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‘Me Before You’ could spell stardom for Sam Claflin

INQUIRER.NET – LOS ANGELES—“Me Before You” should finally launch Sam Claflin as a full-fledged star. The British actor, achieving sweet chemistry with Emilia Clarke, at last gets a film that showcases his charisma, good looks and acting chops.

If this adaptation of Jojo Moyes’ bestselling novel becomes a hit— and by all indications, it would—Sam gets a significant gift just before he notches a milestone. Known as Finnick Odair to “The Hunger Games” franchise fans, he turns 30 on June 27.

In “Me Before You,” the feature film directorial debut of Thea Sharrock (a noted theater director, whose credits include Daniel Radcliffe’s “Equus”), Sam plays William “Will” Traynor, a recently paralyzed wealthy man whose life becomes intertwined with Emilia’s Louisa “Lou” Clark when she becomes his caregiver.

Dressed in a striped tee, black denim jacket and pants, Sam, often breaking into a chuckle that sounds like a young boy’s, was a fun, gracious interviewee in this recent chat at the Ritz Carlton Central Park Hotel.

After an ankle injury dashed his ambition to join a football club, the wavy-haired Sam turned to acting. He graduated with honors from the famed London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. After landing stage (including title roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company) and TV parts, Sam made quite an impression acting opposite Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” where he played missionary Philip Swift.

He is married to English actress Laura Haddock, with whom he has a son, who was born in December.

Excerpts from our interview:

Did you meet Emilia before this movie?
I did. We met about seven years ago. We have barely left drama school. She and I were asked to do a photo shoot for a magazine called Screen International. It was a rising stars issue. There were like 30 actors, directors and writers.

We crossed paths again a year later. We met for a chemistry read for “Jack the Giant Slayer,” which neither of us got, so obviously, our chemistry test failed.

By the time I saw her, for our first chemistry read test (for “Me Before You”), it was the first time that we met Thea properly, as well.

You are wonderful together.
Thank you. She brings out the best in me. She’s got such an infectious personality. I think I would go so far as to fall in love with her (laughs), but I care for her.

So, in a situation like this, how difficult is it not to fall in love?
I love the people I have had the opportunity to work with. But… I love my wife.

Has this movie’s story inspired you to live boldly?
This movie changed me quite a lot. It unlocked something in me. Specifically, it made me not take things for granted. We sort of saunter through life and don’t notice the small things. But after meeting a few people who are in a similar position to Will, what became obvious to me—the fact that I can climb in bed at night within a matter of seconds and that I am doing that next to my beautiful wife, my little baby is in the other room and my dog is downstairs—all these things made me realize that I am not alone in life.

So any time that I feel sad, tired or whatever, I remember to live boldly in the sense that I enjoy my life a lot more than I ever have before. I think about how lucky and blessed I am to have what I have.
At the same time, I try to make big decisions and take risks.

Would you make the same decision that your character, Will, does about assisted suicide if you were in the same situation?
It’s impossible to know and answer, honestly, without going through an event of that scale, having something like that happen to me or a loved one.

If you are, all of a sudden, paralyzed from the neck down, you will change as a person.
I would like to think that I’d be able to remain positive and stay strong for my wife, child, family members and friends, and remain enthusiastic and optimistic.

Do I agree with what he did? Yes. But that was him, his story and his journey.

Do you think Will is a selfish guy? And what makes life really worth living for you?
I don’t believe Will is a selfish guy. In fact, he is the opposite. One thing I always learned as an actor at drama school is to never judge your character. You have to agree with everything they do because, if not, then you are lying in the scene.

In Will’s opinion, he is a selfless man. In his eyes, he releases everyone around him. He was in pain all day every day.

Will is able to operate the wheelchair, at least.
He’s able to move a finger and the thumb—that’s what we decided on because we wanted him to be able to drive away. But some people can’t. It was honestly the most inspiring research or preparation process that I had ever been through. It was the most eye-opening, insightful and effective.

The wardrobe of Emilia’s character constantly amuses your character. In real life, how do you react to your own wife’s wardrobe?
I think it always is [tricky] with fashion (laughs). But she asks me honestly because she respects my opinion.

But we have always been on the same page, anyway, with our fashion sense and taste.

How do you react when people say you look like Hugh Grant?
That to me is a compliment. Funnily enough, when I met Hugh Grant, I was introduced to him by my good friend as “the new Hugh Grant.” So he obviously looked at me with a very suspicious eye.

It seems that you have all the qualities that the next James Bond needs.
I disagree. I am a British man, so in that sense, I would be a potential James Bond. It’s a coveted role that I grew up admiring from afar as did every boy in England and around the world.

Can you talk about your family?
My mom and dad are still together. My dad suffered from diabetes quite badly. So my mom is a full-on matriarch. She is the Joan of Arc, if you will—a very strong woman.

I am from a family of fighters, and that’s what we do. I have been doing full-time work since I was 13 years old as a paperboy. Then, I worked in the supermarket and a clothes shop. I was a caretaker at the drama school because we just didn’t have huge amounts of money.
I have three brothers.

After this film, you are making another romantic comedy, “My Cousin Rachel.”

Yes, I am.

Can you also talk about “Their Finest Hour and a Half”?
It’s now called “We Happy Few.” It’s a story that follows a young woman who writes films, and it’s about filmmaking during the Second World War. I play this young writer, this hotshot, kind of misogynist, you might say.

It’s a love story between the two. They find a way of working together. It’s a period romantic story.

How do you define love?
Emilia summed it up in one of our previous interviews. She said, “Love is when you put someone else before you or something else before yourself.” I would jump in front of a car to save my dog’s life.

Do you like being a romantic comedy leading man?
I don’t really have a plan in my short career. For me, if I read a script that I am drawn to, I will happily jump on board.

I am a big fan of romantic movies. I am not afraid of showing my emotions.

How are you going to spend your summer vacation?
I don’t like to do the same thing twice, that’s for sure.

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