British newcomer Sam Claflin made his blockbuster debut as preacher Phillip in last year’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, following that up with another big-budget, big-effects picture: Snow White and the Huntsman, before joining Jared Harris in Hammer Studios’ upcoming horror, The Quiet Ones.
We chatted to Claflin the morning after the fairy tale epic’s world premiere, where he’d had such a good time that he appeared to have lost his socks…
Are you at your most comfortable hopping between major blockbusters and franchises, would you say?
I’m not even going to lie and say that I chose this path. It’s kind of been chosen for me, I’ve auditioned and auditioned for God knows how many films and the only ones I seem to have got in the last year have been this and Pirates, which I’m not complaining about. Luck or fate has taken me down this path and there weren’t huge decisions to be made, it was a no-brainer for me to jump on board this ship, I’m very thankful to people who gave me the chance.
I’m pretty certain I’m the only one out of all the dwarfs and the four bigger characters who auditioned. Everyone else probably got a phone-call that said, just come in. I was the one who probably had the most pressure, I felt – selfishly – I kind of felt very intimidated by having to step up to the plate, the director probably knew all these guys could do it with their eyes closed, but it was like, ‘This guy, we don’t really know’. He [Rupert Sanders] took a chance and hopefully I didn’t disappoint.
You’re following Daniel Radcliffe’s lead are you not, by stepping out of a franchise to do a modern Hammer movie?
That was actually one of the first choices I’ve made, it was a tough decision what road I went down and I kind of wanted to get as far away from the fantastical, medieval world as possible really and just do something very different, a horror film with realism, naturalism, authenticity to it. That was what really drew me to the part and the project?
Was the fact it was Hammer studios also a big draw for you?
Yeah. The Woman in Black, the most recent one is the only one I’ve not seen, but I’ve pretty much gone through their back catalogue and watched everything. Especially recently, they’ve really started spawning amazing projects, Let Me In was the one before The Woman in Black which I equally loved, and I’m very, very excited to be working with them. For the first time, I’m not nervous!
Jared Harris isn’t a bad co-star…
He’s not bad at all. It’s akin to these guys, I’ve grown up watching them on the big screen so to be rubbing shoulders with people like that is a dream come true.
Presumably, you have to fit that in with Pirates of the Caribbean 5, when does that all kick off?
Not a clue, I’ve not heard anything about anything unfortunately, I’m probably the last to find out. I think there was a plan to maybe do one this year, but they’re doing The Lone Ranger and focusing on that so who knows, hopefully sometime soon.
Was last night the first time you’d seen Huntsman finished?
No, I’d seen it 3 days before the publicity kicked off so I could talk about things.
That way you knew what had ended up on the cutting room floor…
Exactly. I read the script, then saw the edit in January, when none of the special effects or music was there. I’d never seen a half-finished film so there were parts of me were like, is this really what it’s going to… why have they just taken a picture of a cliff with nothing at the top of it? It was tough to watch something like that, but then I saw the whole thing three days ago. I’ve seen one version of the script, and then another and another, and you know, things change around and whole storylines are altered somewhat and it’s a very interesting process. I’m thankful to the director for allowing me to enter that world.
Chris talked about his character changing quite dramatically after he was cast. Was that the same for yours?
The first time I read the script he was very, very Prince Charming.
More of a Prince William than a Robin Hood-type?
Yeah. It was very much this guy who didn’t really want to fight, who wanted peace, who didn’t really know how to fight and clumsily stumbled along. He was kind of a bit of comic relief, he was just clumsy.
So that was a complete turnaround then?
It was important to me to approach it from a different angle, because I’d just played Philip, the missionary in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and he was a guy of peace, and I was like, come on, I want to get my hands dirty. Reading around the script, you see all these battles happening and I’m like ‘Why am I not involved in any of this?’. Rupert was very much on the same page as me and we kind of developed the character together.
You petitioned for more action?
I didn’t really petition but I was hopeful that it would happen and Rupert was saying this is the direction we want to go in so we adapted and developed. I remember the first day of stunt-work and the stunt guy saying ‘You’re going to be using a bow and arrow’ and I was like, okay, I haven’t done this before, this will be fantastic. It was learning a new trick.
Originally, I assume, your character was the romantic lead?
Yeah, I think they were going in a completely different way with the Huntsman as well. We have kind of flipped it on its head again and where we’ve ended up with the script now is where I’m most happy. Because there are so many more twists and turns, and the fact that people are expecting the Prince’s kiss to wake her and people have their expectations of what this story’s about and what we’ve done is add twists and turns and a few unexpected moments.
Do you see it as yours and Chris’ role to convince men who wouldn’t usually want to see a fairy tale film to go and see a movie about Snow White?
I suppose yes, because our characters have the majority of the action sequences. Yeah, I guess so. His character is a lot more rugged and rough, I suppose. Rough trade. There’ll be elements of his character I think everyone can relate to, whether it’s wielding an axe or the loss of a wife or getting thrown out of a pub and waking up in a trough, I’m pretty sure that everyone’s done that.
Probably last night at the after-party in fact?
Exactly, I had to pull him out!
What’s your take on Kristen’s character in the film?
What I loved about how Kristen approached this character is she put a lot of heart of soul into this, she literally dedicated her life to this project and I think the results show for themselves. The character’s got a little bite and a little fierceness, she doesn’t mind punching people, like Chris in the face. She’s very strong-willed as well as the kind of naivety and purity side of things, she’s strong and independent. She goes from girl to woman in this film and it’s quite interesting to watch.
Is Snow White a modern heroine in Huntsman?
I think she could be easily, I think young girls could walk away from this and think, I want to be like Snow White. She’s not a fighter but she is a good person and hopefully somewhat of a superhero. It’s no different from me walking away from Superman thinking, I want to fly and wear pants over my trousers. There are going to be a few more tomboys out there wanting to get stuck in thanks to her.
Where would you say Huntsman fits in with the fantasy epics you may have seen as a child?
Someone said to me it reminded them of Willow, I don’t know if you remember Willow? There are a lot of similarities in the world we’ve created, at the same time I think, whether it’s the language or the look of it, it’s very contemporary at the same time, a lot of modern, contemporary elements to it, despite the fact that’ it’s timeless.
I don’t know whether it’s just the way we all hold ourselves. We didn’t really focus on what they would have done in a specific era, we kind of made it a bit more timeless. Whether it’s language or movement or sets, we’ve created a unique and original idea and what Rupert has done has got a slightly modern feel. It’s basically very accessible for a modern audience, and more so than anything we’ve seen before?
I’ve asked everyone this. One of the producers described the film as a big, fun, summer action movie. Is that your take on it?
Yeah. That pretty much sums it up. It is big in the sense of epic proportion, it’s fun in that the dwarfs bring in the humour, then the action for obvious reasons, and the fact that it’s a… movie [laughs]. Pretty much dead-on, I’d say.
Tell us about working with that cast of dwarfs. You’ve got Winstone, Hoskins, McShane…
Those guys especially I really have grown up watching and I think most of them were my inspiration to get into this industry in the first place, Ray Winstone especially. Bob Hoskins like from Hook, I grew up on that film, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? these guys are legends so to see them all these sort of London like [adopts cockney accent] doing their thing, the chemistry they had for nothing.
What they’ve created and the little relationships between them, Toby Jones and Eddie Marsan relationship, the constant on-going battle between the two, that’s what you get with a master-class of actors really. I sat in on a few scriptwriting and reading seminars with these guys where we were going through the scenes with the dwarfs and we’d discuss what would happen and how we’d approach each individual scene and their characters and it was like I was back at drama school and that was like what every drama school should be.
It was another McShane reunion for you of course [Claflin co-starred with Ian McShane in Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and in TV’s The Pillars of the Earth]
Three years running! We were joking just as we were walking out of the premiere last night, what shall we do this year? The guy really has taken me under his wing so I have to thank him, and if it wasn’t for him I probably wouldn’t have got Pirates as well, he gave me a bit of a nudge in that direction.
How was it working with a first-time director on Huntsman?
To me, the film side of things, and it’s the same for him, we’re both very new to this. As much I had experience on Pirates of the Caribbean, that was all kind of a blur because it was my first kind of film and I was working with the likes of Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz and I was surrounded by intimidation and nerves and I was a nervous wreck.
When I first got a chance to go to a meeting with Rupert about this, we sat down and he talked me through the ideas and the concept, it was him who sold this project to me. Without him, I don’t think I would have been interested, but there was something about his enthusiasm and energy and I suppose that’s the same for me. I mean, guys that do these junkets day-in, day-out would be in a very different situation to me. So much adrenalin pumping for both of us. Throughout, he just impressed me more so than any other director. He was very calm and collected, there wasn’t a moment in which he lost his temper. He always seemed in control, for a first-time feature film director to be in that position, especially for a job on this scale I think is very, very special. I can safely say he’s going to go a long, long way.
Sam Claflin, thank you very much!
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