Press/Interview: Charlie Hunnam And Shubham Saraf Discuss How The Spirit Of Chaos (And One Drunken Night) Fueled ‘Shantaram’

UPROXX recently spoke with Charlie and his Shantaram co-star Shubham Saraf:

I couldn’t help going there because Apple’s first promo image for Shantaram showed you on a bike, and you’re on a bike (for about a second) in the trailer. You’ve talked about that a little bit, but how do you think the SOA audience will receive this show?

Charlie: [Smiles] I don’t even know who the Sons of Anarchy audience is. I get the sense that it’s actually more diverse than one might think initially from looking at the show. I occasionally go to Comic-Con events to see people, and the fanbase still seems very rabid for that show, but it is incredibly diverse. There’s a lot of young people coming to the show who didn’t see it the first time around, which is great. I hope that the audience shows up. I hope that they don’t show up with too much of an expectation that this is some sort of sequel to Sons of Anarchy. Because although one of the lead characters in both shows looks very similar, I think the comparisons really end for me. And listen, I understand. I’ve been sort-of poking fun at Apple a little bit. Apple’s the biggest, most powerful corporation in the world, so they can handle little old me poking fun at them a little. But I don’t know if that was the smartest idea to release that image because it did create a little bit of an expectation that I’m not quite sure we’re going to be able to deliver on, but I’m not the boss.

Both are dramatic and stressful shows, but it looks like you guys had fun, too.

Charlie: We did.

From the moment your character, Lin, hopped off that bus, and Shubham’s character, Prabhu, walked up to him, there was instant chemistry between you two. Had you guys familiarized beforehand, or did you go in cold?

Shubham: Oh, I hadn’t met Charlie! I hadn’t seen Sons of Anarchy. I still haven’t seen Sons of Anarchy! I hadn’t watched one minute of Charlie Hunnam’s work. I had no idea… [Laughs]… who he was until day one of shooting when we were shooting a kind-of key scene about our relationship, and there was a lot riding on it. Everyone was thinking, “Is this going to work?” It’s one of the main relationships of the heart of the show, and I entered. I had no idea what the hell I was going to do. And then I looked across, and there was another man who had no idea what the hell he was going to do. And I went, “Ahhh, we’re together in this. We both don’t know what to do.” And in that was just love, joy. Yeah, I had the time of my life with Charlie, and I think that’s what translated into the characters. And that’s kind-of the spirit with which we led the entire show. Or at least, I hope it translates because I had the time of my life with that man.

Speaking of life, there’s a quote that comes up near the season’s end. Lin says something to the effect of Shakespeare’s works answering all questions in life. Charlie, I’m bringing up SOA again because that was based upon Hamlet. How accurate do you find the notion that Shakespeare can explain everything?

Charlie: I think the quote is “All of the questions and most of the answers in life can be found in Shakespeare,” right? I don’t know… I like that notion. I have not read Shakespeare as much as I would like at this point. I’ve read, you know, the big titles and seen adaptations, so I’m not unfamiliar with Shakespeare, and obviously, he or they were master writers. So I would subscribe to that.

I like how you say, “They,” but I’m listening.

Charlie: I have friends that are true students of Shakespeare and incredibly well versed in Shakespeare and able to quote at will, and there’s seldom a situation that we’re in that they won’t find an appropriate quote to hammer me over the head with, so my experience with those people does lend me to believe that there’s some truth in that statement.

Shubham: Or that they’re just pretentious wankers.

Charlie: Right. I wouldn’t call you that, Shubham.

Shubham: Oh, you’ve revealed me! No, I absolutely love Shakespeare. I find, as an actor, that he gets my blood pumping when sometimes, it lies as still as a lake. Even when I don’t realize it, he sort-of brings me to life. And I think the questions and answers that Shakespeare deals with are the ones of limitless humanity. And I think when you’re looking at life on that kind of scale and humanity on that scale… that’s kind-of why I’m an actor. That’s why we do what we do, so yeah, I definitely subscribe to that.

This book is about 20 years old and had quite an adventure being adapted. It was almost a Johnny Depp movie. I feel like everything happens for a reason, so why do you think this show is finally surfacing in 2022?

Charlie: I think it’s exclusively by virtue of the fact that the landscape of media has changed so radically since the book came out. Hollywood and the filmmaking entities were so film-centric twenty-two years ago, whereas now, we’re in this new golden age of television. And this is truly sort of an odyssey story, you know, Greg very densely packs a lot of story into 980 pages. And so it almost was a fool’s errand — and I’m not calling Johnny Depp a fool — it was big challenge to try and distill 980 pages into two hours. I felt when I read the book, coming at it from the perspective of longform storytelling in television, it just seems like a no-brainer that you would try to tackle this beast in fifty hours as opposed to two.

Like you said, there’s a lot here. There’s something funny (to me) that happens throughout, when Lin says that he’s about to leave Bombay. He keeps saying it, and then mayhem breaks out, and it doesn’t happen. It’s so serious, but also humorous, to wonder how that worked while shooting?

Charlie: It was chaos. Chaos ruled the day, in both, the story we were telling and certainly in the process in which we were telling it. It was just mad. We were shooting in India and then we couldn’t shoot in India, and now, we’re in Thailand. We have directors that are set, and then we lose them for some reason. We were block-shooting all twelve episodes, so on any given day, Shubham and I were shooting scenes from Episode 1, scenes from Episode 7, and then a scene from Episode 3, a scene from Episode 12. You know, the last scene, and then let’s go back and do another scene from Episode 1. With three different directors often speaking two different languages, for me, speaking sometimes four different dialects a day. It was insanity.

I’m feeling dizzy just hearing about this.

Charlie: Honestly, I was really nervous. The obstacles that we had to navigate on a daily basis were certainly threatening to inhibit the ultimate quality that we were able to deliver. And I think it was sort-of, by hook or by crook, we managed to deliver something that we’re all very proud of. But I can say that if we are blessed with the opportunity to go and tell another chapter of this, we’ve learned lessons, and we’re gonna capitalize on that, and I think we’re gonna be able to do better next time.

Shubham: I think that spirit of chaos in the process of making it lent, I hope, a kind of delicious quality that kind of trickled down to the pixels and the screen because I think, and Charlie said this, India is like one of the biggest characters of this story, and it’s a place that shouldn’t work. This story shouldn’t work, but somehow, it does. And that was mirrored exactly in how we went about making this happen. There were points where I remember that we thought that we had to stop shooting. We thought, alright, that’s it, and then we drank for twelve hours, and you carried me to bed…

Oh my god, don’t stop there.

Shubham: … I passed out and thought that was the end.

I feel like there’s a good story here.

Shubham: I’m just joking!

Charlie: I did. There’s video evidence. I carried you and put you to bed like I was your father. Laid you down and [laughs] stroked your hair. We were both drunk that night, it was an insane amount of alcohol. It was like a prodigious alcohol session where we drank for fourteen, fifteen hours, and yeah, then I tucked Shubham into bed and went home.

Shubham: And then we carried on filming. It shouldn’t have worked, but somehow it did. And that’s the show, man. That’s what I think it is.

Charlie: Yeah, it’s such a beautiful perspective on the show. I hadn’t sort-of correlated that, but I do think that the chaos probably actually did lend something really positive to the experience.

I would agree. It’s an expansive show, and I’m blown way about what it’s pulled off, especially after previous efforts couldn’t get there.

Charlie: Are you? Oh, thank you.

Very serious about that. Now, in terms of the mental and physical challenges of this show, did you prepare for one side more than the other?

Charlie: Yes, less so than I’m used to [with the physical], and I’m certainly much less excited [about that]. I was more interested in exploring themes and characters and the human condition through acting. I’ve never been particularly interested in the physical element of it, although I have a physical capability that has been recognized, and I supposed I’ve capitalized on. But there was some physical stuff to do. I was trying to keep my weight down, so I wasn’t eating very much through most of it, but mainly it was mental. Greg and Lin are such sophisticated, brilliant, complicated human beings. I spent more of my time trying to understand them than getting my body looking good.

Yeah, the themes in this show are huge. Alienation and loneliness, but I received the heads up that we’ve got one more question, so I’ll ask both of you this: if you could put Lin and Prabhu into another show or movie, where would you like them to go?

Shubham: Thelma and Louise. I want to see a movie with Thelma and Louise and Prabhu and Lin, escaping from something.

Charlie: And maybe Cheech and Chong. I feel like we could do a good remake of Cheech and Chong.

Shubham: Cheech and Chong!

Charlie: Either in our lives or actually to film it. We could have a good time with that.