Sam Claflin Goes Up to Eleven For His Rock Star Role in ‘Daisy Jones and The Six’
Alex Ingram/Darwin Agency
Daisy Jones and The Six is your next favorite band that never existed; and Billy Dunne, the lead vocalist and guitarist that never was. Portraying the iridescent character from Taylor Jenkins Reid’s acclaimed novel of the same name is Sam Claflin, who is no stranger when it comes to breathing to life fictional characters for series/film adaptations.
His first book-adapted role as Finnick Odair in the film adaptations of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy was a proper launchpad for his acting career, some 10 years ago now. He would go on to play many more literary characters of celebrated novels: Cecelia Ahern’s Alex Stewart in Love, Rosie (2014); Jojo Moyes’ Will Traynor in Me Before You (2016); and Lissa Evans’ Tom Buckley in Their Finest Hour (2016). Sam has even simulated a few pages from the history books, when he starred as Sir Oswald Mosley of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), in the latter seasons of Peaky Blinders before ending its run early last year.
So, this time around, one would surmise that it’s pretty much run-of-the-mill, a walk in the park for Sam, yes? Well, as it turns out, not so much, if you’ve already read about the rollercoaster of emotions Billy goes through in Reid’s book! You could say that Billy is not like any other characters Sam has played from the books; in fact, Billy is not by-the-book at all for the English actor.
We speak to Sam in an interview that’s as soul-baring as the one in the book, and in the Amazon Prime limited series, as he reveals to us what makes not only his character, but himself as an actor, tick.
Good morning, Sam!
I was just telling your publicist that I finished Daisy Jones and The Six last week.
Oh wow! You know, I’m still amazed that people would dedicate a solid amount of time watching it. That’s quite an innings.
Have you seen the whole series yourself?
I have now, yeah! I watched the first half, I think, just before Christmas. It was only a few weeks ago that I got the second half of the series. I have to say, I’ll never be a fan of watching myself, but it’s something I’m hugely proud of. I think for a lot of us, but especially for myself, there was quite a journey to go on. I’m very proud of what we as a team achieved. I love the music, and I love the style of the costumes; the wonderful way of creating such a dynamic group, and the journey of each character through the years. I think all of those aspects made it fun to watch, but you know, it’s not for me to say, really; I hope other people like it, that’s the most important thing.
Taylor Jenkins Reid mentioned that her book was partly inspired by her experience of watching Fleetwood Mac performances on television growing up.
What about you; which band or musicians did you look to for inspiration for your role as Billy Dunne?
Well, without knowing it, I think I’ve also been inspired by Fleetwood Mac my entire life (chuckles). There was this tape that my mom and dad listened to on repeat in the car for all those long, long road trips; and, I’m not kidding, it was just literally flipping from Side A to Side B, to Side A to Side B! It was always just Fleetwood Mac for my parents. But, as I’ve gotten older, they’re also, and always have been, my go-to band, no matter what mood I’m in. I feel like they always tick the boxes, especially Rumours, it does just cover every emotion and every mood.
For performance inspiration, Bruce Springsteen was sent to me as an early reference; he was someone who I leaned on, and watched quite a lot. He’s from a blue collar, working class background, and I think that was similar to Billy. He also often wore a lot of denim, which is something that Billy lived in. I also watched a bit of Iggy Pop for the earlier Billy stuff, when he’s very drunk and drugged out. Of course, I watched Fleetwood Mac’s live performances, especially Lindsey Buckingham. We channeled lots of different singers, really. It was a variety of different people, with different performances that resonated with where they are in particular phases of the story.
You guys “performed” at quite a few festivals and gigs in the series.
Did it open your eyes to anything you might not have known, when you were just the spectator at music events?
It was difficult, man; I had to be singing and playing guitar, and hold the microphone all at the same time! There were moments when I had to go all the way over there to Will (Harrison, who plays Graham Dunne, Billy’s younger brother) in four beats, and get back here to start singing the next line. There were a lot of difficulties that came with the choreography, for sure, but I can see why people do it. Very rarely, we’d have an audience of more than 20; but the couple of times that we played to an audience — my god, the feeling you get! The surge of energy when people were cheering, and whooping, and dancing; it’s so different to playing in an empty stadium, which was what the majority of our sets were. I can see why this is so addictive for musicians, what the attractiveness is.
With a great music-genre series like this, comes great musicians behind the stage, and it took a village for this series!
I never really understood the music industry, or how music was made per se. There were opportunities for me and Riley (Keough, who plays Daisy Jones) to sit and watch Blake Mills, (singer/songwriter and producer for Fiona Apple, John Legend and Perfume Genius), and (record producer and “industry guru”) Tony Berg’s daughter, Z Berg, write songs. We got to sit in and observe them piece a song together, and watch them record it. These are two real badass musicians doing what our musicians are meant to be doing.
“This was one of the first big jobs I’ve done — in years, that I could really get my teeth stuck into a character; and especially the first job I’d done, since I’d been through some personal things. The emotion was still so raw for me, it was very easy to access, too easy to access.”
You guys even roped in Marcus Mumford (of Mumford and Sons) too, didn’t you?
In fact, while we were in the studio recording Look At Us Now, the big Honeycomb song from the book, which Marcus wrote, he was in the next room with Blake recording his album. I remember I was sat having lunch, and learning how to play that song on guitar; they came out and said: “Let’s go listen to you butcher this song, Sam!” (Laughs) I mean, I’m a huge fan of Blake’s, and of Tony’s, who works with Phoebe Bridgers, who also did some work on the soundtrack; and Jackson Browne too wrote a song that I sang. It was just mind blowing to be involved with such heavyweights even for a little bit.
What was the process like in finding your singing voice for Billy?
Well, I had no musical experience, really, beforehand (chuckles). I think back to my audition, or even while preparing for my audition, how nervous, and how terrified, and how daunting it was as an experience. I have to say, I’ll be eternally grateful for the lockdowns — not for COVID, but for the lockdowns; specifically to have the delay, because it meant it wasn’t just five weeks of preparation, it was now like, a year and a half. So, it gave me a little more time to familiarize myself with the guitar, and with the songs themselves to sing them; you know, to embody a rock star’s characteristics. The voice that you hear in the songs, that’s basically me trying to be someone else. I mean, my friends also have listened to the whole album, and they mentioned that they can totally tell it was me; but it’s also me doing an impression of this American rock star, who has a very rock element to him, but with a more modernized voice.
Was there a musician’s singing voice you were trying to emulate?
I think it was just me trying to sound like Blake, who has a really great voice. I remember they had him dubbing the vocals initially for all the songs, but when we started recording, they said that I sounded too much like him. They were trying to get away from that; they didn’t want me to imitate, they wanted me to sing. But, I didn’t know what my voice was; I hadn’t really had the opportunity to explore what my voice was, you know. Also, there was a guy called James (Petralli) from the band White Denim, which is amazing; and his voice is phenomenal, and so iconic. So, I had these two versions — James’ wilder one, and Blake’s more subtle one, to find my middle ground.
What was it like hearing yourself sing for the first time on record?
You know, listening to my voice was worse than watching myself on screen. I think there’s something so naked, and especially those moments when you hear your voice without the music — oh god! It’s like listening to your own voicemails, you know, there’s nothing worse (laughs).
Was there a worst version out there, when you were looking for your singing voice during the initial stages?
I’d say the worst voice was the one that I arrived with, which was me trying to do vibrato with every note, trying to milk every moment (laughs). My experience was very limited with music and singing, as I’ve said, but I’d done a lot of musical theater growing up. So, where I came from was very musical. It definitely was a huge learning curve for me; I’d never recorded anything live, I didn’t know how to use a microphone, how to stand, how to adjust the volume, or wear the headphone on one ear… anything! But, Tony predominantly looked after me, and puppeted me through the motions. It was something that became easier and easier as the weeks went on.
For what it’s worth, whether you do have any musical ability or not, you’re quite a good singer.
Oh, I don’t know about that, but thank you for saying that!
“I can say this honestly now, having gotten through it, and having reflected on a lot of my past acting jobs: I don’t know that I ever felt, or remember feeling, authentic about them; this is the first that I felt authentic.”
Besides the musical aspect of Billy’s character to work on for the series, there’s the more personal side to him that we see throughout the episodes.
While the music was hugely the challenge — I mean, it still is, it’s the thing that I get most nervous about, it’s the thing that I needed most work on; but, the drama, and the emotional journey Billy goes on, was the one that I was grateful to get to finally, after a year and a half of learning to sing the songs.
He seems to me someone who needs to be in control, for better or for worse, whether he likes to or he needs to; this innate fear of losing control.
I think one of the reasons he became so controlling about his music is, because that is the one thing that he can control. People looked to him; Graham, and his younger brother’s friends (Eddie Roundtree and Warren Rhodes, played by Josh Whitehouse and Sebastian Chacon respectively) looked to him. That allowed him the opportunity to seek control. Now, with my life, I suffer mildly — my publicist will probably be laughing on mute right now — from OCD (chuckles). It’s that thing I do, because I don’t have control over so much of my life; the things I can control, I get very, very particular about them. I mean, I wouldn’t call it OCD, but it’s like a form of control in a way.
Like, being neurotic?
Yeah, it is! Like, I will make sure that every little job is done before I go to bed. It’s not that I won’t be able to sleep, but it’s just — I feel happier. At the end of the day, I look at the kitchen and it’s clean, it’s like I achieved something today, and there’s a little win; and those little wins add up to a big win. At the same time, they get the better of me, and I start focusing or prioritizing these little things, instead of actually taking time for myself. I think Billy is the same; so much of his life is out of control. His addiction, once he maintains control over it, that’s basically him being in control of himself. But, with regards to your feelings and emotions, that’s something none of us have control over, really; you’re moved by certain things, and certain moments, for certain reasons, and you don’t even know or understand why. That’s why his feelings towards Daisy, they completely tore him apart.
“If an actor can bare their soul, and share their experiences in a way, hidden behind these other characters, and saying words that aren’t exactly the same in a different space — that’s when they connect with the audience.”
What was the preparation like, getting into Billy’s headspace?
This was one of the first big jobs I’ve done — in years, that I could really get my teeth stuck into a character; and especially the first job I’d done, since I’d been through some personal things. The emotion was still so raw for me, it was very easy to access, too easy to access. There were some scenes where the producers were like: “Sam, we’re gonna try this without you crying;” and I’m like, “I’m trying! I’m really trying to keep it together!” When we as the cast sat down over Zoom, and did the script read through for episode 10, I think for, I’d say about 75%, maybe even 80% of it, I was just in tears, and just about managing to say my lines; I was inconsolable! I don’t think anyone else knew what was going on in my head either; I think everyone thought I was method acting or something — I don’t know (laughs)! I think I was able to lean on my personal experiences, being that much older now. I was able to use my (chuckles) wisdom, and emote organically and authentically. You know the age-old Stanislavski method of imagining yourself as the character? I don’t even have to imagine it now! I’ve been in this situation, and I’ve had this conversation, so I know what it feels like.
That is a lot to put yourself through though!
They say things happen for a reason, and you know, this job came to me at the right time for me. I think I posted on Instagram very shortly after we wrapped, saying this has been like therapy, surrounded by the most supportive people, while doing the job that I love; it’s literally the dream, really. It was an opportunity for me to cry, for me to laugh; for me to just try something brand new, and learn new skills. I mean, it just ticks every box, this job for me.
But, is it ever a good thing though, to give so much of that personal side of you for the craft, or do you feel that a certain amount of compartmentalization is necessary between the personal and the professional?
Well, I can say this honestly now, having gotten through it, and having reflected on a lot of my past acting jobs: I don’t know that I ever felt, or remember feeling, authentic about them; this is the first that I felt authentic. I’ve done the compartmentalizing my entire career up to that point. I’ve spent 35 years of my life, prior to this job, not being emotional, and choosing not to cry in a moment. It’s not because I grew up with my dad and my three brothers in the same household, and it’s not that anyone told me to man up and stop crying, or not be such a girl… you know, the very traditional things that people realized they went through as a kid — I never had that! It was just purely my surroundings: seeing that no one else was crying, I didn’t want to be the only one. And, you immediately adopted this kind of very masculine… and don’t get me wrong; I’m by far the most sensitive out of all my brothers (laughs). But, I think from there, the toxic masculinity built up without knowing it. It’s only when I got to 35 years of age that I realized that it’s OK to cry; it’s OK to not be OK.
Especially when your job expects so much personal honesty from you to make it work.
That’s why I think a lot of actors get better with age, because they’ve lived and seen things; or even if they haven’t, they’d know someone who has been through them. You’re just way more in touch with who you are, and I think I’m way more comfortable with who I am now, that I don’t feel like I have to hide behind a character. I’ve watched films recently, like Marriage Story, and oh my god, it was absolutely on the nose! It was so accurate that I found myself crying watching it. If an actor can bare their soul, and share their experiences in a way, hidden behind these other characters, and saying words that aren’t exactly the same in a different space — that’s when they connect with the audience. That’s what musicians do with their music; often the ones that are most impactful, are ones that they’re able to bare their soul through the music. I’d like to think that the work I do has meaning, and people are able to watch a performance of mine and go: “I can relate, and that moves me,” or “I’ve been through that, and that’s exactly how I reacted.”
Those scenes with Billy as a father, did they resonate with you on how you felt when you first became a father yourself?
Actually, no (laughs). I have to say, one of the hardest scenes I had to shoot was when Billy was not connecting with the baby; when he got out of rehab, and he met baby Julia for the first time. I remember there was meant to be more of those scenes, but they ended up having scenes of me bonding with the baby instead. I have a boy and a girl, and they’re so vastly different. My little boy needed rocking quite drastically, and my daughter just needed to be held really tight. I’ve had the experience of knowing the two opposite ends of the spectrum. That played into the immediate physical connection with all the babies that we worked with; they would stop crying once they got to me. It’s like riding a bike, I don’t even think about it. They always say never work with animals and children, but I think I’m the exception to the rule. I only want to work with children, honestly, I loved it!
So, was it an alternative ball of emotions you had to unpack, something other fathers might have gone through but you didn’t?
As much as it is for any new dad or any new mom, the fear of parenthood is difficult to contend with; but I never had the same level of fear, I suppose, of what Billy had. Being a dad was so important to him, but it scared him hugely to begin with. However, once he had that bond, it’s definitely the same that I felt. Like, as soon as I met my kids properly, that’s it; I’m a goner (laughs), you know, I’m theirs. It was quite nice to explore that as if for the first time again.
“Very few people in this world would have been through exactly the same experiences as you, there’d still be 30% of my life that you won’t understand; whereas for Daisy and Billy, it might as well have been 100%, someone who fully understands you.”
Charley McEwen/Frank Agency
Now, where do we even begin with Billy and Daisy; there’s just so much to unpack!
How would you sum up this thing that’s going on between them?
(Laughs) I don’t think you can sum it up. I think that’s the beauty of what they have; it’s just an incredibly complex, unique kind of love. They were both designed in the same lab, and then put out into the world. I think Cami (Camila Morrone, who plays Camila Dunne, Billy’s wife) has one of the best lines, when she said: “You don’t think I see you?”; because I’m not exactly the same as you, you don’t think I understand? But, even if she says I do understand, I do see you, there’s still a part of Billy that thinks: I understand that you can empathize, but you’ve not been there to know what that feels like — you know what I mean? Very few people in this world would have been through exactly the same experiences as you, there’d still be 30% of my life that you won’t understand; whereas for Daisy and Billy, it might as well have been 100%, someone who fully understands you. I mean, they’ve loved, they’ve lost, they’ve been broken together; their love for Teddy (Price, played by Tom Wright), their love for the music, their love for the drugs, for the alcohol… With Daisy and Billy, they just know; whatever she struggled with, he struggled with too.
I love that line at the end of the series, where Billy said they’re “two natural disasters who needed to heal.” That revealing moment that all this while, they’ve been two people who were meant for each other, but who just met at the wrong time.
But, this is the thing: did they meet at the wrong time, or was it actually the right time? If they met earlier, god knows what would have happened! Would they have even connected the way they did, if they were both wild and free? And, if she’d started to fix herself before she met him, maybe they wouldn’t have the same influence on each other. There’s a time and a reason for everything, and personally, I think that they met at the right time. You know, I’ll be honest, I’m smiling just thinking about it, because I think it is such a beautiful love story!
What do you think happens to them 20 years later?
I’d think they took it slow, and enjoyed a fair few lemonades (chuckles); but in truth, I don’t know. It’s impossible to predict the future. I tell you what, I would love to see what happened, and where they go. I was begging the producers to do a season 2; I was just pitching to them: this is what the story could be, and this is where they could have gone. I think that there would very much still be room for each other in their hearts; they wouldn’t have changed too much in that respect. If anything, just their respect for each other, a lot of forgiveness, and kind of an understanding. But, who knows! Like, literally anything’s possible; she might still get in his head (laughs)!
Not forgetting, of course, your “bandmates” of Daisy Jones and The Six, which is quite a talented ensemble.
There was just a really great dynamic with an immediate bond, which I know is a huge rarity. Equally, I think COVID was just one of those really difficult times, for different reasons to different people. All of us just sort of came together, and were so desperate to lean on one another; to find friendship and companionship, a team-like relationship. I remember us all sitting around as a band on day one of filming, and everyone went: “I forgot we’re actually acting in this!” I mean, we only played a couple of songs, really, but we’ve been practicing to be a band for so long, we forgot it’s acting we’re here for (laughs). I can’t tell you how or why; it was just the right ingredients, put together for the right recipe.
If you were to start your own band, would it be the same ensemble as Daisy Jones and The Six?
I would definitely drop the guitar (laughs)! Suki (Waterhouse, who plays Karen Sirko, the band’s keyboardist) would probably be at the front; I mean, she is now doing a tour for her music. I would play the triangle in the back, or I’d be the band’s manager. I would fully be their number one fan, for sure, let me put it that way.
I’d like to sit here and talk to you more about Daisy Jones and The Six, but sadly, we’re all out of time. Thank you so much for speaking with me!
Stream Daisy Jones and The Six only on Prime Video from March 3rd 2023. Watch the trailer below: