IT ISN’T that Sam Claflin had never sung before. He’s an actor, after all, and it wasn’t all Hunger Games and Peaky Blinders—he’d done musical theater. He’d sang along with the radio and at parties and anywhere else that people sing along. And, of course, he’s always been a “very competent shower singer.” But playing Billy Dunne—the male lead of Daisy Jones & The Six and the frontman of the titular band—went a whole lot deeper than that. For the first time in his life, auditioning for the show meant stepping into the world of rock ‘n’ roll. And it wasn’t quite like anything he’d delved into before.
“The first time I ever walked into a recording studio was my audition for this, and the way they tell you to make love to a microphone was something that was very brand new to me,” he says over Zoom with a laugh, remembering his first moments on the project. Obviously, Claflin eventually landed the gig, where he would cross paths with music stars like Marcus Mumford, Phoebe Bridgers, and Jackson Browne (who collaborated on and/or co-wrote songs for the show), and Sound City Studios producers Blake Mills and Tony Berg.
But if he didn’t get over the nerves of that first audition, none of that would’ve ever happened. Luckily for Claflin, though, Daisy Jones & The Six music supervisor Frankie Pine was there every day, telling everyone what needed to be done and how they would go about doing it. Clearly, she must have seen a rock star spark in Claflin, too, because she gave him the kick he needed to get into the world of rock ‘n’ roll. “Before my audition, because I was so nervous, she slipped me a few shots of moonshine, which I didn’t know existed in real life,” he says, still laughing. “She was like, ‘This is rock ‘n’ roll. This will help loosen you up.’ And so that was my introduction to the rock ‘n’ roll scene.”
A bit ironic, given that one of the defining character traits of Billy, the character that Claflin was vying to play in Daisy Jones & The Six, is his addictive personality—whether that’s an addiction to something like being “the leader” of a band or tinkering with recordings, or more dangerous addictions like those to drugs or alcohol. Clearly, before getting into any of that (and they would eventually get there) it was important to learn the basics of what it means to be a loosened up rock star. They can figure out that other stuff later.
Daisy Jones & The Six: A Novel
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Consider the mission accomplished. Daisy Jones & The Six, based on the novel of the same name by Taylor Jenkins Reid, succeeds in its exact Almost Famous-meets-the-making-of-Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors intent. That’s largely thanks to the love/hate, will-they-won’t-they relationship between Claflin’s Billy and Riley Keough’s Daisy Jones, which works so purely on a chemistry level. And that can only be achieved by fully-bought-in talents like Claflin and Keough, who so brilliantly emulate the character depth Jenkins Reid created in her novel.
Claflin’s road to being a rockstar began with a few shots of moonshine, but it went a lot further than that. Below, Men’s Health spoke with the 36-year-old star about what it took to become 2023’s most believable vintage male rock star—from crafting the perfect body to learning about the very real addiction issues that so many rock stars have grappled with through the years.
Men’s Health: I’ve read that in becoming Billy, you were trying to create a ‘70s rock star body. I’m curious what your goal was, specifically, and how you achieved it.
Sam Claflin: It wasn’t just my idea. Collectively, as a team, specifically for Billy, we wanted to focus on the earlier episodes where he’s a little more involved in drug-taking, and probably less eating. So we wanted a more withdrawn, slightly slimmer look and feel. When I got the part, I had a bit of extra muscle weight to me. I put on a pair of flared jeans initially, and they were just way too tight around my thighs.
So, we basically did as much cardio and careful dieting as was safe. I was training with a personal trainer, and was on a very, very specific calorie per day intake—he’d mapped out a daily meal plan, and I stuck to that as closely as possible. And no word of a lie, within a month we started to see results.
But then, of course, COVID hit, and I continued to work with him for the first few months of COVID. Once we knew that COVID wasn’t going to be letting up any time soon, we parted ways and I took on everything I learned from him and took it on myself. But it was less of a crash course, and more of a gradual process. I feel quite happy that it was less intense [laughs].
How long was this whole process? Had you started filming?
We hadn’t started filming. I had gotten cast in January 2020, and immediately came out to L.A. We had two weeks of an incredibly intensive crash course in how to become a rock star as quickly as possible. I was also working with a movement coach, who helped work on the physical life of being a frontman. But then Covid hit early March, and I came back to England. It was then, like, a year-and-a-half before I needed to be skinny and ready to go.
I have to say, one thing that happened to me during Covid is that I plummeted in weight up up to, like, the first June of the first lockdown. So, I got to where I needed to be, thinking that any minute now, lockdowns could lift and I’d be out. And then they said ‘oh, we’re not going to be going until next year, just to be safe…’
Because, obviously, filming this sort of thing, there’s going to be a lot of crowd scenes. There’s going to be a lot of sweat, and very close proximity filming, and they realized that they couldn’t do that properly until Covid had, sort of, passed. That gave me a little time to enjoy myself, and relish the time at home alone before cracking back at it early in 2021.
There’s a great line in both the book and the show, where they say you can pick Mick Jagger out of a lineup even without knowing who the rock star is, and you really captured that as Billy. What was your key to the effortless rock star vibe, and did you look to anyone else for inspiration?
Lindsey Buckingham was the obvious choice. Everyone knows that the book was loosely based on Fleetwood Mac, and so Lindsey Buckingham was the obvious reference point. I was actually told to focus more on Bruce Springsteen [though]. He’s from a similar upbringing and way of life. But the energy that that man had on a stage…there’s no other like him—especially in his earlier years. I really wanted to capture that element.
There was also Jim Morrison. Again, during the really low points of Billy’s career, especially when he’s focused around the addiction episode, I wanted a bit more out of body and freer feel to him. So, I watched the film The Doors, and did my best impersonation of Val Kilmer. There were a few others that were thrown in there. There was even a scene where I tried to channel Iggy Pop. It was a mishmash of all those things.
In the book, he talked about one of his references being Bob Dylan. I was listening to a lot of that music, and as I said, when I initially got the part and before the Covid break, I was working with a movement coach who would make me listen to these songs and just physicalize them. That really helped me find the physical life of each different song, because so many of the songs are so different in tempo and in feel. I just tried to mishmash that all together.
I’m ashamed I didn’t pick up on Bruce Springsteen! I’m from New Jersey—as soon as you said that it all came to me at once.
[Laughs.] He even has the double denim thing going on, so that was my main focus point for sure.
Do any other memories from the singing/recording process stand out?
When I was singing “Look at Us Now (Honeycomb)”… Marcus Mumford wrote that song, and he was actually in the neighboring studio. He was recording his solo album—which recently came out and is amazing. But I was in the lunchroom, trying my best to play the guitar of this song, and he came in, and him and Blake Mills just started basically writing a song for his album. So I just got to observe two masters going at it. And then, of course, he was like, “Let me have a listen to you recording my song.” And I said, “Oh, please don’t. I mean, I’m butchering it.” But he was very complimentary and very supportive.
I mean, I’ve listened to that song like 100 times, so I think it worked out.
It’s so well done, I have to say. I mean, not my part, but, like, it’s just a beautiful song. The journey that the song goes on. And I think once you know that Marcus Mumford had a touch in it, you hear a Mumford and Sons feel to it, or a Marcus Mumford feel to it—I certainly do. And there was a point where he came into the studio listening to me doing it, and he was then saying, “No, no no, I think it should be a bit more like this,” and I was like “Why don’t you just sing this? I think we’d all be happier if you do this.”
Part of what makes those recordings so great, but also the performances within the show, is that you and Riley have such great chemistry. How did you go about building that before the show and then also when the cameras were rolling?
Riley is just one of my favorite people in the world, in all honesty. There wasn’t much acting required in caring for her, and loving her. We were both blessed by the fact that neither of us had any musical experience, really. Throughout so much of the band camp, and the rehearsals leading up to the beginning of filming, she and I would constantly find each other’s hand, squeeze each other, and go “What the hell is going on?”
We were obviously both recording at the same time. Even though we were in different studios for a lot of it, we almost were forced together in a way, but happily so. But we just had the longest way to come, and we therefore were forced to put more work in. The determination to do the book proud, and these incredible words, and these incredible characters… everything was there for us already, but the fact that she’s just a good person made it all the more easy to fake chemistry.
Billy’s struggle with addiction early on, and how he walks the tightrope after that, is one of the most interesting things about of the character. What was your approach to that aspect of Billy?
That’s something I don’t personally have any experience in. I have friends who have been through that hellish journey, and deal with that still on a daily basis, and I’ve never been addicted to anything in that respect. So, it was very difficult to come to terms with, or to fully understand. They did set me up with this amazing expert in the field—someone who’s worked with a lot of rock stars, especially during that era, helping them get sober and helping with their sobriety daily. He’s a sponsor, if you will.
And he lived through the ‘70s, and was talking me through all the different drugs, and all the different highs and the lows, and the roller coaster that comes after getting sober. The one thing that I just had to remember, and that I wrote on almost all my sides daily, was “you are still an alcoholic” or “you are still an addict.”
It’s just that thing where sometimes you just get lost in the moment, and get lost in a scene, and then you’re focusing on the scene, but you then have to realize that at the end of every single scene, all he wants to do is have a drink, you know? Especially the dramatic, emotional ones. Like, that’s your go-to, and it’s been your go-to for 20 years, or 10 years, and all of a sudden, you don’t want to do it because you don’t want to let yourself down, or let people down, but it’s all you can think about.
I’m so fortunate as an actor to have the opportunity to explore these types of things because it’s something that I wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to learn about, or would probably turn a blind eye to. But doing this job, it allows me the opportunity to really get to know people in different walks of life who are dealing with different things like this, and to better understand it. I feel very grateful for that.
This interview has been condensed for content and clarity.