Fresh off the stage at the legendary Hall H at San Diego’s ComicCon, where he spoke in front of thousands of fans, Charlie Hunnam moves on to a panel of journalists for a mini press conference in a huge hotel ballroom before making his way over to the other side of the room for our one-on-one interview. Despite the intense schedule, he seems charming. Just as we’d hoped.
Hunnam — best known for TV roles on Sons of Anarchy and Queer as Folk and films like Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak — stars as King Arthur in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, director Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of the classic tale.
But with Ritchie at the helm, it’s clear this will be anything but a classic retelling.
Opposing Hunnam is Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes, TV’s The Young Pope) as Vortigern, Arthur’s uncle, who takes the crown after young Arthur’s father passes away. With no idea who he really is, Arthur grows up on the streets with no interest in leading the country or becoming king, until he pulls the sword from the stone, and must reluctantly accept his destiny.
What does Guy Ritchie’s version of King Arthur look like?
“I think it’s safe to say that it doesn’t look like any version of King Arthur that’s gone before. Human beings have been telling the King Arthur story for 1,500 years at this point. There must have been hundreds and hundreds of incarnations, so you always have to have a ‘take’ if you want to reinvent something. You’ve gotta try to make it fresh and original and feel unique.”
So how is it unique?
“We normally see Arthur being very noble and strong, virtuous, like a paragon of ethics. Ultimately we thought that was not the most interesting way to explore Arthur. Arthur, historically, is this character who has grown up in abject poverty but he has great aspirations and he feels this destiny in his heart. We thought, why not just make him a survivor? And to put that in a modern context would very neatly fit in a sort of street culture with his own little posse. And he’s not really interested in leading the country or being king. But then of course he realizes that it’s his destiny and this responsibility has been given to him for a reason and he has to rise to the challenge.”
And it’s based on Sir Thomas Malory’s works that were published in 1485?
“Yeah, 1485. They think the earliest references to the historical character of Arthur were from the year 516. They started writing about him in the 12th century a lot and then Malory really brought him to public awareness in a really significant way in the 15th century.”
So if you’re doing this modern take on it do you use modern language, or is it still very much a period piece?
“I mean, the thing that I always find the most exciting about doing a period piece is that humans are just humans so the trappings of one cultural evolution or incarnation are the same as another, they just sound slightly different. So I think to make Arthur and the rest of this world as accessible as possible in terms of costume and set design and production design, it feels like a period film, but in its sensibility and tone and the way the people interact it’s completely contemporary…. The last thing that we wanted to do was this stiff, noble Arthur who goes on his noble quest to become the king, he’s very serious and he’s very noble. Let’s have this guy be a rascal who just happens to be born the king and watch the journey as he reluctantly accepts that responsibility.”
So you’re going to be the cool king?
“Hopefully we’re going to be the cool king. I don’t know, I’m not particularly cool but Guy is very cool so I’m just hoping that through osmosis and through his crafting of this Arthur that he makes us look pretty cool.”
Let’s talk about the sword fighting. Your companion is Excalibur. How was that?
“It’s good. I mean it’s an enormous amount of work doing those things. There are some big sword-fighting sequences and I don’t know where they’ve landed in terms of how much is practical and how much is CG but we wanted the option to weigh one or the other as heavily as Guy wanted in the editing room so we shot everything practically, which is an enormous amount of work.… But it was fun. It’s much more mental. You think it would be a giant physical challenge but actually the challenge is learning the sequence of those moves ’cause your body’s just going to do what your mind tells it to.”
Though I feel like at some point your arm would get tired, eventually.
“Definitely. It’s interesting. Two of the sequences that we did, Guy plays around with frame speed a lot, where he will change the frame speed of the central actor in the frame compared to the actors in the background to be able to do some of that hyper-stylistic stuff that he does. So two of those sequences I actually wasn’t fighting with anyone. Once they put in the CG afterwards they’ll have 20 people that I’m fighting but actually the process of doing it myself [is difficult]…because of the process of having to put an enormous amount of energy into a sword fight but having no resistance against it. So when you meet another sword, if you imagine, if people at home want to try this you can see that I’m not making it up, it is kind of difficult to throw all your weight and stop it like that, you know what I mean? To look like it’s hitting an impact. And to be doing that for 14 hours a day I definitely had some long sessions with the chiropractor and the masseuse ’cause my back was all kinds of messed up after that.”
We should warn people not to use real swords if they try this at home.
“Don’t use real swords trying this at home.”
Melissa Sheasgreen is a content producer for the Cineplex Pre-Show.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Hits Theatres May 12th! For tickets and showtimes click here.
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