Collider.com — During this in-depth 1-on-1 chat with Collider, Hunnam tells us why he was drawn to playing Stanley, what it was like to get to know and work with O’Connell, and why he’s already looking to work with Winkler again. He also talked about the status of his Apple TV+ series Shantaram, whether he’d do another long-running TV show like Sons of Anarchy, whether he’s involved with the Pacific Rim Netflix anime series, and much more.
COLLIDER: What was it about Jungleland that drew you in? Was it the story, was it the character, was it the relationship between these brothers, or was it all of that?
CHARLIE HUNNAM: It’s a testament to Max [Winkler]’s great writing but it just felt like a fresh character, in terms of general film history. I didn’t feel like I’d seen a character like Stanley portrayed too many times but it was also specifically a very fresh character for me. Although there’s a lot of color and a heightened sensibility to the film (or at least more so on the page than the final results), it was clear that Max was really interested in exploring something specific about the way in which people, but men in particular, interact with each other. It was just very clear that, although there was the relationship with the love story between Jess Barden and Jack O’Connell’s characters, the central love story was between these two brothers and their abiding deep sense of loyalty and love that they have for each other, and their absolute inability to express it and demonstrate it, in any way that might mitigate some of the inevitable, impending catastrophe that was clearly on the horizon. I came from a very, very working-class, tough environment where men didn’t really interact with each other in a way that I found deeply satisfying. So there was something about that, that felt personal to me, and that I was interested in exploring.
When you read a script, in general, how quickly do you typically know when it’s something that you want to do and that you can bring something to, and how quickly did you know when reading this?
HUNNAM: Immediately. It’s a two-step process for me. I’ve read so many scripts, at this point, that I just know right away — really within the first few pages — if the quality of the writing is there or if you can feel that it’s gonna be thematically resonant. That immediately became clear but I wasn’t familiar with Max’s work. So the second threshold is always having faith and excitement and being inspired by the director. I went and watched his film Flower, which I thought was really, really unique and frisky. I felt he had a voice that I was excited about and the performances in Flower are very, very good. Obviously, so much of an actor’s performance is going to be predicated on the way the director handles you on set, and then handles the raw material once they get into the edit room.
So, both of those things in conjunction made it a no-brainer immediately. I read the script and watched the film, over the course of one day, and then calls and said, “I wanna meet with Max,” and told him in the room, “I wanna do this movie.” It was a pretty easy process, in that regard.
Was there a specific point where you went from being someone who was excited just to get a script to read, to being able to tell pretty quickly if it wasn’t something that you would want to do?
HUNNAM: Yeah. There have been many steps along the process to get to where I am now and I can see that there are many steps ahead of me and I would like to hopefully be able to cross several more thresholds to get to where I would optimally like to be as a performer and as part of a filmmaking team, but yeah, definitely. What I’m realizing now is how long it took for me to have the self-belief to advocate for myself and say, “I’m only gonna align myself with a certain caliber of people.”
It’s an ever-evolving scale but I feel very fortunate that I’m in the position that I’m in now, where I’m getting not only good quality material with good directors but also a diversity of roles. People are not just seeing me as a sensitive tough guy. They’re actually seeing that I have the capacity to do other things, too, which is really heartening and something that is becoming increasingly important to me. I went through a process of dealing with some personal shit that I had to go through and dealing with trauma from childhood through work. I was feeling scared and like a sensitive kid in a tough environment, and it created a lot of self-loathing, so I decided that I wanted to play all of these tough guys for a long time, to get past this trauma and this negative self-image that I’d created for myself from my childhood. I realize now that I’ve exercised those demons and don’t need to do that anymore, and I’m not really interested in doing that anymore.
As you have started to produce and write things for yourself, does that also change your perspective on how you read something or what you want to do?
HUNNAM: Yeah. It’s a bit cerebral but this year has been incredibly impactful for me. I want to preface that I, by no means, want to sound like anything that’s happened this year is a positive thing because it’s obviously been incredibly tough for everybody, but the isolation has afforded me the opportunity to sit down and do what I have come to term from the experience of doing it as my work, in a way that I’ve never really felt in the past. I’ve written, for the last seven months, 85 hours a week, and I’ve not taken a day off where I haven’t written a minimum of 12 hours a day. I wrote a six-part TV show, I wrote a film, and I’m now in the process of outlining a four-part miniseries. I’ve been really immersed in what I feel like is my career 2.0, and it really has been a deeply satisfying experience, in the clearest way I can experience it. I feel like truly, for the first time, that I’m doing my work.
When you’re writing that much and you’re forcing yourself to write every day, how much of that do you dislike and toss out the next day and start over again?
HUNNAM: I’m pretty disciplined in my process. I do a lot of planning and a lot of building. I talk about it in terms of building a house. You have to decide exactly what style you’re gonna build, and then you have to find a piece of land, and then you have to have all of the plans drawn up, and then you have to build the house. That is all preparation work. I’ll outline and re-outline and storyboard until I know every aspect of the film, before I start writing, and then the screenwriting is really just the interior design and decoration. That’s really, really fun, exciting stuff to do. By the time I start writing the actual screenplay in Final Draft, 90% of the work is already done. But the process is a horrible, dementing, laborious process of what feels like breaking rock because you’re trying to create something out of nothing. There are a lot of false starts and, rabbit holes that you can go down. You realize, “Oh, yeah, this is the antithesis of what I should be doing right now,” and you have to be courageous and scrap it. That’s why it’s so important to do all of the prep work. You don’t wanna find yourself halfway through a screenplay and realize that you’ve taken a wrong turn, 30 pages ago.
Max Winkler has talked about how he didn’t really have any actor boot camp or anything set up for you guys to get to know each other prior to shooting this. What was it like to get to know Jack O’Connell, over the course of filming this? How did your relationship together evolve?
HUNNAM: Jack is extraordinary. I was incredibly excited to have the opportunity to work with him. He has a really singular process and he’s an incredibly intuitive actor, so you’re not gonna really spend a lot of time talking theory with Jack. He’s gonna show up and do his thing. What was incredible for me was that it forced me to get out of my own head and to be really, really present, and to just be there with him and react, in a way that I think really informed the relationship on screen. I just never knew what he was gonna do. I don’t mean this in any sort of a pejorative way but it was like having a tiger by the tail. I just had to show up and there was a part of that, that was so innately the relationship that Max had created anyway. It really was a very present and immediate experience of working with him.
How was it to then add a character like Sky into the mix and to have that contrast between these brothers?
HUNNAM: There was just some jazz going on. [Jessica] is also a bit like Jack. She’s really formidable and she definitely has the capacity for critical thought and analysis but I don’t think she really favors that. She wants to show up and have the freedom to do what she wants to do. I was just caught between these two electric powerhouses, trying to wrangle them both in the scene, as my character was supposed to be doing. And Max was really, really fluid, in the way that he shot. There was very rarely any rehearsal. Damián [García], our DP, was incredibly generous, in sacrificing some of his intentions and just saying, “Fuck it, I guess I’m just gonna shoot what you guys do. Let’s keep the camera moving.” It was a very organic process.
You’re also not giving yourself enough credit in your performance because you were just as compelling to watch on screen.
HUNNAM: That’s really lovely to hear. Thank you. I’ve really been trying for my whole career. I don’t think I came into this as innately talented as some of my peers did. I’ve really worked hard to cultivate a skill set and I feel like I’m getting better. In a certain way, right now, I feel that my career is just beginning, that I’ve been in training and in a process of cultivating these skills, learning a craft, and just trying to understand who I was, in order to be able to understand what’s interesting about me and what I have to offer. I’m hoping that the sense that I have about myself right now, actually, is valid and that I’m about to graduate and start a new trajectory in my career, where I can feel a much greater sense of ownership and singularity of the work that I do. But fuck it, we’ll see.
You were shooting the TV series Shantaram earlier this year when filming was put on hold. Have you gone back into production on that?
HUNNAM: No. We went on hold and they had a bit of a creative reshuffle. We replaced the showrunner/creator, so that has created further delays. They’re basically restructuring and giving this new showrunner autonomy to come in and find his vision and redefine what he wants the show to be. So, we’re on a bit of a hold, which has been fine, since I had work that I wanted to do, writing my own stuff. I’ve been grateful for this period of time.
Is that hard to do, when you’re in that headspace and then you have to stop and not know when you’re going to have to return to that headspace?
HUNNAM: Yeah, it is. But it’s also so frequent within this business that one has to learn to deal with it. It’s the worst to have to, for instance, go back and do reshoots. I think any actor will say that’s just the worst experience because you’ve said goodbye and completely shaken that thing out of your system, and then you have to go and find it again, and there’s always the question of, will you be able to find it again. I always feel like you’re playing dress-up, the second time you go around. Not on a TV show but when you have to do reshoots on a film.
Would you do another long-running show after Sons of Anarchy? After spending so many seasons playing one character, is that something you’d want to do again, or would you want to make sure it’s for a shorter time period?
HUNNAM: Yeah. On the show that we were just talking about, we’re talking about three or four seasons. They’re limited seasons. They’re not gonna be 13 or 15 episode seasons like we did on Sons. I think they’re gonna be much more in the 10 episode range. And one of the things that I’ve done in the last six months is to write a TV show for myself, which in success would be a long-form story that we tell over three or four seasons. I quite like long-form storytelling. I really like the element of a family of actors and getting to work with the same people consistently, over a long period of time. There are definitely elements of TV that, to me, are more attractive than film.
You did TV early on in your career, but it’s changed so much and it’s become so different since then.
HUNNAM: Yeah, that’s the thing. If you wanna tell fearless, non-IP-based stories, particularly that have any component that creates an expensive price tag for production, then your best bet is trying to tell them on TV. It’s very hard to get original expensive ideas into production in film.
You did Undeclared with Judd Apatow. Would you ever be interested in working with him again and doing more comedy like that?
HUNNAM: Yeah, it’s funny, I surprised myself, both of the things that I wrote this year, I wrote for myself and one of them is straight satire and the other one has got a very strong comedy component. So, yeah, when I sat down and started to write, my heart let me know that is certainly something that I want to pursue more. I don’t know specifically about that group. I would certainly work with Judd. I don’t know if he’d be interested in working with me. He has not demonstrated that desire, over the last few years. So, I think that might answer the question for us.
Maybe he’s seen Sons of Anarchy and he’s just a little afraid now.
HUNNAM: Maybe. It’s funny, I’ll tell you a little story. Jason Segel wrote Forgetting Sarah Marshall for he and I to do together, and he wrote that [Russell Brand] role for me. I went and I did the table read, and it was very successful. Judd was producing. I was in a dark night of the soul in my career, at that point, and felt as though I needed to seize the trajectory and that just wasn’t really aligning with, at that period of my life and career, what I wanted to be doing. Jason was one of my best friends, which is why he wrote the film for me, but I had to tell him, “I’m so sorry, I’m not gonna do this.”
It was one of those things where that wasn’t very well received by the inner circle of that production. I had to stand my ground and say, “Listen, it’s nothing personal. I’m just following my North Star. I’m just in a weird spot and I’m trying to define for myself what the path forward is.” It was one of those things where it was really difficult for me for the few months after that or a year after that, and then I saw this piece of stand-up. I didn’t know who Russell Brand was but I saw this piece of stand-up that Russell Brand did, on Christmas day with my mom, and it was just this liberating moment where I said, “Obviously, that’s the dude who should have been playing that role. Clearly, I just needed to step out of the way of the universe manifesting itself, the way that it was supposed to.”
My relationship with Jason gave birth to that character but there’s no way I could have done it justice, the way Russell Brand did. I think there’s a rhythm to these things and you just have to really follow your instincts. It’s all you can really ever do. I suppose I brought that up because it’s a nice example of my instincts being proven to me that it was correct, I think. And by the way, I’ve never told anyone that story before. I don’t know if that makes it attractive or not but it’s a world exclusive.
Netflix also recently released the first images from the Pacific Rim anime series that will be out in 2021. Did they reach out to you about doing that? Is that something that you’re involved with, at all?
HUNNAM: This is breaking news to me. I didn’t even know they were doing it. No, nobody ever asked. When I didn’t do the sequel, I think that probably closed that chapter for me.
Were you ever going to do that sequel, when Guillermo del Toro was doing it?
HUNNAM: Yeah. A lot of time went by between us doing [the sequel]. Certainly, when Guillermo was talking about it, then yeah, definitely, I was a part of that conversation and I think that his vision for it included me. But by the time they circled around and decided that they were gonna make it with a different director, we had a conversation about it but I was booked up. There were business elements of it that required them to go into production very quickly. Legendary had just been acquired by Wanda out of China, and they wanted that film made very quickly and I wasn’t available. That’s just what happens. I didn’t deeply lament it. I’d been working in long-form storytelling for a while and we’d already done one Pacific Rim, so I felt like, “Go with God. Go do your thing.” I actually haven’t seen the sequel, so I didn’t ever give myself an opportunity to really think about whether I regret that decision or not.
I’ve read that you have already been talking about possibly collaborating with Max Winkler again. What was it about him that has already brought you back together?
HUNNAM: I love him as a human being and I love him as an artist. He’s become one of my best friends. I just had a really, really wonderful experience working with him on this film and I really like his sensibility as a filmmaker. The project that we’re talking about doing together, we found together, have developed together, and are producing together. It’s the dream. Between the two of us, we have enough weight in the industry that we can say to companies, “We’re gonna go do this. Do you wanna pay for it?” And people go, “Yeah, why not?”
That’s a really unique position for both of us. Neither of us has had that mutually beneficial collaboration, where we just can get shit done together and we love the process. He writes a lot and I write a lot, and we are each other’s first read. He’ll send me all of his scripts first, whether it’s something that’s for me talk to act in or not. We just have that depth of creative collaborations, so it’s a no-brainer that we would get to work together again.