Charlie Hunnam on ‘Sons of Anarchy’, ‘Pacific Rim’, and Henry David Thoreau

Charlie Hunnam Sons of Anarchy Season 6 Interview

Charlie Hunnam as Jackson 'Jax' Teller in 'Sons of Anarchy' (Photo Credit: James Minchin/FX)

By Fred Topel

During the 2013 summer Television Critics Association press event, Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam – just announced to play Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey – sat down with me to talk about being a part of the critically acclaimed FX series. Topics of conversation during our interview ranged from SoA to the possibility of a Pacific Rim sequel to the influence his parents had on his career choices and philosophy of life.

Charlie Hunnam Sons of Anarchy Interview:

What’s the difference between Sons of Anarchy and doing a big blockbuster?

Charlie Hunnam: “I mean, the heart of it is always the challenge is still the same to try to bring the character to life in an interesting and real way. Obviously, the challenge of Sons is the rapidity with which we shoot. Then the challenge of Pacific Rim was the lack of rapidity, the fact that we shot in 120 days. There’s a scene that Idris Elba and I do where’s it’s a basic walk-and-talk where it’s just us walking through this big room looking at all of these robots. Normally on our TV show we’d shoot that five times on a steady cam and that would be done; there would be a dynamic going between the actors. And in that, we shot it over the course of six days spanning five months. Six individual full shooting days, so we would just say, maybe, half a sentence per day over the course of five months. To put a cohesive performance together with that schedule was really a challenge.”

Five takes sounds a lot for TV.

Charlie Hunnam: “Well, if you do a walk-and-talk it’s on one steady cam that normally you’d get four or five takes, but if they do coverage then it’s normally two, maybe third take if you begged for one.”

Do you have a preference as an actor?

Charlie Hunnam: “I guess somewhere in the middle. I really love the schedule of television, working that quickly and having to solve the problems. It creates an energy to it, working that quickly. But the problem I have with TV is the lack of time with the material. We’re always concentrating on one episode and then this very, very, very short, sometimes only 12-hour transition period between shooting one to the next. And the lack of rehearsal periods where it’s wonderful on the film to be able to discuss at great length themes and the intention of the overall arc and every individual scene, you just don’t have that luxury no matter how it’s constructed, the schedule of TV would never allow for that luxury. So, there’s elements of both. I think probably my ideal is a six-week movie shoot where there’s two weeks of rehearsal and then 30 shooting days.”

What kind of things inspire you these days?

Charlie Hunnam: “The same thing that’s always, just great movies. I mean, great literature and great movies. I read wonderful books and I feel so excited about storytelling.  I see great movies and I feel so excited about storytelling and movie-making and I just want to be a part of that. But this whole quest for me is to try to find some meaning to my life. I feel like I’m perpetually on the precipice of total existential crisis. Filmmaking to me feels, not in a grand way, but just for me in my life, like an important and substantial way to spend my little bit of time on this planet.”

You started really young, like around 16, right?

Charlie Hunnam: “Well actually just before my 18 birthday.”

That was a long quest.

Charlie Hunnam: “Yeah, but I’ve been on this brink of total existential crisis since I was about four years, four years old, so by the time I hit 17 I was really ready to do something about it.”

So what was it about you? What character trait made it so that you went from this real hardscrabble background to doing what you did?

Charlie Hunnam: “Well, I had very, very different experiences with my mom and my dad. My mom would have loved to have been an artist. She was a ballet dancer and her mother was the premiere portrait artist in Newcastle, our hometown. They had a flair for the arts. My mom rebelled against it when she was about 16, 17 and started going out drinking and playing the town a little bit. She met my father who was a few years older, who was a very kind of, even by that point, a notorious, well-known, well-loved face in the Newcastle scenery. He was very kind of feared and respected and also loved in equal parts. I mean, he was really a kind of serious guy when he was younger. She just got swept off her feet by him.

I feel very grateful that I had both experiences, you know? My mom taught me to be an artist and my dad taught me to be like – not that I really am like him as much as sometimes I would like to be – but he taught me what it is to be like a real, old-school type of man. My dad never called the cops in his life. If there was a problem, he went and dealt with it himself that minute, then, no matter who it was. To grow up with a father who is like a legend to me, he truly feared no man. I don’t think many men can walk out in the world and say they truly have no fear. ‘Fight eight guys at once? Come on. Let’s go.’ He was big as a building to me when I was a kid.”

Did you tap into that for Jax?

Charlie Hunnam: “I think about my dad a tremendous amount while filming Jax.”

Do you feel we’re dealing with the execution of what was begun in the pilot with the manifesto?

Charlie Hunnam: “Yeah, I think so. I think that that has always been a through-line to Kurt that’s been very important to Kurt. I think that Jax is starting to kind of manifest the destiny that was outlined in that manifesto.”

Do you think that’ll take until the end of season seven to really get there? 

Charlie Hunnam: “You know, I think that his understanding of that manifesto is evolving constantly. I think you could say that, at periods already, that he had accomplished what he thought the goal was only to realize that that wasn’t actually the goal.”

Well he never expected to join the club, did he?

Charlie Hunnam: “Yes, I think he did.”

That was part of the plan then.

Charlie Hunnam: “I think he always thought that that was going to be his life. At some point when he gained the level of maturity and sophistication to really understand his own journey, realized that it was maybe not what he had anticipated it would be. Then upon finding this manifesto, I think it really crystallized in his mind where the problems lay and then it became a process of trying to rectify those problems.”

You talked about your father’s legacy. What do you think will be your legacy to your kids?

Charlie Hunnam: “I hope to have kids. I mean,  I’m not sure if I will. I would just hope to have a similar legacy that my father left me: that they think I was a good man who did it his way and lived the life that he had imagined. I guess that’s it.”

What’s the best advice that anybody ever gave you? 

Charlie Hunnam: “I guess probably my father and my mother always told me, ‘You can do anything in this world. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.’ Henry David Thoreau said it a little bit more poetically. He said, ‘I’ve learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if a man advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life that he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” I kind of live by that.”

There’s news that the international grosses of Pacific Rim might be enough to get a sequel.

Charlie Hunnam: “Oh yeah.”

Do you know what would be in store for Raleigh if that happens?

Charlie Hunnam: “No, I don’t. [Laughing] I don’t even know if he would be in it.”

You don’t think he would?

Charlie Hunnam: “I have no reason to think he wouldn’t, but I just mean that I know so little about what Guillermo would intend to do with the sequel that I don’t even know.”

What’s he going to have you playing in Crimson Peak?

Charlie Hunnam: “It’s a very, very different character. The movie is kind of a Jane Austen-style love story with a supernatural element to it. I play a very kind of shy, taciturn, stolid, nervous type of guy who is locked in an unrequited love affair with Mia [Wasikowska].”

What was your connection with Guillermo that he decided to keep you on board for his next project?

Charlie Hunnam: “I think we just really respect each other a great deal. I mean, I know I certainly respect him a huge amount going into it and that respect only grew through the process of making the movie with him. I guess he just found me to be an enjoyable guy to work with. He liked the work I was doing and he found it fun to work with me.

He turned around when we finished the movie  and said, ‘This has been one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had with an actor.’ I thought, to a certain degree, that was probably a little bit of hyperbole. And he said, ‘No, no,no! I’m really serious. I just love working with you and I intend to put you in as many movies in the future as I can.’ I took that as a big compliment and kind of went happily on my way. Then he called me two months later and said, ‘Okay, I just signed on to my next movie. I want you to play one of the lead roles.’ And so he was good to his words. It’s really nice. I just found it to be a big compliment and really exciting.”

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Fred Topel

Fred Topel has been an entertainment journalist since 1999, covering film and television for major websites. He's a member of the Television Critics Association and has interviewed thousands of actors, directors, writers, producers, and musicians over the course of his career.

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