The crime thriller Deadfall tells the story of siblings Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde), who get in a car accident after a casino heist gone wrong and decide to split up to make a run for the Canadian border during a Thanksgiving blizzard. While Addison is creating mayhem, Liza is picked up by ex-boxer Jay (Charlie Hunnam), who’s looking to make amends with his parents over a dinner that will push the bonds of family to the limit.
At the film’s press day, actor Charlie Hunnam spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about what attracted him to this film, living like a boxer for five weeks to prepare, and what he liked about the unique duality of the storytelling. He also talked about how he feels about Jax Teller’s darker journey on Season 5 of Sons of Anarchy and how the loss of Opie (and Ryan Hurst, as an actor on the series) really affected things, that he hasn’t gotten to see any more footage of Pacific Rim yet but that director Guillermo del Toro says that it’s 10 times better than anything he’s ever directed, and how he’s taking this six-month hiatus to write a film based on a true story that he owns the rights to, about a young man who, after an unfortunate circumstance, found himself running the third biggest drug cartel in Mexico. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: You’ve been playing a really interesting assortment of characters lately. Has the selection of projects you’ve done been intentional, in any way?
CHARLIE HUNNAM: I’ve just been trying to keep it fresh. Actually, that’s not even true. I haven’t been trying to do anything. I’ve just been going where my heart is. I have no big plan, other than unless I want to see the movie, I don’t want to act in it.
When you read this script, what was your first impression of the story and character?
HUNNAM: There was a real poetry in that script that gave one the sense that it was going to be a very lyrical piece. There was a lot of silence in the script. A lot of times, silence in a script means that you’re just reading endless action exposition, but that was not really the case here. The world itself seemed to have a personality in this film and the voice of that world was silence, and I love that. That’s probably been heightened by my experience of working in television, which is all about sound. You’ll never get a moment of silence unless there’s something really extraordinary going on, on screen, visually. They never let a moment of silence pass without being filled in television because it’s a very sound-driven medium. You have to keep people engaged until you get them through the next commercial. I’m not complaining about working in TV, at all, but just as an artistic reaction, I find myself being so drawn to moments of silence where things are allowed to breathe.
Were there things about this character that you related to?
HUNNAM: I could relate to his frustration and his anger that he felt like his life was somehow out of control, when he was a guy who’s very, very disciplined. I thought that was really interesting and I could relate to it, in a way, living in Hollywood. I’m very disciplined and I have a very clear idea of how I want to be spending my time, but I’m at the mercy of everybody else who decides how I get to spend my time and whether I get to work or not. In classic storytelling terms, with the classic hero’s journey and contemporary male narrative, a man being released from prison is a dynamic that I was predisposed to be interested in and like. I grew up with a lot of people who went to prison, with my own family members and stuff. As an audience member to their lives, there’s always a very interesting period of two weeks, when a man or woman is released from prison, and you wonder, “What are they going to do? Are they going to go back to what they were doing?” This guy seemed like a guy who had dedicated his entire life to this goal of becoming a world class athlete and actually achieved it. We just all inherently understand the dedication and sacrifice that is needed to achieve that because we’ve all grown up watching professional athletes on TV, so I understood that. He seemed like a guy where it was day one of the rest of his life. He had ruined the prior 30 years and he was coming out completely with nothing, at all.
I found, as I was reading the script, that he was painted in a way that made me want to know more about him and where he was going. And then, the preparation is so important to me and exciting to me. The world of boxing was a world I was very apt to go and explore. I thought the experience of going and being a boxer for five weeks would be an incredible thing for me to do, and so I did. I put myself in a fight camp, as though I was getting ready to do a fight, and the day that I was getting ready to get on a plane to go to Montreal was, in my mind, the day that I was going to go have a professional fight. So, I got up every morning and ran five miles, and then had breakfast, and then went to the gym and box for two hours, and then came home and took a nap, and then watched fights, all day long. I even had a Mexican fighter in my mind that I was going to fight, and I was watching all of his fights. I did that seven days a week for five weeks, and then the day I went to Montreal, I stopped training completely because I wanted to feel a sense of loss and that my life had been turned upside.
Also, I’d known from working out in a really disciplined way before that the minute you stop, you start to feel fucking crazy. You miss that endorphin rush and you miss the clarity in changing your water every day, and you start to feel really unhappy and aggressive. I thought that was the right place for Jay to be in, and so, if I could have the experience of that, it would make my job so much easier. I could meet him half-way, rather than having to try to intellectually understand where the fuck he was coming from. It feels like a death of everything you thought your life was going to be and you’ve gotta figure out what it’s going to be, now that that’s not a reality anymore.
Was part of the appeal of this story the unique duality of these characters, where they really are each the protagonist of their own story until they collide with each other and you get to see different sides to them?
HUNNAM: Yeah. It is very interesting storytelling, in that regard. They are these three separate stories that intersect. It’s not as dramatic as the way [Alejandro González] Iñárritu would do it, where it’s guys that have nothing to do with each other, and then you see how all the world is connected, after all. You understand that they’re tangibly connected, anyway. I’ve always liked that device of storytelling where separate stories intersect and effect each other. I thought that this was a really strong version of that device. I really look forward to seeing the film. I just always need an incubation period. I haven’t seen any of Sons for the last two seasons. I just can’t. I get too close to things and need some time. I don’t just look at things as an actor. I’ve also written five films, so I look at it as a storyteller and I know if something worked and should have been in there for the benefit of the story and the benefit of the character. I have too many control issues, so it just is not good for me to go and watch this stuff, too soon after I make it.
How have you felt about the journey of Jax Teller this season, with as dark as he’s getting, now that he’s at the head of the SAMCRO table?
HUNNAM: It’s amazing! I see him more clearly and agree with him more than I ever have. I felt that maybe that storyline was protracted a little longer than it should have been, with the story of him wanting out of the club. I started to struggle in believing that, because that world requires so much, you could survive in it at all, being one in and one out. I have a friend in the real world who is trying to extricate himself from a life of crime, and you just can’t be a gangster part-time. You’ll get killed, right quick. He already had a situation in his life where someone realized he was starting to take a step back, and they came in and took a million dollars of product off of him. He was like, “Well, I guess I’m back in it now.” I just feel like that was Jax’s moment of, “Fuck it!”
After all these years of soul searching, as the actor playing him, I had come to the end of that storyline, and I can only imagine that that was a true feeling for Jax, too. It was like, “Okay, I’ve been in and out, in and out, and in and out. I’m in, for life.” Anytime any conversations comes up around the work and whether Jax would be in this for life or not, it’s ultimately [show creator Kurt Sutter’s] decision, but I just say that the decision has been made. You can’t keep bringing this guy in and out of the life. The decision has been made. He’s clearly, through his behavior now, embracing it and committing in a way that he never has before, and I love it.
Was that really sparked by the departure of Ryan Hurst and the loss of Opie?
HUNNAM: For me, it had a massive effect, losing Ryan Hurst on the show. It had a really, really profound effect on me, creatively and personally. I think a lot of that was in line with what Jax would have been feeling, but also made me feel a real responsibility to Ryan Hurst, as me, to keep doing this and making sure that we get ours. I felt like we were headed, and Jax felt like we were headed, to a place where it was going to be me and Opie at the head of the table, and that got taken from us. I’ve had the deepest creative experience of my life on Sons of Anarchy, just because of the time we’ve spent playing these characters. They just get ingrained. Those relationships and those guys that I’ve worked with have just become my brothers and my family, so that was a very, very hard pill to swallow, for us to lose Opie.
With Jax, or any of the characters that you play, do you ever worry about getting to a point where they can no longer be redeemed, or does that not concern you?
HUNNAM: You know, I’ve been partly lucky and partly very disciplined about working with people that I respect and admire as storytellers, Kurt [Sutter] being one of them. I really don’t. I get so engaged. I have to give myself over to the storytelling and trust it, and I just don’t really ever think about that. I just only think about the character, in terms of his life and his world. I never think about it, in terms of audience perception ‘cause he isn’t. I try to live these guys, as much as I can. I’m only now, six weeks after wrapping Sons of Anarchy, feeling like I’m interacting with people much more like myself than Jax. For the period of time that I’m filming that show, I really get very close to him with my behavior ‘cause I’m him more than I’m myself. I get very, very close to these characters.
Is it strange to have the experience of working on Sons of Anarchy, where you guys are such a tight family, and then going to do Deadfall where you didn’t have any time to meet and rehearse with Olivia Wilde? Did you enjoy that kind of challenge?
HUNNAM: What I miss, and the challenge of going back into film after working on TV for so long, and I constantly have to remind myself of this, going into film, is the benefit of all the familiarity and the ingrained nuances of living this world for so long isn’t going to be there. I’m going to have to work a little harder with these actors to make sure the dynamic is there. It’s not all going to be second nature. I have been aware of that, on the first couple of days of filming, in the past, when I’ve transitioned from Sons to a movie set. It’s like, “Fuck, man! Okay, this isn’t just happening effortlessly.” And acting is never really that fucking effortless, at least not for me. It requires a massive amount of work. But, there’s definitely an added level of having to just create the whole thing again, every time. It’s also a very exciting thing, to do that.
I very much like to focus on one thing at a time. I literally couldn’t bear to shave my beard off again, so I’m not working this hiatus. I’m also so tired of compromising the aesthetic of Jax, by going to do movies in between. I want to do it all, but I’m just not big on compromise, at all. I just said, “Listen, I’m tired. I’ve had a wonderful three and a half years, but I want to spend this hiatus writing. Plus, I’m not cutting this beard off again and showing up with a clean face, at the beginning of the season, and growing the beard out throughout the course of the season.” That type of stuff keeps me up at night. It feels like, “Fuck you! You dishonored the character. How dare you show up not being Jax, for a second.”
Have you gotten to see any more footage of Pacific Rim?
HUNNAM: Not yet. I talked to Guillermo [del Toro] the other night, though. He was like, “Hey, cabrón! It is fantastic! It is the best film I ever directed, by 10 times!” That’s what he said.
Is it exciting to be in such a big movie that already has a viral marketing campaign?
HUNNAM: It is. It’s fun to feel like you’re a part of the business now, as opposed to just trying to break into it. I have collaborators and people that care about me, and that’s really great. But, more than anything, I have a sense that I can keep on going. In the past, when I’ve been writing scripts, it felt almost like I was just doing it for myself, as a catharsis against feeling like I had no control over my acting career. Now, when I sit down and write, I feel like, “Wow, we actually might go make this movie,” which is a very exciting place to be in. I’m just obsessed.
And you’re currently writing something, right now?
HUNNAM: That’s the main reason why I took this six months off. I have this true story that I own the rights to, that I’m writing right now, and I just think it could be spectacular. I love this guy. It’s the true story of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, all-American Texas player who was dirt poor and grew up in Laredo. At eight or nine years old, he just had a total existential crisis. He looked around and was like, “This is shit! Where’s the intention? Everybody is just a slave to the social and economic demands of their life. Where’s the life here?” He said, “Fuck it! This is not going to be my life.” From eight to 17, he never smoked a cigarette, never drank a beer, never had a cup of coffee, and didn’t even look at a joint. He had total discipline. He wanted to get himself a football scholarship, go to college, use his time at college to get an education, escape poverty and live a meaningful life. He got the football scholarship to an Ivy League school when he was 17.
Ten days after he got the football scholarship, he got into an accident in his car and got charged with criminally negligent homicide because the other person died. He got sent to prison for two years, and he came out at 19 with all of that discipline and passion and hope for his future, and nowhere to put it. He said, “Fuck it! I’m going to start dealing drugs.” By the time he was 27, he was running the third biggest drug cartel in Mexico. It’s a fucking crazy story of the American dream gone wrong and the lengths that people will go to, to feel as though they’ve escaped the drudgery of everyday civilization.
Is that something you’re also looking to act in?
HUNNAM: I don’t know if I’m going to act in it or not. I’m making it with Legendary and Warner Bros. They bought the idea from me, and I’m writing it. We’ll see what we’re going to do. I really want to write it and produce it, so it gets made the way I want it to get made. I also have two other films in development that I’m writing and producing. And then, I have another one in development that I already have been working on for a long time. And then, the fifth thing I’m going to write is this film that I have for Tommy Flanagan, that I want to direct for him to star in. We want to go and make that for a million bucks in Britain. Tommy is just amazing. I just think he’s phenomenal. Some of the work he did this season (on Sons of Anarchy) was just breathtaking.
Deadfall is currently available on VOD and opens in theaters on December 7th.