For Charlie Hunnam, it’s the little things that make for a happy relationship.
At the Toronto International Film Festival, where his new film Papillon is having its world premiere, the Sons of Anarchy star, 37, opened up about how he and his longterm girlfriend Morgana McNelis, 34, have kept their love strong for over a decade.
“I try to keep the romance on the reg,’” he told PEOPLE, Entertainment Weekly and InStyle at the festival on Friday. “I’ve been with my girlfriend 11 years, and as anyone knows, it’s been a long-term, fully monogamous relationship that requires work, a lot of work.”
And that work doesn’t always need to come in grand gestures. “Before I came away to TIFF I ended up staying until 5 in the morning because I decided I was going to clean the entire house.”
He also took care of “all the grocery shopping” and “all of the laundry,” chores Hunnam says are usually “stuff that we just share and both do all the time.”
“I thought it’d be nice for her to come home to everything immaculate and done,” Hunnam says.”I put flowers in the bedroom and in the kitchen, so she came home and was happy.”
For his new movie, Hunnam teams up with Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek to tackle roles originally played by Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in the 1973 film of the same name. The film is an adaption of Henri Charrière’s memoir, which tells the story of his imprisonment and repeated escapes from the infamous prison colony of Devil’s Island.
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You can dance around it, or you can be Charlie Hunnam and just come out and say it: His King Arthur movie this spring was not a win.
Hunnam doesn’t read reviews, but “I couldn’t be in the center of that thing and not be aware it was going horribly wrong,” the star says Friday, a day after debuting his new film, Papillon, at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Today he’s tucked into a corner of the Ritz-Carlton hotel, cap on, black bomber jacket zipped up to the neck. The candid 37-year-old says when it came to selling the Guy Ritchie film, “I was going to be a pro, and I was grateful for it and liked everyone that was involved. But I had some pretty big reservations about the end result. It didn’t reflect the movie that I thought we were making.”
The $175 million King Arthur carried hopes of becoming a franchise-starter, but stopped cold after earning a tepid $39 million at the box office.
After the dust settled, “I had a week when I wasn’t feeling very happy,” he admits. “I had allowed myself to get seduced by the scope of it and the potential upside of that financial scope for what I could then parlay into creatively (producing and writing). That was the bummer for me.”
Now Hunnam is back on his feet in Toronto with Papillon, a remake of the 1973 film which starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Hunnam lost over 40 pounds to take on McQueen’s role of a thief shipped off from France for a life sentence in a primitive prison camp in colonial French Guiana.
At the festival, Variety noted Papillon’s “somewhat self-conscious gravity has aged well.” Though less enthused, The Hollywood Reporter said Hunnam and co-star Rami Malek “prove to be an entertaining duo” playing begrudging inmates who begrudgingly bond behind bars.
The Brit, who ate next to nothing for Lost City of Z prior to shooting Papillon, put himself into solitary confinement for eight days during the shooting without food or water. (The real Henri Charriere, the real-life subject of the tale, was in solitary confinement in the South American camp for two years.)
Hunnam hopes the historical tale of inhumane treatment opens dialogue about the state of the current American prison system.
Inside the modern prison system, “it is exactly the same, really, in conditions and everything,” he says. “I’ve spent a lot of time visiting prisons in the U.S. and it is shocking.”
What will Hunnam do next? Three weeks ago, his Netflix film Triple Frontier fell apart after Ben Affleck pulled out to focus on his wellness and family, followed by other contenders including Mark Wahlberg, Mahershala Ali and Chadwick Boseman. So he’s taking six months off.
“I’m going to hang with my girl, I’m going to write the two screenplays I want to write,” says Hunnam. “I’m going to do some therapy, think a lot about the future and just recalibrate.”
Right now, he’s writing madly, “six days a week, usually 15 hours a day,” he says. “I write like it’s my obsession and I’m so happy.”
The former Sons of Anarchy star might even forgo acting in the future.
“I don’t know if I feel like I’ve got the chops to get to the destination of putting in Daniel Day-Lewis-caliber performances. Maybe. Maybe not,” says Hunnam. “But I’m certainly a long way from it. And I don’t enjoy the process. I (expletive) love writing. Maybe I’ll just become a writer-producer. I’m really, really seriously considering that.”
It seems Charlie Hunnam is angling to join Christian Bale and (the newly retired?) Daniel Day Lewis in the ranks of handsome British leading men who are known for suffering through absurdly unpleasant conditions for their craft. Shortly after the horror that was filming Lost City of Z (in which a beetle burrowed into his ear in the Amazon) the actor started shooting Papillon, which tells the true story of Henri Charrière, who suffered in and repeatedly escaped from a French Guiana prison dubbed “Devil’s Island” in the 1930s. Sounds pleasant.
While the prison break story has already been brought to the big screen in 1973 starring Steve McQueen as Charrière and Dustin Hoffman as a fellow convict who aids in his escape, this rendition (which costars Rami Malek in Hoffman’s role) presents a more brutally honest depiction of the horrid conditions these inmates faced. Never one to phone it in via green screen, Hunnam went to extremes for the role.
As Hunnam explained to W today, while promoting Papillon at the Toronto International Film Festival:
“The last sequence in the film is a 20-minute sequence in solitary [confinement] and by the point I was shooting that at the end of the film, my mind and body and f—ing will to live had all really shut down. I just stayed in that cell for eight days and I never ate and I didn’t drink any water… I just chain-smoked cigarettes for eight days. By the time I got out of there, I really felt like I’d lost connection to reality a little bit. I couldn’t go home to see my girlfriend, I had to go to England for a week to get my shit together. I thought, if I show up now after not seeing my girlfriend for four months, she’s going to be like, ‘Dude.’”
To make matters worse, the actor’s recent roles have him on a yo-yo diet from hell. “It’s been really unpleasant, these last two films,” he said. “I’m naturally 180 and I got down to 145 for both films. I lost the weight easy for Lost City of Z, but then I had to do it for Papillon, like, eight months later and my body went into total f—ing crisis.”
Unsurprisingly, Hunnam, while sipping a green juice, swore he’s not going to “do that again to myself for a while.” Although, his next film Triple Frontier, directed by J.C. Chandor for Netflix, is described as “a thriller set in the notorious border zone between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil where the Iguazu and Parana rivers converge.” Hmm.
Meanwhile, if you need to get out of prison, Hunnam is your man. Just don’t expect him to stage an elaborate breakout. “I had to get my pal out of jail this week, so I am actually pretty nifty when people get arrested,” he said. “I’ve bailed many of my friends out of prison.”
Charlie Hunnam kicks off day one of TIFF with “Papillon”, telling ET Canada he loves spending time in Toronto with the city’s cinemagoers who he hopes will see his latest film as more than just a remake of the original 1973 movie with Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen.
Charlie and director Guy Ritchie stopped by The Graham Norton Show on May 12th to promote their film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and more. You can check out the video below in case you missed it.
Screen captures to be posted soon!