Charlie Hunnam, the star of FX's addictive series Sons of Anarchy, plays a washed up former pilot who might be humanity's last hope in the sci-fi action adventure film, Pacific Rim. Directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), Pacific Rim finds monstrous creatures rising from the seas with only gigantic robots driven by two human pilots able to effectively fight them. And in our exclusive interview at the 2012 San Diego Comic Con, Hunnam said that while this is a monsters versus robots tale, the fact it's being told by a visionary filmmaker whose main concern is delivering a compelling character-driven film is what's going to set it apart from the genre and draw in audiences.
Exclusive Interview with Charlie Hunnam
So are you and Ron Perlman an unstoppable tag team now?
"Apparently. [Laughing] It seems to be. I mean, of the last three movies I did, he was in two of them. And we've done, what, 60 hours of television together now. So yeah, we're pretty familiar with each other."
It's a good thing you guys get along, isn't it?
"It is, and we don't always, you know, actually. We don't always get along. Sometimes we annoy the sh*t out of each other, but I don't know if it's art imitating life or what, but it seems the occasions where we've gotten annoyed at each other, it's just to serve the work, you know? You know it's a very contentious relationship Jax and Clay have on Sons of Anarchy, so sometimes that bleeds into real life. You live with these characters, you live as these characters 80 hours a week for six months of the year [and you] can't help, as much as you want to just shake it all off at the end of the day, that sh*t sinks into your psyche and affects ones behavior in unusual ways."
Especially with a character like Jax where he is just so intense.
Is your character in Pacific Rim anything like Jax?"He is in [that] I think he's like a solid guy, made of good stuff, you know, and like Jax Teller. Jax's, actually, funnily enough is probably a little bit more sophisticated than this guy. But you know, I tend to - probably because I'm like that myself - play characters who have a lot of integrity and are going to do the right thing but don't necessarily have like a lot of moving parts, you know? Like pretty simple dudes that like salt of the earth, old-fashioned type of guys.
"I grew up in a neighborhood with like really old-school type of guys. They don't make guys like that. I feel like it's a very forgotten area of the world, in northern England in Newcastle, and I just truly don't think they make dudes like that anymore. And I feel so fortunate that I got to grow up around men...like, there isn't a single man in my life until I left our neighborhood that had ever called the police, ever under any circumstances. You've got a problem, you deal with it yourself, no matter what that entails. You know what I mean? Those type of dudes. And so I find myself playing those type of guys a lot because I don't think there's a lot of people, a lot of actors, that were fortunate to have the experience that I had growing up that have actually been around legitimately bad, tough dudes."
Do you think you're drawn to those characters or also is that what you get offered? Do you think people look to you for that type of role?
"Yes. Well, it's funny. I mean I have a certain look and at the beginning of my career I couldn't understand that people didn't really take me seriously for those roles. They're like, you know, I remember once I was really passionate about this job and was probably about 22 - 23 and they said, 'They think you look just too sweet and too gentle. They don't buy you as a like tough guy.' And I said to my agent, 'Well, do you want me to go down there and kick the f**k out of every single one of them? Would that convince them?' Do you know what I mean? They couldn't understand, and so I actively went and pursued those type of roles. And then I do I think people see you doing something and they find it believable or it feels like it has some truth in it and they think, 'Oh, well maybe we can shape that a little bit and use it for what we need.'"
When you were working with Guillermo del Toro on this, was he the type of director who allowed you to help shape the or was he real specific on what he's looking for?
"A little bit of both. He's a real artist at work and what I mean by that is there was no set pattern of behavior. Sometimes he was really specific about what he wanted and would micro-manage until he got it, and sometimes he was just completely open to whatever. I think it's just moment-specific, character-specific stuff. If there was a big story point, then he would absolutely drill us until we achieved it. And other times, he would say, 'What do you feel like doing in this scene?'"
The Pacific Rim synopsis and buzz is all about this being a 'monsters versus robots' film, but it's Guillermo del Toro so it's a very character-driven story, right?
"That's the thing, that's what I've been talking about this all day long. It's the only really insightful thing I have to say about this whole movie really, is that that there is far too much commerce in filmmaking and this type of film specifically, I can't stand because it wreaks of just manufactured, like, you know, nothing but monetary motivation. And then with Guillermo, it's none of that. This is truly what he has in his heart and so this film is filled with soul and passion and integrity and honesty, and there are only one or two filmmakers that can make those type of films like that because there's really only one or two guys that grow up that have that in their heart. I have no interest in making a monster movie, you know? I never thought I'd be in a monster movie because it's not really what I'm interested in. But doing a monster movie with Guillermo, now that's something exciting because we're going to talk about the human condition and real problems that people can relate to and empathize with. I think there's a lot of soul."
You were saying there are only a couple of filmmakers like that. Who else do you credit being that same type of filmmaker?
"Nolan, definitely Chris Nolan and Tim Burton. You know I'm sure there are several more. I can't really think of any others off the top of my head. I guess Peter Jackson from Lord of the Rings to a certain extent, but I still don't feel like it's as pure as it is with Tim Burton and Guillermo. [...] So I guess what I was saying was that had it not been Guillermo, then I wouldn't have had any interest in it."
That makes sense. You need someone that passionate in it, that wants to tell a character-driven story. You aren't interested in otherwise.
"No. Because, why?"
There are actors who don't take that stance.
"I know. But I think it's about really your intention as a human being. Like, what do you want to spend your life doing? I have no interest in being rich; I don't care. I actively don't want to be famous, but and yet I still find myself compelled to be an actor because I like telling stories, you know?"
You don't want to be famous but you're the star of a Guillermo del Toro monster movie and people who don't watch Sons of Anarchy are going to recognize you because of this. So what's going to happen when you become really famous? What's that going to do to you?
"Well, I don't know. I don't think it will affect me in any way. I mean I live such a private life and I'm so quiet. I don't go to clubs and I don't get into crazy relationships with starlets or anything like that so, you know, I think there's a real choice. I mean, I don't think Daniel Day-Lewis, and I'm, believe me, not comparing myself to Daniel Day-Lewis, but in terms of the perfect career, I think he's someone to look to. He's not in giant monster movies, but he is a very, very famous, successful actor who lives in complete obscurity outside of the business. It's possible. People leave him alone."
"I've lived in the same house for 10 years and I can afford to live in a much bigger house, a swankier house, but it just doesn't excite me at all. What I think about is saving my money and buying a giant, giant plot of land somewhere and just like living off the land. Just live and be, and get in touch with what life is all about, and then come out of that occasionally and make a movie. I mean that's always been my dream, that I could just live a little obscure life and then make movies once in a while because I felt from a very young age that I was like on the cusp of an existential crisis since I was about three years old. And I think that film, to me, for whatever reason, feels like a worthy enough endeavor to spend one's life doing. Then you die at the end of it and you made two or three good films - that's enough for me."
[Laughing] "Well, it will be, if on my deathbed I'm not still in the midst of a total existential crisis. If I do, I'll be like, 'F**k, I was wrong!'"
As a Sons of Anarchy addict, I've got to know how much is it going to change now that you're in charge? Is the whole tone of the show going to be different?
"Yes. Yes, the whole tone. It's been coming to that dramatically. We feel it obviously most in the chapel scenes. We've gone from a dictatorship to a democracy, most simply put. And I think though that there will be elements of Clay that naturally will come up and be repeated by Jax, because I don't think Clay was an altogether bad dude. I think that he was a bad guy, but I think that absolute power corrupts absolutely. I think that you can't be in that position and not fall victim to some of those traps, you know? And I can already see in the writing it's starting to sneak in that that moral compass starts to get a little bit, you know, cloudy."
I think this will be the most exciting season yet.
"I think by far and away. Because I'm a big fan of the show, I really love it and I - for my money - by far and away the best season we've done. Not just because it's been such a big shift, but at this point the mythology of the whole show is like caught up with the characters and there's so much depth. I mean we open, something happens over the episodes three and four that I think are gonna absolutely rock fans of the show to their very core and I can tell you that like, hands down, exponentially, deeper creative experience than I have ever had and I shared it with all the guys on the show. Like everybody felt that they had not only done the best work they've ever done in their careers, but it was the most satisfying, meaty, creative experience. There's some sh*t goes on episodes three and four that's just bananas."
I was late catching on to Sons of Anarchy and then I caught all four seasons-worth of episodes in a row.
"Wow. It found itself. That first season, or at least the first seven or eight episodes, wasn't the show we were trying to make, and it just took us a little while to really find our feet. We found a nice groove."
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Pacific Rim opens in theaters on July 12, 2013. Sons of Anarchy returns for season five on September 11, 2012.