STACK talks King Arthur: Legend of the Sword with star Charlie Hunnam and director Guy Ritchie.
The musty folklore of King Arthur gets a dusting off in Guy Ritchie’s retelling of the legend, starring Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam as a new anti-hero version of Arthur. Raised in a brothel and amassing a fortune in ill-gotten gains, Hunnam’s Arthur wants no part in noble quests or a hero’s journey. Departing from tradition, he doesn’t even have a Queen Guinevere or a Merlin, instead surrounding himself with a rough and ready group of scoundrels.
While Ritchie prefers to cast from a small pool of actors on his movies – repeatedly working with Jude Law, Jason Statham and Jared Harris – Hunnam was a newbie to the Ritchie school of film, although they soon found their own shorthand.
“I never talk about the work when I meet an actor. I don’t really care what they think about the script, I just care about what they care about, so when Charlie explained to me how the California legal marijuana business works, I could tell that he thinks the same way I think,” recalls Ritchie when we meet in New York’s financial district, looking every inch the Wall Street banker dressed in a dapper pinstripe shirt and suit.
On set, their bond only strengthened. “Whenever Charlie went down the wrong road, I took the piss and mimicked the direction he was going in and he’d know exactly what I meant and he’d correct himself because essentially, he understood how my mind works. I think that’s probably a good way of describing an actor director relationship.
“I have the same relationship with my wife,” Ritchie continues, removing his chunky gold wedding band and absentmindedly patting it along the knuckles of his fingers. “She finishes all my sentences for me and it’s just spooky, like we could just drive down a road and I would see something, five minutes later, she would know exactly what I was looking at and what was funny about it. If you can have that relationship with an actor then all of your hard work is done. Better than that, it just becomes fun to go to work.”
Playing Arthur was a lifelong dream for Hunnam, 37, who grew up making his own swords, pretending to be Camelot’s fabled king. If Hunnam was fated to play King Arthur, then Ritchie was initially underwhelmed when they first met – his leading man having dropped 25lbs to play vanished British explorer Percy Fawcett in The Lost City of Z.
“I was very skinny and Guy asked me a lot about my physicality,” recalls Hunnam, having just joined us. “So I offered to fight everyone for the role. I mean, f–k it. I just threw it out there and if Guy called my bluff. I would have followed through but that didn’t happen for obvious reasons because it would have been completely absurd,” he grins.
With his scruffy blonde hair, pale blue eyes and insane six-pack, even David Beckham – who makes a brief cameo in King Arthur as he did in Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E – is no match for Hunnam’s brooding sex appeal.
In order to make Beckham less distracting, Ritchie even outfitted him with facial scars. “It didn’t work though, did it?” he asks. “It was funny. I was listening to the girls in the audience last night and one of them was saying ‘Well, I’d still f–k him’.”
With a solid British cast, Ritchie curiously cast Australia’s Eric Bana to play Arthur’s noble father, Uther Pendragon. “I’ve always thought of Eric Bana as a movie star. It just gave me an excuse to use him so hopefully I can work with him again,” he says.
If Bana can drift effortlessly between accents, then Hunnam has spent 15 years in the States, the past seven as Sons of Anarchy’s Jax Teller. “We talked a lot about what Arthur’s accent should be and decided that a received pronunciation, be it contemporary or historical, would be wrong. We then looked at having him speak like a cockney geezer and thankfully abandoned that too. We eventually went for somewhere in the middle,” explains Hunnam.
“This is not the story of the noble king. Arthur has to overcome his sense of inadequacy,” adds the actor, looking the very antithesis of the definition of inadequate; a gaggle of teenage girls waiting outside our hotel, hoping for a sighting of the elusive star.
Ask if he’s ready for stardom, he shrugs. “I can’t begin to figure it out. So long as it doesn’t get in the way of the work, everything is fine.”
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is in cinemas on May 18.