Charlie Hunnam
Photo by Ture Lillegraven

Charlie Hunnam: “I worry that I’ll get devoured”

Short Profile

Name: Charles Matthew Hunnam
DOB: 10 April 1980
Place of birth: Newcastle upon Tyne, England, United Kingdom
Occupation: Actor

Charlie Hunnam stars in Papillon, in US theaters 24 August 2018.

Mr. Hunnam, would you say that your films reflect your own inner journey?

Yes and I have been aware of being on that journey for the longest time. I call it the dragon, which is a term that sort of evolved for me over the years. It’s in The Hero with A Thousand Faces. This relationship is in a way that oldest relationship that I have. My earliest memories, the most vivid early memories were glimpses of the dragon. I was conscious of his shadow from a very young age. And that’s because I grew up in Newcastle, a place that was so economically depressed, people were in a state of survival. There was something about that environment and atmosphere that I attribute to making me aware of the shadow.

So you’re scared of this dragon?

I am terrified of him! You can run from him but ultimately you are going to trip and fall — or you can turn around and fight him.

“I’ve felt sometimes that he was right on my heels so I have to turn around and fight. I’ve always felt two steps away from being devoured.”

What gave you the confidence to take on the dragon?

I don’t know if I do have any confidence that I can vanquish him. I worry every day that I’ll get devoured by it. But I’ve felt sometimes that he was right on my heels so I have to turn around and fight. I’ve always felt two steps away from being devoured. It never felt like a choice to me. I look at people sometimes and I feel such an overwhelming sense of envy that they are not consumed by this fight but the truth is that the dragon appears in everyone’s life. And whenever he does, they need to face him. The fight is there for everybody. Ultimately I think I am quite grateful for it, especially because when you fight him, there is always a chance that you might win. And then you get to take its gold! (Laughs)

Have you found that the gold is usually worth the risk?

Well, last year was kind of tough. I have had periods of time where I vanquished him, some success when I had some breathing room. It’s a tricky thing to quantify one’s career because on some ways I am in a position where I want to be, I am getting to work with good directors and tell interesting stories like with Papillon, where I played the legendary convict Henri Charrière... But I always feel like I am one failed movie away from being unemployable. So, last year there was a lot of anticipation for where I was in my career, a lot of people in the industry were looking at me as though I was going to take the next step in terms of being bankable, the next step up the ladder of the film community hierarchy…

Both King Arthur and Lost City of Z were supposed to put you on the map as a leading man.

Sure but both of them also failed in their own ways — not necessarily creatively because I really, really enjoyed those experiences and I am very proud of the films. But King Arthur did terrible at the box office and Lost City went by with nobody seeing it. That was quite a big fight to reconcile the anticipation of what those two films could have been with what they ended up being. It’s all an illusion anyway!

How did you end up coming to terms with that?

In a way, it was very liberating because I woke up every morning, still filled with creative desire and yearning. I feel more and more calm and optimistic just about my ability to reconcile whatever I need to reconcile on a daily basis, outside of the context of having to do it in a public arena. I always try to concentrate on the process and where the real goal is, which is trying to get up every day and be the best possible version of myself and do the best work I can do. But it is corrupted having to do things like press, particularly for a prolonged period because you can’t help being result-oriented. That was an interesting lesson and a difficult hurdle to overcome. But I did and all was good.

Do you actively seek out those sort of hurdles?

It’s not something that I actively seek out, but it’s also not something that I shy away from. It’s much more the emotional, psychological journey that I am interested in.

“We are all fighting to reconcile that state of consciousness that we are in.”

James McAvoy said that people seem disappointed when he admits that a film role was not the hardest thing he’s ever done.

Yeah, I think the physical journey is just a coincidence that keeps happening; I find myself in these situations that I have to put myself through. Beyond Lost City of Z where I had to lose so much weight, I have been able to have a super healthy diet. Even the film that I am doing right now has not proved difficult so far, except that a couple of days ago when we were filming on a boat in Hawaii, the waves just happened to get so big that we nearly got swept off. That was a little bit scary but I was not too concerned.

It sounds like it could have been quite freeing — like a jolt of adrenaline to remind you that you’re really alive.

Those experiences are the nature of the fight with the dragon!

What do you mean?

I guess you try to find some sense of occasional liberation from the burden of consciousness. Freedom is an illusion and kind of fleeting. I experience moments in my life where I feel very free and moments where I feel completely beholden to the rhythms of my life and the responsibilities that I have and my mind. And that is just a framing thing. It’s just perspective. But one certainly has to fight to get that perspective. I have to distill it down to the stories that I for whatever reason feel compelled to tell time and again. It is the quest for freedom. And whatever manifestation or shape that takes. In a certain way that is the universal story. We are all in a certain way fighting to reconcile that state of consciousness that we are in and find a version of us that makes us feel the most free… Or maybe it’s just my perspective!