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Pacific Rim - Charlie Hunnam interview

Pacific Rim

Compiled by Jack Foley

CHARLIE Hunnam talks about getting into shape [and going topless] for Pacific Rim and why Brad Pitt ruined things for a lot of actors by being so buff for Fight Club.

He also discusses his relationship with director Guillermo Del Toro, as well as co-star Rinko Kikuchi, and what his hopes are for the film and how it may impact his career.

Q. What was it like working with Rinko?
Charlie Hunnam: It was great working with her. She’s such an honest, pure-hearted person and she was a joy. There was zero jaded psychology in her, she’s really just a wonderful person. We talked about every element of the movie, because there were some really difficult concepts to grasp. Particularly in the early stages where it was all being defined in the screenplay and everyone was moving so fast. So I felt like it was my instinct anyway, but as Raleigh felt very protective of Rinko and wanted to make sure she understood all of this, because of course there was a language barrier there for her. So it was hard enough to understand these concepts and this new vocabulary that Guillermo created for the film if you speak English fluently, but she was just learning to speak English. So I talked to her a great deal and made sure she understood it all. Through her intelligent questioning, it was all illuminated to me, areas I didn’t understand.

Q. Such as?
Charlie Hunnam: Not anything specific, but when we were talking about the Drift and how we work together, she’d ask how it would all work, she has a very lively mind.

Q. Tell us about the physical preparation for the role…
Charlie Hunnam: Yeah, it was a lot of working out! Initially this film started, in the early drafts, with a workout sequence where Raleigh was channelling all of his rage and anxiety into working out with his shirt off [laughs]. Guillermo said: “I need you to show up looking like a man who is capable of saving the world.” Brad Pitt, that bastard, screwed it up for everybody because after Fight Club, what is expected of a guy when he takes off his shirt is absurdly high. I spent a lot of hours at the gym cursing Brad Pitt. But I was shooting Sons Of Anarchy just before we started shooting. So I would go to work, do a 14-15 hour day and then get on my bike and drive back, passing the exit to my house and carrying on to the gym, working out two hours a night before shooting again.

Q. Guillermo mentioned you learning Japanese for the film for a scene that was cut. Did you curse him for that?
Charlie Hunnam: Yes. Everyday. Absolutely! (Laughs) There was a bit of Japanese. Guillermo said, “Hey, I’ve got this new idea, man. I think you should speak Japanese…” “…Ah. Okay. Right. I’ll get right on that, old boy…” So I did, I learned these lines of Japanese and apparently the Japanese coach who watched the movie after said I did a fantastic job. I had more of a Japanese accent than Rinko, who had become a little Americanised… I think there’s one word of my Japanese left in the movie. I can say it now if you want to hear it. [Speaks Japanese]. I had a coach but it was hard to get time to work with him so I just got two different people, the coach and one of the crew guys’ wives, record the lines and would listen to it over and over. You know how iTunes counts the times you’ve listened to something and I’ve listened to it 2,700 times… I would be in the store buying cereal talking to myself.

Q. Talk the Drift…
Charlie Hunnam: I thought it was beautiful and one of the genesis ideas that drew Guillermo to this world. When he explained it to me, I thought it was so original and beautiful and terrifying. The sequence where I fight Mako with sticks was a really important scene for the film. There were various versions of it through the different drafts of the script. There was a version where we danced, different fight styles and there’s another where we’d already been in the simulator together and didn’t gel. And we had this kind of Drift dream where we weren’t connected through the machine, but drifting in the dream and making love, but that didn’t work either. Then Guillermo came up with the stick fight. What was more important was making some kind of connection.

I just thought it was a great idea. For Raleigh to let someone into his head when he realised he had no control left over his mind. I haven’t been through any kind of great trauma or made a mistake that had a devastating outcome, but I thought a little bit of times of being drunk and passing out, then having that experience where you wake up and say, “I can’t believe I said that! Or did that!” And that scrambled brain where you can’t figure out memories or thoughts. I thought a lot about the drift and what it would be like to let somebody into your mind. I don’t know if I would. The only person who would come close would be my girlfriend and I’ve been with her for seven years, I love her like crazy but I don’t want her to know the shit I’ve got going on in my head! She’d call me a freak! It’s an amazing idea that you can give someone total access to your darkest feelings and secrets and fears and fantasies.

Q. Did you film those other Drift ideas?
Charlie Hunnam: No, those were only script ideas.

Q. This is the biggest film you’ve been the lead of, right?
Charlie Hunnam: Yeah, definitely. I’ve had big smarts in small films and very small parts in some big films.

Q. How was it auditioning?
Charlie Hunnam: Ironically, it was by far the easiest process I’ve gone through to get the biggest film I’ve ever done. I’d met Guillermo a few years before on Hellboy 2. He was interested in me playing the prince. He’d already hired the girl for the princess. We met, I did a horrible audition and he was very generous and said, “I’m sure you’ll be fine on the day. Let’s do a prosthetic test.” We did that and he said I didn’t look enough like the girl – we were supposed to be identical twins – but I really enjoyed working together through that process. Then through Ron, he started watching Sons Of Anarchy and would send messages through Ron that he thought I was doing great work. Then I believe he was going to hire me for his version of The Hobbit, which I didn’t know about until after the fact. I think he was going to have Rob Kazinsky and myself who is also in Pacific Rim, play brothers.

But I got a call out of the blue with him inviting me to go out to his famous man cave, Bleak House and I went up there and immediately he started talking to me as if I was doing the film. He said, “There’s this world with these f****n’ monsters coming and we build this big robots and you’re in the head of the robot and you kick the monsters’ ass and save the world. Sound good, you wanna do it?” “F**k yeah! Please! That sounds amazing…” And it was as simple as that. Within the first 15 minutes of the meeting I was doing the movie. He took me into the back room – that house is amazing, it’s like being in the Addams family house, with secret passages and bookcases that open – we went round the corner and there’s half of a shark in formaldehyde into this back room with a whole team of people designing robots and monsters.

Q. How was it working with Mana Ashida, who played young Mako?
Charlie Hunnam: It was amazing. She’s a huge star in Japan – Justin Bieber meets Dakota Fanning. Guillermo said: “I hope we can get her…” “Who is this girl?” I’ve worked with some talented people, but to see a little girl with so much poise and control? And it was a hard role because she’s supposed to be terrified, crying her eyes out the whole time. And she would walk on to set, regal as could be, hit her mark and Guillermo would start cueing up the action, but she’d hold up her hand for silence. She would stand there for a while and meditate and all of sudden, tears would start streaming out of her eyes, and she would nod, and Guillermo would call action. She’d cry her eyes out take after take. It was humbling. I had to take some lessons from her!

Q. Do you think the film will be successful?
Charlie Hunnam: Right now, the landscape of cinema is not that original. Not to say there aren’t great movies being made, but it’s much easier for studios to make movies that have built-in audiences. So it’s all remakes, adaptations and now a lot of remakes of adaptations. And this is an original movie. I think that’s one of the most exciting things. When you watch this, you get a sense that not only is it original, but it has a lot of integrity. There are only a few guys that have a genuine enough love of monsters and robots to make a film with this much passion and I don’t know of anyone better than Guillermo to make this movie.

Q. Do you think how it will impact your career?
Charlie Hunnam: I try not to, I never have before – I try to do the best job I can. There’s so much expectation about this movie within the industry at least that you can’t help but be seduced into thinking it’ll help if it does really well. But I always just hope people really love the movie first if all and then second feel like I did a good job, so people see it and still want to work with me!

Q. What’s next?
Charlie Hunnam: I’m still working on Sons Of Anarchy. And I’m going to go do another movie with Guillermo, which is very exciting. He was really sweet at the end of making Pacific Rim, took me aside, gave me a big hug and said: “I’ve loved working with you on this and you’re in my crew now, I want to hire you again and again to work on my movies.” He’s always been a man of his word, but I didn’t anticipate he’d call me three months later and offer me another movie. When he did, I was so happy.

Q. Why are apocalyptic movies so big now?
Charlie Hunnam: I think it’s because there’s awareness that we’re headed towards some really fundamental problems. Population is out of control, global warming is round the corner in a serious way, we don’t have enough food. The global economy is in tatters. And maybe for the first time, people realise consciously or unconsciously that we’ve taken our future for granted. And I think this movie is a beautiful allegory for that. The Kaiju represent the problems we’re facing. The message of the film is if we just band together and forget our little differences, we can make a change. But if we don’t, we’re going to get our asses kicked by monsters.

Read our interview with Rinko Kikuchi

Read our review of Pacific Rim