After the lights in the Lucas Theater came up and the audience dried their eyes, lead actor Sam Claflin and producer Alison Owen took the stage Wednesday afternoon for a panel discussion of their hit film, “Me Before You.” The film screened prior to their conversation with dramatic writing professor Christopher Auer about their experiences translating author Jojo Moyes’s bestselling novel to the screen.
One of the first questions Auer posed to Claflin concerned his mental and physical preparation for the role of Will Trainor, a young, wealthy quadriplegic paralyzed from an accident two years prior to the film’s setting.
“We kind of assessed and did research and…toyed around with how much range of movement he [Will] would have,” Claflin said. “It was just a matter of trying to be as still as possible, and learning what it would be like. And we were blessed with people who even wanted to share their experiences, their challenges and their anecdotes as well.”
Though the film has many heavy and emotional moments, Claflin said he was able to maintain a positive attitude during filming thanks to the hardworking cast and crew who loosened up in between takes.
“I have no disdain for people that like to stay in character at all times, but I think, especially when you’re doing such a heavy subject matter, I needed to stay light and keep my spirits high,” Claflin said. “There were a lot of opportunities to banter, if you will, and we had an incredible team. A whole family of people who were all keeping each other happy.”
Owen said she read and loved Moyes’s novel when it first came out. When the opportunity came to produce a film adaptation, Owen was hired on after a referral from a colleague who could not take the job.
Claflin also praised first-time director Thea Sharrock for using her unique theater background to effectively direct and pace the film’s dialogue.
“I’ve been extremely blessed with the directors that I’ve had the opportunity to work with thus far,” Claflin said. “But with Thea, there was a spark in her. The first time I met her, we ended up chatting for about an hour and a half and not really about the project. She’s such an incredible bundle of energy, and she was so passionate about this project that it was easy to approach the work with someone who’s as passionate as you are.”
The pair also addressed the controversy surrounding Claflin’s portrayal of a disabled character, despite Claflin not being disabled. According to Owen, the filmmakers expected controversy and a bit of backlash for the story’s discussion of assisted suicide, not for Claflin’s portrayal of Will.
“I play for a living,” Claflin said. “I play characters and people that I’m not. So I completely understand where people are coming from. Nobody actively went out to avoid hiring someone who was disabled. Of course, I will never know what Will goes through, but again I’m an actor and I act. I can only hope that from here there are stories and actors and opportunities for all.”