CHARLIE HUNNAM Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
August 31, 2005
In her drama Green Street Hooligans, director Lexi Alexander explores the shadier elements of British football through the eyes of an outsider.
When he is unjustly expelled from Harvard, American student Matt Bucker (Elijah Wood) moves to England to be with his sister Shannon (Claire Forlani), where he is quickly drawn to the more criminal aspects of football by her brother-in-law Pete (Charlie Hunnam). It is a world in which "firms," organizations dedicated to a particular football team, vie for notoriety through unabashed support of their club and violent confrontations with rival factions. After getting his first taste of fighting alongside Charlie and his friends, Matt immediately understands the sense of family and support that is involved with this lifestyle, and he soon becomes part of the Green Street Elite firm. But his journey down this path is not without its consequences, both for him and his loved ones.
In this interview, Charlie Hunnam talks about working on this project and delving into the world of fanatical British football.
MEDIA: What sort of research and preparation did you do for this role?
CHARLIE: I knew nothing about football at all. I had never been to a football match and never watched it on TV. Being a film fan, if I had 90 minutes to spare, I was going to watch a film, not a football match. So I had to completely go and educate myself, not only on hooliganism, but the game itself, because you can't go and try to integrate yourself into these groups without first knowing how to talk about football, you know? And [actor] Leo Gregory was really great with me through all of this, because he walks the walk and talks the talk, and is absolutely fanatical about football. So he came over for three weeks about three months before we were about to start shooting, which was Lexi's idea. It's very indicative of her style of direction. Because there's an interesting balance there Leo and I had to achieve, which I was very conscious of early on and was worried about. We have to sell the idea of being best friends, but you never see us being friendly at all throughout the film.
Did you undergo any drastic physical change for the benefit of your character?
I'm pretty skinny in my day-to-day life and I wanted to feel as intimidating physically as possible, so I put on about 28 pounds throughout the rehearsal period to get big.
Did you become a football fan?
Not of the game itself, but I did really, really enjoy going to the matches. I love the human aspect of football--the humor involved, and the electricity. It's just great to be surrounded by people, which I guess is the same feeling you get in a concert maybe--that "now" feeling of life, where everybody is just happy to be here in the moment and it's got nothing to do with what they have to be doing. It's just what they want to be doing, which is so rare in this day and age.
What sort of things did you do to bond with the actors who play your close compatriots?
The other guys, as they started to get hired, would go every Wednesday and every Saturday to watch West Ham play. And there was drinking involved. And I play a lot of poker, so I would always be arranging poker games for everyone. And then, two and a half weeks before we started filming, we started a very, very intensive rehearsal schedule where we were rehearsing all day long and then going out and drinking in the evening--you know, which was per Lexi's instructions. So we just got very, very close. And Lexi intentionally didn't invite Elijah to come over and join us until about a week before, so he was definitely the odd man out when he arrived. Lexi's just very smart, the way she approaches directing. Especially since it was her first feature. This is the type of thing she would do in lieu of actually being on set and giving you any direction. She's one of the very rare directors--and as an actor, it's beautiful--that doesn't come with a fully recognized, preconceived idea of what the scene should be. She's much more excited to see what you're going to come up with. And it's very rare that a director will empower you that way.
Did Elijah eventually ingratiate himself with the group?
Oh, very, very quickly!
Did his part in The Lord of the Rings afford him some "rock star" status?
Yeah, he's obviously very, very, very famous. And it was the height of it. I think the last one had just come out. He very, very quickly integrated himself into the group. And there was a lot of fun to be had. I mean, those guys continued to go out all the way through production, and they were going out and having wild nights and stuff. I can't do that. I was going home, being very boring, and going into the gym because the body's an amazing thing--if you don't keep maintaining muscle weight that you put on, your muscles will just atrophy, and you'll drop the weight instantly. I put on, like I say, almost 30 pounds, and within a month of finishing shooting, I was pretty much about down to my regular size.
Any plans to continue the workout routine you followed during the making of this film?
No, I don't like lifting weights. I was eating about four meals a day and snacking in between, and then just lifting weights two hours a day. And then I'd do a little bit of boxing. Boxing is great exercise and a lot of fun, but I just got lazy in between jobs. I swim, and that's about it.
What was the extent of your training for the fight scenes?
There is so little technique to the actual style of hooligan fighting, so our training was about being in control of our bodies so that we wouldn't, whilst appearing to be very sloppy, actually hurt anybody. And we had to train with this guy called Pat Johnson, who's an absolutely formidable character. And he'd lead us by example. He's actually the man--incidentally, a piece of trivia--who's responsible for the Karate Kid crane kick. He was actually one of the fighters in Chuck Norris' fight team, and of 198 bare-knuckle fights, he won 196 in knockout. So he's certainly a man that was qualified to teach us how to throw a punch. And [he] was a fatherly figure [who] would talk to us about the responsibility that the things that he was teaching us carried with it, because he's teaching us some very, very efficient ways to take the other guy down.
Did you sustain any injuries during filming?
In the last fight sequence where I was fighting Geoff Bell, I hurt myself a little, but nothing major. Pat Johnson was very, very eager for nothing to go wrong. He kept saying there's absolutely no reason that anybody should get hurt throughout the course of filming. And we took that responsibility seriously. I mean, we were throwing pretty vicious punches, and if you don't concentrate and if you do connect, people are just going to get their noses and faces broken.
Are there unspoken rules or a "code of ethics" in the type of fighting depicted by the film?
There aren't really many rules. The guys that I knew, for the most part, prided themselves on not using weapons. But it wasn't by any kind of moral obligation to follow any predetermined rules that had been set up. It was more, "We'll show 'em who the real boys are. Come get us. We'll take on knives, bricks, all comers, just use our fists." It was really serious. West Ham boys are some of the hardest firm members in England. I actually met this young kid, who was 28 years old, and he was just now coming up through the ranks and was like second or third boy in the firm. And he really just took me under his wing, and was exactly as Pete is in the film--just kind of happy-go-lucky and charismatic, gregarious, in a lot of ways very compassionate, but then had the capacity just to flip and really assert himself and get into some naughtiness and some mischief. Interesting guy. And basically all the work I did, I just kind of kept him in the back of my mind.
Did you have any difficulty in playing "the tough guy"?
I come from a very tough area and my dad's certainly a man that is very well respected in the small city that we come from as a man never to cross. I grew up with a healthy amount of mettle in my blood, and so it was actually very easy for me to play this. I find the physicality of roles the least challenging of the process. I struggle more with dialect work than actual physicality.
What is your response to critics (especially those in the English press) who say the film is too Americanized?
Just having an American protagonist is going to provoke the English press. And the English press are just very tricky, especially when dealing with any subject matter that's so close to home, yet being handled by kind of an outsider. So I think that they would have said that regardless of the final product, just knowing that it came from American money with an American star. It's certainly simplified. We had an obligation to explain a lot to an American audience that just wouldn't have known. But I don't think it's overwhelmingly exposition heavy. I think that we explain a little more than an English audience would need to be explained to--exactly the nature of firms and football violence--but basically, I think the story can be just as enjoyed by an English audience as an American.
Your character has a serious and understandable disdain for journalists. Have you yourself had any experiences of the press writing baseless trash about you?
You know, I don't get involved in that kind of stuff very much. I never put myself in a situation where that would ever be appropriate for anybody to write anything about me. [laughs] And I'm frankly surprised when anybody even knows who I am in the first place, anyway. So I don't really run into that.
What sort of music are you into?
I listen to everything--a really broad spectrum of music. Some of my favorites are Van Morrison and Tom Waits. And then on the other side, I also am a huge hip-hop fan. Just depends on my mood. Obviously a lot of film score as well...film soundtracks.
Who is your favorite hip-hop artist?
Oh...I have a million, but I guess if I was just to pick one, I'd say probably The RZA from Wu-Tang Clan.
How would you characterize your experience of filming Green Street Hooligans?
The whole experience really has been the best one of my career so far. So I'm sure the whole thing will inform, to one degree or another, everything I do in the future.