Charlie Hunnam is perhaps best known to American audiences as Jax Teller in FX’s rough-and-tumble “Sons of Anarchy.” In fact, he’s so convincing in that gritty biker serial that a lot of folks don’t even know that in real life he’s a considerably accented Brit. In his new film, however, Hunnam tosses another curveball — returning to comedy for the first time in many years, in writer-director Jordan Roberts’ “3,2,1… Frankie Go Boom.” In it, Hunnam plays the perpetually beleaguered title character, whose newly sober, would-be filmmaker brother, Bruce (Chris O’Dowd, of “Bridesmaids”), throws his life into further disarray by posting a sex tape of Frank’s. For ShockYa, Brent Simon recently had the chance to talk to the amiable Hunnam one-on-one, about “Frankie,” Internet piracy, his gangster friends and sharing some decidedly wild scenes with his “Anarchy” co-star Ron Perlman. The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: So Jordan was just telling me that this movie is the most pirated on the web this week. What do you make of that?
Charlie Hunnam: It’s just one of these unfortunate realities of this technological revolution. It’s easier to make films like this and get them out into the marketplace, for people to see them. We don’t have to have a huge distribution deal and 1,000 screens to get it out there, but the flipside of that is that it’s much easier to then go and pirate that material and send it out into the world. You know, of course, not being the financier, my feeling is that I really wish people wouldn’t pirate, because it makes it more difficult to make films… but there’s still a certain satisfaction that people are going out and seeking out the material, seeking out the thing we made. It’s a tricky thing.
ShockYa: Did you ever download illegal music via Napster or anything when you were younger?
CH: No, I really didn’t — partly because I’m not really technologically savvy, and partly because I grew up in a very backwards place, an economically and socially depressed area that was definitely 10 years behind the rest of the south of England, Newcastle Upon Tyne. I actually didn’t even really have access to a computer until I was 18 or so. I’d never sent an email or anything like that. You know, if you grew up in Los Angeles at the same age as me you would have had a computer at age 12, but it just wasn’t a reality for me. And so by the time I got connected, I was already working in this business and wouldn’t and couldn’t justify stealing the product that I was participating in making, you know? Sometimes a friend of mine and I will be talking about a new band and they’ll be like, “Will you burn that for me?” And I’ll be like, “Yeah, yeah,” but then I’ll be like, “I’d actually rather just give you the money and let you go buy it.” I actually really enjoy corporate theft — I’m not a guy who particularly has a weak stomach when it comes to crime. I have a lot of friends who are criminals — just, like, actively, everyday gangsters, and I have no problem with that whatsoever. A friend of mine robbed 32 banks and ended up [getting] caught, did his time, and is out now, and that’s behind him. But he targeted institutions that he didn’t think were righteous — big banks that are not being very nice to their customers. He was a righteous gangster. And his story I just find absolutely marvelous. But it seems like stealing from artists, knowing what it is to be a struggling artist, doesn’t seem that cool to me. Hurting the individual I really disdain; hurting big corporate America I kind of absolutely admire.
ShockYa: How did Jordan pitch this to you? I’ve seen a lot of your films, and wouldn’t necessarily initially see you as this character.
CH: Of course, I know! The rest of the cast is no-brainers for these roles, but this was an offer, actually — Jordan submitted the script with an offer and a long letter telling me not really why he wanted me but that it wasn’t an arbitrary decision. He said he’d been a fan of mine for a long time, and cited several different movies I’d done in the past. Then we met and had a long conversation. I’d read the script and not to say I didn’t like it… but [I saw Frank as] a really meek guy who’s really put upon, just this dorky guy. And I would love to think that I could pull that off, but I was even a little heavier than I am now and in thick of “Sons of Anarchy” mode, and really couldn’t see myself in the role. And Jordan said, “Yes, you’re right, that is the opinion of the vast majority of people who read that script, but that’s not what I want. It’s a much more interesting dynamic if this guy is just an Everyday guy that any dude in the audience could relate to. He’s maybe been in a half dozen fights in his life, and this and that. It’s not that he’s a meek guy, it’s the fact that his brother is so overwhelming and such a psycho that he would dominate anybody.” So that was the initial pitch, and it seemed all of a sudden a little more accessible to me. But I was still very nervous about it. We talked and talked about it, and I ended up turning it down, but he came back to me, and ultimately I just fell in love with Jordan. He had such integrity, and I was for the first time in my life was at a place where I’d risen to a place where, on a tiny movie like this, I could actually help get it made. So I felt like I wanted to help. And it also felt like a huge challenge to me, because the more I thought about it the more I felt like I’d settled into a safe zone where I was playing characters that were very easy to access. So I thought, why not stretch and try something? Ultimately we’re making this movie for $500,000, so if it’s a total disaster then no one’s going to see it anyway. It was a long process to pluck up the courage to say yes.
ShockYa: You’re a younger brother in real life, right? Did any of your experiences jibe with Frank’s in the movie?
CH: Yes, I’d completely forgotten about that. I definitely do feel some similarities, though. I [told Jordan my brother is] one of the toughest guys I’ve ever met — the kind of guy, at least when we were growing up together, where you’d go out on a night of drinking and you might end up on a stolen boat in the North Sea, because at some point in the night he might say, “Yo, let’s go sailing!” And this is that type of guy — totally dominated by brother. As I was. Now I have two younger brothers too, because I’m in the middle, and so for a period of time I dominated them too, because that’s how it works with brothers — you just pay it forward.
ShockYa: Your “Anarchy” co-star, Ron Perlman, plays a transsexual in this movie. What were your scenes like with him?
CH: Chris O’Dowd had been hired, and then Jordan hired me and I read with a bunch of girls and Lizzy (Caplan) was spectacular. Then we had about 10 days and had to find the rest of the cast. So we sent it to Ron to play the Chris Noth role, and then kind of cheekily put in parantheses at the bottom, or you can check out the Phyllis role, because that wasn’t cast. And then he called the next morning and said he’d fallen in love with the role. And I was like, “Really?! Why?” And he said (adopting deeper voice), “Well, Chuck, I’ll tell you this, but you can’t tell anyone else — secretly, I’ve always wanted to play a woman.” (laughs) And I said, “OK, you’re totally psycho, but let’s go.” I told Jordan and he was so delighted. We shot Ron’s entire role in one day, and it was the most fun day on set that I’ve ever had. Ron has been doing this for thirty-some years and is such a pro, and so great at what he does that he doesn’t have to work in quite the same way that I do. Like, our approach is very, very different. I feel like I need to do a lot of work to get myself to certain places, and I’m not really comfortable jumping in and out of certain dynamics, so on set when Ron and I have seven scenes over the course of a day where we’re supposed to loathe each other I am not really that comfortable joking around with him in between takes. Now he is very comfortable with that, but I kind of hold him at arm’s length, which is difficult for both of us because we both like each other and we work together for five-and-a-half moths out of the year. But I always feel like my own work is better when I “method” it a little bit — I don’t really phrase it to myself like that, but it’s just a process that I go about. So with this it was just so lovely to have a day where we could just be pals and laugh and have fun. He showed my his “man-gina.” (laughs) So I really do hold it as my favorite day on set ever.
Written by: Brent Simon