finished that about a week ago and they’re very different parts for me to have played, and I’m very excited to share that with the world as much as I am with Finnick Odair.
“What other preconceptions do they have? I don’t know, actually. Since I don’t live in that society, it’s difficult for me to know what you people assume or expect of us. Do you think that we’re all great in bed?”
The latter film you were talking about is the adaptation of Laura Wade’s Posh, right?
That’s correct. Posh was amazing, partly because it’s based on these ten boys who are in a club, and they all must get on with one another.
I’ve known Max for a while and Doug as well. In fact, I knew seven out of ten of them like the back of my hand prior to filming. We all got on really well and spent a lot of time socializing. I’ve never had that in London.
Normally, when I film in London, I go back home to my normal life and my normal friends and family and then go to work and come home again to reality. But in this one, we actually spent a lot of time together off set as well as on. We all got on like a house on fire.
One of the biggest misconceptions for English actors is that they’re all posh. What other misconceptions do you think people have about you guys?
That is definitely one of my least favorite misconceptions to have. I think it’s one of those things that [show that] American culture is very tuned into Downton Abbey. That’s not a depiction of how we live in England whatsoever. I am very far from posh. I could not be further away from posh which is why Posh was very challenging.
What other preconceptions do they have? I don’t know, actually. Since I don’t live in that society, it’s difficult for me to know what you people assume or expect of us. Do you think that we’re all great in bed? [Laughs] I don’t know!
You also mentioned that you are going to be starring in a romantic comedy with Lily Collins.
I’ve never done anything modern in my life so this is the first opportunity for me to be myself and talk normally and to have my own hair. There was no growth or coloring involved. It was bizarre, but a really fantastic experience for me to play myself again. And of course, since I’m English, I must be funny.
What are you looking forward to in 2014?
It sounds so silly but the thing I’m not looking forward to is the end of The Hunger Games. We had such fun on the first one that I don’t want the filming to finish… I know that I’m going to be doing it for a while, and then obviously there’s the next film coming up at the end of next year, but I have no idea as to where my career is headed in five years time. I’m just excited to find out what might happen.
Hopefully, I won’t be sitting in my flat in London, crying myself to sleep.
“It’s all been sort of no-brainers, actually: Pirates was my first ever feature film, and what an introduction, and Snow White was only my second ever feature film… Hunger Games is only the fourth movie I’ve ever done, so it’s been a good ride. I can’t complain.”
Hi, How are you?
Not too bad, not too bad at all.
What’s been keeping you busy lately?
Everything? [Laughs] Working on two films has been pretty hectic.
And I heard you did a lot of foreign press while you were in the US.
A lot in two days. We squeezed in as much as we could. It was a pretty intense two days, actually, but it did mean that my trip to LA was cut short. But it was good. I don’t mind doing all the press and stuff because when you’re excited about something, it’s not hard to talk about it all day.
It was too sad, though that you couldn’t go to San Diego Comic Con. That would have been amazing.
I know. I am so gutted. I literally had one day in between filming to get to america and back. One day off in the middle of filming was really, really intense week of filming, and I kind of needed to be around just in case there was any delay or something.
But yeah, I was so gutted. I saw all the footage, obviously, and sort of experienced everything through Josh and the other guys.
Are you a big sci-fi/fantasy fan or did you just…
I’m not like a nerd… but that’s probably the wrong turn of phrase. I don’t obsess over it, I don’t have like seven different costumes in my wardrobe but I definitely do enjoy that sort of genre of film. And partly, yes [I wanted to be there] to see all the guys and experience the fans.
I went there before, with Snow White and the Huntsman and I kind of wanted to experience it again. Oh well, maybe next year.
Speaking of Snow White and the Huntsman, yeah, outside of the Hunger Games, you have been in the whole sic-fi/fantasy genre before. What about it draws you as an actor? Is it the roles or the kind of people they usually include?
Both, really. I don’t think there’s any one sort of factor that draws me to any particular project. It’s kind of the numerous factors and I’m also not not relying on any one thing being the prime reason why I sign on. It needs to be a collaborative thing. So definitely, a lot to do with the people who get involved. You’ve got the directors, obviously, and they’re a key factor for me. There’s also the story, the part, the actors, the cinematographer… so yeah, numerous reasons.
I would say that I’ve been very lucky thus far with the sort of choices that have come my way. It’s all been sort of no-brainers, actually: Pirates was my first ever feature film, and what an introduction, and Snow White was only my second ever feature film… Hunger Games is only the fourth movie I’ve ever done, so it’s been a good ride. I can’t complain.
Prior to getting your big break in Hollywood, you were a self-proclaimed struggling actor who even worked after-hours a drama school caretaker. Does that take the cake as the worst day job or have you had worse?
I’d say that I’ve had a few bad jobs. Through drama school, I needed to be in London so doing the care-taker thing, I was sort of doing it with my friend as well and they were quite lenient with me and allowed me to come and go as I please.
I was also a paperboy from 13 to 16 and that was about an hour every morning before school and that was quite tough.
I’ve also worked in a supermarket for three years as a trolley pusher. That wasn’t the greatest moment of my life, I don’t think, either. But, you know, I needed money and those were the sort of jobs available to me.
It’s getting harder and harder being a young British actor in the industry because not only are you highly sought after but there’s just so many of you talented gents gunning for the same roles. What’s the worse competition you’ve ever had for a role? Were there any friends in the mix?
I was just about to say, the tough thing about competition in this particular industry and the competition that I come up against for the most part is that they tend to be a lot of my friends, fellow peers, and people I work with, people I want to work with, or kind of got to know because we’re English. [Laughs] We’re all going up for the same part. But it’s never competitive [in the traditional sense]. I’m happy to know when friends have got the parts. Every so often, I get a script and go, “D’you know what? I’m not really right for this part but my friend is perfect!”
Of course, you never say that in the audition, really, but then you just hear that that particular friend got the part and you say, “Well I kind of foresaw that happening, so that’s good. I was right.”
But no, like I said, because so many of them are friends, it’s kind of good to know that you lose out to someone who’s deserving of it as opposed to an obscure stranger who can’t act for his life. I’m only friends with people who can act. [Laughs.]
I personally know that I’ve gotten this far, yearning to get further, and I’m lucky to have had the breaks that I’ve had. Having only finished drama school two years back, I know that a lot of my friends are struggling and you can’t see it as anything else but luck, really. And then, of course, none of us look identical so it’s not a matter of who’s the better actor, it’s about who they’re looking for in the thick of the moment and they’re definitely been some very difficult and competitive parts that we’ve all been up for, but generally, this what’s been done on most occasions.
… actually, that’s more of about the parts that I’ve got, but who knows? [Laughs.]
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt more happy in myself than when I was playing Finnick Odair.”
What was the worst audition that you’ve ever had?
I’d say Hunger Games is probably up there, I’d say… I definitely walked into it full well thinking that I was completely and utterly wrong for the part. A tall, blond, athletic, tanned, muscular, green-eyed, sex-god compared to a short—well not short, more of averaged-sized—by no means in-shape, pale Englishman with brown hair and stubble. I could not have been further away from the character but lucky the transformation period allowed me to kind of become Finnick Odair.
But I’m trying to think of my worst audition ever—there are fairly a few. I rarely walk out of an audition saying that I’ve done well. I think that maybe happened two or three times in my whole four years of auditioning.
Speaking of Finnick Odair, you really had to transform for the role. You fixed the blond hair—actually for someone who saw your first in Pillars of the Earth, the hair was kind of a shock. It was very blond and I’m sure it was quite an adjustment for you as well.
It was hugely a big transformation and I think my wife is very happy. It’s a different lifestyle, basically. I’ve kind of felt like this surfer dude and considering that I live in London and have never experienced surfing, it was quite tough. I’m sure it was quite jarring for a lot of people, the new me, but luckily I think it kind of worked out.
But, you know you have to keep it up because Mockingjay is just around the corner…
That’s right and I haven’t been keeping it up. I mean, I’ve been keeping up the fitness side of things but with regards to the looks, no, I’m ugly again and I don’t have a makeup artist with me twenty-four-seven. I’ve been letting myself down in the looks department—or in the Finnick Department, as I call it. But yes, the preparation is already beginning for the next one and it’s kind of exciting to revisit that, if I’m honest. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more happy in myself than when I was playing Finnick Odair.
It goes without saying that even prior to your casting as Finnick, the character had a huge fangirl following. Have there been any strange encounters yet? Any gifts of human hair or creepy notes that we should notify the public about?
No. I’ve definitely not had any personal experience, as in face to face. I’m so far from Finnick Odair in every way possible that I think I walk down the street and no one would assume that that kid is meant to be the hottest man on the planet. But, there’ve definitely some odd tweets that I’ve been getting lately. Especially when it was first announced that I was going to be Finnick Odair, there were some diehard fans that were not happy that they decided to cast this weird kid from Norwich, England. People were threatening to commit suicide. [It made made me feel like,] “Oh my God, I’ll do the best I can, I promise! Sorry I’m not your perfect Finnick.” And that’s all I can do. I can only do my best. I have faith in the director and the producers. I know I’ve done the best I can.
“I have no idea as to where my career is headed in five years time. I’m just excited to find out what might happen. Hopefully, I won’t be sitting in my flat in London, crying, myself to sleep. But I’m excited by that prospect.”
[Regarding preconceptions on English actors] What about for casting directors? For instance, when they have a posh-seeming role and they immediately run for a British actor. Is that difficult to get passed especially when you’re doing rounds in Hollywood?
I think most people I’ve met assume that I am posh? I mean I don’t speak with a cockney accent. Compared to most people that they’ve met, maybe I do sound posh. But I genuinely don’t have a clue of what people think of me. I think they think we’re meant to be quite funny because we have funny voices. “You speak so funny!” When American people attempt to do an English accent, it’s probably one of the worst depictions. I think that there are a lot of English people doing great American accents, but the other way around they find it very very jarring. However, there have been some phenomenal exceptions. For example, in this film Posh, there’s an actor called Ben Schnetzer from New York who had the thickest American accent but the whole time, it took us about five weeks of filming before I even knew he was American. Spot on English accent!
But you know what I’ve noticed? British people actually have the best Southern American accents. It’s surprising, really.
American Southern? Oh that’s one that I really, really, desperately want to do. I want to do a film set in the South but I can’t pick and choose and I’m obviously not the best judge of my own accents. For all I know, I could probably be the worst Southern gentleman that you’ve ever seen. But I’d love the opportunity to explore whether that’s true or not. I have to say, the first time I kind of went to America, I couldn’t tell any state accent. I thought you all sounded the same. I have to admit that in England we’re filled with so many different accents that people can’t tell the difference.
But you know what the weird thing is, I’m actually not American.
What? No way! See, to be honest, I can very very rarely tell the difference between Canadians and Americans.
No, I’m not even Canadian. I’m Asian. I was born and raised in the Philippines.
Ok, I think I am officially the worst judge of accents, ever. [Laughs]
Who are you looking forward to working with more in the future?
It’s just that everyone i’ve worked with thus far has been so different and carried in the way that they approach a script and the way they work around their methods of acting, or whatever, it’s so strange. Everyone’s so different. I don’t have a preference as to how I like to work. You learn the biggest things from the most unexpected people. I’d be happy just to keep working, let alone with anyone in particular.
Last up, what are you looking forward to most this 2014?
It sounds so silly but the thing I’m not looking forward to is the end of The Hunger Games. We had such fun on the first one that I don’t want the filming to finish. At the same time, what I’m aware of is the amount of attention it brings that it could potentially, hopefully, hopefully, fingers crossed, open a few more doors for my future and that sort of excites me slightly. However I’m not expecting it. I just want to play it by ear and hope for the best.
I know that I’m going to be doing Hunger Games for a while, and then obviously there’s the next film coming up at the end of next year but I have no idea as to where my career is headed in five years time. I’m just excited to find out what might happen. Hopefully, I won’t be sitting in my flat in London, crying, myself to sleep. But I’m excited by that prospect.
Who knows? You might finally get those weird gifts from fans?
Mostly, it will be death threats if I mess this up.
Story by Rita Faire
Photographed by Kaori Suzuki