(PCM) Sam Claflin has all of the qualities of an old-fashioned matinee idol – good looks, charisma, a down-to-earth demeanor, and a great sense of humor.
So one cannot be surprised that his leading lady, “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke, swoons over him in his dramatic, yet funny, summer tear-jerker from New Line Cinema, “Me Before You,” which opens on Friday, June 3.
During a recent chat at a posh hotel in Manhattan, Claflin was friendly, charming and approachable. The 30-year-old actor clearly enjoys laughter, and does not take himself too seriously. He is also enjoying his acting career – the ride of his life.
The British actor, best known for his roles in “The Hunger Games” movies, plays Will Traynor, a young man with a bright future who used to be a wealthy banker. He had an adventurous streak and lived like to the fullest – before falling victim to a paralyzing accident. Now, it appears he has lost everything…or has he?
His character of Will has lost his desire to live and his keeping everyone at a distance with his caustic, overbearing attitude.
Instead of giving up right then, a breath of fresh air, Louisa “Lou” Clark, a hyper and quirky young woman breezes in with her sparkling personality, and transforms his life. Lou is played by Clarke, also a British actress.
Lou reluctantly takes the job as Will’s caretaker and companion at the family’s “castle” in a small British village to help support her extended family, and her colorful wardrobe, sunny disposition and cockeyed optimism is exactly what the doctor ordered.
“Me Before You,” written by Jojo Moyes, and based on her best-selling book, is a movie about deep love, deep loss and seizing life – enough to make even the most stoic film buff grab for lots of extra tissues. Everyone needs a good cry, right?
The author of the novel and screenplay explained that the title refers to the person who someone was before they meet the love of their life and totally become transformed by them.
“It refers to how each of them [Will and Lou] changed the other,” Moyes explained. “They start off as two people who never should have met, but the more they get to know each other, the more they appreciate each other’s strengths.”
What makes the story work so well, Moyes said, is that, “Will realizes that in some ways Lou’s as trapped as he is – by her own expectations and history. Ultimately, it is Will who pushes Lou to look outward, to expect more from life, but she’s only able to do so after she opens his eyes, and his heart.”
Claflin said that the movie poses a lot of questions, especially when it comes to his Will. “I hope that people talk about it and are willing to learn more,” he said. “I think I can safely say there are many inspiring and heartbreaking stories of people, like Will and Lou. Ultimately, I think this movie is very uplifting.”
Q : Sam, please tell me about your character Will Traynor in this movie, “Me Before You.”
SAM CLAFLIN: I would say that Will is complicated. I think there are two Will’s really; there is one pre-accident and one post.
Q: How so?
SC: Well, the person he becomes after a rather unfortunate road accident is a very sort of reclusive, bitter, twisted, and depressed. And it isn’t until this breath of fresh air walks into his life that he starts seeing the light again. I think it’s her honesty and her enthusiasm that makes him start being the old Will again – in which he is someone who is very witty, very charming, and very charismatic.
Q: What else can you say about him?
SC: I would say that he is the man we all aspire to be. He is a guy who lived his life to the fullest, so she tries to bring that out of him again.
Q: Talk about connecting to your character. Emilia [Clarke] said she was in love with her character Louisa.
SC: I not only fell in love with Will, I fell in love with Lou, too. You know; I think she’s incredibly similar to Emilia. But she also has an incredibly infectious personality. And I think you can’t help but kind of root for her, you know? And Will does the same! So we all fell for her. Yeah.
Q: Would you say that he is sort of a Henry Higgins figure in a way and Louisa is sort of his Eliza Doolittle, from “My Fair Lady?”
SC: Yes, but at the same time she is the Henry Higgins and he is the Eliza Doolittle. She does not force him, but really allows him to experience life through different eyes.
Q: How did you get inside the head, heart and skin of Will?
SC: Well, all of the hard work was there. So it was just a matter of imagining myself in that situation and going through what the character is going through. It was a very, very emotional journey for us as actors, and of course it will be for the audience to now participate in.
Q: You previously mentioned that you were training for this role in a way. Please talk about that.
SC: Yeah, bizarrely it was the most rigorous training I’ve ever done for a part. It’s the most physically demanding thing I have ever done, which is saying a lot. I fought lizards and monkeys in Hawaii. But, I think naively I honestly didn’t think it was going to be as difficult as it was. Being in a wheel chair, not moving, that’s easily doable. But you can see that I use my hands all of the time, to talk and gesture, so not doing that was a major challenge.
Q: What else was involved?
SC: I remember during the audition process when Emilia started crying, I wanted to lean over, pat her hand and go ‘its okay.’ But I can’t. So it was sort of mentally challenging – constantly checking myself and constantly going – ‘are my hands in the right position? Are my feet in the right position? Is my neck locked?’ I was using muscles I was not familiar with using and I wanted to do the part justice and therefore I wanted to lose some weight to look a bit weaker and a bit more tired. I remember the rehearsal process where I was having like 500 calories a day and training three times a day.
Q: Did playing this character change your perspective on your own life?
SC: Yes, this entire story kind of opened my eyes more than anything. I wasn’t living in a happy bubble, but I had never met anyone confined to a wheelchair. I just think that I am sort of awake to other people’s problems and some of the struggles that someone like Will goes through on a daily basis.
Q: Please tell me more.
SC: Well, here are moments I remember coming home from a day of work and just climbing it bed and thinking about and knowing what has to happen with someone like Will for him to get in and out of bed, for him to get ready for bed, for him to get dressed. It made me very grateful that I didn’t necessarily have to go through that on a daily basis. All day. Every day. So, absolutely, I think it opened my eyes.
Q: How were you affected personally?
SC: I think this film doesn’t focus that much on the disability. I think what’s amazing is that it is sort of the way that Will would want it to be. Like he doesn’t want the world to see him suffering, so you don’t. there is a moment where [Will’s physical therapist] Nathan has that conversation with your character and says, “Will cries every night. He’s in pain every day.’ But he hides it. So you very rarely see him in a bad way, because he doesn’t want that door open. So if he’s ill, you don’t see that in the movie. You don’t see the struggle and you don’t see the obstacles, because he doesn’t want Lou to see that. So it’s kind of, but we have to do all of the research and we have to do all of that.
Q: What do you think it takes to make you feel so good, yet at the same time so sad that I end up bawling in the theater with all of these other people who are grabbing for their hankies?
SC: It’s a story that focuses on one major obstacle that gets into the way of love. But I think that love always has its obstacles, however you look at it, there’s always an obstacle that gets thrown in the way. So just it’s whether or not you can conquer those obstacles. But me for it focuses on the obstacle and that’s why people are so moved by it. I think it’s a bigger obstacle than most people are used to, and I think actually you realize that sometimes your life isn’t so difficult.