Sam Claflin on his bitter, angry Riot Club character: "I absolutely feel his heartache."
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As Alistair Ryle in The Riot Club, Sam Claflin is lonely and naive, entitled and angry, sad, violent, confused, destructive... the adjectives go on, and as Alistair’s behaviour spirals out of control it’s likely that we could think of a lot of far less polite terms to describe his character. Alistair is the central point of the film, and man who leaves a bad taste in the audience’s mouth from the outset. The actor who created him, Hunger Games alumnus Sam Claflin, is in the midst of a promotional tour when we meet him at a London hotel. “It’s busier than it can be, definitely,” he concedes when asked how his week is going. “But a whole day of talking about a film that you’re proud of... I don’t mind it so much.” Pause. “I could not be working at all, so...” Sam Claflin is humble, and maybe still a little bit surprised by the success that has come his way over the last few years – pre Riot Club, he’s best known for his role as Finnick Odair alongside Jennifer Lawrence. He’s previously spoken about how pressured he felt by fame, in the run up to his initiation into Panem – is he feeling any different now? “I definitely feel a lot less pressurised,” he says. “He (Finnick) is a character that’s so well loved by the fans and I definitely felt worried that I wasn’t going to meet expectations. He adds: “I wasn’t sure whether the fans were going to like me or him, and it seemed to be quite a positive response, so I feel a little more comfortable in myself.” There’s another thoughtful pause, and then: “But we’ll see; we’ll see how the next one’s received.” Obviously, whether people would like his character is not a worry that he’s had with Alistair Ryle, the bitter, trodden-down Riot Club boy who is the crux of his newest film – and as Sam himself says, “I hope people don’t like him.” It’s hard for an audience to feel warm towards Alistair, a student who seems to have all the opportunities in the world but none of the compassion or social skills to accompany them. Does Sam sympathise with his character, though? Can he see where he’s coming from, in any way? “I think I had to,” he says. “I think it’s easy to give up on someone immediately and just say that they’ve got no hope and that he’s a bad guy, he’s a villain, but for me, I had to learn to love him. I had to understand why he was doing the things that he did, and what all the frustration and anger was about, and where it had spurned from. “I absolutely feel his heartache, really. He’s a guy that was sent away to boarding school at a young age, undoubtedly; he’s constantly in his brother’s shadow, his family life isn’t great in a sense that his parents don’t provide him with much love, or time and attention... he gets mugged in the first couple of weeks of university. He’s not a social butterfly; he can’t just make friends like that.” I suggest that Sam did well at turning the scene where Alistair is mugged, at a cash point directly before he is befriended by Douglas Booth’s aristocratic Harry Villiers and initiated into the Club, into a humorous one.
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