Sam Claflin may have shot to fame in major film franchises The Hunger Games and Pirates of the Caribbean, but the 31-year-old actor’s career has become defined by its unpredictability. With movie star good looks he could have walked the well-trodden path of Hollywood romantic lead, but instead the past few years have seen him play a quadriplegic in Me Before You, a sadistic snob in The Riot Club and now the tormented, alcoholic captain of a doomed regiment holding the line in the thick of World War I trench warfare.
Claflin’s new film Journey’s End is a tough watch. An adaptation of R.C. Sherriff’s classic play, it follows a group of soldiers’ final torturous days in the trenches on the eve of the Spring Offensive. Claflin plays Captain Stanhope, a seasoned officer fully aware he is sending himself and his men to their doom.
“It’s a very sombre story and as an experience, especially playing this character, it was very tough and dark. But it’s a story that I love and knew and I was willing to go to those dark places in order to tell it.”
The film co-stars Paul Bettany as Lieutenant Osborne, along with Asa Butterfield, Toby Jones, Stephen Graham and Tom Sturridge, and the men bonded over… fart jokes. “Everyone has fart humour. Every single time, it never fails to make me laugh.”
Directed by Saul Dibb, Claflin says the set was very “male heavy” – an unusual occurrence for the Brit who, out of step with the rest of the industry, often finds himself working on female-helmed films, from Me Before You, directed by Thea Sharrock, to Their Finest and The Riot Club – both overseen by Lone Scherfig. “My career over the last few years… there’s usually a female lead character and a female director and female producer and female make-up so I’ve always felt like the only man.
“I’ve been really lucky to work with some incredible women in this industry – I know that’s rare but I feel like I’m so blessed to have had those great opportunities. I suppose it’s proof that it’s a work in progress but it’s actually working and I’m a champion.”
The humour on set may have been light-hearted but the filming of Journey’s End was anything but. Shooting in “extremely chilly” Suffolk in the winter of 2016, Claflin recalls: “there was so much mud on the floor that most of our feet were drenched the entire time. I’ll never forget my hands feeling ice cold and barely being able to move them.
“In modern day war people don’t fully understand what it would have been like to be in the trenches back then with hand-to-hand combat. It’s a very different war that we fight nowadays. It’s still war and people who experience that will have a better understanding but for me, I’m so far detached from war.”
Claflin and the cast spoke to ex-servicemen and PTSD sufferers for information on the psychological trauma their characters would have faced. “They were saying nowadays we, like pretty much everyone, are so unrelated to war. I don’t know anyone who’s fought in a war personally whereas back in the First World War, everyone knew someone who had fought or died or come home damaged – everyone was related to war, especially in England.”
Claflin’s personal life couldn’t be further from the grim trenches where he spent those chilly months. Married to actress Laura Haddock since 2013, the pair have a two-year-old son and welcomed a daughter just a month ago.
“My little boy’s a cuddler – he’ll go and cuddle people and he’s so used to being in new environments and meeting new people that it inspires me and gives me energy.”
Claflin does, however, note the strange path his career has taken since becoming a parent, eschewing romantic leads for grittier roles. “Strangely, since my son was born, I’ve been a monster. I think because I’m so fun at home I like to be a monster at work. I think it’s because it’s not me – I find I really enjoy understanding people that are hard to understand or who are misunderstood.”
In The Riot Club, he was originally asked to audition for preppy Miles – a role that eventually went to Max Irons. Claflin played cold-hearted Alistair. “I read the script and said I want to play the one who’s not good with women and doesn’t get the girl and is the bigger arsehole. So I prepared some scenes and walked into the audition and said, ‘can I audition for this part?’ and Lone just laughed and went, ‘come on, but you are the nicer guy’ and I said ‘I want to be the nastier boy.’”
In person, Claflin is undeniably ‘the nice guy’. But he’s never experienced the sort of fame that follows his Hunger Games co-stars Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth. “That was set in the stars for them before I joined the films. It’s slightly different here in England. The people who are famous in England – really famous – are the people who want to be famous. For example, Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar but you don’t hear about what he’s eating for breakfast. It’s the people who seek fame that the English embrace.
“I never became an actor because I wanted to be famous – I became an actor because I enjoy acting and what comes with that but for me the fame thing is probably the downfall of the industry and you speak to most actors who I admire and they will say the same. Very few people whose careers I cherish and admire want to be famous and be followed everywhere they go. Jennifer Lawrence will occasionally have someone follow her but she’s not on Instagram telling people what she’s doing every 20 seconds.
As for Claflin, he still takes the tube, drops his son off at nursery, goes to cafes. And while he may enjoy playing “monsters”, in real life he is the nicest of Nice Guys.
Journey’s End is in UK cinemas from 2nd February 2018