Sam Claflin talks Peaky Blinders, lockdown and learning the guitar

The actor is back on set — but it’s been a long, strange year. Here, he talks dog-walking, home-schooling and relocating to Los Angeles...

Sam Claflin may be the only actor in the world whose life became busier after lockdown. It’s true. While most other thesps and theatrical types were busy pausing their productions, shutting their sets and heading home for a breather, Claflin’s life was getting more and more complicated by the minute.

It was early March, and the actor was stuck out in Los Angeles. He’d moved to California just days earlier for a new television project and, slap-bang in the middle of an (already rather stressful) relocation, the pandemic began to really heat up. In fact, Claflin had barely recovered from his jet lag when, right on inconvenient cue…

“The announcement came!” the actor himself announces down the phone line. “Lockdown! And, suddenly, after flying out there, I had two days to grab my stuff, leave L.A. and come back home again. At the time, I thought it would be a two-week quarantine in London, so I left my suitcase with a friend and said; ‘I’ll be back in two weeks’. It’s been there for months…”

A chuckle. A sigh. Claflin’s clearly mourning that long-lost suitcase. But he’s a resilient sort — and the 34-year-old is soon describing how good it feels to be back on set. A mere 12 months after he left Los Angeles, Claflin is calling me from his car. He’s on the way to work, filming the final series of razor-sharp ratings hit Peaky Blinders.

But it’s been a rocky road — for Claflin as much as the rest of us. When he finally did touchdown back in Britain, the actor was told that the L.A. job (an Amazon adaptation of rockstar-chronicling best-seller ‘Daisy Jones & The Six’) had been delayed until summer 2020. It would soon be pushed back again, to summer 2021. And that left the actor with no work, no plan — and the unenviable job of explaining a global pandemic to two children under the age of five.

“And there was no money coming in, either!” he laughs down the line. “There was so much to do. For the show alone, I had to lose loads of weight, and learn how to sing and play the guitar. So I was being a parent during the day — and then connecting with Los Angeles in the evening for my music lessons. And accent lessons. And I was working out. It was a very, very, very busy time, that first lockdown!”

Didn’t the guitar help with all the angst? What is it they say: ‘Music soothes the savage, stressed-out actor’?

“Actually, I’d never picked up a guitar in my life,” Claflin admits. “I’m really quite fortunate to have had this extra time to prepare for the job — and to familiarise myself with it. Genuinely, I’m thanking my lucky stars for the extra practice. Because, originally, I only had five weeks to learn the guitar. That would have been a very different series…”

"I only had five weeks to learn the guitar..."

Instead, strumming over Skype, Claflin began training for the role of tortured maverick musician Billy Dunne from his home in London. A year later, he’s in shape, on task and presumably rocking some pretty nasty callouses. But lockdown wasn’t all work. Even Claflin found time for a break.

“When the world started to open up over summer,” he explains, “I booked a holiday. But, typically, it all fell through when we started to shut down again. By then, I didn’t want to risk it. I’ve got kids, a dad who’s shielding — and I feel like it’s not worth travelling too far at the moment.”

In the end, Claflin, his children and their bubble booked a last minute staycation in Devon. 

“It was nice to get the kids out,” the actor says, “even if it was just to look at four different walls. It was the most picturesque, beautiful house, though — and a lovely bit of countryside.”

Claflin has an affinity for the countryside; a love of the rural born from a childhood growing up in Norfolk with his three brothers. It’s one of the many reasons that British lifestyle brand Barbour signed the actor as an ambassador for its Gold Standard collection last year. 

“I’ve always been quite outdoorsy,” Claflin considers. “When I was a kid, I was a Cub Scout in Norfolk, where there are loads of great hikes. I actually shot my first campaign for Barbour up in Scotland and, as freezing as it was, driving through some of those Scottish mountains was mind-blowing. That was my first time in Scotland — apart from a day in Edinburgh with Scouts — and I was spellbound by the incredible landscapes and endless rolling hills.”

Could there be an explorer hiding inside Claflin, waiting to zip up his waxed cotton jacket and emerge? The actor’s early roles certainly had a bit of ‘swash’ and ‘buckle’ to them. Back in 2011, Claflin starred in the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film, before embodying heroes just as dashing in both Snow White and the Huntsman and The Hunger Games franchise. 

Since then, Claflin’s output has been more consistently British — with wartime turns in Their Finest and Journey’s End, and a moustache-twirling bow as Mycroft Holmes in last year’s Netflix hit, Enola Holmes. But these quintessentially British roles suit Claflin. He currently lives in London — and really loves the city.

“Although I am fortunate enough to have a garden,” he adds. “But, that said, I’ve still been getting out. Lockdown has definitely allowed me to explore more of my immediate area. And that’s been nice, going to the parks around where I live, and experiencing more of that ‘London countryside’.”

The actor even has a dog to walk. He fell in love with his Toy Cockapoo, Rosie, in 2014 — and she frequently pops up on his Instagram page, where 3.6 million followers keep an eye on both the actor and his dog’s exploits.

“I think, in the past, I would have said that a Toy Cockapoo was a poor excuse for a dog,” Claflin laughs. “But she’s just the absolute best. Incredibly obedient. Really mellow. My parents have a Cockapoo, and it’s absolutely crazy, so I feel very blessed to have a calm dog. And, because she’s so small, she can travel with me for work. When she was a puppy, I used to leave her in the accounts trailer, just sitting on people’s desks.”

“But now,” he says, “I’m based in West London, and we’ve got so many great parks to explore. That’s been quite wonderful — and I think I’ve literally been to every park within walking distance of my house.”

For the dog?

“And the kids!” the actor adds. “The kids need a good walk every day as well.”

It’s odd to think of Claflin as a father — especially given how calculating, devious and sinister his Oswald Mosley was in Peaky Blinders. And yet, since January, the actor has been deftly slipping back in-and-out of Mosley’s fascist shoes — flitting from far-right to father as the days demand. But he’s the first to admit that it hasn’t been easy.

"In the past, I would have said that a Toy Cockapoo was a poor excuse for a dog..."

“I think being a parent, on my own — and proving that I can do it on my own — has been challenging,” Claflin says. “Especially, since January, I’ve had to home-school my eldest. Juggling that with work has been hard. I know other people are doing it, with even more kids and even more responsibilities, but it’s definitely a tricky old game!”

So what’s the Claflin home-school experience like? Any favourite subjects?

“You know, if differs every day!” he laughs. “But that’s what’s so wonderful about it. It almost feels like I’m going back to school myself. I definitely have a newfound respect for every teacher and frontline worker at the minute. It’s an incredible feat that they’re managing to keep things moving.

“But learning is part of my job anyway,” Claflin adds. “And it’s a part of the job I really love. Doing my research and learning about new worlds and new people is incredible. At the moment, playing Mosley — and dipping my toe into that world, the political sphere of the 1930s, is hugely eye-opening. It’s an amazing opportunity to learn more about the world.”

It was also lucky, Clafin mentions, to get Peaky as his first job since the pandemic. The actor’s resumé may be extensive, but he’s never attached himself to roles that return year-on-year, or for film-after-film. Aside from playing Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games sequels, and a brief cameo in The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Oswald Mosley is the only character Claflin has played more than once.

“So it’s actually been quite nice to have this as my first job back,” he says. “It’s nice to see the same team. Because, even though the on-set experience is obviously very different, and we’re all having to take precautions, I’ve got that comfort of being somewhere I already know.”

But soon it’ll be off with Mosley’s blackshirt, and on a plane back to Los Angeles. And surely, after all this guitar practice, Claflin can’t wait to show off his rockstar skills?

“All I know,” he says, “is that I’ll be heading back out there as soon as this all calms down. I just hope that’ll be this year!”

The Barbour Gold Standard collection is available now from flannels.com. Want more interviews with actors? Here’s our most recent cover story, with Matthew McConaughey…

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