Charlie Hunnam has been pounding the acting pavement for 12 years, but his turn as Jax on FX’s hit show “Sons of Anarchy” has propelled him to the next level. This soft-spoken Brit sat down with CableFAX Exec Editor Michael Grebb last month in L.A. to talk about the show, his acting career and—here’s something you probably don’t know—his recent success as a screenwriter, with an movie he wrote about Romania’s “Vlad the Impaler” currently in development.
CableFAX: Sons seems to have a lot of fans among the real-life motorcycle clubs. How encouraging is that as an actor?
CH: I think what Kurt (Sutter) does so well is that he’s gotten the foundation of this world right. There are a lot of nuances and details that are exactly right, which I feel like gives us a solid foundation that people will buy it when it gets really big.
CableFAX: You’ve never had a big role like this, and now you’re the lead on a hit TV show. How are you handling the sudden fame?
CH: It’s where I’ve wanted to get to. It’s been the goal, so yeah. So it’s nice. And what’s really great about it is that for a long time, on the films I was pursuing—I would find something I’d like to do, and I’d be with the filmmaker or the director would fall in love with me and decide that I was his guy. And then, you know, a lot of these decisions get made by the marketing departments and not the actual creative entities. And the marketing department would say, “Well he’s not a big star, and we don’t know how to sell it with him.” So they’ll just get Justin Timberlake instead, you know. And so this show, hopefully its success will make me a little bit more marketable when I go out for movies.
CableFAX: Have you started to sense that yet?
CH: Yeah, I have. In fact, I actually just lost a movie to Justin Timberlake last week (LAUGHS)… So it’s not fully there, but yeah—it’s starting to happen.
CableFAX: A lot of people don’t know this, but you’re a writer yourself. And you even just sold a screenplay that’s in development. What’s the background on that?
CH: That came out of frustration with my career. Before this show, I hadn’t worked for two and half years, and it was partly by choice. I was getting offered stuff, but it just wasn’t the type of stuff I wanted to do. And then the few things that I did find I wanted to do, I got in that situation where I almost got the job but didn’t at the eleventh hour for whatever reason.
CableFAX: What kind of stuff were you getting offered?
CH: I got a couple of really big financial offers to do horror films—genre films that sell themselves and don’t really need big stars—but it was kind of lower brow stuff. The nice thing about those is that you can make a lot of money. I was in a bizarre situation where I couldn’t afford to pay my mortgage and was struggling to feed myself and yet turning down million-dollar offers. I turned down two million-dollar offers during this period and thinking, “What the fuck am I doing? If this doesn’t all go the way I hope it will, I’m going to look back in a few years and think…
CableFAX: Your poor agent and manager.
CH: Oh yeah. They were really knocking their heads against the wall.
CableFAX: It’s gotta be tough to stick to your guns like that.
CH: Yeah, it is. But I’m really glad that I did. So what I decided to do was I had gone away to Romania for five months to shoot “Cold Mountain,” and I heard the story of Vlad the Impaler and thought, “It’s really amazing that no one has tried to tell that story. So after about 18 months of real intense frustration, I just decided fuck it. I knew I had about nine months of money left to survive, and I said I’m going to take this time to write a script. And if I can’t sell the script, then that’s pretty much my career over. I was thinking I might go back to England and pursue something else. But I managed to sell it, and it all kind of went right.
CableFAX: Did you sell it before Sons of Anarchy hit?
CableFAX: That’s amazing, considering studios are buying very few scripts these days.
CH: Yeah, there are very, very, very few things getting bought. I got really lucky, and it was after putting so much hard work into it—it was so seamless. Because I sent it to my manager, who had been banging her head against the wall. And I just sent her an email and said, “It’s finally done, you know, and tell me what you think.” And I got a call from her the next morning saying, “I read it. I loved it. I’ve got an idea. Give me 48 hours.” And then the next day, she said okay. She also represents Brad Pitt. And she said, “I gave it to Plan B to read because I loved it and thought it was great, and I just wanted to get a second read. And Plan B turned around immediately and said, ‘We want to produce it’.” So then I signed an agreement with them, and they gave me some notes, and I did a rewrite for them for free just to kind of polish it up and make it a little more commercial. And then they sent it out to a bunch of people and got three different studios that wanted to buy it. So I got a bit of leverage in the negotiations to get a really good deal.
CableFAX: Will you be in the movie?
CH: I would love to, but I’m realistic about the likelihood of that happening because it’s a giant, giant, $85 million dollar spectacular, so I think the reality of them hiring me is pretty slim. I think they’ll probably go with Christian Bale or some big name, you know. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do some part in it, some little part.
CableFAX: Most people think of Vlad the Impaler as just an insane maniac who impaled thousands of people.
CH: Well, he’s the hero in our version—and he actually was kind of a hero. Why he was such a maniac was that he was completely overwhelmed by all of the forces that were attacking him, particularly the Ottoman Empire. He went to war with the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, which had a standing army of 200,000 men. His army was 30,000 and yet he’d go into battle with these guys and reign victorious. And so it was really—he was a brilliant military tactician and what he did was instill fear in the hearts of his enemies. And so that’s where a lot of the brutality came from.
CableFAX: Do you think history has given this guy a bad rap?
CH: You know, we’ve taken kind of license because there’s not that much known about him. There are a lot of conflicting stories. And I just tried to find the human being in it. And he did impale his own people. And I think he was pretty brutal, but we paint him as righteously as we can.
CableFAX: It must feel good to have that moving along. Not many scripts go into production these days.
CH: Yeah, it’s exciting. It’s getting closer and closer. Unfortunately, I had to turn it over to another writer now because they hired a director and they wanted another rewrite to make it a production draft, and I was feeling there was just no time for the process. But they got an amazing writer—a guy called James Gray, who wrote “Little Odessa” and just finished writing Brad Pitt’s new movie. And so Plan B had a good relationship with him. He doesn’t usually do rewrites. He’s an original writer. But they just sent him the script and said, “Listen, we would love for you to do a rewrite of this if it takes your fancy,” expecting him to say no, and he ended up saying yes. So it was a real coup for us that we got him. And selfishly, I’m very happy because I think he’s a far better writer than I am. So I’ll get the credit for his brilliant work, which is the Hollywood way, you know. (LAUGHS)
CableFAX: I’m sure you deserve a lot of credit for it.
CH: Well, it’s been nice. It’s always been in the back of my mind that if I get frustrated with acting or feel like the business is stacked so heavily against anybody really succeeding that I always feel like it’s a second plan.
CableFAX: Did you have an interest in writing before that?
CH: I did always, and then I just shifted my focus because I studied film theory and the history of film, and I was interested in writing and directing, and then kind of fell into acting. I’ve been doing that now for 12 years. But I wanted to refocus my energy back to my original plan.
(Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX).