Sam Claflin’s Rock Star Journey in ‘Daisy Jones & the Six’ – Variety

Sam Claflin was preparing to audition for the role of Billy Dunne in “Daisy Jones & the Six,” the Prime Video adaptation of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s bestselling novel about a fictional 1970s rock band, he was told that he should sing a 70s rock song. The problem was that Claflin, a UK-born actor who admits music was never his thing, didn’t know any. So he scoured the Apple Music app for a genre playlist and picked the one track he felt comfortable with.

“I walked into a recording studio for the first time in my life, faced with a microphone and people staring at me in a fishbowl,” Claflin says. “I sang ‘Your Song’ by Elton John. Terribly.”

Meeting for matcha lattes in West Hollywood, I’m almost amazed at Claflin’s instant, overwhelming heat. There’s no need to calm down – Claflin doesn’t break eye contact for most of our conversation and interrupts my questions with his own. From the moment we meet, it’s an open book.

At 36, Claflin isn’t new to auditioning: He landed his first film role in 2011 with “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” and has since shown an impressive range, like Will Traynor in the teary-eyed ” Me Before You” and the ruthless fascist Oswald Mosley in “Peaky Blinders”. But he’s most recognizable for his role as Finnick Odair of the ‘Hunger Games’ franchise – he played the charismatic revolutionary in 2013’s ‘Catching Fire’ and the two subsequent ‘Mockingjay’ films.

Billy’s tryout was something new for Claflin (although he auditioned for the film versions of “Les Miserables” and “Cats”), and “Daisy Jones & the Six” showrunner Scott Neustadter remembers that day in early 2020 like it was yesterday: “It was the train wreck of all train wrecks.” Still, Neustadter wanted to give Claflin a chance. “We’ve seen him be a chameleon in so many other projects he’s done – the range really made us feel like this guy can do anything,” he says, which helped Claflin to get a second shot at the miniseries.

“They started playing ‘Come Together’ by the Beatles,” Claflin says, though he admits he thought it was a Michael Jackson song at the time. “GOOD, NOW I know it’s the Beatles,” he says. Despite this wild misunderstanding, his second try was impressive enough to land him the role of lead singer and songwriter in the Fleetwood Mac-like band The Six.

Lacey Terrell/First Video

Tortured by addiction and desperate to be a good husband and father, Billy finds himself at a crossroads when his group finally strikes a chord: he’s torn between his wife, Camila (Camila Morrone), and Daisy, the feisty singer-songwriter modeled after Stevie Nicks and played by Riley Keough.

Billy is a showy role for any actor, but Claflin, who had achieved worldwide success as Finnick, desperately wanted it. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could do different things and off the beaten track. I was hoping a few people would watch and think, ‘Oh, wow. In fact, he is not just this guy.’ Now especially – I’m no longer 23 with a six-pack and no longer on the rising star list. I am the oldest guy.

Claflin had taken a step back from Hollywood and its tentacle films after wrapping the duo “Mockingjay” in 2014, and returned to England full-time. “It’s not a discredit for the jobs or the roles I’ve played, but I just didn’t want to play the same script in a different movie,” he says.

Back in the UK, Claflin had focused on honing his skills in smaller films like ‘The Riot Club’ and ‘The Nightingale’. But after he and actress Laura Haddock, his wife of six years and the mother of his two children, separated at the end of 2019, he decided to open up to working abroad again.

“I had been through a lot personally back then,” Claflin says. “I was in a really bad place. I think I needed to sort out a few issues in my own life, to figure out who I was as a single dad in a shorthanded home with two toddlers. Then , this resulting work has been nothing but the most fun and joyful new beginning.

Despite his enthusiasm for the project, Claflin still had a daunting musical challenge to face: learning to sing and play guitar. “I was fucking petrified,” he says. “From the fucking start, scared shit. I remember my first guitar lesson, going, ‘What is this? How am I going to sing while doing this, while moving?’ »

When the pandemic hit, the band’s scheduled five weeks of musical training turned into a year and a half. “They say everything happens for a reason,” Claflin says, citing the band’s Zoom jam sessions as a key part of building the Six’s chemistry before they begin filming in September 2021.

In early recording sessions, the actor relied heavily on musical theater style vibrato. When that didn’t sit well with Billy, he drew inspiration from the lead singer of rock band White Denim, James Petralli. “His voice is amazing,” says Claflin. “I don’t make a very good impression of him at all. But he was sort of my guide. And then I got more confident with it and started playing with my own style. The result is a silky smooth vocal performance that will leave audiences wondering why they didn’t hear Claflin sing sooner.

Lacey Terrell/First Video

In addition to her rigorous musical training, Claflin slimmed down for the role, losing weight through cycling and running. “If you look at videos of a musician from that era, they’re all very edgy and not very muscular,” he says. “Besides, Billy is obviously a drug addict.”

While Claflin couldn’t personally identify with Billy’s struggle with addiction, he still found a lot in common with the rock star. “I was a husband. I went through marriage and had to juggle work, family life, home and punishment,” he says. “The hurdles he has to overcome, like becoming a dad and the fear or anxiety that comes with it, the feeling of failing. … His fear of failure is something I can overwhelmingly relate to – needing to feel approval and fear of abandonment. I have been through this struggle. And I am sure the struggle will continue.

This struggle was facilitated, at least in part, by “Daisy Jones”. “I think my relationship with myself is much better than it was,” he says. “Before, I didn’t like who I was or what I had to say. Whereas now, having gone through Billy Dunne’s journey, I realize how therapeutic or cathartic it was to tell a story that feels truly authentic to me. It allowed me to approach life differently.

With over a million copies of Reid’s novel sold since its publication in 2019, ‘Daisy Jones’ is sure to have a built-in fanbase when it premieres March 3 – videos using #DaisyJonesAndTheSix have racked up more of 182 million views on TIC Tac.

“Even though I feel pressure knowing there’s already an audience for this,” Claflin says, “I don’t let it affect me like it used to.” Remembering the initial backlash to his choice as Finnick, he begins to quote insults from over a decade ago: “‘You were so wrong about that.’ “They should have chosen that person or that person, not you.” But Claflin proved the naysayers wrong when Finnick became a fan-favorite character.

Still, looking back on that project, Claflin says he wishes he could redo parts of his performance, knowing what he knows now. “I feel a bit more confident and comfortable with myself. Especially with a role like Finnick, where he just exudes charisma. At the time, I was shitting myself – the first topless scene I’ve ever done, you know? Oh my God. Also, I didn’t have an accent coach in “Hunger Games,” and I fucking needed one. I look back and listen to myself like, ‘My God, this is terrible.’ »

It’s time to go, and Claflin spreads her arms out for a big hug. As soon as he walks away, our server comes by — a fan — wanting to know everything. “Oh, honey,” he whispers, “he was delicious.”

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