Wedding bells, workouts and hanging with J-Law: Brit actor Sam Claflin tells Martha Hayes about living life in the fast lane.
There’s a moment about five minutes into meeting Hunger Games star Sam Claflin where it feels less like a regular celebrity interview and more like a cathartic therapy session. Having begun a sentence with, ‘It hasn’t felt like my life has changed,’ Claflin starts to unravel. ‘I just feel very grown-up all of a sudden,’ he ponders, sinking into the sofa of a private lounge in a central London hotel. ‘I have responsibilities. I have to take a few risks and there’s a lot more pressure on my shoulders now than there was a few years ago. I felt I could make a mistake and no one would care, whereas now people are starting to take note.’
Sympathy for privileged actor types – especially those with an entourage of press officers and publicists to attend their every need – is something journalists wrestle with, but 27-year-old Claflin feels like a bit of an anomaly: in the scheme of things, his quarter-life woes aren’t all that unfounded. The Ipswich-born lad was barely out of drama school (he studied at LAMDA until 2009) before Hollywood came calling, casting him alongside Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, opposite K-Stew in Snow White & the Huntsman and, more recently, as super-buff bombshell Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games with Jennifer Lawrence. Rising star? Skyrocketing, more like.
Today, as if we needed further proof he’s one of the hottest UK actors of his generation, he’s been flown into London from Atlanta (where he’s filming the latest installment of The Hunger Games) just to attend the 2014 BAFTA awards that night. Clutching a cold glass of Coke, he has a Sunday afternoon of interviews ahead of him to promote his new film, 70s-set British Hammer horror The Quiet Ones. Jovial when prompted (‘I found it very scary, despite the fact I knew where the scares were’), he’s frustratingly modest. The character of Brian McNeil is at the heart of the story, and it’s basically Claflin’s first film lead, but he doesn’t see it like that: ‘Jared Harris, I suppose, is the lead.’
Whether he’s being media savvy or just feeling a bit self-conscious, it’s fascinating to observe Claflin, having first met him three years ago – pre-Hunger Games and jet-set lifestyle – on the set of BBC drama White Heat. I was sent there to experience a day in the life of an extra, and while the other ‘supporting artists’ failed to boost my morale (competitive, much?), the ensemble cast of up-and-coming British actors (including Claire Foy as well as Claflin) welcomed me with open arms. So there’s no denying today’s flat-capped, closely guarded Claflin seems a far cry from the exuberant drama graduate wandering around the trailer in a bathrobe.
That is, until we get onto the subject of his new wife, The Inbetweeners actress Laura Haddock. They sure make a handsome couple, and married last July after an 18-month engagement, having met in 2011 at an audition for My Week With Marilyn. Neither left with a part, but Claflin went straight to his agent, gushing, ‘I’ve met the woman I want to marry.’ He proposed by taking her to New York to watch the film that had brought them together. Bless. ‘I don’t want to big myself up,’ he shrugs with a dimpled smile when I suggest he must be very romantic, before adding: ‘They say when it’s the one you’ll know, and I definitely knew. We have so much in common and we are each other’s best friends. When you find that with a girl you obviously fancy it’s an ideal situation.’
These days Claflin is ‘barely ever in London’, and Laura, 28, has lots of projects in the pipeline herself (notably this summer’s blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy with Bradley Cooper). Was that an incentive to settle down sooner rather than later? ‘I think so, yeah – to make the promise that I’m always here, no matter what,’ he says. ‘As actors we’ll go through different elements in our careers where we’ll be kissing or spending a lot of time with another person of the opposite sex. There aren’t trust issues because we’re both very supportive of one another and we talk every single night; I think it was just that there was no point waiting. We both want to have kids eventually and why not start now?’ he adds, before covering his tracks. ‘Not that we are starting, like, immediately.’
Perhaps it’s no wonder children are on the horizon when he comes from such a close, solid family. His father Mark, a financial officer, and mother Sue, a classroom assistant, regularly visit him on set. ‘I think my dad wants me to work with Bruce Willis,’ he laughs. ‘My mum claims she always knew I was going to get into the industry. I used to play a lot of football, but even on the pitch she could tell I was a drama queen. I would cry, I would laugh, I would go through every emotion.’ A broken ankle replaced his love of the beautiful game with acting, and he went on to inspire his younger brother, Joe, to follow him into the profession.
Ironically it’s also his super-famous co-stars who help keep his feet on the ground. Cue an amusing anecdote about the day his parents turned up at the Pirates of the Caribbean set in 2010. ‘Johnny Depp came over and my dad told an embarrassing dad joke and Johnny didn’t laugh and I thought, “Oh, God,”’ he cringes, his sea-green eyes widening. ‘Then my dad was like, “Do you have any advice for my boy?” I was like, “Dad, come on, man!” But Johnny said, “Never forget where you came from – always remember who got you to where you are.” That’s advice my friends and family wouldn’t allow me to forget.
‘The people I’ve worked with so far have been very, very grounded. Jennifer Lawrence is a prime example of someone who’s completely normal. I’ve been lucky that I’ve got on with so many of my co-stars.’
Indeed, being back with J-Law and the gang to film The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and Part 2 in Atlanta before heading to locations in Europe for a few months is ‘probably too much fun,’ he admits. ‘Our director Francis Lawrence allows us freedom to have fun; there’s lots of in-jokes and games. Recently I was filming quite an emotional scene and trying to get into the zone, but every time I started running, Woody Harrelson would stick out his foot and try to trip me up.’
He even puts a positive spin on his insane egg-white-omelette diet and fitness regime to get into the character of the womanising, Adonis-bodied former Hunger Games champion Finnick. ‘It’s a dream come true to get paid to go to the gym. I know that if I focus for three weeks I can get in very good shape, but I don’t have to live like that 24/7. I’m an Englishman – I like my beer.’
In between The Quiet Ones and the November release of Mockingjay – Part 1, Claflin continues his big-screen assault in the romcom Love, Rosie (based on the Cecelia Ahern novel, Where Rainbows End) opposite Lily Collins, and the movie adaptation of Laura Wade’s 2010 play Posh by Lone Scherfig (the film is called The Riot Club). ‘I haven’t mixed it up hugely in my career thus far, so this year I’m really excited,’ he says. ‘The Riot Club is so far from who I am. I’m not political at all, so to play a character who’s very politically driven was a stretch for me.’
Politics, romance, horror… he’s definitely ticking all the boxes, not least proving there’s a lot more to his talents than getting his pecs out for a blockbuster. Psyching himself up for tonight’s red carpet, he recalls his awkward first awards ceremony: ‘I didn’t know anybody, so me and Laura kept to ourselves and stood in the corner with a beer.’ For all the pressure and responsibility he might feel now, accolades will surely follow, and nobody will put Claflin in the corner again.
He just better get used to it.