The Hunger Games brought him fame and an army of teenage fans, but now Sam Claflin is swapping blockbusters for nappies and embracing the â€˜dad bodâ€™. He tells Kate Wills about insecurities, turning 30 and why heâ€™s keeping his son firmly out of the spotlight.
Heâ€™s best known as the trident-toting hunk in The Hunger Games, but for his latest role Sam Claflin shed more than three stone to play a suicidal paraplegic. He talks to Kate Wills about body shaming, Instagram fame and his most important role to date â€“ being a dad.
When Sam Claflin arrives at the hotel in Wimbledon, south-west London for our interview, itâ€™s a bit of a Clark Kent moment. I was expecting the perma-tanned, super-buff, trident-toting Finn Odair from The Hunger Games (Yes, I am a 31-year-old teenage girl). So when a pale, scruffy-haired, bookish-looking man shuffles in, wearing round tortoiseshell glasses and sporting a battered, brown Mulberry satchel, I almost donâ€™t recognise him.
He orders a black coffee and looks – like most new fathers – utterly exhausted. Claflin and his wife, the Luther star Laura Haddock, had their first child, a son, just six weeks before we meet, and today is the first time that heâ€™s left the baby bubble. Heâ€™s positively beaming about fatherhood – â€œIâ€™m already missing himâ€ and despite being â€œat that point of tiredness where your eyes hurtâ€, is unfailingly polite and charming. He banters with the photographer about the new series of Catastrophe and Norwich FC, stops to make a fuss of a passing Pekinese puppy and endears everyone on set with tales of of nappy changing woes (the words â€œuncontrollable hose pipeâ€ feature).
The Superman-style disguise could soon come in handy. This year Claflin is set to make the transition from teen star to household name. Heâ€™s already got huge blockbuster franchises under his belt â€“ he landed a part in the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film almost straight out of drama school, then there was The Hunger Games (it grossed $2.3bn, you might have heard of it), and Snow White and the Huntsman, he popped up in the sequel last month. Heâ€™s mastered the soppy rom-com, opposite Lily Collins in Love Rosie, and won critical acclaim playing an obnoxious Bullingdon boy in <The Riot Club>. But his new role, as a suicidal paraplegic in the adaptation of JoJo Moyesâ€™ bestseller Me Before You, is a departure from anything heâ€™s done before.
â€œA part like Will Traynor is a dream,â€ he says, his actorâ€™s RP occasionally veering into the flat a-s of the Norfolk broads. â€œIt was the most eye-opening experience and I feel like going through the experience has changed me. I know it sounds clichÃ©d and naÃ¯ve but I am now very aware when pavements arenâ€™t level and curbs are too high or ramps arenâ€™t available.â€
Just as Eddie Redmayne faced criticism for what detractors called â€œcripping upâ€ to play Stephen Hawking, the question of whether able-bodied actors should play disabled parts has been levied at Claflin too. â€œSomeone put a note on Twitter saying how angry they were that I was cast instead of a disabled actor and I hear that point, I really do,â€ he says, sounding genuinely concerned. â€œOf course, there are parts of the novel, and our film, where Will is able-bodied and that wouldâ€™ve been much more difficult for someone who wasnâ€™t able-bodied to portray. But there does need to be more opportunities out there for people of other colours, races or physical abilities. Itâ€™s not that white able-bodied men are stealing everyoneâ€™s parts, itâ€™s that script-writers need to write other stories. I would if I could, but I canâ€™t!â€
Claflin lost three and a half stone of his Hunger Games bulk to play Will. For four months he followed a strict 500-calorie a day diet and worked out three times a day. â€œI fully punished myself and drove myself into the ground,â€ he admits. But the transformation was more than just physical. â€œThere was a point just before we started filming where I was in a very similar place to Will emotionally and mentally. By no means am I saying I know what being a paraplegic is like, but I was very depressed and low on energy and in a great amount of pain for completely opposite reasons. I wasnâ€™t in the mood to do anything, which is how Will is at the beginning of the movie.â€
If youâ€™ve read the book youâ€™ll know that in <Me Before You>, Will petitions his parents to take him to Dignitas. â€œI wasnâ€™t aware of assisted suicide clinics before I was cast,â€ admits Claflin. â€œSo I wanted to do a bit of research and delved quite deeply and darkly into that whole world. The Terry Pratchett documentary about it was mind blowing.â€ Although he refuses to be drawn on his own views about this controversial subject – â€œMy honest opinion, honestly, isâ€¦ everyone has a different opinionâ€ – Â he hints that he believes in the right to die with dignity. â€œHumans have freedom of thought and freedom of speechâ€¦ so why are we taking that away from people?â€
Claflin spent four months rehearsing with <Game of Thrones> star Emilia Clarke, who plays Willâ€™s carer and love interest Louisa. He also developed a rapport with the bookâ€™s author JoJo Moyes. â€œSam is a sweetheart,â€ she tells RED via email. â€œHe is also the nicest smelling man I’ve ever met. So much so that I and a couple of the female crew members would periodically sneak up to him on set and just inhale him.â€ Claflin recently posted a photo to Instagram of himself reading Moyesâ€™ book in a pair of its famous â€œbumblebee tightsâ€.
Although heâ€™ll happily upload pictures of himself in hosiery, videos of him and Laura rap-syncing to Iggy Azalea and snaps of his black cockapoo Rosie, donâ€™t expect any shots of Sam Junior to surface any time soon. â€œWeâ€™re purposely shying away from posting any pictures of the baby,â€ he explains, unwilling to even divulge his sonâ€™s name. â€œI donâ€™t want to force my child into a world that he may or may not wish to go into. He might want to be a banker and change his surname for all I know.â€
Itâ€™s fairly uncommon these days for anyone to be married with children in their twenties, let alone Hollywood movie stars, but Claflin was keen to settle down. â€œThe day I met Laura I knew I wanted to marry her so it didnâ€™t feel like we were rushing it,â€ he says. After meeting Haddock in an audition for My Week With Marilyn, Sam called his agent and told him heâ€™d met the girl he wanted to marry. The next day they had a chance encounter on an early-morning tube, and months later Haddock got in touch with Claflin on Facebook (â€œshe definitely pursued meâ€). They married in 2013, and from the dreamy look in his eyes when he talks about her, to the â€œhi sweetieâ€ when she calls during our shoot, theyâ€™re clearly very much in love.
For Claflin, having children was â€œwritten in the starsâ€. â€œWhen I was a kid I used to love playing with dolls, I did my work experience in a playschool and my mum was a child-minder so Iâ€™ve grown up around kids.â€ And yet nothing could prepare him for having one of his own. â€œSomeone described it to my wife as â€˜the best shock in the worldâ€™ and I think thatâ€™s fitting.â€ He says fatherhood has given him a â€œnewfound admirationâ€ for his parents and â€œanyone whoâ€™s been through it â€“ itâ€™s really hard!â€
Around the time we meet, Laura has been pictured on the red carpet for the first time since giving birth, and a certain news website has commented on her â€œsvelte post-baby bodyâ€. Does he feel protective of her? â€œI do, and I think sheâ€™s probably more paranoid about it than she needs to be. No one should be expected to â€˜snap back into shapeâ€™ but I donâ€™t think she has anything to worry about. Laura looks amazing, she is amazing, sheâ€™s never not amazing. Even when she was pregnant she looked amazing with a bump.â€â€¨â€¨Claflin also knows what itâ€™s like to have his body scrutinised. â€œMe and Laura were on holiday and we were papped on the beach and we thought â€˜Who gives a crap about us?â€™ But I started reading the comments underneath the photos and they were really negative, like â€˜You say heâ€™s buff? Look at him heâ€™s fatâ€™. Unfortunately, in the industry we work in, itâ€™s expected, but I donâ€™t go walking down the street telling people theyâ€™re fat and ugly. People should be kinder. I am a normal person – I have feelings!â€
â€œI constantly worry about how I look because I think the standard among other actors now is so high. Take Zac Efron, for example. Heâ€™s about my age, we were both nominated for best shirtless scene and Iâ€™d vote for him! He keeps that up all the time. Thatâ€™s one hell of a life choice. I couldnâ€™t do it. I absolutely despise the gym. Iâ€™ll do it for work if I need to, but if I donâ€™t need to then Iâ€™d rather have a pint or a burger with my mates.â€
Claflin turns 30 next month, so just about remembers life pre-internet – â€œYouâ€™d call a mate on his landline and his mum would say â€˜heâ€™s out somewhereâ€™ so youâ€™d take your bike and go and find himâ€ – and laments the role that social media can play in making or breaking an actor. â€œBeing famous now is how many followers you have on Instagram and I think thatâ€™s quite sad,â€ he says. â€œSo many people I know work so hard and train and save up a lifetime of money to go to drama school or university, and then when they get round to auditioning for a part it goes to the daughter or son of so and so, who has absolutely no talent. We are sort of riddled with those people now. Itâ€™s getting to the point where if I start losing workâ€¦I am aware of it happening. I think thatâ€™s my working class roots – when you see someone from privilege walk into a job which you know someone else has really strived for, itâ€™s infuriating.â€
One of three boys, Claflin grew up in Norwich with his dad Mark, a finance officer, and his mum, Sue, classroom assistant at his school â€“ the local comp. Sam was captain of the football team, until an injury forced him to try acting. â€œI was a loud mouth and a bit cheeky,â€ he says. â€œI was 5ft 2 and had a shaved head an ear ring and a gold necklace. I wore a lot of Kappa.â€ He credits his family for keeping him grounded through â€œmoments that even Iâ€™m still overwhelmed byâ€. His mum sorts through his fan mail and makes him reply to every letter. â€œI remember the first time I saw the amount I was like â€˜Canâ€™t you just sign my signature for me?â€™ and she was like â€˜Donâ€™t be so ungrateful! People have spent days and monthsâ€¦look at the artwork on this one!â€™â€
Soon heâ€™ll start shooting <My Cousin Rachel>, with Rachel Weisz – an adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier story by Notting Hill director Roger Michell. With Claflinâ€™s floppy hair, dimples and knack for self-deprecating wit, itâ€™s not a stretch to see him becoming the next Hugh Grant. But he says heâ€™d much prefer a career like Christian Baleâ€™s. â€œHe physically transforms from part to part,â€ he says. â€œNo one really knows what â€˜Christian Baleâ€™ looks like and I like hiding behind a role and getting lost in a character. I love the process of losing weight or gaining weight or growing a craggy beard.â€ He cultivated an impressive pencil moustache (â€œthat was all me!â€) for his role in 1940s-set comedy Their Finest Hour and a Half, out later this year, co-starring Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy and directed by Lone Scherfig of An Education fame.
As our time together comes to an end, Claflin lets slip that heâ€™s casually doing a half marathon later that day. â€œWell, my friend was doing one,â€ he explains reluctantly. â€œSo I said that Iâ€™d train with him, and now Iâ€™m doing it too.â€
Definitely still a bit Superman then.
Best things in lifeâ€¦
â€œ<Notting Hill> is the one film I can watch over and over again and not get bored of. I enjoy it the same amount every time I watch it.â€
â€œIâ€™m not a big reader but a book called <The Art of Racing In The Rain> by Garth Stein is sensational. Itâ€™s the story of a family and what happens to them but itâ€™s all told from a dogâ€™s perspective. As a dog owner itâ€™s an amazing imagining of how a dog would talk.â€
â€œIâ€™m most excited about the new series of Game of Thrones. Emilia [Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen] and Charles [Dance, who plays Tywin Lannister] were my co-stars on <Me Before You>, which meant that there were many many questions to be asked. None of the answers were forthcoming though.â€
â€œIâ€™m a cheesecake man. Any flavour cheesecake. I was allowed one cheat meal a week on my diet and when it was Easter, Laura made me a CrÃ¨me Egg cheesecake. Sheâ€™s an amazing baker.â€
â€œIâ€™d say London. Itâ€™s home. Our baby is born and bred here. Work could potentially take us to LA, but I really love London.â€
â€œSleep. Itâ€™s so few and far between at the moment.â€