Interview: Sam Claflin and Bill Nighy Talk ‘Their Finest’
In the British indie Their Finest, we get an inside look at the British film propaganda machine that took place during the London Blitz of WWII – and it’s incredibly fascinating.
The story centers on Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), who joins the British war department as a writer to help boost the female dialogue in the films but who ends up showing her true skill at storytelling. Their Finest is also a love story between Catrin and her acerbic counterpart, Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), as the two work on one particular film, starring a veteran actor (Bill Nighy) trying to recapture his glory days.
Claflin and Nighy sat down with ScreenPicks to talk about the film, about its messages of hope, while Nighy explains what he is most recognized for these days.
Were you familiar with the British film industry’s propaganda movies during WWII?
Bill Nighy: I knew a little bit because I’d seen various examples of those films. When I was younger, when I was a kid. I was born just after the war. Those shows were still shown on TV, on Sunday afternoons. They would be black and white movies on the TV. I knew a bit about that and I knew a bit about the Blitz. It’s odd because it was such a terrible time and yet, certainly for my generation, have general nostalgia for that period, which I understand but is unexpected because it was such a dreadful, scary time.
Did you parents tell you stories about it?
Nighy: Yeah, my dad and my mum lived through it. My mother used to work on the buses during nights on the buses, which was kind of spooky. And they would have to go into the shelters. They were outside of London, but they had places were they would congregate and advised to go in order to seek shelter. My dad was in the RAF and told me stories. But it was the great event for my generation. There was no greater historical event.
Sam, did you have any family stories you heard?
Sam Claflin: Not with the second World War, strangely enough, but I have quite a lot from the first World War. My dad sort of forced me and my brothers growing up to sit through documentaries on any war. He was fanatic about facts and figures, all of that. I feel like statistically I know pretty much all there is to know about as and when things happened. But my knowledge of this particular world, the writers and the people based in London, pretty lackless, honestly. Strangely, my history of England itself is pretty bad. But of the world, seems to be quite out there. So no, I don’t know of any family member who didn’t make it through the second World War. Obviously, it was a very tragic time and people lost their lives. I think the general consensus was that everyone was going to remain positive despite the huge loss.
What about Their Finest and the story that spoke most to you?
Claflin: For me personally, [director] Lone Scherfig. I worked with her on a film called The Riot Club and she approached me with the script and told me it would be tremendous fun. I read the script and that was my first introduction to the story. As I read it, there was a sort of musicality and rhythm to the part, the story and the writing that spoke to me. Coming off the film Me Before You, which was very heavy and emotional, I thought I’d do something a little lighter.
But there are some rather sad moments in this movie, too!
Claflin: I think that was truth of the time. These sort of incredibly random acts of torture, almost, did happen. Regularly. And there was no rhythm or reason. The whole concept, the whole world that was created here I wasn’t aware of, and I thought really spoke to what the characters were trying to write. This story of hope and enlightenment.
Nighy: Everything about it was attractive. Like Sam, I was very keen to work with Lone. We tried to work together before and it never came off. And then there was this opportunity. And the script was so great, and the part was easily recognizable as a great part. It does that difficult thing of being entertaining and romantic and hopefully funny whilst universalizing the whole thing and giving you a feeling not just for that time but the whole human experience. Not to be too la-di-dah, but it does. It works on every level and is a good night out.
I love the scene in which Ambrose “prepares.” Do either of you have a preparation thing you do before you do a scene?
Claflin: I don’t actually. I was having this discussion with my agents over the last couple of days. I don’t think I’m a method actor. I never thought of myself as a method actor but I definitely take the feeling of something home with me. I don’t mean I shout at my wife when I’m doing something angry, but I can’t helped to be moved by certain scenes or moments in a film. Therefore you can’t help that inform you as an actor. Be it the music or a certain scene that’s very emotional, I go home still feeling emotional. So, no, I don’t think about the preparation of things but I think I am affected by the aftermath.
Nighy: I don’t really have a system either, and I used to keep that quiet. It was kind of my guilty secret. When I was younger, and actors would gather on tour or wherever, when that part of the conversation would happen, I’d go put the kettle on or find reasons to leave. Because people would be talking about their processes and my terrible secret was I didn’t have one. I used to joke that in lieu of a process, I’d
invent a hostile parallel universe in which I’m just about to get fired. It’s not entirely a joke, but that is exactly what I did. And it used to galvanize me. Obviously, there must be an easier way. Oh, I also used to run around the studio and jump up and down violently, just to scare myself and get the blood flowing, you know.
Claflin: There’s definitely the thing when I go auditions – in order to feel worthy of being in the room – sometimes you see people really going over their lines, practicing the accent. So I’d start doing things just so I didn’t feel like a fraud. I just sort of start picking up other things people do, to make it look like I’m serious. It’s an underwritten rule that everyone needs to look like they are working.
The film also touched upon the differences between American and British movies, even back then. What are you thoughts about it?
Nighy: Not all of my experience with American films have been big budget but most of them have, so everything is bigger. But the actual job, and the experience and relationships with the director and whatnot are pretty much the same. At some point, someone is going to say, “Action!” and you go to work. I don’t think there’s any real difference between the two. Certainly nobody questions your process. You just turn up and do what you can. It’s pretty much the same.
What do you get most recognized for these days, Bill?
Nighy: Well, it depends on the age group. I’ve got it pretty covered. Anyone 9 to 90 years old loves Love Actually. Males between the ages of about 17 to 29 that would be Shaun of the Dead. Or any of the Cornetto trilogy [written and directed by Edgar Wright], which is what they very wittingly called those – Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. Also, quite a lot of people from different parts of the world, it’s Underworld. Vampires. You can spot a vampire lover. And of course, later I have all the retirees covered because I am poster boy for that. I made the cover of Saga magazine. That is serious in terms of the veterans amongst us because of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. So it depends on their age and interests.
What are some of the things you’d like audience to take away from Their Finest?
Nighy: I’d like them to be entertained and to laugh, to be moved by the romance. But largely, particularly in these difficult times, I’d like them to take away hope because the film demonstrates how courageous and compassionate people can be under terrible circumstances. Under real terrible circumstances, not strategically invented ones. But truly dangerous times. Not ones people invent to get ahead.
Claflin: I feel exactly the same. It’s a fun film and I think it’s really empowering to the people, women especially. The sort of Catrin Cole school of dialogue. It’s a really beautiful fist pump, I think.
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