Neither director wanted him, but then they took a look at him, and then he opened his mouth.
He was hungry, and pushy, and the director Guy Ritchie liked that. He was gorgeous, and charmed women and children, and the director James Gray liked that, too.
Charlie Hunnam is not exactly a household name in the United States, at least not just yet.
He is known in some quarters as the guy who backed out of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” He is known in others as the conflicted capo of a California motorcycle gang in the FX series “Sons of Anarchy.” Four years ago, he starred in Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim,” and a decade before that played a menacing albino Confederate in Anthony Minghella’s “Cold Mountain.” Across the pond, in his native England, he rose to fame as a teen, playing a coltish gay youngster in the breakout series “Queer as Folk.”
But all those parts did not make a breakout star of Mr. Hunnam, 37, not least because he has been enormously picky about roles. He once spent a few lean years living off an organic marijuana crop he cultivated in his Los Angeles home, he said, rather than taking jobs that left him cold.
“I can’t even believe I’m being this candid,” Mr. Hunnam said as he revealed his pot-growing days — they’re behind him now, he swears — over a lunch of seared halibut and spring peas at the Four Seasons in Lower Manhattan a few weeks ago.
Tall and V-shaped, blond and chiseled, Mr. Hunnam has been likened to Brad Pitt and Channing Tatum. Yet he didn’t carry the “here we go again” ennui or whiff of wariness that often permeates the air around celebrities. This despite the fact that he was in the thick of the press tour for “King Arthur,” the $102 million film Mr. Ritchie directed and helped write, in theaters Friday, May 12, with Mr. Hunnam as its star.
Scant weeks before, he had been out promoting Mr. Gray’s “The Lost City of Z,” which he starred in, too. By every appearance, the lean years are no more. Yet both films nearly eluded him.
Mr. Ritchie flatly refused to consider Mr. Hunnam for Arthur at first, not least because he envisioned a king with an action-figure physique. “There’s more fat in a chip than there is on Charlie,” Mr. Ritchie said in an interview. “I just didn’t think he was robust enough.”
Infuriated, Mr. Hunnam flew to London from Los Angeles to force a meeting that Mr. Ritchie couldn’t say no to because Mr. Hunnam’s manager is his close friend. Looking back, Mr. Hunnam said he was not sure how much he wanted the role; he just wanted to be seen. Yet within five minutes, Mr. Ritchie said, “I knew I loved him.”
The director continued, “When someone’s hungry and pushy and they can back it up with something, then it’s a wonderful conspiracy.” Mr. Hunnam was smart, meticulous and dived deep. He also hit the gym like a madman and, soon enough, looked like He-Man.
This in turn dismayed Mr. Gray, when, eight days after wrapping “King Arthur,” Mr. Hunnam showed up for a costume fitting for “Z.” The film is about Percy Fawcett, a real-life British explorer who disappeared in the Amazon in 1925 while searching for signs of an ancient civilization.
Mr. Hunnam recalled that the “Z” director “looked in abject horror at my body and said, ‘This is a disaster, this is nowhere close to the physicality that we need for Fawcett.’” Mr. Hunnam added: “I just looked like a superhero, you know? Stupid.”
All of which he managed to blame on Mr. Pitt. When he took his shirt off in “Fight Club” and “Snatch,” Mr. Hunnam said, he created “a new expectation of what a man should be.”
That said, Mr. Pitt was the one who got Mr. Hunnam the part of Fawcett. Mr. Pitt’s production company, Plan B, had tapped Mr. Gray, whose previous films include “The Yards” and “We Own the Night,” to write and direct the picture.
Mr. Pitt was to star but dropped out because of scheduling conflicts; then the lead was to be Benedict Cumberbatch, but his wife was about to give birth. Plan B suggested Mr. Hunnam, at which point Mr. Gray balked.
“I thought he was a Hells Angels kind of guy, which makes me feel like an absolute fool beyond comprehension,” Mr. Gray said, in a phone chat.
After learning Mr. Hunnam was British, Mr. Gray invited him over for dinner, making spaghetti and meatballs, which Mr. Hunnam dutifully ate even though, as Mr. Gray later learned, he avoids carbs.
“He was so warm and funny. My wife thought he was handsomest man in the world, and my son was obsessed with him,” Mr. Gray said. “‘Lost City of Z’ is all about feelings of inadequacy about class. He understood all that stuff, and spoke to it directly.”
For Mr. Gray, that was key. Like his character in the film, Mr. Hunnam burned with the need to prove himself. Continue reading
Working With Guy Ritchie
Charlie Hunnam: Any time you are going to retell a story that has been told many times before, you have to do something different and make it your own. And one of the things that Guy had been very eager to do, which I thought was wise, was to make Arthur just an everyman. You or I or anybody could just be going about their life and then all of a sudden have this grand destiny thrust upon them, and how would we react. And in the classic hero journey, always this grand destiny is presented, and there’s a reluctance to the call. And what Guy and I got most excited about in talking about this character, is where that reluctance came from. And of course if comes down to fear, a sense of inadequacy, or not being able or having the requisite skill set or experience to be able to take on this lofty challenge. That was something that was really interesting and relatable to everybody, and certainly something that I had spent a lot of time thinking about. I have always truly believed that anybody is capable of doing anything, if they just cultivate a robust enough sense of self-belief and know that the journey is going to be difficult and there is going to be failure and you just have to endure that. And rather than build a wall to protect yourself from the pain that comes with that, actually just say listen, I am going to feel the pain, I am going to learn the lesson and just keep on my journey and ultimately I will arrive at the goal. So that was sort of an interesting and I think exciting reimagining of Arthur, because traditionally he has always been the noble man on a noble journey to become a noble king, which is great, but it is not that relatable and it doesn’t give the journey as much breadth.
In terms of the dialect and stuff, I always feel, if you are going to adhere to the strict rules of period, then you want period speak, but actually people are just people and if you don’t get too labored in trying to be true to a period, then again I think it’s just a bit more accessible. And it’s also because Arthur is a bit more rough and ready and because Guy had made that choice to make him a regular man, then we needed that to be reflected in the dialect.
Guy is so infectious in his personality and he is so charismatic and I always feel that Guy’s films are deceptively personal and you wouldn’t necessarily think it because it’s not like he is exploring his deepest, innermost fears and sort of bleeding all over the screen in the way that some of those great directors do.
I got the sense, before I had ever met Guy, that I knew the characters in his films. And then when I got to know him better, I recognized a lot of the traits of those favorite characters in his films had come directly from Guy. I realized in the early weeks of the film that I was actually just doing my best Guy Ritchie impersonation. He really informs a lot of the sensibility of the characters that he brings to life.
Ritchie’s Personality and Humor
CH: He’s a rascal with a very robust sense of humor. And that really informs the whole process. I tend to have a good sense of humor and have a laugh in my real life, but I have had a tendency in the past to be very earnest and serious about my work and I think Guy recognized that. He said, here’s the mandate for the film, you and I need to have fun everyday together, because this film needs to be fun and if you and I are making each other laugh and having fun, then that is going to reflect in the film and we are going to make the audience laugh and they are going to have fun. That was liberating for me, and I must say it was wonderful. I have had much more fun on this film than I have ever had on anything I have done before. His humor defuses every tense situation on the set, it informs every decision.. Initially, his intention was to do something that was a bit of departure from his prior work, he wanted to be a bit more linear and classic and have a somber quality to this, but as soon as we started rehearsing, his creative truth took over and he realized that we needed more levity than he intended.
CH: With Guinevere, it’s a love triangle in the purest sense of the phrase. It’s one of the most dynamic and exciting parts of the Arthurian legend. We hope that if, obviously the audience decides these things, but if there is an appetite for this film, we are certainly very excited about going on and making some more of them. But what is great about that is that Guinevere is the love of Arthur’s life, and he absolutely adores her, but Lancelot is the second love of his life, sort of the brother he never had and in a way maybe, elements of a father he never had. Obviously the male dynamics to Arthur are very important. And so these two people that he loves the most, obviously come together and betray him and obviously that presents the opportunity for great drama.
Fame and How It Changed You?
CH: I was walking the streets with Guy, he, as I sort of anticipated and hoped, has become a very dear friend of mine and we love to hang out and spend time together. It’s funny, I have been asked this a lot, it seems that there is some perception that this film is going to make me a much bigger star than I am already, but you know, I never ever personally think about my life and my work in that context. Everybody has a different journey that leads them to becoming an actor and some people, and I have no judgment on this, some people are seeking fame and fortune, and that’s fine, as long as they back it up with a work ethic and also a desire to do the best work that they can do. I have never cared about fame at all, I have been, my journey was being a lonely, existential kid who grew up in a very economically depressed place, where everybody was in survival mode, and I recognized the tragedy in that, that people didn’t have the opportunity to bring forth the intention that they had, or the hope that they had for their life. And I always loved film. And as a very young boy, preoccupied with this idea that time is so precious and that we only have one life and our only responsibility is to live it as full as we can. And I identified film as the way that I wanted to spend my life. I just feel incredibly grateful and lucky to be able to work with people like James Gray and Guy Ritchie and I arrived at a place in my career where I have the opportunity to do the type of movies and the caliber of work that I have always dreamed of.
I also have a whole other theory about having to stay humble and pure in the process, because energetically in the world, I feel like the stories that want to be told, and the universe decides who are going to be the vehicles to tell those stories, and if you stay pure and true, then once in a while the universe will say, alright, it’s your turn, you can go tell this story. But I think staying humble within that is very important. I read a book years ago called “The Five Rings” and it was about a samurai in the end of the samurai tradition in Japan, and he talked a lot about the relationship that a samurai had with his sword, and how a samurai had to sacrifice everything in his life through the sword, and in return, in the moments, that five minutes a year that he had to engage in combat, the sword would return all that sacrifice, and save his life and protect him. There is something about that energetic relationship that you have to your calling in life that I think needs to remain very pure. This sounds pretentious as fuck and I am sorry, but it’s my belief. Continue reading
Charlie stopped by AMC’s new after-hours talk show Talking with Chris Hardwick this past weekend to discuss a plethora of subjects ranging from his films The Lost City of Z and 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!
CHARLIE HUNNAM IS MORE SCHOLAR THAN WARRIOR, BLENDING ÜBER-MASCULINITY WITH INTROVERTED FRAGILITY. THIS IS NO COINCIDENCE: FEW OTHER ACTION HEROES HAVE DUG SO DEEPLY INTO THEIR SOUL. WE CAUGHT UP WITH THE KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD STAR.
HE RED BULLETIN: Charlie, you play King Arthur in the new film, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. What exactly does it take to become king?
CHARLIE HUNNAM: In Arthur’s case, he comes from nothing and is suddenly presented with a destiny he never intended for himself. He’s terrified of this responsibility, because no external challenge can prepare you for that.
What is the challenge?
You have to conquer the demons within to be strong enough. While I was playing Arthur, I thought an enormous amount about Conor McGregor, the reigning lightweight champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. His attitude is: “There is no opponent. I am fighting myself in the octagon. It’s only me and my own fears and the execution of my own ability that is going to win or lose a fight for me.”
Yeah. When you get to your mid-30s, you realize that, for better or worse, you’re a product of the social and environmental influences you were exposed to as a child. So over the last four or five years I’ve been digging deep, trying to identify what’s helpful and good and healthy and what are just hangovers from disappointments or traumas I experienced in my childhood.
Are you doing this by yourself or do you have your own personal Merlin to help you?
I’ve been lucky enough to have had several mentors, one of them being Guy Ritchie. He turned me on to a book by Napoleon Hill, titled Outwitting the Devil: The Secret to Freedom and Success. It’s a 350-page interview between the writer and the devil. What you realize is that the devil represents our own struggle with ourselves. You have to break down your innermost fears into digestible portions, then you can understand and overcome them. I must admit it’s not a particularly fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but it’s incredibly valuable in the long run.
What kind of traumas have you suffered from?
As a kid, I got picked on. I got into a lot of fights, losing some and getting severely beaten a few times. When that happens to you, you just feel like, “I’m going to do everything in my power to never be in a situation like this again.” Hence you go out and learn how to fight.
Sounds like a reasonable reaction…
I still do martial arts training and I’m eager to never let that happen again. But then I developed this tendency to carry [that belligerence] into every room. I wanted people to know, “Look, if you’re going to f*ck with me, it’s going to go badly for you.” But then you realize you’ve become a slave to the thing you’re afraid of. In a lot of ways, I started channeling my father.
A father who, according to interviews with you was something of a hard man in your hometown of Newcastle.
He was a formidable guy, and when I was younger I was actively playing the role of my father, especially in my film work. A lot of people who have come into contact with violence and felt victimized in their childhood will grow into a person who perpetuates that cycle and themselves become a bully. What I did was play a lot of really hard characters. I felt that I exorcised those fears by being a macho dude on screen. But that also bled into my perception of myself in real life—it’s not that I was a bully, but I identified with having the respect of the men in any circle I was a part of. Now I realize that’s just a bunch of nonsense, because I know who I really am. Continue reading
Hey guys! So looks like Charlie will be making yet another stop as he continues his promotion of his film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Be sure to set your DVR’s because our guy will be on CONAN this coming Thursday May 11th on TBS!
Thursday, May 11th at 11|10c
Charlie Hunnam did several hundred push-ups a day to get in shape for his role in “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.” We think he’s definitely fit to be king.
Charlie stopped by Jimmy Kimmel LIVE on May 4th to promote his film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. You can watch the episode below in case you missed it. Screen captures will be up soon!