The outrageous comedy Frankie Go Boom, from writer/director Jordan Roberts, tells the story of Frank Bartlett (Charlie Hunnam), who tells himself that he’s holed up in the desert to write, but in reality is just hiding from his family, namely his brother Bruce (Chris O’Dowd). A reckless but charming addict, Bruce has always enjoyed secretly filming Frank in all sorts of compromising positions and sobriety isn’t making their relationship any better. And as much as Frankie tries to move on with his life, family just keeps sucking him back in.
At the film’s press day, actor Charlie Hunnam spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about why he didn’t think he was right for this role, what finally convinced him to sign on, what made Ron Perlman the perfect actor for Phyllis, how it was to work with Lizzy Caplan, and giving CPR to a pig. He also talked about what it’s been like to be a part of Sons of Anarchy and how bittersweet it is that they’re closer to the end of the show now than the beginning, and his desire to direct a film that he’s written for Tommy Flanagan (who plays Chibs on SOA) to star in. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
CHARLIE HUNNAM: For some reason, through the process of writing this and talking about casting it, (writer/director) Jordan [Roberts], in the most unlikely choice ever, arrived at me, as the guy he desperately wanted to play this lead role. He wrote me a beautiful letter, for when they submitted the script and offered it to me. I just read it and didn’t see myself in that role and didn’t understand why he had arrived at that decision, or what he saw in me that he thought was going to be interesting, in this role. I thought, “There are so many great unemployed comedic actors out there that could just kill this.”
So, I somewhat reluctantly agreed to meet him. I said, “Listen, I just feel like this guy is a slightly dorky, meek guy, who constantly is getting taken advantage of. Not to say that I couldn’t play that, but it’s not an obvious leap for me. I’m usually the guy that’s kicking everyone’s ass, and that’s kind of who I am, as a person. This is going to be a huge departure for me and a huge challenge.” And he said, “Let me explain to you why you’re the guy that I want. The very obvious way to tell this story is this weak, dorky, meek guy who can’t stand up for himself. What about if he is just a regular guy that, in any other situation, could stand up for himself, and who every dude in the audience can relate to. He just has this giant larger-than-life brother, who’s a complete psycho, who would dominate anybody. That’s the more interesting way to play this, and that’s why I want you.”
That opened it up to me, and I started looking at it in a way that did, all of a sudden, seem feasible. And then, I still said, “Listen, I don’t think it’s for me. I think you should hire a comedian.” He just wore me down. Ultimately, we made this for less than half a million dollars and I figured, “If it’s shit, no one’s going to see it. But, if we do a good job and if I manage to do a good job, and people do see it, then that’s going to be fun.” It just felt like a no-risk way to go and challenge myself.
HUNNAM: Yeah, pretty much! Any time I can torture Ron, I jump at the chance. Chris O’Dowd had been cast, and then I was cast. And then, we had to find the girl, so I read with a bunch of girls. When Lizzy [Caplan] came in, she was just spectacular and it became very clear that she was the choice. And then, we had no time. We had about 10 days and we needed to cast the rest of the movie. So, we had a long conversation and Ron got brought up to play the Chris Noth role. We talked about it and talked about it and talked about it, and I said, “You know, we’ve got a shot at him. He might actually come do this.” So, we sent it to him and I said, “Listen, man, we’ve got a week to cast this movie. Please, if you’re going to read it and actually engage, could you do it tonight and let us know tomorrow ‘cause we’re really up against it.” And he said, “Yeah, I’ll read it.” I figured that I wasn’t going to hear back from him, but he called me in the morning and said, “Okay, I read the script.” I said, “What do you think of the role?,” and he said, “I don’t like it.” I said, “Okay, well, thanks for reading it,” and he said, “Wait, I want to play Phyllis.” I said, “What?! What are you talking about, man?,” and he said, “Charlie, I need you to keep this just between you and I. I have always secretly wanted to play a woman.” I said, “You’re a twisted dude, but I think the director is going to be very excited to hear that.” So, I told Jordan and he just laughed hysterically and said, “Tell him, he’s got the job,” and that was that. And then, Ron shot his entire performance in one day. He just came in and did it, and it was fun.
What was it like to work with Ron Perlman, in this capacity?
HUNNAM: It was really great for me. Ron’s been doing this a long time and is very, very good at what he does. He can just show up and do it. I’m a little more internal, and I work at it a little harder ‘cause I haven’t been doing it as long as he has. So, I find it very difficult to flip-flop on the set. When Ron and I are doing a bunch of scenes together [for Sons of Anarchy] where it’s really contentious, I’m not really good at just being friendly between takes and changing gears and laughing and joking, and then, as soon as they say, “Action!,” acting like I hate this guy. I need to believe that I hate him. So, I really keep Ron at an arm’s length on set, which is difficult for both of us, particularly him, because we really, really like each other. But, it’s just what I have to do. It’s the only way I know how to get the results I want. Hopefully, as I get older, I won’t have to be as crazy, like that. But, this was an opportunity for us to work together where it was just light and fun. It was just my favorite day of filming that I’ve ever had. I love Ron, as a man, and I think he’s an incredible actor. It was good to have fun with him and actually enjoy each other’s company, rather than hating each other, even if he did have to stick his tongue in my mouth.
HUNNAM: It was just like we won the lottery, when he stepped out of the trailer. We flip-flopped. Normally, I’m the crazy one that’s being a bit method, but he just turned into Phyllis. I said, “Whoa, man, this is just too deliciously absurd for words! I can’t believe what I’m looking at right now!” And he said, “Oh, stop it, darling! Now, walk me to set.” So, he put his arm out and we walked, arm-in-arm, to set. I thought, “This is so perverse and absurd, but I kind of love it.”
No matter how outrageous things get in this film, the sweetness between Frankie and Lassie really keeps things grounded. How did you know that Lizzy Caplan was the right actress for the role, and what was it like to develop the relationship between your characters?
HUNNAM: When she came in, she just was great. She blew everyone away, but it’s difficult to define exactly what that is. I haven’t done a lot of casting. It was maybe the second or third time I’ve had that experience, where I was reading other actors. I understood the feedback that I’d gotten, a million times, from auditions. You do a great job and you know you nailed it, but for whatever reason, they say, “He did a great job. We love him. He’s just not the guy.” You think that’s a line that they give you, but when you’re on the other side of it, you see these girls come in and be really brilliant, funny, sweet and vulnerable, and they’d be dripping tears off their chin and swinging for the rafters, and you’d be like, “That’s brilliant, but it’s not the person.” And then, Lizzy came in and was sensational, and she was the girl.
That thing is just tangibly intangible. We just all looked at each other, when she walked out, and I said, “Is that the one, Jordan?” He said, “What are you asking me for? Of course, she’s the one!” All of this was shot so quickly that it was just a matter of trusting Jordan and trusting the material. His script was beautiful. The material was really extraordinary. When it says we’re in love, we act like we’re in love and that’s it. We shot this two years ago now, but I remember feeling, in those scenes, “Wow, it feels like there’s something really going on between us. It feels like there’s real chemistry.” She’s like my sister. We’d go in to kiss and she’d be like, “Dude, you should probably eat some more fucking onions? What have you been eating, fucking salami?” There was no actual romance between us.
HUNNAM: That was terrifying! They just scream. I’ve never heard a noise like it, when that pig started to squeal. You think, “What are we doing?! This is so crazy!” And they’re strong and ornery, and they’ve got big teeth and they stink. It was crazy, wrestling that pig, but it was fun.
Has it been rewarding to know that not only is Sons of Anarchy the highest rated show that FX has ever had, but it’s as successful as it is now, in its fifth season?
HUNNAM: Listen, it is very rewarding and it’s not like I’m no part of that. I pat myself on the back, a small amount, and say, “I’ve done my job as well as I could do it, and people seem to respond to this character.” But, ultimately, all of the praise and all of the responsibility for the show being as successful as it is, is all down to Kurt [Sutter]. It’s Kurt’s show. In the world of television, the creator/writer is the king. Believe you me, this is Kurt’s show. Every element of the show has got his fingerprints on it. So, ultimately, I don’t feel any type of ownership, in that way. I don’t think, “Oh, we got the biggest ratings that FX has ever had. That reflects directly on me and makes me feel good.” I think, “Good for Kurt! It’s so good that this show is so successful.” Ultimately, if I had been playing that role and somebody like Kurt hadn’t been there, incrementally releasing the story the way he does, giving himself enough story to keep it going, and the way he edits everything and rewrites every script, [it would be a different show].
He edits every episode, he writes every script, he acts in it, he writes the songs and does the music. It’s his show. So, when the show does really well, I love and respect Kurt so much, but my reaction is, “Good for Kurt!,” not “Oh, man, look at us! We’re so successful!” If I was Kurt, I would absolutely take that on myself and say, “Good for me! I did this!” We take our jobs seriously and try to contribute as much as we possibly can. I do other things, other than just acting. I also write, and I have a film that I’ve written that I’m going to direct. Because I see each step of the process that way, and I’m not just looking at this, as an actor, I understand what each step requires. Just because of that, although we all contribute and we’re all a big part of the show’s success, to a certain degree, ultimately Kurt is the one.
It’s Kurt’s show. And it took me awhile to surrender to that. I can’t readily compartmentalize, so I don’t just look at everything as an actor. I do look at it as a writer and a director, also, and I’ve had to fight that because that’s not my role there. I am just an actor, on that show. I’m just the guy that plays Jax. When I want to have more to do with it, I have to remind myself that it’s just not the place for it. It’s not that Kurt is a control freak and wants it all for himself. It’s just that’s the way television is set up. The showrunner is king. They say that theater is the actor’s medium, television is the writer’s medium and film is the director’s medium, and it’s really true. It’s really nice to be a part of this thing that people seem to really love and respond to, and it continues to grow. Of course, that’s better than the alternative of it continuing to slide. I am more and more proud of every season that goes by. I think the show gets better, and that makes me feel good. But ultimately, I just feel like all of the end credit lands on Kurt’s shoulders.
Have you always had an eye on writing and directing, at some point?
HUNNAM: I got expelled from high school, and then did my exams from home. I decided, through that experience, that I was going to expediate my plan and didn’t go to university. Instead, I went to a community college and studied the theory and history of film with the idea that I wanted to write and direct. And then, through that, I got an opportunity to act, which then just took precedence. But, it’s just been growing in me. Right before I got Sons of Anarchy, I actually quit acting for 18 months and didn’t read a single script, and I wrote a film. I felt like I needed to do something that I had control over, as an artist, and also just do something where I felt like I had some control over my life, as just a human, out in the world. Being at the mercy of the acting profession, in the early days of one’s career, is really brutal and feels like you have no control over your life, at all.
So, I actually just finished writing that screenplay and managed to sell it, and then was going to start writing something else when Sons of Anarchy landed on my desk. I just thought, “A TV show is not really anything that I’m that interested in doing.” I called my agent and was like, “Really? Why are you sending me a TV show? You’ve never sent me a TV show before, and we’ve never talked about me doing a TV show.” He said, “Just read it, bro.” So, I read it and was like, “Holy shit!” The quality of the writing was so much better than all of the films I had been reading. It was actually an original idea. A guy wanted to tell a family drama, set against the backdrop of a motorcycle club. There had been some biker exploitation movies made in the ‘70s, but they were all terrible. Never had this vastly interesting, rich world been explored before. I was like, “Wow, this is a guy who’s really trying to do something.”
HUNNAM: I don’t want to talk about it too much because it’s so far away. But, I’m going to try to make it in two and a half years’ time, when we finish Sons, altogether. It’s going to star Tommy Flanagan, who plays Chibs on the show. He’s been one of my best friends for years. I’d known him for years, before we did Sons together. I’ve known Tommy, for years and years. It’s a film set in England, about a part of English society that’s really seldom been explored, but is one of the most colorful and interesting parts of British society. We’re just going to make it for no money at all, and go and do it. We’re just two best friends, going to make a movie. If I can actually go make it, I’ll be able to give Tommy his first ever leading role. That guy is way overdue. I think he’s one of the most talented guys out there. He’s just gonna be so beautiful, as this guy. Hopefully, we’ll get it made and march fearlessly in the direction of our dreams.
Since it has been said that the show will end after seven seasons, does it feel bittersweet that you’re closer to the end than you are to the beginning, at this point?
HUNNAM: I’m a real gypsy. Most people that work in this business, if they’re not gypsies by nature, become gypsies, just because of the reality of this business. There’s a part of being held down to doing Sons, as much as I absolutely adore it, which I do, where the reality of having to structure my entire life for a six-year commitment, every year, from this date to this date, that is a little difficult for me. It is really bittersweet. The idea of hanging up that cut and never playing Jax Teller again, breaks my heart. I’m sure I’ll go through a period of really serious depression, saying goodbye to him, for a month after we finish. But then, the idea of just being free to do whatever I want, for the rest of my life, is obviously a really appealing idea for the gypsy in me.
Frankie Go Boom is now in theaters.