ELLE: A few stories I read described your dad as a “gangster.” True?
Charlie Hunnam: No, he was a scrap-metal man. If, say, a coal mine or a shipyard goes down, there’s an enormous opportunity to go and strip scrap metal and melt it down. It’s incredibly valuable, completely untraceable, and very desirable to steal. Everybody understands that if you fuck around, there will be serious consequences. That’s where his reputation came into play. He was very well known. Some might say even feared. But he wasn’t into making money illegally, which is my definition of a gangster.
How did the town react when you became the face of a Calvin Klein cologne?
I don’t know, because I left there when I was 12. I go back occasionally to see my dad. I think everybody is seduced by the film business, whether they’re tough, salty, Newcastle dudes or young dudes or whatever.
You’re often shirtless in movies. Has that given you some understanding of what it’s like to be a woman in Hollywood?
I never really thought about it in that context.
Okay, do you ever feel objectified?
Not at all. I don’t view myself that way. I obviously am cognizant of the fact that being handsome gives me greater breadth of opportunity. I’d hope that what I bring to the table far surpasses just being handsome.
Actors often describe sex scenes as awkward. What’s the truth?
I try to be sensitive to the fact that we’re doing something intimate, but also keep a clear boundary. Because I’m in a very committed relationship, and I’m also cognizant that it’s not my girlfriend’s favorite part of my job. It’s a delicate balance to strike—to be emotionally open enough to have an experience that feels honest between two people but also maintain that it’s just for the film. It’s not my favorite thing to do. I’m also a germaphobe.
Yeah. I’ve been profoundly germophobic since I was a young child. I don’t want to kiss anyone but my girlfriend for my whole life.
Do you remember how it started?
When I was maybe eight or nine, there was a parasite from dogs in the north of England that, if you ingested it, could turn you blind. We had a thing in schools to educate the kids about the importance of hygiene, specifically around dogs, because we had a few kids who went blind. That horrified me. The point is, everyone thinks it’s great to be an actor and get to kiss a bunch of beautiful actresses in films, but I actually hate it.
Have you ever used your fame to get out of trouble?
There’s definitely a huge number of L.A. police who seem to like Sons of Anarchy. When the show was on, I’d ride my bike to work a little faster than California law would allow. And I got pulled over my fair share. It didn’t always work, but maybe two or three times I didn’t get a ticket. It was very handy.
You were cast in Fifty Shades of Grey but backed out because of scheduling conflicts. Have you seen the film?
I haven’t. I developed a friendship with [director Sam Taylor-Johnson], but that was a somewhat traumatic experience for me. I didn’t want to open that wound.
King Arthur is a story about destiny. Do you believe in fate?
Yes. I think we can affect our own fates, but there’s also a powerful energy that’s the universe or God or whatever your unconscious recognizes that helps along your way.
Is there a story from your own life that informed that view?
No, but I’ll tell you what Henry David Thoreau said: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” I think when you live your destiny, you allow yourself to get in touch with your inner essence. What’s difficult in life is the economic and social requirements that distract us from bringing forth our true passion.
Economic requirements! Don’t you have, like, 80 pairs of sneakers?
I did at a period in my life. Not anymore.
I grew up. I spent an enormous amount of time sourcing the good shit. I needed really limited edition, blah blah blah. Then I thought, What the fuck am I doing? I took out six or seven pairs that I cared about, and I gave the rest to charity.