This Friday, STX Entertainment is releasing Their Finest, a new film from director Lone Scherfig (An Education, One Day). Adapting Lissa Evans bestseller Their Finest Hour and a Half, the romantic comedy is set in London in 1940 and follows a fictional propaganda film production about the battle of Dunkirk. Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games franchise, Me Before You) plays a film producer who is teamed with Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), a woman from the British Ministry of Information assigned to bring a woman’s touch to the project’s screenplay.
CS recently sat down with Claflin to discuss his turn as Their Finest‘s Tom Buckley. In the below interview, he recalls the making the film’s movie production within a movie production and even recalls an amusing story about his audition years ago for Marvel Studios‘ Thor. Check back soon, too, as we’ll soon be bringing you another conversation with Their Finest‘s Bill Nighy.
CS: Heading into a film set in England during WWII, I was surprised by how light the tone of “Their Finest” is at times.
Sam Claflin: I think that anything set in that time is kind of expected to have that heaviness. I think that part of what really attracted me to that script and that world was the real sense of a “keep calm and carry on” motto that we now use way too often. It was sort of a fresh outlook on war and the fight that went on behind the scenes.
CS: While the tone of the film may be a bit relaxed, your Tom Buckley is sort of the reverse.
Sam Claflin: He’s the atypical leading man, isn’t he? He’s the person who maybe doesn’t quite tick every box on what makes a hero. That’s what attracted me to the uniqueness of him and the original kind of relationship between himself and Catrin Cole. There’s the fact that he doesn’t think she’s good enough when she is better than him. I think that’s quite poetic.
CS: What do you do to immerse yourself in the time period?
Sam Claflin: Nothing too much, really. There’s something that Bill [Nighy] said earlier today. He said that the first thing he writes on a script set in any time period is, “This is not a period piece.” It has to be relevant and fresh and new, despite the fact that it is set in the ’40s. The props and the costumes and sets suggest that and we don’t need to play into it. I think that was quite well put without ever thinking about it myself. The costumes we wear and the clothes we use do suggest that it is of a time that is not today. I don’t really go home and read masses of books and watch masses of films. I did watch a few silent films, purely out of curiosity. Some propaganda moves and stuff. It was really interesting.
CS: There’s also a real sense of positivity in the face of adversity. Was that message something that drew you in?
Sam Claflin: Especially in today’s society, I think there’s a need for hope and unification. There’s a need to be brave in the face of danger. We live in dangerous sort of times. Everyone wants to kind of feel uplifted and be entertained. There’s that element of escapism, but there’s also that message at the forefront. I hope that it will register with people the way it did with me.
CS: You’ve obviously been on quite a few modern movie sets, but did you find things were very different on the film’s recreated 1940’s movie sets?
Sam Claflin: It’s something that I honestly didn’t know a lot about. I had never watched a film set in that time period. I wasn’t familiar with any of the props or the equipment or the cameras. It was all new to me. I was stepping on a film set within a film set, kind of completely blown away by it all. People were talking me through certain things. What really enamored me was that I had the great opportunity to play with a typewriter and get as good and efficient as I could before I started filming. After we had filmed it, I also got to go into the editing suite and see how they manipulated it to make it look as though it was of the time. It was fascinating. It really is fascinating.
CS: There’s part of the story wherein Bill Nighy’s character is complaining about getting sent scripts for films that don’t suit him at all. Is that something that all actors go through even now?
Sam Claflin: Yes. It has definitely happened to me before. I think the best was when I read for Thor. Before Chris Hemsworth was cast, rightfully so. So I read the entire script and got to the audition and realized that they were only considering people over six foot and I’m five eleven. Why did I waste an entire weekend immersing myself in this world when they were going to just say no? Which, of course, they did. But I’ve often been sent scripts, especially earlier in my career, that said, “we’re looking for a 40- to 50-year-old man.” This character, Tom Buckley, is, in the novel, a 40-year-old man. Sometimes it works out in a way that you can’t quite explain.
CS: What role does the original novel play in your preparation?
Sam Claflin: I tend to read it, just for the sake of being able to talk to people about it. I feel that the book and the script are two very different things. I’ve made so many book to film adaptations now that I’ve kind of sussed out what to do. I read the script and that becomes my world. I kind of forget about the novel. But, at the same time, it’s good to know what is available there that you might have missed or that the screenwriter might have missed. Be it a line or a character trait. Whatever it is. I feel like there are, occasionally, real gems kind of hidden there. Of course, that’s really the only book I’ve had the opportunity to read. Being a new father, I get very little time to myself. So I think it’s important to read the book, it just isn’t something that you should treat like a bible.
CS: What is it that draws you to a project?
Sam Claflin: A challenge. Something new. Something fresh. A script or story that really really resonates with me or moves me. Or makes me shudder or makes me happy or laugh out loud. A character that is three-dimensional, believe it or not, is rather rare. You’re always looking for something that is complex and human. I didn’t really grow up reading books. I watched films. What’s upsetting now is that so many films are remade. There is very, very rarely an original character. Something you’ve not seen before. Every now and then you have the opportunity to read something that is completely fresh. That’s something that excites me beyond belief. Currently, I’m about to go start a new job that I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about. It’s something completely different than I’ve done before and it’s the opposite of who I am as a person. I’m also working with a really exciting director and it’s a really great story. I think it’s best I’ve ever felt about preparing for a role. I’m very exited.
CS: There’s also a physical transformation with Buckley.
Sam Claflin: It was something I adopted. I kind of decided that I wanted to be working glass and maybe a bit lazy. Lazy’s not actually the right word. He’s very, very good at his job, but he’s still a bit of a mess. He only has one suit. I wanted him to be unlike me. I’ve got a real tidy problem. Everything has to be perfect. He has that sense about his work, but not about his life. He’s organized chaos. Or just chaos as I like to call him. The actors that I really admire are the ones who completely embody somebody else. I played a lot of soccer growing up, so the physical aspects of the job are something I quite enjoy. Christian Bale is an actor that I greatly admire. He quite literally transforms himself. I don’t understand the actors that play the same part in a different film time and time and time again. I mean, that’s me. I can certainly appreciate it, but that’s not an actor to me. That’s someone just being themselves. I personally like to embody somebody different and become somebody different. I haven’t yet had the chance to fully stretch the limitations of that, but it’s something that hopefully, in time, I’ll be able to.
CS: “Their Finest” is a fictional story but it’s set in a time and place that was very real. Would your approach to the character be very different if this were a true story?
Sam Claflin: Yes, probably. I would do a little more research into the man and the world and the people he surrounded himself with. I would probably try to adopt the mannerisms of said person, especially if was someone that lived after the point where we have archived such things. The trick sometimes is when you play someone who lived before anything really existed. I think that the way the internet works now, though, it’s very easy. If you didn’t do that research, you’d be a little frowned upon. So yeah, I suppose I would do a lot more preparation.