Sam & director Lone Scherfig talk about their memories of filming The Riot Club with Now Toronto.
If you only know Sam Claflin as the dude who fell in love with the mermaid in that last Pirates Of The Caribbean film or bad-guy-turned-good Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games films, you’re in for a bit of a shock with his new movie.
In The Riot Club, he plays Alistair, a quiet, privileged Oxford student whose angry ideas about class come out verbally – and eventually physically.
The role couldn’t be more different from his own background growing up in the town of Ipswich, England, says the actor on the day of the film’s world premiere at TIFF.
“I went to an average high school, had a life that was as normal as normal can be,” he says, sporting a casual, scruffy look in contrast to Alistair’s buttoned-down appearance.
“There was no privilege whatsoever. In fact, we were probably on the opposite end of the spectrum. My brothers and I worked ever since we could walk, in one way or another, and we all made our own ways.
“So for me to be going into this film and saying a line like ‘I fucking hate poor people!’ is quite a stretch. I’m not looking forward to my mum and dad watching it.”
Director Lone Scherfig hails from Denmark but works a lot in England, having made An Education (in which she introduced the world to Carey Mulligan, who went on to get a BAFTA Award and an Oscar nomination) and the Jim Sturgess/Anne Hathaway romance One Day.
“There is a class system in Denmark, but not to the degree you find in England,” she says in a separate interview. “It really is extreme in England. And the social mobility is quite low compared to places like [Canada].”
The film’s most remarkable scene is an extended sequence in which the Riot Club, a group of wealthy Oxford students, wreak havoc on a country inn.
It was filmed, in sequence, over two weeks in Pinewood Studios.
“We were like these caged animals in one room, and you could feel the tension build and build,” says Claflin. “Occasionally I had to take myself away from the action, because my character is an observer, a quiet manipulator. I found myself sitting in a corner watching the other guys. I also found myself wobbling a lot, mimicking a drunk feeling. The buildup of the tension felt natural. And when we had the opportunity to literally rip the set apart, it was quite something.”
Scherfig and her crew filmed the scene with handheld cameras to get a sense of speed and urgency, she says.
“We wanted to get the sense of an explosion from inside. It’s almost like what happens to the camera is what happens to the boys.”
And was it difficult maintaining control of all these elements?
“The actors were collaborative and disciplined,” she says. “They behaved much better in real life than they do in the film.”