Since storming onto the scene four years ago as the heir apparent of the fictional Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Jax Teller, 32-year-old English actor and screenwriter Charlie Hunnam has quickly risen up the ranks as one of the most desirable young thespians in the business who would rather cast off his own opinions and concentrate on his craft than cut another paycheck in the spotlight.
Despite his heavy SOA schedule, Hunnam is already slated for two major releases in the next nine months: crime drama Deadfall, costarring Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde, and the highly anticipated sci-fi flick Pacific Rim from acclaimed fantasy director Guillermo del Toro.
Sons returned to FX last month for its fifth season, already dominating both cable and broadcast network ratings; Hunnam’s next move is independent comedy 3,2,1…Frankie Go Boom, out on VOD now and in theaters Friday, alongside Lizzy Caplan and Sons costar Ron Perlman. After an attempted drunken night’s hookup leads to a sibling-filmed incompetent sex video being marketed to a porn studio, Hunnam’s hilarious Frankie must deal with the likes of angels, over-eager swine and, naturally, a murderous father-in-law.
Charlie sat down with us to chat about his new film, the origins of Ron Perlman and the legend of the infamous white tennis shoes. It would be unfair to neglect the fact that he also shares a birthday with Mr. Hugh M. Hefner himself.
Playboy.com: What did you enjoy most about visiting the Playboy Mansion: meeting Hugh or the Bunnies?
Hunnam: I was actually more excited to meet the animals. [laughs] I’m an animal lover. He has a huge variety of animals out back.
Playboy.com: 3,2,1…Frankie Go Boom is coming out next month. Tell us about the film.
Hunnam: It’s a really sweet, wacky sex comedy. It’s a pretty hard film to sum up. It’s a love story set amongst the backdrop of total eccentric mania.
Playboy.com: Frankie’s parents would be the type to keep around little blue pills; wouldn’t that have solved the film’s conundrum?
Hunnam: That would work, but what would we do for the other hour? [laughs] I think that after being screwed over so many times by his mom and his brother, he has developed an absolute refusal to go to his family for anything, which is probably what stopped him from going to borrow one of Dad’s Viagra.
Playboy.com: Similar to Frankie in the film, have you ever been given reason to be afraid of your girlfriend’s father?
Hunnam: I’m not very good at most things, but I’m pretty good at relationships. I grew up with a single mother, so she kind of drummed into us being chivalrous and treating our partners well and not being a total asshole. So I’ve gotten along well with the fathers-in-law.
Playboy.com: What was the most bizarre scene to film in FGB?
Hunnam: I think having to wrestle that pig; it was a harrowing experience. They are very aggressive, strong, loud creatures. You can’t even believe the noise and ferociousness of this little beast. He was so placid before I picked him up, and the second I did he pissed all over me. Screaming and crying and wriggling and tried to bite me! I was like, wow; could we not get a prosthetic pig? But then he got used to me and was a little better to work with.
Playboy.com: So no threats of bacon were uttered?
Hunnam: No, man. I haven’t eaten pork in 25 years so I thought I was a shoo-in with this pig! I thought he was going to love me, but I didn’t get any bonus points for that. [laughs] I don’t even get points from cops for not eating pork, which I also kind of regret.
Playboy.com: The fifth season of Sons of Anarchy just started up; what can we look forward to this season?
Hunnam: It has felt to me like a fresh, really new dynamic within the club. Now that I’m president, it went from, overnight, the old-school dictatorship to the new, cool democracy. The young and up-and-coming guys in the club like me and Chibs and Tig and those guys are really starting to run the show a little bit more. Of course Clay (Ron Perlman) still has a dangerous presence hanging over the guys, and you never know what to expect from that guy, but it really feels...and Perlman actually just walked into this room — it’s always going to be a little bit contentious between them.
Playboy.com: You’re costarring alongside Ron Perlman in Frankie where he plays a cross-dresser. He has some pretty crazy storylines with both this and Sons of Anarchy. What species is that man?
Hunnam: [Laughs] Did you just say what species is he? Man, I don’t know, but there’s not too many of them walking around! I’m pretty sure it’s not human, might be some crossbreed like half-human, half — Wait…Maybe if a caveman mated with a Neanderthal mated with a contemporary man — with a little bit of rhino thrown in there? That’s Perlman.
Playboy.com: Sons creator Kurt Sutter is known to be very transparent in his opinion of the media, the industry and entertainment as a whole. What is it like working with him and how does it affect his role on the show compared to working on other projects?
Hunnam: I have a great relationship with Kurt and interact with him often. But in terms of the day-to-day making of the show, he’s not that involved with my part of it. He writes every episode and he edits every episode, but he only directs the finale. When’s he not directing he doesn’t come to set.
He’s a very opinionated guy; we have a different strategy in that regard. I only want to be known for my work. I’m an actor and I’m a writer and that’s all I want. I have no interest in being a celebrity or a personality — or even to share my opinions publicly. I want to share my opinion as a character in a film, not my opinion as an actor in the world. But that’s fine if he wants to go out and kind of make his narration on how he sees things. That’s his prerogative; I just have a different approach, personally. That’s because I’m not so sure about my opinions. For an actor, anonymity is the absolute best friend, because then you can reside solely in the world of the characters you play.
After a while, in the period when Tom Cruise was out talking about his stuff, you get the sense — when you’re walking into a Tom Cruise movie, you do that with baggage. I like the Daniel Day-Lewis route, where you go in and you show up every three years, and you never hear anything otherwise. Though there’s absolutely part of an actor’s life where he’s required to go out and publicize his movie. But still, that’s not me talking about myself, that’s me talking about my movie.
Playboy.com: What research did you do to come across as an authentic biker? Was it hard to mask your British accent?
Hunnam: I have the ability to do it perfectly, but I definitely slip up. [laughs] I love research, when you’re welcomed into a world. Hollywood is so seductive; it gives you access into worlds that you’d never normally be given access to. I got access to — and I don’t want to say their name outright — the most famous white bikers' club in the world. I got to go hang out with them for a couple of weeks. Out of that research I learn so much, but the stuff I get absolutely right in the TV show is the stuff I get criticized for the most.
I’ve got “weekend warriors” who aren’t really living the life. They’ve got a Harley, and they ride bikes once or twice a month; I ride my motorcycle every single day, exclusively. I have a car, but I don’t even know where the car keys are anymore. These guys come up to me, “Why do you wear white tennis shoes on the show? Bikers don’t wear tennis shoes!” I’m like, “No, man, you don’t wear tennis shoes 'cause you’re a fucking dentist!” All my friends that are actually patched members of the most famous outlaw motorcycle group in the world all wear tennis shoes, so why don’t you go fuck yourself.
That thing drives me crazy about the white sneaks on the show. Because I wear the same shoes, the same jeans — same make, same cut, same wash — same hoodies and exact same construct as a guy that I met who had grown up in that motorcycle club. He’s 22 years old; he has had every single birthday party of his life in the clubhouse in his hometown where he grew up. His father was a 37-year member of that club. I actually found the guy that I was playing in the show. He was part of that life, and a total outlaw, and he was shot dead two weeks before we started filming.
Playboy.com: You have Pacific Rim coming up next year. What can you tell us about the project?
Hunnam: We’re telling a story in a world where monsters are living among us, coinhabiting this planet with us, and they’re very, very hostile. It’s a beautiful drama about a few people who are embroiled in this fight with these monsters. I feel like I don’t have an appetite for a lot of these comic book movies that come out about monsters and robots and stuff because I feel they are unmistakably cynical enterprises, exclusively designed to make money. That’s not the kind of thing I’m interested in; I’m interested in telling beautiful stories. So when you have that kind of world with Guillermo at the helm? All of that cynicism falls away and you’re actually making an authentic film with integrity and it just happens to be about monsters.
Playboy.com: What was your first Playboy?
Hunnam: I came to Playboy pretty late; I can’t remember what beautiful lady was on the cover, but I was probably about age 16 or 17.