Awards Daily talks to Sam Claflin of Daisy Jones & The Six about addiction in the ’70s, the separation of art versus the artist, and the moment that saves Billy’s life.
Sam Claflin’s performance in Daisy Jones & The Six is transformative for a variety of reasons, including his ability to turn himself into a full-fledged rock star (especially after he mistook a Beatles song for a Michael Jackson one in his audition!). But one of the most underrated aspects of his performance as Billy Dunne is his nuanced portrayal of addiction.
“My knowledge of that world was very limited, as much as my music knowledge honestly,” says Claflin. “What was amazing was that they provided us with this incredible point person for addicts in the music industry, and he came in having lived through the ’70s himself and basically explained what addiction means, what it was then in comparison to what it is now, and what was available for addicts—and it was very, very little in the ’70s. There was no such thing as rehab. They didn’t know addiction was a problem. That especially made it more interesting for me.”
A facet that made it challenging for Claflin was that a lot of the struggle was off-screen.
“I tried my best to bring as much as I could to the limited scenes we had to explore that, but honestly, it was a very eye-opening experience. Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix didn’t really have the support they needed. We were obviously telling a fictional story about a character who did get support from his family, but a lot of the people and musicians of the time, no one else understood what they were going through. The drugs and alcohol were everywhere. I think most people have a handful of friends who don’t drink anymore. It’s easier now to lead a healthier, cleaner life.”
When we first meet Billy, he’s the responsible, older-brother type—the clear leader of the band. While he doesn’t seem like someone who would be having sex with groupies and doing drugs, the pressure to be the one that everyone looks up to leads him down that path.
“Inevitably, the biggest fear in his life is failure, and he’s never had someone reassuring him. He has someone looking up to him, but even if you’re a leader, you’re looking for recognition above yourself. He feels the failure more than the others in some way because he’s the one who dragged them out there. I definitely understand why he struggled with addiction in that moment. At the same time, he’s about to become a father. Having had a father who failed him, the fear of failing his child is right there.”
Claflin says he identifies with that perfectionist quality. However, Claflin separates his art from himself, something his character can’t do. Throughout the series, Billy’s in love with two women: Camila, his wife, who represents his father/husband self, and Daisy, who represents his music and rock persona.
“As a musician, you’re putting yourself out there, especially with Billy writing his music. He’s pouring his heart and soul into his music. When he has someone who recognizes that and sees that darkness, there’s of course a connection and a chemistry in that moment. As an actor, I’m portraying someone else’s hopes and dreams and dark feelings. There’s a disconnect. I don’t bring my work home with me. I can see how and why that internal struggle could get messy.”
Claflin believes Billy loved both Camila and Daisy for different reasons.
“The moment that really resonates with him is when Camila says, ‘I’ve been with you; you don’t think I see every part of you.’ That was a turning point. He realized this is where I should be; this is my safety. The thing he’s attracted to about Daisy is the very thing he hates about himself: the freedom of drugs and losing control. She fell in love with the sober Billy, but of course, it’s a recipe for disaster if they start going down that path.”
As the character looking for recognition above himself, Billy finally gets it in the final Daisy Jones & The Six performance, when Daisy urges him to go to Camila. Claflin believes it is a moment that ultimately saves his character’s life.
“It is very sobering having someone tell you without making you realize everything that you’re missing or losing. I think he needed saving, and it was very selfless of Daisy in that moment, as someone who’s in love with him, to allow him that opportunity to realize he needed to leave. The one big aspect of Billy that I can relate to is to be afraid of asking for help. Sometimes you need guidance.”
Daisy Jones & The Six is streaming on Amazon Prime.