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Sam Claflin on The Riot Club, Playing a Wanker, and His Pretty Woman Moment

Sam Clafin. Photo: Karwai Tang/WireImage

When The Riot Club debuted at the Toronto Film Festival last September, I predicted it would be your next favorite pretty-boys flick. Think The History Boys meets Skulls, but with satirical commentary on the English class system and a cast straight out of British GQ. Based on Laura Wade’s play Posh, the film follows a club of hedonistic wankers, including The Hunger Games’ Sam Claflin, Jupiter Ascending’s Douglas Booth, and The Host’s Max Irons. But no cast member has more to chew on than Claflin, whose character Alastair has spent his life living in the shadow of his older brother, and [spoiler] who actually stands on a table during a debauched formal dinner and makes a speech about how much he hates poor people. Claflin, for the record, grew up very much not posh in Ipswich, Suffolk. Vulture spoke to him by phone about playing the bad guy for once, his new movie with Emilia Clarke, and what he’s taking from The Hunger Games set.

I heard you’re running off to shoot Me Before You, based on Jojo Moyes’s novel.
Yeah, it’s a romantic drama about a quadriplegic and his relationship with his carer. He’s very depressed, so they hire a young girl to try and cheer him up, and — sorry, I’m trying to feed my dog at the same time. Forgive me, I was trying to do two things at once, and as a man, it’s sort of very difficult. [Laughs.]

What do you have to do to prepare for the role?
There’s quite a huge physical transformation that my character goes through, because he’s fit and healthy, a bit of an adrenaline junkie, to begin with, and then has an accident and is paralyzed from the neck down. So we’re starting to film with him fit and healthy, and then we have a five-week break in filming where I’m planning on losing quite a bit of weight. Then obviously getting familiar with a wheelchair and that world, because this is a world that I’m not overly familiar with, similar to The Riot Club world.

Emilia Clarke plays your caretaker in Me Before You. I’m surprised they actually let her get away from Game of Thrones.
For like a day, yeah. Or she’ll be bringing her dragons with her, maybe. One of the two.

You haven’t met them yet?
No. She keeps them locked away. I’m scared of dragons. I’ve met so many in my life before. [Laughs.]

You said The Riot Club world is not one that you know. You’re going to have to explain to this ignorant American where you grew up.
I grew up about a two-hour drive out of London. It’s mostly farmland, but I grew up in a small city, very sheltered — quite incestuous. I mean, weirdly, it has actually got a reputation as being a very incestuous place, but we don’t do that anymore. [Laughs.] I guess my upbringing was more toward the lower-middle-class area, and obviously The Riot Club was all in the upper-class side of the world. So this has been an eye-opening experience.

Getting ready for the movie, did you just go up to posh people and ask them what their lives are like?
Yeah, basically! When I was reading the script initially, I thought it was a comedy. I thought, Oh my God, no one does this in real life, right? You kidding me? They have three dogs, they have different cars for different days, I couldn’t get my head around how these people lived, so a lot of the questions were mundane: “So what do you do between 9 and 10? How do you go to the toilet? Do you have a bidet?”

Do you think people in London can sense that you’re not posh?
I had a Pretty Woman moment. Often, because of what I do, I get paid to an extent that I’m quite happy and comfortable, and I occasionally will drift into a more expensive shop, but still dressed as a tramp. And the amount of times that you get the immediate nose turned up at you, like, You don’t belong here, get out — I get that often.

I don’t actually believe you when you’re saying this.
I swear to you, I definitely do shop in more expensive shops a lot, and I often get looked down upon, and not asked to leave but made to feel very uncomfortable. And then I usually buy something just to kind of put my finger up at them.

So you give them money in order to punish them.
Yes. Ha ha ha, I win!

As your career takes off, do you think you’ve become more posh in spite of yourself?
I think that I have changed somewhat. Like, my friends back home will probably say that I am posh. Also because I’m English, I think most Americans think that I’m posh, but I don’t think they can tell the difference between any accents. [Laughs.] What I have noticed with American TV and film especially is that if there’s a token Englishman in a film, he’ll either be the poshest  English person you’ll ever see, or he’ll be Ray Winstone, or Dick Van Dyke, like a “chim-chimney” Mary Poppins. Nobody actually talks like that! It’s quite funny as an Englishman to see how Americans perceive us.

This role must have been incredibly fun for you. I thought your character was such an asshole!
That’s good! Never before have I been so happy to hear that people hate me. And I’ve never played a weak person before, someone who didn’t really have much going for them. Or an intelligent person, either, because I’m blatantly not that intelligent. I can only pray that I have the opportunity to play someone like that again.

I mean, you get up on a table and make a speech about how you’re sick to death of poor people.
Exactly, “I fucking hate poor people!” It doesn’t get better than that. The fact that I am poor people makes it even more funny. I was telling my dad before he came to watch, “Mate, you’re not gonna like this.” He was like, “Why?” I said, “Because I’m basically telling you that I hate you.” Initially, they wanted to audition me for the part of Miles that Max Irons played. [Ed. note: He’s the film’s slightly less-posh voice of reason.] But when I read the script, I was more drawn to Alastair purely because a lot of the characters I’d played were the love interest or sort of “the good guy.” As much as I don’t think Miles is a good guy, he’s a darn sight better than Alastair. So I asked if I could audition for Alastair instead. And I’m lucky enough that they heard me and gave me that chance.

Did the cast get drunk together a lot off set?
I do remember very distinctly at the beginning of filming, we all decided it’d be really good to get to know each other and to rehearse the dinner scene, which is obviously the majority of the film. So we said, “Let’s go to Soho House and sit and work through the script.” I don’t think one page got turned. We all just sat and drank ourselves silly and then started playing drinking games like they do in the film. It was amazing, because everyone was sort of in it together.

It must’ve been whiplash from working on The Hunger Games
Yeah, you could say that. Don’t get me wrong, I love both worlds equally for different reasons, but you can’t even really compare the two. It’s a different style of acting, I think, purely because when I do The Hunger Games, I fully focus on what I look like pretty much every day. [Laughs.] I go to the gym and I look good and I do this so I don’t let anyone down. With The Riot Club, I didn’t care about that at all. But I think that comes down to the characters as well, because Finnick does care what he looks like, and Alastair really doesn’t. They’re very, very different, but I love both equally, and I’m very sad to see both go.

Did you steal anything from the Hunger Games set?
No, I didn’t. God, no! They did say that they’d send me a trident, but I don’t know what I’d actually do with it if it did arrive.

Ha, right. Does Finnick’s trident even go with the décor at your house?
Yeah, it would just be sat in a corner with the broom, probably.

Sam Claflin on Playing a Wanker in The Riot Club