Charlie Hunnam on his sexy image, germophobia, real reason why he quit ‘Fifty Shades’
LOS ANGELES—It’s a good time to be Charlie Hunnam. Fresh from “The Lost City of Z,” where many critics cited that he gave his finest performance so far in his career, the British actor is poised to become a bigger star in Guy Ritchie’s “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.”
Guy capitalizes on Charlie’s screen charisma and ripped body in his iconoclastic take on the Excalibur myth that’s guaranteed to boost the actor’s status as the next Sexiest Man Alive.
The filmmaker applies his Guy Ritchie visual trademark and aesthetic to the Arthurian legend that also stars Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana, Aidan Gillen and, yes, even David Beckham.
In person, the “Sons of Anarchy” star is a charming bloke—a winning combination of humor, intelligence and earnestness.
The 36-year-old, who broke through as teen Nathan Maloney in the original “Queer as Folk” series, wore Ralph Lauren Double RL jeans and shirt, a Banana Republic tie and Isaia jacket. He cracked, “They sent me this jacket from Italy and, apparently, it’s worth more than my car.”
In this freewheeling chat at the Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown, Charlie opens up about his sexy image, germophobia, the real reason why he backed out as Christian Grey in “Fifty Shades of Grey” and tackling the Steve McQueen role in “Papillon.”
Can you talk about how “King Arthur” will likely boost your sexy image? Being perceived as somebody who’s operating on a currency of aesthetic, as opposed to internal substance, is the thing that I have wanted to fight against. There was a time when I’d make decisions based upon that. I did “Cold Mountain,” “Children of Men” and other films where I tried to turn myself into a character actor. I made myself as ugly as possible.
Then, I realized, “This is the way I look,” and if I’m trying to put as much substance into everything I do as my skill set grows, then hopefully people will recognize that. Some people are certainly going to relegate me to being just a pretty boy, but what’s important is the perception that we have of ourselves. I don’t see myself that way.
What do you think of your sexy image? It isn’t something that I try to cultivate. I was just born this way. Some people think that I am attractive and that’s fine, because I’m in a visual medium. What’s important is to be the best actor I can be.
Do you see the benefits though of being a sex symbol? Absolutely. Girls comprise one-half of the audience. Then gay men comprise another 10 percent. So, if you’re appealing to 60 percent of the audience, it’s pretty handy.
I am grateful that people think I’m sexy. [But] everyone wants to be taken seriously. I want people to recognize my heart and my work, and not my face.
So, becoming People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive appeals to you? Does it come with any other benefits, or is it just a title (laughs)? I suppose it’s an honor.
Listen, I just worked with David Beckham (who was Sexiest Man Alive in 2015). That is why we messed him up so much in the film. I walked on set and I said, “Come on, can we throw a few scars on his face?”
I read that you are a germophobe. How does that play into your career where you have to do intimate scenes with actors? Yeah, it makes me very neurotic (laughs). I don’t have herpes, and I don’t want herpes (laughs). The struggle is real. I don’t like kissing anyone but my girlfriend, so I have to overcome that.
It’s funny. Guys usually come up and go, “You have the greatest job in the world. You get to kiss pretty girls for a living.” I’m thinking, if only you knew what a weird, neurotic man I am, because that is the least favorite part of my job (laughs).
But I’m not having a nervous breakdown or refusing to do those things because of my germophobia. It hasn’t progressed to that level.
Is that part of the reason why you backed out of “Fifty Shades of Grey”? I see where you’re going (laughs). Nice segue! I accepted “Fifty Shades of Grey,” then realized I couldn’t do it. At the time, it was very traumatic for me. I take my word seriously. If I say I’m going to do something, I follow through.
I was in an awkward position and not a particularly powerful Hollywood entity. To break a contract with a studio was potentially very dangerous, and there could’ve been significant consequences for that. Thankfully, the studio understood that I was just in a difficult period of my life.
I was in the best period of my life, creatively, where I was getting all of these opportunities. But I was taking too much on. I panicked and said, OK, I have to let something go. I was attached to “50 Shades of Grey” and “Crimson Peak” with Guillermo del Toro.
Guillermo is a friend of mine. We had been talking about [“Crimson”] for 18 months. I had been talking about “50 Shades of Grey” for three weeks. That was the obvious choice to let go.
Was fear a part of it? The books were huge and so much was projected on the Christian Grey character. Fear was a big part of it. But it [has nothing] to do with fame. The way it was sequencing out, I was about to finish Season Six of “Sons of Anarchy.”
On the last day of that shoot, I had to play a scene where I see that the love of my life has been beaten to death. Then five days later, I was going to start shooting “50 Shades.” So I thought there was no way I’d be able to do a good enough job. I started to feel like it was going to be a catastrophe, exacerbated by the fact that my interpretation of that character was slightly different from what was on the page.
I can only do a good job if I believe in what I’m doing. I realized I wasn’t going to have the time to convince everybody that my approach was valid.
(To be concluded tomorrow)
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