Screen: When you first read James Gray’s screenplay for The Lost City Of Z, what were your thoughts?
Charlie Hunnam: My initial reaction to reading James’s script was one of total joy and terror. It was, bar none, the best script I’ve ever read. It felt to me like the biggest challenge I had been given so far so I wanted to immediately jump in and give it everything I had.
You had just finishing shooting Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword before The Lost City Of Z. Can you talk about that transition?
King Arthur was incredibly demanding: I was in almost every scene and shooting long hours. By the time we finished shooting, I only had ten days before I started shooting this. I was filled with panic. I used every second of that time to try and transform myself psychologically and physically because I was muscle bound and in action hero mode.
I went through this very rapid process of losing weight [approximately 60lbs in nine weeks]. I wanted to fill myself up with [Percy] Fawcett, I had been slowly and quietly researching. One of the things he admired most as a human characteristic was authenticity, and so it was important for me to put a level of myself into playing him, as much as honouring who I thought he was. I fell in love with Fawcett and felt a responsibility to do him justice.
What was it like working with Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson and [Bafta Rising Star winner] Tom Holland?
I had a couple of rehearsal sessions with Sienna, but I didn’t spend any time with Tom or Robert. I wanted these relationships to evolve naturally on screen. Through the work, I don’t think I said more than ten words to Robert [Pattinson] off camera. I didn’t know if he was just ‘in that zone’ or if he genuinely didn’t like me. There was a real distance between us. But it creates the right dynamic on screen. He’s reached out to me subsequently, making overtures for us to be friends now, so I think it was about the work.
How was working with James Gray, a director who is more known for his success in the independent sector [We Own The Night, Two Lovers] rather than larger scale action films?
James is my kind of director. There was no actual rehearsal in terms of reading scenes, but there were a lot of one-on-one conversations [mainly with James] discussing characters, themes and story. His understanding of narrative and the filmmaking process is so absolute. I felt freed to take risks. Some filmmakers start to make too many choices and the essence of your performance can be lost. But with James, I just knew he got it.
In terms of the size of a movie – that never matters because it is about the human journey in the middle of it. And if you have a good crew around you, the size of a movie just means there will be a few more extras and a few more crew members. James is very insular with his approach to the crew. He is behind the monitor, only speaking with the first AD, the DoP and his actors. So, the film felt intimate. Day to day, I didn’t talk to anyone but James.
What were the challenges in shooting in the Amazon (Santa Marta, Columbia acting as the Bolivian Rain Forest)?
[Percy] Fawcett had this distinct indestructibility – he would go on these explorations where half the men would die, or get gangrene, or were missing limbs, and he seemed like he didn’t get as much as a mosquito bite. So there was this sense that I had to stand up straight in any condition. And I found the more difficult the shooting became, the more engaged I felt in the process.
In addition to a large beetle getting stuck in my ear, the most dramatic experience we had was when we had to evacuate because of the thunder and lightning. The first time the river was rising rapidly, and we couldn’t sail down the river, so instead we had to hike through the jungle in the middle of the night to get to base.
The other time we were very far up the river when a bolt of lightning hit a tree, and knocked me off my feet. I was in the middle of this impassioned plea for us to stay telling James, “This is precisely what we fucking came here for! Roll the camera!”. Then another bolt of lightning came down and James said, “Can we leave now?”
What were your living conditions like?
I wanted to be away from everybody, in a scaled back version of living as much as possible. They found this tiny hotel for me that was basically like little huts in the jungle where I could be by myself. I was so engaged in this process of no emails, no phone – I didn’t speak to the rest of the outside world during the duration of the shooting. When we started shooting the explorations, the others wanted to stay in my hotel, but I couldn’t break the [silent] spell. I just avoided them in the lunch room.
You’ve worked with several strong-minded directors, including Sons of Anarchy showrunner Kurt Sutter and most recently Guy Richie. How is the working experience different to working with someone like James Gray?
Every director has their own process. With Kurt, he became like my big brother. We found this process to marry our styles, and we became deep collaborators.
The thing about Guy is that he has the greatest ability on set of any director I have ever seen. Equal to his ability on set is his inability to synthesise what is going to happen before he gets on set. So when you get to work on any given day, you have no idea what you are going to shoot.
Often he would come on set, and we would read through our lines and he would say, “No, no, no. This is fucking shit!” I am very homework intensive: I prepare at great length what is in the script. So it required for me to become very fluid in my process and to be able to think on my feet.
What upcoming projects are you working on? Will you be involved in the Sons of Anarchy spin-off Mayans MC?
No, I won’t be involved in the spin-off. Right now, I am furiously developing a bunch of stuff. I have four movies in different stages of development that are set up at studios. A couple I have hired writers for, and a couple I am writing myself. That’s the next phase, there is no television at the moment. But I’m very excited about these movies.
It appears Lost City of Z is the film that keeps on giving! Right? Well I’ve added even more stills of Charlie as explorer Percival Fawcett into the gallery. You can check them out now.
Check out even more additional stills of Charlie from his upcoming film Lost City of Z which is due out this coming April! In case you missed the last batch of stills added, you can view those here.
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.
Charlie Hunnam, the actor who turned down the Christian Grey role in Fifty Shades, tells Gemma Dunn he’s no action hero despite his latest movie about explorer Percy Fawcett, which was partly shot in Northern Ireland.
Charlie Hunnam is recalling a time when he embarked on a camping trip – sans mobile phone – with his long-term girlfriend, jewellery designer Morgana McNelis.
“We went into a big wilderness area in California called Kings Canyon”, begins the 36-year-old actor. “I didn’t take my phone with me and she kept saying, ‘Oh it’s going to be so romantic’, and I said, ‘It’s not romantic, it’s adventure, it’s survival’.
“We were going out into the wilderness for seven days,” he reports, animatedly. “And just three days in, we got horribly lost – and were completely lost for four days.
“I was feeling fairly confident two days in; by the third day I started to panic a little bit, and by the fourth, having no idea where we were and seeing no trace of humanity, I started to think, ‘Maybe I should have brought my mobile phone’.”
Holed up in a hotel room, Hunnam – best known as the fearless Jax Teller in the hit FX series Sons Of Anarchy – isn’t casually reeling off past misadventures.
His admission is in light of his latest role in director James Gray’s stirring big-screen tribute, The Lost City Of Z, partly filmed in Northern Ireland.
Swapping his motorbike leathers for camo chic, he leads the incredible true story of UK explorer Percy Fawcett, who journeyed into the Amazon at the dawn of the 20th century and discovered evidence of a previously unknown, and advanced, civilisation.
Despite being ridiculed by the scientific establishment, the adventurer – supported by his devoted wife (Sienna Miller), son (Tom Holland) and aide-de-camp (Robert Pattinson) – returned time and again to his beloved jungle in an attempt to prove his case, culminating in his mysterious disappearance in 1925.
Epicly scaled and multi-faceted, the drama – based on David Grann’s non-fiction bestseller of the same name – provided the change of pace Hunnam needed.
“I’ve been really lucky, particularly in the last few years, that I’ve been getting offered lots of diverse and really interesting things”, notes the actor, whose previous credits include Guillermo del Toro’s films Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak.
He also famously backed out of playing BDSM heart-throb Christian Grey in the film adaptation of 50 Shades Of Grey, which then went to Holywood-born actor Jamie Dornan.
He adds, though, this movie was about the acting rather than the great outdoors. “More than specifically looking for an adventure story per se, I was eager to work with a high-level director and work on a character that was really complex. Continue reading