2017 proved to be one of the busiest years in Sam Claflin’s acting career. Having starred in both Their
Back in October, and during the London Film Festival, HeyUGuys had the chance to meet with Claflin for a brief chat about his role as Captain Stanhope in Saul Dibb’s beautifully moving adaptation of R.C. Sherriff’s WWI novel Journey’s End. We talked to the actor about his own attachment to the story and why it was such a personal project for him and all those involved in the making of this truly remarkable adaptation.
HEYUGUYS: First of all, congratulations on such a truly outstanding performance. How much did you know about R.C. Sherriff ’s novel before getting involved with this new adaptation?
Sam Claflin: Oh thank you so much for saying so. I’d only ever known the play version, and I’d watched a version of it when I was in my second year of drama school, and the graduating year did a performance of it which blew my mind. I sat in the rafters afterwards crying having been so moved by it….and these were young actors who were playing older at times. As a story, it had such an emotional punch, and was such an incredible journey, I really enjoyed relishing the relationships, and from that moment I knew that I wanted to do the play.
How did it feel to be following in the footsteps of all the people who have played this part before you? Was it daunting to know that Lawrence Olivier played this same role all those years ago. Did that play on your mind at all?
I can guarantee you right now that my performance won’t have been anywhere near on the same level as Olivier’s [laughs], but you know…you can never really compare yourself to others, and I’m very different and what I have to offer is very different. I’m never trying to emulate or impersonate anyone else. I tend to just do my own thing…and he was an amazing actor, so to have to walk in those shoes is an honour.
How important was it for you be involved in a project about WWI, especially as we are approaching the centenary commemorations?
For me, the second that this project came up, I wanted to be involved. I nearly did the play version with a director called David Grindley a few years ago, but we couldn’t get it to fit around my own schedule and then he approached me to work on the film, because he was originally attached to the project as potential director. Because I think the film had been delayed, with them trying to find financing and funding and so on…so I’ve been attached to this as long as the project has been going and would have done it whatever it took.
I believe this was a very short shoot. Can you talk us through your experiences filming in those trenches, and how it felt to be experiencing those conditions?
It was, yes…this amazing man in Suffolk built a trench system in his back garden, so quite a lot of filming takes place there, anything to do with WWI especially. It’s an incredible sight to behold, like you do genuinely get a real flavour for what the trenches were like, if I can say that. These were actually a bit wider than they were in real life, just because obviously you need the crew and cameras to be able to squeeze in as well. And then we had this amazing array of talented extras who do this for a living, they do re-enactments of WWI battles, so they basically live the lives of WWI soldiers, and they were on hand every single day in talking us through using equipment and so on. We were basically shooting in that trench system for two and half weeks, then we moved to Cardiff for the interior stuff, but the exterior you know….it was freezing cold and very muddy and very wet. You can never pretend to know what it was like for those soldiers in real life, but I do feel genuinely that this was the closest that you could get to living it without having real gun fire aimed at you.
Can you talk us through the dynamics between you the rest of the cast, and especially Paul Bethany who is just astonishing in this.
Yeah, absolutely. I think I was attached to the film first and then someone had mentioned Paul Bethany’s name for Osborne and I thought, there isn’t a more perfect, more charming older man to play him. He was someone I genuinely looked up to when I first started acting. I saw him in A Knight’s Tale for the first time and he had such charisma and such charm that you cannot help but fall in love with him. He is like that in real life, so humorous and at the same time so incredibly talented.
There’s a really interesting thread about class versus experience running through the film’s narrative. Were you aware that most officers then were simply in those positions because of their class and not out of experience. Was this part of the story important for you to put across?
That was what was really interesting about it, because Trotter (Stephen Graham’s character), is someone who has basically been promoted due to the fact that they were short on men. So he is working class, but he managed to work his way up, where as all these other lads literally came straight from school and they got thrown into the lion’s den with all these older, more experienced men. And it still happens today to some extent, you know…these commissioned and non-commissioned officers, there’s such a difference in class and money and wealth…so that to me was the most interesting thing to explore I think, partly because I’m from the working class, although I got a real understanding of what it must have been like to go through that sort of private education, then to find yourself at 18 or 19 in charge of hundreds of men. And the things these kids would have seen isn’t really talked about in the film or even the play, but in the novel what Stanhope had experienced in war and the deaths and the real moments of heroism, it’s mind-blowing to me that someone so young had to go through all of that.
Was it hard for you to think how you were going play him? I mean he seems like a very angry young man, but he is also very much aware of his responsibilities and duty towards his men.
I think, because I’m not really an angry person at all, I was able to gain an understanding of someone who is that angry…like his anger is his fear. He’s scared…he’s a scared young man, and what was great in this opportunity, was to really explore what he’s like in front of the men compared to the way he is in front of his trusted officer friends. In front of the men he keeps morale up and he knows them by name and shows that he’s a very good soldier, and when he goes back into the dug-out, there’s nowhere for him to hide from his anger and has an opportunity to kinda switch off and be himself. The way of describing it, I remember talking to Saul (director Saul Dibb) about this, it’s like domestic violence, it’s about that abusive husband who at home is one man, and outside is completely different. So that was my in really…..and we were fortunate enough to speak to some soldiers who suffer from PTSD now, and their understanding that in front of the men you’re strong but deep down you’re breaking.
With both yourself and Asa (Butterfield) having fairly young fan bases, are you hoping that the film might attract younger audiences and hopefully perhaps get them interested in WWI?
I think that would be amazing. I can only speak for myself, my dad is a war obsessive so I grew up watching documentaries and reading books and looking at photos. So for me, I kinda grew up knowing a little bit, but mainly about WWII, and I think that is true for most kids, especially today. It’s the war that’s been more documented and this hopefully will be an insight into a war that is lesser known and there are fewer survivors now that are still alive today, if any at all. It’s the war that no one spoke about for a very long time, so many people were shell-shocked and were expected to not talk about their feelings back then.
And finally, It’s been a really good few months for you with My Cousin Rachel, Their Finest and now Journey’s End. How does it feel for you to be getting all this critical recognition all of a sudden. How much do you care about that side of things? Do awards matter much to you as an actor?
Oh, It’s never really crossed my mind, in all honesty. I don’t do things for that reason. I hope the film kinda gets some recognition, only because this has been a passion project of mine for so long, so knowing how much we all put into this, and the fact that it wasn’t one of those ones that paid very well, was important. As long as people love the film as much as we did, and pull together and really see it for what it is. It is a small depiction of war back then, which is so rarely seen and shown and experienced. It’s still very relatable and the fact that there’s a war still going on today, people should hopefully take something from it.
Journey’s End is on general release from Friday 2nd of February.