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‘Hunger Games’ Star Sam Claflin Is as Surprised as You Are That He Was Cast as Finnick Odair

‘Hunger Games’ star Sam Claflin is as surprised as you are that he was cast as Finnick Odair. With these eyes and muscles, he shouldn't be.

Murray Close/Lionsgate

Sam Claflin is pretty. No. Sam Clafin is extremely pretty.

The 26-year-old chiseled specimen of an actor—perfect bone structure, bulging muscles, piercing eyes, mischievous smile, and wily, charmingly unkempt hair—is what one might call a “hunk.” A little over a year ago, the creative team behind the new installment of the Hunger Games franchise, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, called for one such hunky actor to play the role of charming sexgod Finnick Odair in the film.

Sam Claflin—hunky, pretty, beautiful Sam Claflin—won the highly sought-after role. Fans of the series were not pleased.

They were indignant. Outraged. Betrayed. Why? In their (visually impaired) eye, this dimpled, strapping, swashbuckling Brit was not, apparently, attractive enough to play their beloved hottie. Insane, yes, but surprisingly, Claflin says he knows just how they feel.

“I was hugely surprised at being offered the role, after keeping tabs on the fandom with regards to casting and who they wanted,” Claflin tells The Daily Beast. “I was on pretty much nobody’s shortlist, or even in people’s peripheral vision. The reaction was so negative at the beginning. But that kind of turned into determination for me, to prove people wrong and prove to myself that I could do it.”

Being cast as Finnick, it quickly seemed, made Claflin the latest sacrificial actor to the savage tribe of finicky (how appropriate) superfans, a rabidly passionate pack of obsessives with insatiable appetites for devouring all things Hunger Games—and chewing into pop-culture gristle any bit of news to do with the franchise that’s not to their liking.

It’s a powerful group, capable of turning Suzanne Collins’s dystopian bloodsport trilogy into a phenomenon to the tune of 50 million copies sold. It’s also a group willing to make international news out of the debate over Jennifer Lawrence’s casting as protagonist Katniss Everdeen. What complaint could anyone possibly have about Lawrence, Oscar-winning starlet, best friend to the world, sole celebrity to pull off the pixie cut? The hugely talented actress, it seemed, “doesn’t look hungry enough.”

It’s hardly a shock, then, that the Hunger Games fan-wolves salivated at the opportunity to ravage the casting of Catching Fire’s standout character, Finnick. Finnick is a veteran tribute, drafted to compete along with Lawrence’s Katniss in an anniversary edition of the Hunger Games. He’s a complicated character with a tortured past, conflicted heart, and unflinching loyalty, but also one subject to a great deal of description on Collins’ part about his swoon-inducing good looks.

Fans had their fun dream-casting the role with the likes of Ryan Gosling, Zac Efron, and Robert Pattinson. Reports leaked that Armie Hammer, Taylor Kitsch, and Garret Hedlund were being seriously courted for the part. When Claflin, then already a veteran of the blockbusters Snow White and the Huntsman and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, won it over the who’s who of Hollywood’s most handsome, the backlash flew faster than one of Katniss’s killer arrows.

“I personally don’t think he is hot ENOUGH to be Finnick,” wrote one fan. “YECH!” wrote another []. Others were more measured in their superficial cruelty. “While Sam Claflin is a very good looking man, he was soo not ‘it’ for the role of Finnick,” wrote yet another. “He’s hot, sure, just not the ‘Finnick hot’ impression you get from reading the book.”

Claflin, however—who says he was the first actor to audition for director Francis Lawrence—may not have been fully aware how big a deal his attractiveness would be throughout the entire casting process. He didn’t read the books, or the description of Finnick’s flawless looks, until after he won the role.

“That was the point that I started thinking, ‘Why the hell had they cast me?” he laughs.

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The self-doubt wasn’t always in hindsight, either. Claflin counts himself among the people who never thought he’d get the part, especially with every young actor in Hollywood gunning for it.

“I remember after my first audition I walked to get my bags from the waiting room and there was a kid who was literally the description of Finnick Odair in the book,” he says. “He looked like the perfect man—and this is coming from me. He was the most beautifully, stunningly tanned, muscular, blonde, green-eyed guy. I sat there going, ‘Yeah, I’m never going to get this part.’”

Yet fast-forward a few months, and Claflin is on the set of the upcoming British horror film The Quiet Ones driving a sports car in a field near a haunted house when out of the corner of his eye he could see his producers waving at him to stop the scene. With the entire cast and crew sitting and watching, he fields the phone call from his agent telling him he got the part. First, a call to the wife, actress Laura Haddock. Then, ring mom and dad. Then, the post-euphoria realization: “I need to get to the gym.”

The knee-jerk instinct to pump iron is likely owed to the base-level lingering impression Hunger Games fans have of Finnick, but the focus on his appearance is a shameful surface read on a much more complex character—the shades of which explain why Claflin nailed down the part.

“What he’s all about is not what a lot of people take from the books,” Claflin says. He’s loved and lost, and is tormented by that pain. “He’s a very sensitive, insecure lost soul. He’s a broken man. I think that’s all hidden behind this very false, charismatic, charming, confident exterior. That’s what really interested me—that so many people read the books and take away the fact that he’s an arrogant guy. I saw past that. I saw through that.”

Nonetheless, Finnick’s entrance is unforgettable for a far less complicated reason.

When readers first meet Finnick in Catching Fire he’s wearing, well, practically nothing. Each of the 24 tributes competing in the Hunger Games—a male and female from each of the 12 districts—parade in a lavish ceremony wearing outfits representing their home district. Finnick is from District 4, which is know for fishing, and therefore appropriately (and oh-so inappropriately) wears nothing but a fishing net tied with a few strategically-placed knots in certain imperative regions.

When moviegoers first meet Finnick in the film version of Catching Fire, however, he’s decidedly more modest. Instead of knitted-together net, my dear, sure-to be-disappointed Hunger Games fans, he’s donning a gladiator-like skirt with much more body coverage.

“You know we’re PG-13,” costume designer Trish Summerville said about the costume change, which Claflin was more than pleased about. “He was really relieved he has a longer skirt, and he kind of has tights underneath and kind of substantial boots. He’s bare-chested, and he worked really hard to get into amazing shape…I think it’s much more interesting than just the net. It would have been too Chippendales.”

More interesting? To each their own, Trish.

Introducing Claflin on film in the Chippendales-evoking outfit may have even be appropriate, given what the actor says he did with the cast as part of their meet-and-greet party on set in Atlanta. They went to a strip club, he says, “but not the sort of strip club you imagine it to be.” That means, apparently, “lots of old women—very, very old women—performing.” What now? “I think I’ll leave the rest to your imagination,” he says.

While he compares the chemistry on set to “a house on fire,” largely because of how well he got along with close-in-age to co-stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, and Jena Malone, there was no age barrier to the closest relationship he had on set, with 69-year-old Lynn Cohen (Sex and the City), who plays noble senior tribute Mags, Finnick’s mentor.

“She’s like my sweet old grandmother,” Claflin says about Cohen, who spends the lion’s share of her scenes in the film on Claflin’s back as he carts her through the physically demanding arena. “I still can’t believe they gave me responsibility for her life,” he says nervously, likely recalling the day the pair was shooting in the jungle and took a tumble into the water on a rocky beach—a life-threatening fall for Cohen, whose blood pressure spike to dangerous levels in the water

Still, near-death didn’t hinder the duo’s bonding. “I think she like the smell of me,” Claflin says. “She kept whispering in my ear that she liked how I smelled.

Now, presumably, is when we all brace ourselves for complaints about how, despite the testimony of Sex and the City’s beloved Magda, Sam Claflin probably doesn’t smell good enough to play Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games.