Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek for 'Papillion'

Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek Aren't the Men You Think They Are

The two actors tell Playboy about their film 'Papillon,' their good looks and going naked

Courtesy: Bleecker Street

“The question is: to fluff or not to fluff? You know?” I wonder if that’s a pubic-region reference that Charlie Hunnam, former Sons of Anarchy star, is making. “Google it. Just google it,” he continues before Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek jumps in with, “That’s enough—stop! Stop right there!”

At that moment, it’s pretty clear this isn’t where the two stars of the new Papillon remake expected this Playboy interview to go. After all, this is a press event, and press tours often involve very tedious days in which actors have to answer repetitive questions from dozens of reporters.

Turns out, they’re as sick of the BS as I am. “You find yourself, on a big press tour … being extensively asked the same question over and over,” Hunnam tells me. “On our side, we’re all so guilty of that. We want to have an immediate, what feels like a genuine conversation, but there’s a part of it that just has to, by the nature of it, be somewhat disingenuous 'cause you’re just fucking rehashing the same old garbage.”
It's one of their last interviews after a long tour, and fortunately for these guys, the rehashing-garbage conversation is the last kind I'm looking to have. So, we go somewhere a hell of a lot more interesting. Papillon is a film that embodies tough male bravado and grit, and seeing as how the 1973 original is one of the classic tough-guy movies, I want to learn about their real-life views on masculinity. And let me tell you, they completely take me off guard.

Hunnam, for one, is synonymous with the testosterone-ridden, bad-boy aesthetic of Sons of Anarchy. Malek channels iconic rock star Freddie Mercury in the upcoming Bohemian Rhapsody. You’d think that two super-attractive actors oozing sex appeal like this would think to equate masculinity to alpha-male physique or strength. But this couldn’t be further from the truth for either guy. And as someone who used to think my ideal man would be so alpha, he’d be the living, breathing King Kong to my Ann Darrow—let’s just say I left this interview a new woman.

Papillon, out Aug. 24, is a gritty remake chronicling two prisoners on the notorious Devil’s Island, who will fight to the death to escape and survive. A line of questioning about masculinity is probably not expected for this one, especially for anyone familiar with the original. The 1973 film starred Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen, a.k.a. “The King of Cool.” No one fucks with Steve McQueen. And I imagine this interview would go a lot differently if conducted in 1973. See, Hunnam and Malek view masculinity as reflecting intellect, emotion, well-being. I have a hard time believing Steve McQueen would say the same—that alone says a lot about where we’ve come and how our view has changed of what a man is.
In the film, the two characters form an unlikely team, brought together by their respective strong suits. In return for protection from the wrongly convicted Papillon (Hunnam), Malek’s millionaire, convicted counterfeiter promises to help finance his escape. I find myself wondering: Would smarts and strength, respectively, be where these men would excel if in real-life survivor mode? I come to learn that, in reality, both Malek and Hunnam identify their intellect as their greatest strength—and not at all in a cocky way.

As Hunnam sees it, male strength is about looking within and sustaining emotional fortitude, which can be extremely hard work. (And given the increasing suicide rate in America, he has an excellent point.) “I feel there’s a level of emotional and spiritual survival that’s required every day in the current culture that we live in," he says. "I know that’s sort of a rather earnest answer. But I really do. I take it very seriously, my mental and spiritual and emotional health. And I find it being tested.” I’m pretty blown away by his answer because, honestly, I wasn’t expecting that.

I ask Malek to humblebrag about his strongest asset as a man. Before he can respond, it’s Hunnam who steps in: “I think Rami has this incredible sense of bringing the best out in people. It’s just innate—it doesn’t seem like he works particularly hard to achieve that. It’s not intentional or manipulation.” Hunnam continuously watches people try to present their best selves around Malek without even knowing it. And after spending a small part of the day with Malek, I see what Hunnam’s talking about because I realize I was acting exactly that way.
I take it very seriously, my mental and spiritual and emotional health. And I find it being tested.
Malek first responds to Hunnam with an “awwww,” but I’m curious to know what he thinks. So I press him, and finally, he cracks. He recognizes his superpower of being hyper-observant of those around him. “But that would be a good thing to get out of people right before they die from starvation or whatever it is,” he quips. He makes light of it, but this really is a gift. He adds, “I didn’t mean to take that on a down note. It was supposed to be a joke! I’ll get the best out of you before you’re out!”

Hunnam’s clearly done his homework on the topic, and references the book Tribe by Sebastian Junger. Sure enough, Malek and I get schooled. The book highlights two personality types of men who were trapped in a coal mine for a month: the alpha males (with lower emotional capacity) and the practical men (with higher emotional capacity). At first, it was the alphas who made a game plan to escape, until the other men ultimately stepped in to save the day.

“This other whole group of dudes rose within the hierarchy of this group of men, the dudes that had really never been the celebrated ones,” Hunnam explains. Admiring them, he’s enthusiastic. “They were the ones that had a greater intellectual capacity to bring mental strength and emotional ability to shoulder the weight of what the ordeal was for other men.” I’m sitting there captivated as Malek responds to the impromptu sermon with, “Thank you. I’ll take it. Fuck yeah.” And while I loved Hunnam’s story, I admit to him that a combination of both men would maybe be ideal. “Can’t have it all!” Hunnam responds. Malek chimes in, “Maybe you can? Right? I guess …” Hunnam’s solution: “Ryan Gosling?”
Being born handsome is pretty damn handy. But it’s never enough.
But don’t get it twisted. While chiseled jaws, abs, piercing eyes and biceps are certainly masculine, masculinity is not just a pretty face. Clearly. Hunnam acknowledges that good looks are helpful, but they’ll only take a guy so far. “Listen, the reality is … You’d be a fool to not be grateful for any attribute that assists you in getting [acting] work. It’s a visual medium, and being born handsome is pretty damn handy. But it’s never enough. You then have to back it up with some talent and heart and all of the other elements that are required in our job, which is multi-faceted.” (And speaking of good looks, Papillon includes some nude scenes, which spurred Hunnam's "fluff or not" quandary during this interview.)

Meanwhile, Malek—cracking up at the fact that I call the two an attractive pair—won’t acknowledge that he’s good-looking. “No, no, thank you,” Malek says. So polite. He doesn’t think I’d ask a question about attractiveness had he not been sitting next to Hunnam. “I’ve never had that question asked of me. I look at the variables here, and that’s why,” Malek says. We agree to disagree.

As we’re wrapping up, Malek turns to me and says, “That was the best interview anybody’s gonna get out of us.” Selfishly, I feel fulfilled—not by patting myself on the back (well, maybe a little) or thinking of potential pageview clicks—but by truly experiencing this eye-opening conversation about what it means to be a strong man today. Suddenly, emotional and intellectual depth became so much more appealing than a pack of abs to feast eyes on.

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