His role in 'Sons of Anarchy' has made Charlie Hunnam a star, with his portrayal of Jackson 'Jax' Teller, the president of an outlaw motorcycle club, who is as tough as any of them, but becomes increasingly disturbed by the life and laws within it. It's a long way from 'Byker Grove', where he first exercised his acting chops in his native Newcastle, before Russell T Davies cast him in 'Queer As Folk'.
Now, with FX's most popular ever show reaching its TV finale at the end of last year, it's been time for Charlie to reflect on what 'Sons of Anarchy's brought him, plus what's next. He speaks to HuffPostUK about the prospect of hanging up his biker jacket forever...
So at the end, season seven. How does it feel to be winding down?
I mean, it's bitter sweet, you know? The kind of sweet side of it is that this has really dictated the whole rhythm of my life for the last seven years. So I’m kind of excited to get back to more of a gypsy way of life than a regimented routine that I’ve gotten used to. But you know, this has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. So it’s kind of sad to say goodbye and say goodbye to the character. I loved playing this guy for these seasons. So you know, I’m sure there’s going to be a moment of kind of depression and having to re-explore identity and stuff coming out of this. But I think it’s time. It feels like its time.
What will you miss the most about the character?
God I don't know, I suppose the relationship that Jax has with the club. I mean the kind of experience that we’ve had through this show is kind of being a little club. Most of us ride to work together and hang out a lot. And it’s that aspect of the kind of club life and the camaraderie that has really become a central dynamic between the guys that play these characters. So, probably that.
You ride to work together on motorcycles?
Yeah, I suppose we ride home together more because we have staggered calls coming in. But we all kind of usually hang out and do a little post mortem after work and decompress in one way or another. Then ride home together. We all kind of live around the Los Angeles area and we shoot fucking miles away a lot. So we happen to have a long ride home. So, it’s fun. Like Tommy and Boone are the tow guys that I’ve become really, really close with, like brothers. And the three of us always ride together.
What are you riding?
I have two bikes but I mainly ride a Harley Dyna. The same bike that we ride in the show. Which is unfortunate when I get photographed and stuff riding my bikes because I look like a dickhead riding the same bike as in the show. But it’s just the best bike that Harley makes. There’s a reason that so many people ride those bikes. Particularly outlaws because they’re just like the fastest. A lot of Harley’s are not really built for speed. It’s more built for like cruising. But that’s the one bike that they make that you can ride pretty aggressively. And have some fun on. And we all used to ride Harleys. But now we’ve kind of diversified a little bit. Tommy’s riding a B-M-W and Boone rides like kind of an old chopped Harley.
Did you ever hang out with some M-Cs? Peter just told us there were some extras on the show that were actually from –
A: Yeah, I got to know some people really well. Through this show, I’ve spent an enormous amount of time in that world of bikers and clubs and the rallies and shit like that. But probably the most exciting and profitable period of time that I spent was in the initial rehearsal period when I knew nothing about this world. And I went up to Oakland and hung out with a very well known club that have a presence in Oakland. And got to ride with them and hang out with them. Actually I didn’t really ride with them but I got to hang out with them and we spent a lot of time together. And this one kid in particular that I met was amazing. It was like kind of a dream come true for me in a lot of ways when I went up there. Because he was Jax Teller. His dad was in the club and had been in the club his whole life. And he was 22. He’d had 22 birthday parties in the Oakland clubhouse of this motorcycle club. He was the heir apparent, like the history and future of that club and just an amazing guy.
I was really drawn to him before I even knew that. He just had an amazing presence about him. When we talk about him, people often say they don’t make guys like that anymore. He was like an old school outlaw, cowboy, fucking badass gunslinger. But modern day, you know? A 22 year old fearless kid. They used to say he put his gun in his belt before he put his shoes on, like he was just a straight fucking outlaw. He ended up getting killed the week after I left Oakland, right before we started shooting. And so I got this necklace to wear as a memorial for him. But also the whole aesthetic of that character, literally Jax wears the jeans and the shoes he wore. I just thought I couldn’t find someone that would be more prototypically perfect than this kid. So I just based everything on him.
Is there anything that you don’t like about your character or the culture itself?
The thing I’ve had the most trouble with kind of, putting myself in the shoes and understanding is the infidelity. I grew up in an environment where it was permittable to use violence to solve a problem. But it was not permittable ever to call the police under any circumstances. That was the kind of doctrine of my household. My dad was a career-long criminal and you weren’t calling the police for any reason. So that side of these guys’ mentality, it doesn’t bother me at all. I really understand it and in a kind of perverse way kind of admire it. Like men and women that are able to just look after themselves. There’s something, like they really eschew any type of self-pity. There’s just something very stoic about that way of life.
But the infidelity and the sometimes lack of respect for women and the misogynistic flavour that seems to be pretty prolific in that world, I always find a little tricky. That was the flip side of the way I was growing up. I had a fierce father but an equally fierce fucking mother who was not having any type of you know, disrespect to women or any type of like, misogynistic viewpoint.
Do they watch the show?
Yeah. Unfortunately I only have my mother now. But yeah, she watches the show and my three brothers do. They all watch it and like it.
Do you see yourself committing to another show once this is officially over?
A: I wouldn’t think right away. I mean, I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been an interesting revelation to me over the last couple of projects that I’ve done. Where I’ve gone back and forth between films and this show, I actually really prefer the pace and flow of working in TV. I like that it’s so immersive because we shoot so much and so rapidly that I just found myself getting caught up in this world in a way. I live it a bit more than I find it’s possible to do in film. We’ll shoot anywhere from five to seven, sometimes eight scenes a day on this show. The complete flip side of that is when I was doing 'Pacific Rim' with Guillermo Del Toro. We had a walk and talk scene that was one page of dialogue that we shot on five full days over the course of four months. So the challenges that are present in filmmaking I find much more difficult to navigate than television. But I don’t want to jump into another show right away because I need some freedom. Just some time to have a little bit more control over my schedule. But I would love to do another show at some point.
This has been FX’s biggest show ever. If you had to put your finger on exactly what it is about the show that people have reacted to what would you say it is?
I think that as the world gets more and more gentrified and the thumb of Big Brother comes down on us more and more, there’s a real escape fantasy. That people really enjoy watching dudes that live on the wrong side of rules and do whatever the fuck they want. I think what Kurt’s really done very successfully in this show is to provide that fantasy for a female audience as well as a male.
I feel like there have been many avenues for achieving that male fantasy of being an outlaw and not being told what to do. And not being governed by everybody around you that wants to tell you what to do. But I don’t think there are many female roles in that world. I think it’s kind of exciting and great to tune in once a week and see a bunch of guys that say fuck it. I’m doing whatever I want and then fuck the consequences and fuck anyone who doesn’t like it.
What do you like watching on TV?
A: I think my favorite show of all time was 'Deadwood'. I don’t tend to watch TV. I’m like a Netflix junkie. I watch a lot of documentaries and movies on Netflix. I like 'Downton Abbey'. I got into 'Downton Abbey' last off season and watched four seasons of that. I really enjoyed that show.
You don’t seem like a 'Downton Abbey' guy.
Maybe Jax Teller isn’t a 'Downton Abbey' guy.
I like it. I think it’s so well made. It’s a good show.
Your character was in such a dark place. Probably the darkest place he’s ever been in at the end of last season. What kind of mind set are you going into this new season with what has happened?
Again, fortunately in my life, I have dealt with bereavement. I’m sure everyone has or will have at some point in their life. As much as that sucks, it was helpful, understanding the pattern of how bereavement works. I wanted to avoid it being all doom and gloom. As much as there may be a tendency to really invest in the heartbroken devastation of it, I thought that there may be something equally interesting to juxtapose a sense of liberation.
I think, one of the things with Jax, he’s been trying desperately to move in this righteous direction that he thought was right. He had these two kind of guiding stars of Tara and his father. He became somewhat disillusioned with who his father was and what that message was. So by the end of last season, it was Tara that was his true north. Although it was a fight and it’s kind of an abstract idea. I really like zombie shit, like end of the world, apocalypse type of narrative. And what I think that provides or at least what it provides to me is that fantasy of liberating oneself from the minutiae of everyday life and feeling like: I need to do something with my life and I need to like being engaged. The idea of saying goodbye to all ambition or desire to do something with one’s life, or to be a good person or whatever and just say fuck it, the gloves are coming off. This is who I am and this is what I’m going to do. I think it’s kind of liberating.
So I think it was for me, it’s been a balance of those two things. Of course honoring Tara and their relationship and feeling some of that loss and heartache. But, also really embracing the freedom that no longer having to be a good guy affords Jax. I think that that liberation does come with losing Tara. So we’ll see how any of that works out on screen. But that’s an interesting idea at least on paper.
Have you ever kept mementos from your work and because this particular piece of work is so long and has been so immersive, is this a piece of work that you intend to take something physically away from this building?
Yeah, I’m a bit of a sentimental guy in that regard. I have boxes from every job I’ve ever done. I have a long fucking list of things I would like from this. The motorbike and my son’s rings are the three at the top of the list. But I’ll take anything I can get.
Where’s one of the more stranger places that you’ve been recognised?
I went to look around Eyman Federal Prison in Arizona. It’s a huge super-max prison. We were in the wing that was separate from the super-max wing. The only way you could get into this wing is by killing another inmate or attempting to kill or killing a guard whilst in prison. So these were dudes who had already committed murder, then had committed additional murders but usually of prison guards. I just kind of wanted to be as anonymous as possible.
We walked into the super-max wing, which was like an old school three story box with metal bar cells. Not a lot of prisons are like that anymore, totally old school. Everyone was hanging on their bars and shouting at us. I walked in there and the level of tough energy, just violence, was so intense. I was thinking I hope no one recognises me. So I heard, ‘Yo, Jax, where Abel, at homie?’ It was just when Abel had been kidnapped. So this was probably just after season two. There’s no weapons or anything they could use but they’ll throw piss or semen or whatever at you, just anything to ruin your day.
I didn’t want to look at this guy. But his energy was so intense and he kept staring at me and staring at me and staring at me. Finally, I unintentionally caught his eye and then it was locked in this. And that haunted me for a while because I thought that guy knows who I am. He’s probably never getting out of prison but it was the clearest, purest personification of evil. That guy had killed five people while he was in prison. But he would draw me in to his stare. I thought that was kind of weird.
You’ve spent so much time with these guys. I mean can you make a prediction. Is this whole culture on its way down? Or what do you think?
I don’t think so. I think that the direction we’re going in the controlling and gentrification of society is just fueling the rebellion that is at the heart of all counter-cultures. I think that these guys more than ever, love to just put their finger up to the institution. I think it’s much more difficult to be a biker now. It’s probably not nearly as fun as it was. But there’s almost a more impassioned desire to rebel than I think there ever was before. This is just based on shit that I read, and talked to other bikers about from like the 60’s and 70’s when biker culture became really popular in America. But I think that’s what it’s always been about. It’s about a sense of a separatist identity and rebellion. I think more and more, it has its place more today than it ever has.
What do you like doing when you’re not working?
Just normal stuff. I like to cook and hang out with my girlfriend. I found recently I haven’t been able to write in between jobs. If I have a long period of time away from acting I tend to write. Pretty boring, just regular life.
Do you have any movies lined up?
No, nothing concrete. I’ve got two things, two little independent films that I love that I’m hoping we can get set up and made. And then I have two films in development that I’m producing that I own, that are really exciting. There is talk of doing 'Pacific Rim' two. So, that might happen. This is the first time in my life where I’m just not really that concerned. I’ve always been so engaged in the pursuit of work. I had a really great few years. I feel a bit tired now. So I wouldn’t mind kind of slowing the pace down a little bit, not too much.
'Sons of Anarchy: Season 7 is out now on Digital HD, Blu-Ray and DVD from Fox. Watch the trailer below...