Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.
The Snapshot: Sam Claflin plays the cruel, insensitive older brother at odds with his precocious younger sister who’s trying to crack the case of their mother’s disappearance in Enola Holmes (the Netflix film premiered on September 23, 2020).
The Performer: Sam Claflin
The Film: Enola Holmes
If you’re going to wear a mustache as majestic as Sam Claflin’s in the Netflix mystery Enola Holmes, it would behoove you to wear it well. And British actor Claflin does — as Mycroft Holmes, where he does a full immersion into a relatively unlikeable character, a man set in his ways and no doubt drawn up to represent a dusty reminder of the old-world patriarchy.
We first meet Mycroft when he (and his famous detective brother Sherlock Holmes) arrive back into town to meet their much younger sister, Enola, who was abandoned by their mother on her 16th birthday. (It’s worth noting that Enola is played by a much chattier Millie Bobby Brown whom you know as the supernaturally gifted Eleven on Netflix’s Stranger Things.)
Upon arriving at the train station, the men don’t even recognize their teen sister who was raised by their eccentric mother in unorthodox fashion, in the house they all grew up in. But once they’re convinced that this woman staring at them is in fact Enola, Sherlock smiles whereas Mycroft is shocked and dismayed at her complete and utter lack of any proper English attire.
Mycroft: My god, look at you … you’re a mess. Where are your hat and gloves?
Enola: Well, I have a hat. It just makes my head itch. And I have no gloves.
By Mycroft’s reaction, you’d think she’s confessed to murder.
It’s a telling moment for both of their characters. Enola, a young, independent woman unimpressed by traditional norms … and Mycroft, who’s stuck in appearances and stuffy, old-world thinking. It’s why Mycroft (Enola’s legal guardian) immediately takes action to send his “unbroken” sister to a finishing school for women where she can become a proper Victorian lady and an ideal candidate for marriage — despite her pleas to remain in the custody of her closer brother, Sherlock.
The only problem is that precocious Enola is very much her own woman and not interested in being shaped. In fact, she’s blessed with a very particular set of skills that her free-thinking mother (Helena Bonham Carter) has bestowed upon her — having become a chess-playing pugilist with a gift for word games. That’s why she escapes the finishing school — and when her adventure begins.
Naturally, this vanishing act is much to the chagrin of Mycroft, who’s intent on finding “wild child” Enola, a “poorly mannered wilding” as he calls her — to keep her from ruining the family name. Through it all, Claflin plays the tough older brother with a certain ferocity of man with a steady conviction. There are cracks where you get the sense that he loves his sister beneath it all — but not many. It’s through balancing Mycroft’s powerful aversion and his possible hidden affection that you experience Claflin’s convincing performance — the mark of an extremely gifted actor.
There’s no scarcity of great actors across the pond, which could be why Claflin is one of those names you may not have spent much time with. But when you see his performance in Enola Holmes in this noteworthy supporting role, you can’t help but ask yourself: Why not?
The 34-year-old Brit was born a talented footballer but gave up the sport mid-teens thanks to a couple of broken ankles. That’s when the talented thespian learned to start thinking on his feet, taking up performing arts in high school before eventually getting a three-year degree from London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in 2009.
That’s when a fruitful decade began for Claflin, when he landed his first film role of note in Pirates of Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), the fourth installment of the Disney franchise.
Then his career went white hot — starring in the TV miniseries White Heat (2012) and the film Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), amongst others. Then he caught fire a bit when he landed a role in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) as Finnick Odair, a former Hunger Games victor from District 4 who held the record for youngest winner ever at the ripe age of 14.
After going on to reprise the role of Odair in both parts of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (2014 and 2015), Claflin ended up locking down a pair of notable film roles as a romantic lead. One was Me Before You (2016) opposite Emilia Clarke, where Claflin played a wealthy young banker relinquished to a wheelchair after an accident leaves him paralyzed. The other role was Adrift (2018), where Claflin plays half of a couple set adrift on a sailboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, after a catastrophic hurricane leaves him badly injured (alongside Shailene Woodley).
There are too many other roles around these to count, including his turn as Oswald Mosley in season five of BBC’s Peaky Blinders (2019), where he embodied the real-life fascist political party leader from the 1930s, who proved a formidable foe for Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy).
Claflin is currently in pre-production for the Amazon series, Daisy Jones & The Six, produced by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, which will most likely get a 2021 release, if things go well.
Until then, you’ll just have to see Sam run … in things already done.
Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.