HollywoodReporter.com — “I feel good,” Charlie Hunnam said with a smile (and an asterisk) upon hitting the red carpet Monday night outside Westwood’s Bruin Theater, host of the world premiere of his new Apple TV+ series Shantaram.
The asterisk is necessary because Hunnam’s emotional state is understandably layered, especially on the eve of this long-gestating series based on Gregory David Robert’s 2003 blockbuster novel finally being seen by the world. Shantaram casts Hunnam as the lead, Lin Ford, an on-the-run fugitive who escapes to Bombay, India, where he gets lost among the city’s vibrant characters in the often mysterious and seedy underbelly.
“When I wrap and the job’s over, I’ve already gone through the highs and the lows,” Hunnam explained to The Hollywood Reporter about the series, produced for the streamer by Paramount Television Studios and Anonymous Content’s AC Studios. “I’ve already judged it on what we did well and what we didn’t do well so it’s sort of surreal to finally be here because I’ve been so deep in this for so long that I don’t know how to feel. I actually feel numb tonight, maybe somewhat unemotional.”
He was quick to clarify: “I am excited for the world to see it but after seven years, I suppose I’m saying that it’s more personal to me than sharing it with the outside world and I suppose it all hasn’t really sunk in yet.”
He has a few more days to process. Shantaram will make its global debut on Apple TV+ with the drop of the first three episodes of its 12-episode first season on Oct. 14. A new episode will then roll out weekly through Dec. 16. Steve Lightfoot leads the charge as co-creator, writer and executive producer alongside executive producers Nicole Clemens, Andrea Barron, Justin Kurzel and the late Steve Golin. Eric Warren Singer, who was previously attached as creator and showrunner before Lightfoot took over, also receives an executive producer credit.
A novel-length text would be required to detail the backstory of bringing Shantaram to the screen. Over the years, everyone from Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton to filmmakers Peter Weir and Mira Nair were attached for a feature film version. Then, in 2018, Paramount and Anonymous snapped up adaptation rights once they became available, setting Singer and director Justin Kurzel to spearhead the series starring Hunnam. However, after two episodes were shot, the show went on hiatus and Singer was replaced by Lightfoot in a complete creative overhaul.
Hunnam says the richness of Roberts’ storytelling has made it such a hot commodity. “It’s an extraordinary journey of a man who goes through darkness to find light, and there’s action, adventure, romance and the exciting foreign nature of the environments,” says the actor, who hasn’t starred in a TV series since Sons of Anarchy. “All of the things [Shantaram] surfaced are the same things that I found compelling to investigate in my own life. When I first read this book, I was thinking a huge amount about God, about philosophy and psychology and about my experience in the world. These are all subjects that Greg writes about and he really swings for the fences. He not only tasked himself with telling an extraordinary story and delivering compelling drama as the story goes along, but he also tasked himself with figuring out the meaning of life through this text, you know? What is the nature of God? If God does exist, what is God?”
Hunnam continued: “Thematically, it was just an unbelievable playground to go and spend time in and around to try to understand the things that I want to spend my life thinking about.”
The playground was not always the healthiest place to play, however.
During his conversation with THR on Monday, Hunnam, who spent a generous amount of time speaking with every media outlet on the red carpet, opened up about battling a serious series of health issues, first on Shantaram and continuing through to his current project, Zack Snyder’s Rebel Moon.
“When I was in India, I got a bacterial gut infection, a viral gut infection, an acute respiratory infection. I had conjunctivitis in both eyes, an ear infection and dengue fever from a mosquito bite,” Hunnam said, rattling off the illnesses without missing a beat.
That’s another reason why an asterisk is required when Hunnam says he’s feeling good. Because while he walked down the red carpet with a smile, he wasn’t exactly feeling great due to a recent injury he sustained while filming Snyder’s Rebel Moon.
“I just finished doing the Zack Snyder film and got injured again. I have a totally exploded S1 and S2 that are torn wide open, a hundred percent dehydrated,” Hunnam said of the injuries to areas that affect the hips and the groin area (for S1) and the back of the thighs (for S2). “It’s going to take two years to heal and I have a 40 percent tear on the ligament on the right side that holds my spinal column in place.”
But, as he says, “The show must go on.”
“I am getting to a point where I’m less tolerant of getting injured and more eager to try and figure out ways to avoid that and mitigate that moving forward. But the intrepid nature of these experiences go hand in hand with the stories that I’m drawn to, so it kind of goes with the territory.”
Asked how he sustained the injury on Rebel Moon, Hunnam said it happened while he was preparing for the part in the project, details of which are being closely guarded.
“It was through nobody’s fault,” he said. “I was training really hard for some big physical requirements that I had to do but I had lost a lot of weight and not really been training for a few years during COVID. So then, really getting back to an aggressive regimen while not listening to my body or giving myself enough time to rest and trying to get as big as I could as quickly as I could, ended up just destroying my back.”
If only compliments could help him heal, Hunnam would be well on his way. His Shantaram collaborators had no problem spreading the love about their leading man up and down the line.
Paramount TV president Clemens, who notched her first executive producer credit on the series after first developing it during her tenure at Anonymous, called Hunnam “the absolute best number one on a call sheet you could ever have.”
“Charlie is Lin,” Clemens added. “I think people are going to be blown away by his performance. Who he is and what he’s about is very much in line with the spirit of his character and that really comes through. He’s a phenomenal leader and an amazing, amazing man.”
Veteran actor and Shantaram co-star Vincent Perez agrees. “I love the actor and I love the man. He’s an incredible soul and someone who’s always open, always very generous. Also, I was amazed by the way he works and his commitment. For eight or nine months straight, every day, he was always focused, always on top of things. Then, outside the set, we built a relationship and became friends. He’s a wonderful soul and really has something very spiritual and very special about him.”
Added Lightfoot: “Charlie was attached when I came on board. He was one of the attractions for me because he has this great mix of dynamism and mischief on one hand, and on the other, he has a real willingness to go to very emotional, vulnerable places that his character required. He did such a great job.”
Now the question becomes, will he get to continue to do it? Everyone was mum on whether plans for season two are already in the works but it’s clear they all hope so.
“We did the best job we could possibly do with the first season, against at times what seemed to be insurmountable odds,” Hunnam said. “We did some things really, really well and captured some magic. There’s some things that we can do better if we had the opportunity to go back season two and the hope is we get to continue telling the story the way it wants to be told, whether that’s in 10, 20 or 30 more hours. One thing is clear: This text has an energy of its own and demands to be told the way it wants to be told.”
Showrunner Steve Lightfoot on the biggest challenges the production faced: “When we got to Thailand, we got hit with thunderstorms out of nowhere and we’d lose four hours. We’d have to work out how to make that back in a day. Oddly, because it was something we couldn’t control or quantify, that was probably the hardest thing we dealt with.”
Paramount TV chief Nicole Clemens said she hopes the series will resonate with global viewers as it “hits at just the right moment.” She added: “The themes are relevant today in terms of globalization and also how it speaks to empathy and the connection between people. I feel very hopeful for having it come out right now. I do believe that timing is everything and things have a way of manifesting at just the right moment.”