If Golden Globes were given out for gorgeousness, Sam Claflin could arm-wrestle the competition and take every trophy. Not that the 27 year old has always been blessed with such a muscle-bound physique.
“I had to go through a huge physical transformation to try and be as ‘Ken doll’ as I could,” laughs Sam, whose shirtless scenes are something of a feature in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. “There were many, many months in the gym and many months of eating nothing but chicken and asparagus.”
When we meet, the biceps he built up to play Finnick Odair are straining the fabric of his shirt. But then, Sam has had to stay in shape. Mockingjay – Part 1, which comes to screens in November, sees Sam back in the Hunger Games arena, fighting for his life as Finnick, a character he describes as “charming, charismatic, sexy – and so very far from me”.
Claflin’s actually all of the above and more, a rising star who is really catching fire. As well as the next HG instalment, he’s also set to star in Hammer horror flick The Quiet Ones and the romcom Love, Rosie. The latter sees him romancing Lily Collins, but in real-life Sam’s taken. He and his actress wife Laura Haddock met at an audition in 2011 and the minute Claflin saw her,he knew she was “the one”.
“I called my agent and said, ‘Mate, I’m in love,’” he recalls. “I’ve just met the woman I want to marry.” The next day, heading home after an all-night party, Sam got on the subway, the doors opened at his stop and there was Laura.
“I’m not kidding, that actually happened,” says Claflin, who married 28-year-old Laura last July. And a lovely couple they make too. At the rain-soaked Catching Fire premiere last year he lifted her up for all to see, proving that all those hours of pumping iron in the gym had paid off. Not least because Laura loved his new look.
“My wife was pleased,” grins Sam, whose muscles came in handy for carting around Lynn Cohen as old lady Mags on his back.
“I do that for a good 30 minutes of the film,” he explains, “which meant a good few weeks of filming. That was a workout in itself – who needs a gym when you have an old lady on your back!”
The fans weren’t sold on Sam at first, taking to the internet to whinge about this pasty Brit being cast as a dashing rebel with a cause – and the actor agrees that he didn’t come across as the most likely candidate for playing Finnick.
“I turned up to the audition with an English accent, very pale and very out of shape,” he recalls. “But I must have done something right.”
The transformation speaks for itself. Sam is now gearing up for rounds three and four of one of the most successful movie series of all time – not bad going for a Suffolk lad who had set his sights on a sporting career. Born in Ipswich, the third of four brothers, he was raised in Norwich where he dreamed of being a footballer. “Then I broke my ankle at 16, and that kind of put a dampener on my hopes of becoming the next David Beckham,” he laughs. “But I always enjoyed drama and while I was in a plaster cast, I needed something to keep me busy.”
Sam decided to join the local amateur dramatics society and went on to study performing arts at Norwich City College, before graduating from LAMDA in 2009. The following year he was cast in the TV miniseries epic The Pillars of the Earth and then found himself joining Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
“Johnny is an inspiration,” says Sam. “Seeing how he deals with his fans, the actors and crew… He’s the most generous person I’ve ever met. He made me feel very welcome. I mean, just for him to come and say ‘hello’ was kind of unexpected for me at first. He really blew me away.”
Sam reckons he can handle fame. “If it comes, I will manage,” he says, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his moment has arrived. “I have a great network of people surrounding me and I don’t think they would let it affect me in a negative way.
I have a feeling I will be all right.
“I like to think because of the way I was brought up my parents would never let me get overconfident,” says the actor of his finance officer dad and classroom assistant mum.
“I come from a very humble upbringing and I wouldn’t change that for the world because it has got me to where I am today. But at the same time, I’m very privileged – I have a loving family and a lot of friends, who care about me and are proud of what I am doing… Or I like to think they are! I couldn’t have asked for more.”