Sam has a new interview and photoshoot for GQ Hype! You can read his great interview below and find photos from the cover and photoshoot in our gallery!
Photoshoots & Portraits > 2023 > Session 12: GQ Hype
Sam Claflin is the sort of man that gets punched in the face and ends up apologising for it. Well, not the sort of man – the actual man this has happened to. Claflin was 19 years old, minding his own business on the dance floor at Po Na Na nightclub in Norwich. He still has no idea why the stranger decided to swing for him, but being agreeable to his bones, he’s still giving that guy the benefit of the doubt 17 years later.
This amenability makes sense when you meet Claflin, who it is clear is on a quest to be one of life’s good guys. He is a Chelsea fan, and yet he finds himself rooting for their rivals. “I’m not one of those football fans that’s anti-anyone,” he tells me, in full Ted Lasso mode, right down to the nervous press-conference smile. “I support Chelsea but I love that Arsenal are doing well. I’m also really gunning for Tottenham to win something. I love watching Manchester United starting to do well again, or Liverpool for a couple of years. Seeing Leicester win.”
It is mid-afternoon on a flat Thursday in February, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” soaring from the radio in an empty Irish pub in Camden, North London. Claflin arrives in a blue baseball cap proclaiming the letter S – not for Sam, he says, not entirely convincingly–- and radiating a cautious charm. Hilariously handsome, in a way that is made even funnier by how mortified he seems by his good looks, he is dashing in a Waitrose Organic kind of way. This mother-approved, Disney-prince DNA is, to an extent, how Claflin made his name, with enough hunky roles to fill a shirtless calendar from January to December. The wheelchair-bound millionaire in Me Before You; the winsome missionary in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides; the gladiatorial stud Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games. If your sister fancied a blond character in a movie between 2011 and 2016, there is an approximately 40 per cent chance it was Sam Claflin. “I think I was on the ‘upcoming hot under-30-year-olds list’ for like ten years and I was like, ‘I’m still not coming,’” he says with an easy laugh. “A lot of guys recognise me because their girlfriends have forced them to watch something I’m in.”
This may be about to change with the noisy arrival of Daisy Jones and the Six, the Amazon series adapted from the bestselling book of the same name by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The story is inspired by the chaotic formation and steep rise to fame of Fleetwood Mac and set in the scrubby dreamland of Los Angeles’s Laurel Canyon in the ’70s, an era in which people congregated in cabins for parties, so that you could see candles littered through the mountains as evenings wore on.
Soundtracks are often talked about as a character in TV and films, but for Daisy Jones it’s the whole plot, with the writing of the band’s album providing a fuse for the roiling drama between the band members. Claflin and Riley Keough – the real-life granddaughter of Elvis Presley, who plays the magnetic, infuriating singer Daisy Jones – worked with high-profile music producers Blake Mills and Tony Berg to write and record an actual album, since released under the fictional band’s name.
The snag was that Claflin, who plays Lindsey Buckingham–esque frontman Billy Dunne, had zero musical ability and only vague knowledge of the era, choosing Elton John’s “Your Song” for his audition when asked to perform a ’70s rock song, and then identifying The Beatles’s “Come Together” as a Michael Jackson track. So when Covid put the production on hold, giving Claflin time to work out how to play the guitar and gain some understanding of the Fleetwood Mac era, it wasn’t entirely unwelcome. “Having to sit in a recording studio listening to yourself over and over again was a horrifying experience,” Claflin says. “I think there’s a line in the series where [someone says that] to be a musician you have to have an ego. I wouldn’t say that’s me. I was one of the last they [auditioned] and the way I saw it was they’d seen everyone else and just had to make do,” he says. He then sees my worried expression. “I know. I’m working on this in therapy.”
At the bar, a drug deal so flagrant the handshake handover was apparently written by Guy Ritchie is taking place, but Claflin misses the entire thing. “That’s the way to do it, I guess?” he says, when I point out the men going their separate ways. He talks about the year he went to Glastonbury with his brother and ex-wife, the actress Laura Haddock, and how he wasn’t sure why so many people were so visibly, physically blissed out. He is aware how green he sounds, having bypassed so many of his wild young actor years by marrying young and having children before most of his friends. Counting himself out of travelling to America for acting jobs meant a number of years of underwhelming projects and feeling unable to say what he wanted with his work. “There’ve been a few jobs I’ve agreed to and later had second thoughts, but I’d given my word,” he says. “I don’t want to be perceived as someone who is difficult.”
So he made the decision to resist doing more of the heartthrob roles that had kept him shirtless for years, and instead chose the restart button that many charming and good-looking actors find themselves hitting: undergoing a body transformation and taking on something a bit more freaky. In fact, he doubled down, playing both fascist MP Oswald Mosley in Peaky Blinders and the villainous Hawkins in Jennifer Kent’s relentlessly grim film The Nightingale. The latter role, a rapist who has a baby slammed against the wall on his orders, ended up revealing to Claflin the kind of guy he was unwilling to become. “I went through a stage of desperately vying for an Oscar but doing things that were really not me. Physically, emotionally transforming myself,” he says. “[The Nightingale] was too far the other way. I think that was the turning point in my life. I don’t think I could do that again.”
In Daisy Jones’s Billy Dunne, Claflin finds a man that is neither sinister villain nor handsome hero. The character’s marital strife is particularly compelling, given that when he took on the role Claflin had himself just ended his marriage and spent lockdown learning to be a single dad to two toddlers as he and his ex navigated shared custody. It was the first time in his career that, when required to cry on screen, Claflin didn’t need any aid. “These emotions are still quite raw for me,” he says. “I can just take from that and put myself in this situation because I lived through it.”
The experience has been a painful but transformative process. He spent so long worried about being the good guy, he explains, that he didn’t stop to think who that actually was. “One of the reasons I became an actor is that I always want people to like me. I think it’s only recently dawned on me that I try so hard to make other people happy that I don’t know who I am. I’m from Norfolk but I’ve just adopted an accent that no one can really put a flag on. It’s an amalgamation of other people’s accents. Over time I’d sort of lost, I don’t know…” he trails off. “What makes me happy?”
On the table Claflin’s pale ale has sunk slowly as he talks in full paragraphs about all the parts of himself he’s had to face – corners of life that you usually have to dig out of people. “It’s a horrendous thing to go through,” he says, of his divorce. “Every break-up is difficult, and obviously having kids makes it even more. During Covid I really fucking struggled with the kids and, mentally, where my life was. Working through that, I’ve started getting to a point where I’m not afraid of saying no anymore.”
He wants to talk about it, to face the darker stuff and stop being the guy smiling for everyone else’s sake. Speaking to Claflin makes me wonder why we confuse darkness for authenticity but often find genuine sincerity difficult to look in the eye; why we want celebrities to be “normal people” but are underwhelmed when they actually are; why we talk about embracing sensitive men but still revere those that are all edges. Before we leave I ask Claflin what he does for fun, and he starts talking about his kids, gingerly, feeling around for the right answer. He likes to… hike? Maybe… go to the pub to eat bad food with some friends? Recently, Claflin’s girlfriend, whom he met on the dating app Raya, teased him for working out to those generic, algorithmic chill playlists that Spotify tries to feed you.
“Do people really listen to those?” I ask.
Claflin sighs. “I do.”