To say Sam Claflin’s star is rising seems woefully inadequate; rocketing would be a more appropriate term. Certainly there’s been nothing steady about the British actor’s career path to date. Just months out of LAMDA he was notching up the parts in prestigious TV shows, chasing this up with scene-stealing roles in Hollywood blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Snow White and the Huntsman. Claflin, 29, isn’t someone who’s about to rely on a megawatt smile and ‘nice guy’ reputation to keep stoking his career, however, if you’ve seen his turn in The Riot Club, you’ll know he’s not afraid to do nasty.
It’s Claflin’s recurring role as the chiseled Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games series, however, which has really positioned him teetering on the edge of superstar status (just a cursory glance at the comments on his Instagram shows you the kind of mega-fandom a role like this will get you; ‘My future husband’, ‘You’re so cute’, ‘Love you so much’, the ubiquitous heart-eyes emojis). And yet despite Claflin’s very not normal career, he himself has somehow remained resolutely normal, preferring nights in with his wife or at the football with his old mates, to party hopping and red carpets. In fact, he seems faintly bewildered by the whole fame thing, insisting in typically understated fashion that he’s not interesting enough to warrant that attention.
Watch him in something and you’ll most likely disagree with him on that. Claflin exudes that indefinable yet utterly unmistakable X-factor, which tells you maybe he won’t be able to dodge that attention for much longer. I spoke to him from Berlin on the eve of the world premier of the final Hunger Games installment, Mockingjay Part 2.
Laura: It must be an exciting time for you right now.
Sam: Yeah more than anything it’s just good to see everybody again because we finished filming about a year and a half ago and then promoted Mockingjay Part 1 last November, so it’s been a long year without seeing everyone every day.
How does it feel to revisit The Hunger Games after all this time? I get the impression it’s quite a fun set.
You know what, the actual process of filming itself was incredible, a lot of fun – probably too much fun at times! But at the same time, we all worked pretty hard. When we came back last November for Mockingjay Part 1, the premier and press stuff for that, it was like revisiting old friendships. So many of them live in LA so I don’t get to see them or hang out that much. It’s been nice to see everyone and catch up, reminisce and remind ourselves of what we did a year and a half ago. And I’m excited for everyone to see it.
Do you tend to stay in touch with people after filming? I imagine it to be a very transient existence.
I do but what I quickly realized after my first job is that every other actor goes on to another job immediately afterward and meets their new family. You know what I mean? It’s weird. We try to keep in touch but it’s difficult because everyone has so many other things going on in their lives. I have my home life, my wife, my dog, all my friends and my family in London that I barely ever get to see when I’m away filming so I spend my life trying to catch up with what I’ve missed.
What do you miss most about London?
Hanging out with loved ones really. It’s just catching up, talking; that to me is priceless. You can’t put a price on sitting at home watching crap TV with your wife! It’s a rarity, but something that I cherish.
You’ve been involved in huge franchises and yet you’ve become Daily Mail fodder. Is that a conscious effort or just something that happens to have eluded you?
My theory about that is I’m not looking for fame. There are so many people, as you call it the ‘Daily Mail fodder’ for example, who are seeking fame who will choose to do reality TV in order to get a higher profile and educate the masses about what they’re doing from day to day, whereas I like to keep my personal life personal. My career is absolutely a platform to enjoy but that’s not who I am. Who I am is who I am behind closed doors. I’d hate to think that loads of people would be judging me on what cereal I buy. I don’t think my life is interesting enough for the Daily Mail to be bothered either.
Well, they seem bothered by some pretty boring stuff. It’s at best boring and at worst really very intrusive.
Well, I find it hard to believe the amount of times you see that X and Y are obviously dating because they’re having dinner with each other. It’s incredible to me that people actually swallow that information and, as I say, ‘judge’ people on it. That is, unfortunately, one of the costs, one of the downsides to what we do. I’m lucky, though, I feel like I haven’t found myself damaged in any way.
Do you feel famous? Do you feel the fame – or perhaps success is a better word - has changed you in any way? Even if it’s just affording stuff.
I have a house and I have a car and I have a little more money in the bank than I was used to when I was 17, but at the same time, my ideals are the same and the way I live my life is exactly the same. I still have the same family and friends but maybe the clothes that I buy are a little nicer than the clothes I used to buy back then. I personally don’t see myself at all as famous or as interesting. I do a job that I thoroughly enjoy and hopefully, people will continue to watch the sort of films that I take part in, but I’ve been quite fortunate in that I manage to keep myself to myself; I’m very rarely accosted in the street and I still get public transport all the time. It’s one of those things where I feel like I’ve got away with it really – but I don’t know why I wouldn’t! I’ve also lived vicariously through the Jennifer Lawrence's of the world, the Jonny Depps, and the Kristen Stewarts, and seen how they don’t choose the fame side of it either but that can be something that comes with the job. You can’t prepare for that or expect that it’s just one of those things that happens to some people and some people it doesn’t; Daniel Day-Lewis, for example, one of the most incredible actors of our generations, manages to live a peaceful and quiet life, out of the press.
I do wonder if there’s a certain double standard in terms of gender. You mentioned a couple of women who’ve suffered terrible invasions of privacy.
I definitely think generally it’s harder for women. I have a wife and I’ve witnessed the kind of scrutiny that a lot of women have to deal with. Even young girls having to aspire to a certain look or a certain way of living, I think that’s wrong. I turn up to an event in a blue suit which is nearly identical to the blue suit I wore the week before – in fact, I could wear the same suit and change the tie and it would be fine. But if a girl even dreamt of wearing the same dress twice, such a faux pas! I don’t understand why women have to go through hours and hours and hours of hair and makeup and potentially still get it ‘wrong’ when nobody really cares about the blokes. That’s where a lot of the inequality lies I think, in how people judge each other.
To go back to The Hunger Games, one of the things that’s great about it is it’s got a kick-ass female lead. I think that’s really important.
Role models come in every shape and form nowadays because we have so many platforms to speak from. Katniss Everdeen is a reluctant hero, she’s someone who doesn’t know what she believes in or who she is but the moment she does there’s a fire in her belly. I think that’s one of the most important messages of The Hunger Games: be who you want to be. Everyone should be entitled to their own opinion, their own vision [of what a role model is].
Who were your role models growing up?
My career path and dreams and goals changed drastically at the age of 16. I always wanted to be a footballer through my childhood, so David Beckham or Darren Eadie from Norwich City, they were my idols. Then I decided I wanted to be an actor, and my knowledge of film was pretty lacking at the time so I wanted to be Robin Williams or Al Pacino or Robert De Niro, one of those guys. Whereas now, honestly, people who inspire me now are the Jennifer Lawrence's of the world, people who are even younger than me but still are able to speak truly, speak from the heart and be honest about what it is that they want to fight for, or what they believe in. They’re not afraid of people judging them. I think that’s something we battle with every day, unfortunately.
What advice would you give now to your younger self when he started out acting?
I’ve definitely grown in confidence but I’ve always been quite an insecure person, quite afraid and paranoid about what people think. It is one of those things where I wish I had a little bit more self-confidence. I’m sometimes afraid to speak up if I’m unhappy. I think for me, it would be to fight my fight and say what I believe in. At times I’ve always wanted to be perceived as the ‘nice guy’ but you realize that not everybody’s always going to like you, or everything you do, every decision you make. Your identity is changing, you feel like a chameleon because you want me to be like this and you want me to be like that. Now I feel like I’ve found who I am, my identity, and I’m going to go with that.
So how on earth do you cope with things like the fan backlash when you were cast in Hunger Games? I feel like if I think someone gives me a funny look on the bus it can ruin my day!
I think it’s how you take that negativity and what you do with it. For me, I read a few blogs, a few messages regarding my casting that were pretty negative, very negative; I was completely the wrong guy, people were upset that Zac Efron didn’t get the part! What I quickly realized was that every single fan had a different idea of who they thought was perfect for Finnick. I didn’t look like the Finnick in the books, but the magic of movies is that I can dye my hair, get a fake tan, go to the gym for a couple of months and change what I look like. There was obviously a quality I had that the director and the producers agreed upon and said, “That’s our guy”. What those negative comments did was spur me on to work harder and prove them wrong. All I can do at the end of the day is try my hardest. I would never ever see myself as a heartthrob; I’m just a guy with a job.
Your life must have been gym and protein at that time.
Basically! I was pretty dull. One of my good qualities is that I’m very, very determined; once I start something I have to see it through. The Hunger Games was the first time when I really realized my true drive. The great thing was we were in the middle of Atlanta where none of my family or friends from home were, so I had no distractions. I literally had the gym and protein to keep me company.
Do you still go to football with your friends?
Yeah, we just went to the NFL game at Wembley. I hang out with my mates and share my experiences with them as much as possible. At the London premiere of The Hunger Games this week, all my friends and family will come. It’s a little tradition we have.
Speaking of being likable, you played an absolute monster in The Riot Club. Congratulations on being utterly vile…
Good! It’s the only time I cheer if someone calls me that.
Do you think there’s a certain level of privilege that dominates the world you’re in? Maybe it’s in anything creative, it’s easier if you have money to fall back on.
I think for me, honestly, money opens opportunities. I grew up in Norwich, went to a reasonably rough school, had a very, very thick Norfolk accent until I was 18 and started doing youth theatre. I got more heavily involved in that and noticed that actually a lot of the friends I knew in the youth theatre didn’t really have the Norfolk accent even though the youth theatre was based there, so I kind of started to get rid of it. I went to drama school and I’m an amalgamation of all my friends’ different accents, a bit of Norfolk, very posh when I need to, actually, the truth is I am from nothing really. The preconception is that the better-educated people do succeed. I have a lot of friends from that world in the industry, and I don’t feel like it changes anyone, but I’ve had very different life experiences. I’ve found actually is that most characters I get asked to read for are more upper-class elite, but that’s totally not where I’m from. It’s a tough question because I feel like one way or another I’m going to tread on someone’s toes, I think it’s obvious to the world that there aren’t as many opportunities [for people with less money], because education is so expensive, especially drama school. I was on a scholarship but at the same time I was working as a care-taker as my drama school to pay my way, whereas someone who comes from money doesn’t have to do that, they can focus all their attention on the education and not have to worry about when the paycheck’s coming in or what they’re going to eat for dinner. Comfort, I suppose, is the difference.
Did you have a backup plan?
Yeah, I always wanted to go into teaching. I always liked the idea – which is why I got into acting – of inspiring people. My mum was a classroom assistant at my old high school and she always said, “If you can change one child, one mind a year, it makes the whole job worth it”. That always appealed to me. Now I’m an actor, I’m fortunate enough to receive letters from fans that me and my mum sit and read through. [It’s amazing to hear that] I have inspired certain people, especially at my old school for instance, they’re like “Oh my god I can’t believe you’re in movies!” because that was me when I was younger, it was a dream so far-fetched that I never even imagined I could be doing movies.
Do you feel that you’re at a stage now where you’ll always get work or do you ever think “Oh shit I might not ever get that again”?
I only called my agents the other day because I just literally finished another job a couple of weeks ago and I have a few things potentially in the pipeline for next year but nothing’s 100% set in stone. It’s something to constantly worry about! [Laughs] Where I’m at in my career at the moment I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place. I feel like I’m trying to move forward and play even more interesting roles, but all those parts go to people who are already trustworthy – the Eddie Redmayne's, the Andrew Garfield's, the Robert Pattinson's – people who can sell films. Whereas I’m still, in a sense, untested. It’s difficult definitely because the parts that do inspire me will then go to someone better than me.
I’m not sure if it’s ‘better’ so much as redefining how people see you. I mean, look at Sienna Miller, she’s totally repackaged herself. Half of the battle is getting other people to see you in a different way.
That’s exactly right. I think that’s what I’ve been trying to do, like with the Riot Club, showing I can be nasty; with Love, Rosie, I can be goofy. I’ve just done a film called Me Before You where I play a quadriplegic, it’s got a much more serious tone, but at the same time, it’s a light drama that deals with some very important issues. I feel myself opening up and growing as an actor and a person.
So fulfillment for you is about variety?
I just want to challenge myself, that’s all I ever want to do. I’d like to have the opportunity to prove to other people – and myself – that I can do it, to play different characters. I don’t want to rock the same haircut and look exactly the same and play the same character in different movies. The career of someone like Christian Bale, who physically transforms for each role, you feel like you don’t know who Christian Bale is because every role that he does is so, so different, you don’t feel like he brings any of himself to those parts. It’s just this completely formed character he comes up with. That’s what I’m trying to achieve.
I’m sure you will. So now you’re on tour with The Hunger Games premiers. How long will that go on for?
About three weeks. The premiere in Berlin, then London, then Los Angeles, then New York, then I’m briefly in Miami and then I’m back for Christmas.
I’ll look out for you wearing your same blue suit! At least you can pack light.
[Laughs]. Yeah, exactly!
Photography: Maurizio Bavutti
Stylist: Romina Herrera Malatesta
Grooming: Cash Lawless @ Jed Root
Producer: Matt Brown
Styling Assistants: Page Schultz & Caitlin Cowger
Special Thanks: Amy Bartlett & Laura Colman @ Premier