Sam Claflin as Billy Dunne, Daisy Jones & The Six (Prime Video)

Claflin had no trouble slipping into the intense feelings of ’70s-era singer Billy Dunne. “Emotions were so on the edge for me at the time,” says Claflin. “Previously when I’d shot emotional scenes, I’ve needed a tear stick to help push me over the edge. But on Daisy, I didn’t need one ounce of help.” 

For Claflin, it was partially his own divorce that still loomed over him, but also the fact that star-crossed love was not an unfamiliar concept. “I have experienced unrequited love, the chasing and the inability of making certain decisions in certain moments,” he says. “There were so many conversations between Billy and Camila (Camila Morrone), or Billy and Daisy (Riley Keough), that I have experienced firsthand or seen friends go through.” 

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Claflin equates Billy’s attraction toward Daisy to addiction, not unlike the character being drawn to drugs and alcohol. “Every single day, every aspect of your being wants to be doing the one thing that you are forcing yourself not to do,” he says. “That is what his relationship with Daisy is: He has to tell himself no every single day.” Also, unlike his calm wife, Camila, mercurial Daisy feels to Billy like looking in a mirror. “The two of them are so similar and egotistical,” says Claflin. “Daisy frustrates him and angers him. She tests him. He enjoys the fact that he’s challenged at every turn, that there’s someone who is still teaching him about himself.” 

Though the character’s restraint feels excruciating, Claflin admires the determination not to give in to what both Billy and the audience want so badly. “He is dedicated to trying to do the right thing,” says Claflin. “He is genuinely in love with both women but can only be with one. There’s something so relatable about him and his struggle, wanting two things and trying to hurt as few people as possible.” 

But there is one place where Billy gets to show his genuine affection for Daisy — which also became a safe space for the actors. “When one of us was feeling a little inadequate or terrified, we would feel a safety in one another,” he says of “the immediate comfort” of singing with Keough. “I think that was what Billy and Daisy felt, this comfort to be yourself and to be vulnerable. I felt that when I was singing with her. Like everything’s going to be OK.”

Keri Russell as Kate Wyler, The Diplomat (Netflix)

Most onscreen relationships that permeate a character’s life are unrequited or ill-fated, but in the case of Kate and Hal Wyler on The Diplomat, there is nothing tearing these two apart like the spouses themselves. “We constantly discuss marriages falling apart because of infidelity. It was really important not to show that story again,” says Russell, who plays the series’ title character. “What was interesting to us was a relationship that is falling apart just because you can’t stand the way the [other] person fucking breathes.” 

When career diplomat Kate is sent to England to defuse a crisis as the new U.S. ambassador, she and her equally accomplished husband, played by Rufus Sewell, are quickly established as a package deal. But while Kate assures her staff that Hal is on his way out, none of his actions suggest a departure. “[When] you work with somebody that you are in a relationship with, that is a very specific brand of marriage,” says Russell. “Kate and Hal are so stimulated by each other. If some work or world issue comes up, they are so into what the other person thinks about it. Their titillating love language is their opinion. But he doesn’t know how to not be number one. He gets ahead of himself and causes a mess.” 

Kate’s desire to end the marriage is constantly undermined both by their public roles — and their undeniable chemistry. “She’s wildly attracted to him,” says Russell. “She would love to not be. That would make things way easier.” For Russell, playing out this contentious yet erotic dynamic is like playing tennis with a world-class partner. “Rufus is such a skilled, emotional actor,” she says. “We established that when people are really intimate and comfortable with each other, they let those comments rip that aren’t always so nice. They know they’ll be fine. They are peers, they are fast, and they’ve got each other’s back.” 

While the work itself is dialogue-heavy and intense in nature, Russell has never been happier to be this exhausted. “I just love this character. I love the way I walk when I feel like her,” she says. “I really enjoy her inappropriateness. And at the same time, she has a real sexual life with her husband and is sexually alive. So at the end of the day, I don’t have to shake her off.” 

Josie Totah as Mabel Elmsworth, The Buccaneers (Apple TV+)

Before playing a queer character in late-1800s England for the contemporary in tone yet period-faithful adaptation of Edith Wharton’s unfinished novel, Totah insisted on a dialogue with creator Katherine Jakeways. “It’s so crazy now, I couldn’t even imagine a queer experience back then,” says Totah. “We had a lot of conversations about telling a story of queer joy, specifically in a time that didn’t have a lot of that, but also one that was honest. I didn’t want to disregard the experience of that time.” 

At first glance, fun-loving Mabel appears to fly under the radar of both her family and the rest of New York society. “She’s disregarded because the eldest sister was to be married off first,” says Totah. “Because of that, my character has more free will and navigates a lot of these social situations with a level of control over what she can get out of each scenario.” 

Mabel is immediately intrigued after meeting reserved English aristocrat Honoria (Mia Threapleton). “Honoria is quite rigid, which is the exact opposite of Mabel. That’s enticing,” says Totah. Through the slightest of gestures, a forbidden love starts to build between the two women. “With not a lot of real estate for the intricacies of every relationship dynamic, we wanted to maximize the space that we were given. Whether that is four seconds of a look, we were very intentional any time we were in a scene together.” 

In building up to a romance that evokes real vulnerability in her character, Totah discovered the importance of having the right scene partner. “I didn’t realize how genuinely scared I was going to be in the more serious scenes,” she says. Totah recalls struggling with a scene in which Mabel pushes Honoria away, knowing their feelings can never be publicly celebrated or even acknowledged. “I was having this emotional block, and I think Mia could tell I was quite scared. She just said my character’s name and, ‘I love you,’ and I just bawled my head off.” Although this is the culmination of constantly having to hide one’s true self, Totah wanted to carry Mabel’s secret throughout the entire performance. “It’s incredibly debilitating to have feelings — to even have joy is painful because to be truthful about that joy is acknowledging the repercussions,” says Totah, admitting she initially was nervous about doing justice to the journey. “Because of my fear of wanting to do a good job, I approached it with just telling myself, ‘You’ve just got to tell the truth.’ ” 

Dominic West as Prince Charles, The Crown (Netflix)

When West signed on to play Prince Charles, series creator Peter Morgan warned him it would take a season for both actor and audience to get used to the character. “Last season, I was very much worrying about the impersonation of him; the physicality, the voice,” says West. A year later, being more comfortable in Charles’ shoes freed West up to dive straight into the guilt and grief of losing Princess Diana. “We don’t know what Charles’ reaction was [in real life], but Peter chose to make him very emotional, and I’m glad he did. That way, one draws on one’s own experience, as you do with most parts.” 

That did not, however, mean that Charles’ reactions were predictable. “Peter said Charles was howling in the hills of Scotland, and also in the hospital in Paris, so loud that you could hear him through the door. I thought, ‘Oh, God. How the hell does a man like that howl?’ ” 

It was not only Charles’ response to Diana’s untimely death that required comprehension — being a middle-aged man asking for his mother’s public approval of his partner, Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams), is a burden that is alien to most. “The protocol that most struck me is that he bows to his mother even in private before they talk,” says West. “It was very clever to show that because it immediately establishes their relationship and the astonishing anomaly in this man’s life: He’s in his 50s and still having to ask his mother’s permission to go out with a girl. That bow was instrumental to his pain.” 

The anguish of constant obstacles to happiness with the woman he loves seeps into nearly every aspect of West’s performance this season. “How difficult that must have been,” he marvels. “He knew he could never be happy unless he was with this woman, and the biggest mistake of his life was not insisting on being with her from the start and being obedient to his mother.” It is in the scenes he shares with Camilla that it is evident to West that she is his safe harbor. “It’s very interesting how, almost exclusively, when they’re photographed together, they’re laughing,” notes West, who says he and Williams tried to infuse that into their scenes. “We had such a good time dancing as the characters. That feeling of their joy together, how suddenly they were free to love each other. And then, Diana’s death smashed it all to pieces again for another 10 years.” 

This story first appeared in a December standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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