“Me Before You” may look like a simple romantic drama — a British Nicholas Sparks knockoff about the love between a young working class woman (Emilia Clarke) and a man paralyzed from the neck down (Sam Claflin). But it can get pretty heavy. Claflin feels that way, too. The British actor, best known as Finnick Odair in the “Hunger Games” films, had to rein himself in both physically and emotionally, playing a character whose accident has left him bitter and maybe suicidal, plus at least initially resistant to the young woman who’s become his caretaker. Claflin talks to us about the difficulties of making a romance equal parts dark and sweet.
Seeing as this deals with someone considering euthanasia, you have to go to a pretty dark headspace. Do you tend to be a morbid person?
[Laughs] I’d say no. Though I love people that are. I think it’s always interesting when people are morbid and are happy to express themselves in morbid ways. But I wouldn’t say I’m morbid.
He doesn’t start off in a very happy space. He’s let his hair and beard grow, he wears frumpy clothes. But before he cleans up he still almost looks like Lord Byron.
He’s still stylish. I loved being able to hide under all the baggy clothes and long hair and the beard. The only problem was if one of the hairs went on a little trip across my face it was impossible for me to [swats]. That’s the harsh reality of filming something like this. I struggled mostly with little moments like that, those little things I had to stop myself doing instinctually. I was constantly reminding myself, ‘Don’t move, don’t move, don’t move.’ It became very difficult not to use my body. When she was crying I wanted to reach my hand out to comfort her. It was very, very difficult to maintain.
He also has to communicate almost entirely through words.
He’s a very intelligent and charming man, and he’s very witty. He’s very good with words. You realize we express ourselves every day with our body. But for him it’s all about what he says. He has to think about everything before he says it, and he often says things that cut people in half. He’s had to learn to use his words to get his point across quickly. That was one of the big challenges for me, because I’m not great with words. [Laughs] It was that aspect of his character, the intelligent side of him, that I struggled to find.
Were there any other things you had to do that were taxing?
I lost a lot of weight. It was important to me that he looked weak and frail and not well. I think I lost about 3 ½ stone in three months. When we were rehearsing I was eating 500 calories and training three times a day. So I had no energy. [Clarke] would walk into the rehearsal room and I’d be curled up on the sofa, shivering, almost crying to myself. It was my decision. I spoke to a few people who were going through something similar and they said everything they went into hospital they lost weight because the food was so bad. So I did the weight loss thing — not to the extremes of Christian Bale of Matthew McConaughey. And that, too [laughs], was very challenging.
This sounds like a rough job.
Honestly, not only was this job physically challenging, but mentally and emotionally draining, too. There was one day I came home and I climbed into bed and started crying. My wife was like, “What’s wrong?” I was like, “I’m just thinking about Will’s bedtime routine.” He’d start his routine at 6 and eventually get into bed at 10. Whereas I just hop into bed. It was little moments like that — things we take for granted.