Note to casting directors: Please put Charlie Hunnam in more quality feature films. Hunnam’s gained a passionate fan following having starred as Jax Teller for five seasons on the critically acclaimed FX series Sons of Anarchy, and he’ll be seen early next year handling one of the lead roles in the much-anticipated Pacific Rim from Guillermo del Toro. And he shows off his comedy skills in 3,2,1…Frankie Go Boom
, one of the better comedies of 2012 opening in theaters on October 12, 2012. But Hunnam’s presence on both the large and small screens is so magnetic, here’s hoping he finds more film roles that draw him in.
Fortunately, writer/director Jordan Roberts saw what we see in Hunnam and pursued him for the role of ‘Frankie’ in 3,2,1…Frankie Go Boom. And in our exclusive interview, Hunnam explained what it took to get him interested in the role, comedy, and how playing Frankie was a palate-cleanser after years of Jax and other dramatic projects.
Charlie Hunnam Exclusive Interview
Thanks for tackling a film that’s way more original than what we usually get to see.
“It’s absolutely my pleasure. It was a really fun, big departure for me from the type of material I usually work on and it felt like just a really fun challenge to do in a kind of safe environment. You know, if you go and sign on to do a comedy for a studio with a $20 million price tag, if you’re not known as being a comedian it’s a very
big risk. But to go and do a $400,000 film, it just felt like a really safe, easy, fun way to challenge myself and try to do something a little bit different.”
Was it the fact it was different that first caught your eye? Were you looking for something in the comedy genre?
“I certainly wasn’t looking for something and I don’t think of myself as a comedian. I’m not that interested in comedy. The way it came about was Jordan Roberts, the director/writer/producer/financier of the film, somewhere along the line decided that I was the guy he wanted for that role. I got sent the script and just didn’t really see how I could play the role, because it felt to me like it read like a really kind of dorky, passive, put-upon guy whose brother’s always messing with his life and he’s not strong enough to challenge his brother. Jordan said, ‘Yes, I think that’s the way a lot of people read it. I think that’s the very obvious way. I think the much more interesting version of this film – or this story – is that he’s just a really regular dude, like the type of guy that anyone in the audience can relate to. He’s not super macho but he’s also kind of tough. He has his own stuff. The problem is his brother’s this extraordinary larger-than-life character who’s also kind of a psycho, and any normal guy would have trouble standing up to that.’
He just felt like that version of this story was much more interesting. And so the more we talked about it and the more he pitched his version of how we would tell the story, the more it intrigued me and the more I felt comfortable trying to take on the challenge of playing this guy. To me, that’s how it came about. It’s really just Jordan. I’ve done a little bit of comedy in the past that he looked at. I did a show, Undeclared, years ago with Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segel and all those guys. He saw that and he said, ‘Listen, go back and watch the show if you don’t think you’re funny, because you definitely have the ability to be funny. And I’m a really funny guy’ – Jordan said – ‘and I’m going to look after you and make sure the jokes land.’ That’s first how it came about.”
And Frankie is a really normal guy. He’s the type of guy you’d want to hang out with if you met him. Did you feel that way about him?
“Yeah. That new version…once Jordan talked me through that and I started reading that version, it really came to life for me. But upon the first read, that’s not how he appeared to me. It was a much more passive, kind of a weaker guy. But, yeah, I think we found a nice balance in there.”
You were saying it was a $400,000 film and I know it was a super quick shoot. Does that help or hinder you as an actor?
“I find every project has a slightly different rhythm to it. I was used to working that quickly because that’s actually the speed that we make the TV show that I’m on. We shoot an episode of Sons of Anarchy every seven days and so it felt kind of like home for me, working that rapidly. And, of course, as an actor would you love to have the luxury of doing 10 takes as opposed to having to work so quickly that you need to do everything in two takes? Of course. But there’s also a certain energy that comes to the process when you’re working so quickly that makes it feel very immediate. It’s much more like real life in that way because you don’t get stuck into rhythms of playing these scenes and start doing a little bit better what you did the take before. It’s all just kind of fresh and happening in real time when you’re just doing one or two takes.”
Is it refreshing to play someone who is so different from Jax? These characters couldn’t be further apart in personality.
“Yeah, it definitely was refreshing. It’s like a real palate-cleanser to come in to this. And it wasn’t just Jax… I mean, just all of the work that I’ve been doing over the last five or six years are kind of more tough guy, rough-and-ready type of characters. More so than just a palate-cleanser for Sons, it was a real palate-cleanser for everything I’ve been doing over the last few years. And then as a kind of side effect of that, it made me excited to go back into that world again because that’s the world I feel comfortable in. I’ve never played a character as close to who I am as the character I play with Jax. I mean, he and I…he’s a little bit more violent than me, but only marginally. [laughing] But in the way he processes information and the relationships he has with his friends, and the way he conducts himself in the world, if I were in that world, I would be exactly like that.”
That would be you.“That would be me. So, it’s nice to play a character so far away from one’s self and then it’s also nice to come back to playing a character that feels very close to me.”
How easy was he to get in and out of each day, given the short filming schedule?
“I struggled a little playing this guy. I mean, just the comedy aspect is very new to me. I was very disciplined and just tried to work as hard as I could to make him feel real and honest, and like a real guy. But obviously the biggest challenge for me was just trying to make the jokes land, you know?”
How do you know when you’ve delivered it right, given that you don’t often do comedy?
“My drama chops, I’ve been doing it a while and working a lot so your ability to understand when something feels right gets very in tune. But with this, I honestly just differed to Jordan. If he said, ‘You made me laugh. Behind the monitor, I’m laughing,’ that was good enough for me. It felt like if the director’s laughing, he had a really good gauge for what’s working and I just put my complete trust in Jordan.
I mean, just to take this role on in the first place I had to put my complete trust in Jordan. He really fought for me because I didn’t want to take this risk to begin with. He just fought for me and explained why for him I was the perfect guy. He filled me with confidence, and so really that’s what it came down to.”
How different is it to work with a writer/director?
“The whole process in television is so different. I mean, the old saying is that “Theatre is an actor’s medium, television is a writer’s medium, and film is a director’s medium.” And I think there’s a huge amount of truth in that. And I much prefer…you know, when you have a writer in TV who’s in complete control of everything so that the writer’s the top guy in television, you have a voice that is controlling everything that isn’t necessarily on set. Which is fine, but doesn’t give you as an actor as much freedom as if you’re working directly with the writer who’s also directing because then he sees you go through the process. If something isn’t working, you have the leverage there to say, ‘Listen, I wrote the thing, I’m the director, let’s just change it if it’s not working.’ You don’t really have that freedom in the world of television. If the writer wrote it that way and he’s not on set to see that it might not be working a certain way, you better just make it work because that’s what he expects to see in the editing room, you know? And not that that’s a problem in any way, it’s just a slightly different process.
I guess you just have a little bit more freedom when working with the guy who’s directly in charge. It’s really just about control. On a film, the director is the man who’s in charge. He’s the man who you work directly with every day. In television, the writer’s in charge and he’s not really that involved in the day-to-day process.”
Is it true that you suggested Ron Perlman for this role?
“Yeah. I suggested Ron for one of the two roles. Initially, Jordan and I…Chris O’Dowd had already been cast and then he cast me, and then we got Lizzy Caplan on board. And then we were looking for the two other main roles: Phyllis and the out-of-work actor, Lizzy’s father. We initially sent Ron the script to look at both roles, but really focus on the movie star role. I said, ‘Listen, we’re going really quickly. This is an offer – it’s not a financial offer because they don’t literally have the time to do the paperwork to make you an offer, but if you want the role it’s yours. Read the script.’
He called me the next morning and said, ‘You’re going to think I’m crazy,’ and I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘I want to play Phyllis.’ [laughing] I said, ‘Why?!’ And he said, ‘I’ve always wanted to play a woman.’ And that’s kind of where it went from there.
We shot Ron’s entire role in one day and it was by far and away the most fun I’ve ever had in a day’s filming. We just had such a great time together because it was such a departure from our usual dynamic. It was just a really fun, fun day of filming for both of us.”
What was your first reaction upon seeing Ron in costume?
“I just said, ‘Oh my god…’ It was just too perfect and delicious to even believe. I mean, Ron is the least likely actor on the planet to be playing a woman, and just to see him with that big forehead with his beautifully done hair and his pearl necklace and silk kimono…the whole thing was just delightfully absurd.”
I would imagine it was a little tough to get through those scenes without cracking up.
“Yeah, for the first couple of takes, for sure. But the reality is we had to shoot seven scenes in one day, so there wasn’t a huge amount of time for messing around. We just had to get the work done.”
We see so many films where the women has a hard time in bed with a new guy after a difficult break-up, but we hardly ever see a guy who just can’t do it. So is the twist in this film something that’s new and refreshing for you, too, as a moviegoer?
“Yes, I suppose so. It hadn’t occurred to me but now that you phrased it that way, I guess it is kind of an interesting, seldom seen dynamic.”
I thought it was interesting that a film finally has the guy suffering in bed because of something that happened in the past. And speaking of what you go through, how do you think Sons of Anarchy fans are going to take your character in this?
“I don’t know. Hopefully they will just take it for what it is – a really fun romp – and think it’s kind of fun and kind of absurd that Clay Morrow and Jax Teller would be making out. I think it’s a pretty startling and hilarious thing for fans of the show.”
Your character and Chris O’Dowd’s character are brothers, but they have a really dysfunctional relationship. How did you work on that dynamic?
“I think a lot of it was just the relationship that Jordan painted on the page. It was very vivid and clear, and I think we just trusted the writing and tried to bring it to life in as fun and colorful way as possible. Chris and I are very different guys and we didn’t really spend a lot of time hanging out together off set. We’ve just got different interests and very different personalities. We didn’t really bond in a huge way and want to spend a lot of time off set together. But for whatever reason the on-camera dynamics seemed to be kind of colorful and the scenes would work most of the time.”
It’s one of the few films I’ve seen this year where I actually want to know what happens to these characters after this story is done.