Some of the world’s brightest minds study at Oxford. So do the boys in The Riot Club. The latest from An Education director Lone Scherfig, The Riot Club follows a group of upper class Brits who are either members or aspiring adherents of the titular club, a sort of collegiate wolves’ den for the well-to-do.
Of course, there wouldn’t be much of a story here unless things went at least a bit off the rails for the young men, and they most certainly do. Over the course of the club’s annual dinner, the group of privileged, handsome and incredibly reckless boys—played by a who’s who of young Britons, including Max Irons, Douglas Booth and Sam Reid, among others—manage to make a series of mistakes that will change their lives forever.
As Alistair Ryle, Sam Claflin—a veteran of The Hunger Games, Pirates of the Caribbean and Snow White and the Huntsman—is one of the Riot Club’s leaders, and also among those with the most to lose when the scurrilous clique lives up to its name. Here, the actor explains how he got into character and why it was so hard to leave his role on set.
The Riot Club was a play before it was adapted for film. Did you see it?
It was one of those plays that was talked about by everyone within the small British community of actors. It was well known and very well received, so I was aware of it though I hadn’t seen it. And I actually knew quite few people who were in the cast.
So how did you get involved?
I was aware of the play but haven’t gotten around to watching it, so eventually, when the screenplay came across my desk, I immediately bonded with it. Purely, I think, because I was so far detached from this world. My upbringing very different, it’s safe to say, so for me it was a real insight into a world I wasn’t familiar with. I was also familiar with Lone Scherfig and her previous work, so that was a big draw for me.
If Alistair was such a departure for you, how did you prepare to take him on?
We had the writer of the play writing our screenplay, so she was around and available to talk to as much as we needed about who these characters were and where they had been. And because I wasn’t familiar with this world, it was a matter of researching people like these characters; we had an opportunity to go around a few schools and to some of the local haunts where these guys sort of hang out. So we had an opportunity to meet some really interesting people and hear some very interesting stories. It was very informative for me.
These aren’t necessarily good guys, though I couldn’t help but think how much fun some parts of being bad must have been.
I have to note that this was the most incredible filming experience I’ve had to date. Out of 10 of us, seven had worked together before, and among the new guys we all had mutual friends, so there was an immediate chemistry and a bond between us.
There’s a lot of misbehaving in the movie. What was the most exciting to film?
My favorite scene to shoot was when we were wrecking a pub towards the end of the movie; we basically rip the pub apart. Because we had been sort of caged within a room for three weeks—it was really hot without any air conditioning, really—it got to the point where we were all pretty much ready to smash something. We had the freedom to rip wallpaper of the wall and smash china, so it was really enjoyable.
Did you guys need to cut loose when the cameras were off, or did you get it all out of your system on film?
I definitely found there were times when I took the character home with me. In a sense, because we were playing drunk all day everyday, I go home and it was like I’ve been on a boat or a ship all day. I was still swaying; I had headaches from all of the running around and screaming. I got a little big grumpy. I got into the head of Alistair a bit too much.
How does making a movie like this differ from working on The Hunger Games, which is done on such a different scale?
It’s so, so different, but a part of me craves a bit of both. The dream is to have a bit of everything, to have movie that’s got all of the action, and has depth and the real complexities of good characters and a great story at the forefront. I used to play a lot of soccer when I was a kid, so anything that’s physical is something I yearn for, but as I grow older, I like to be mentally challenged. I enjoy both equally, but for very different reasons.