Charlie Hunnam has a bravery and confidence about him that feels perfectly matched to so many of those who hail from the north-east of Britain.
Hunnam, now 39, hasn’t lost any of his north-east charm – even if his accent these days is a bit wayward. From ‘Green Street’ to ‘Crimson Peak’, The ‘Lost City of Z’ and into ‘Sons of Anarchy’ and Guy Ritchie’s ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’, the actor’s poise has added to film roles where his character is so often someone with a point to prove.
Perhaps it was Hunnam’s challenging childhood – his dad walked out on the family when he was two – that gives him this need to invest in anything with an edge? Whatever the reason, he has found a grounding in Brazilian jiu jitsu, as he reveals to RSNG…
RSNG So, what can you tell us about The Gentlemen?
CHARLIE HUNNAM, ACTOR ‘This is the sort of vintage Guy Ritchie movie where he is taking things back to the days of Lock, Stock… and Snatch*. It’s set in London, with a narrative surrounding around the biggest dealer of cannabis in England and his misadventures through the many different characters that he comes across.’
‘He’s also trying to move away from that world, so we see how he tries to do that and if he can indeed manage it.’
RSNG What is your character involvement in this movie?
CH ‘Well, I would say that my role is a bit different to what I thought it was, the more I got into the character. For the majority of the film I play the right-hand man to Matthew McConaughey and Matthew is the weed dealer in question. The character that I play is in charge of all of the everyday operations and the logistics.’
‘The research and preparation that I did to carry of this role as successfully and as convincing as I possibly could, was extremely extensive to say the least.’
‘I had to also be comfortable in this type of lifestyle that the character leads and has for himself. So, that was quite the interesting experience in its own way.’
‘Sometimes the craft isn’t in what you say, it’s in what you hold back’
RSNG You’ve worked with Guy Ritchie before when you did King Arthur in 2017?
CH ‘Yeah, that was a really good experience and we stayed in touch after that project and have been friends ever since. Then, I became aware that he wanted to work together again on this movie and that’s something which is really flattering when it’s a director who is the type of person you respect and also looking at the body of work that they have produced.’
‘It’s a coincidence also, that when I was just starting out as an actor, Guy was beginning to make his name in a big way with those two films that I mentioned earlier – Lock, Stock and Snatch. When I saw his work, it then became a hope of mine that I could work with him. So, to have done that twice is a huge privilege for me.’
‘We did speak to each other regarding projects that were ongoing or coming up and he felt that I was the right fit for the role in this movie. But regardless of whether or not we didn’t work together so relatively soon after King Arthur, we are really good friends and were speaking regularly.’
RSNG Your characters are still on the rougher side, aren’t they?
CH ‘I find it easier to work with characters who have an edge and a story to tell. A big part of that story is making sure you don’t tell it to an audience. Sometimes the craft isn’t in what you say, it’s in what you hold back.’
‘If you think of film like that you realise there is so much more in the unspoken elements than there is in scripts or direction or plot. That’s the sort of angle that has come to fascinate me more as I’ve gone through this process, and I think the roles I take reflects that.’
*RSNG No more Nicholas Nickleby then?
* ‘It’s unlikely!’
RSNG You’re an actor who seems to pick roles carefully, so do you feel a need to be in the constant gaze of the press machine?
CH ‘Definitely not – that’s not the way I am cut out to be. After Pacific Rim, I made the conscious decision to step back a bit and only really pursue the projects that were going to make me happiest.’
‘Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is something that you can bring into your life as a way of restoring order’
RSNG You mean to say previous to that you’d be more carefree about scripts?
CH ‘I think in your career you get to the point where you have cleared a path through a few different ideas and genres, and I’d always say to young actors that’s a good thing to do.’
‘I think you need to do film, you need to do TV, you need to do theatre – you need to open yourself up to different types of storylines, different ways of portraying a character.’
‘The reason for that is when you’re young every experience is different and every experience is worthwhile, even the ones that seem like a waste of time when you’re involved in them.’
‘I know some actors look back at embarrassing roles they took near the start, but for me that’s all part of growing up and truly working out what sort of actor you are. Whether you’re in film or any other profession, we all have to start something, and it’s crazy to say everyone will go in at the top and stay at the top without having created some strange stuff along the way.’
‘So basically, my aim was to go after a range of different projects and really embrace everything that each of those had to offer.’
‘What happens then is the further you go down the line the more chance you have of being offered similar projects. And it is at that point that you can turn around and say no, because you’re turning it down based on your own experience, not on a preconception or because your agent is telling you it isn’t cool enough for you. Turn it down for the right reasons!’
RSNG Has this regaining of control also been aided by your love of jiu-jitsu?
CH ‘I think Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is just something that you can bring into your life as a way of restoring order. For me there is a real thing in my head about starting in the right place and building from there, and that’s what martial arts really offer me.’
‘Unless you know from where you’re starting your journey then how will you ever be able to get there?’
RSNG Is it something else that can help you get film roles?
CH: ‘It doesn’t hurt to be able to pin someone into submission, but I’d rather win my roles through pure acting talent, where possible!’
WHAT NEXT? Watch Charlie Hunnam in the trailer for Guy Ritchie’s The Gentleman.