Charlie Hunnam on How Shooting ‘The Lost City of Z’ on Location Made it Easier to Get into Character
Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam finds himself a long way from California in The Lost City of Z, a movie about a real-life British explorer who devoted his life to finding a mythical advanced civilization in the Amazon jungle. In an interview with Slant, Hunnam discussed shooting the film on location, his curious relationship (or lack thereof) with co-star Robert Pattinson on set, and how his dreams of becoming a filmmaker shifted into his acting career.
Hunnam points out that while shooting on location in the Colombian jungle is trying, the reality of it makes it easier to get into character. He explains, “It’s great being on location—anytime you can interact with the environment or have it do some of the work for you. We were hot and fatigued and starving ourselves, and once you start to feel a little sunstroke and dehydration, it just cuts down on the amount of acting required. All of a sudden you start to feel as if you’re existing within the narrative, rather than trying to approximate it. One of the wonderful things about being an actor is getting to have these grand adventures and go to these incredible places you probably wouldn’t go to in your regular life. If was a very dramatic example of how wonderful the adventure of making films can be.”
One interesting aspect of The Lost City of Z is that Pattinson plays a guide to Hunnam’s character, and the two characters meet while en route to South America. By Pattinson’s choice, Hunnam and Pattinson did not meet each other until they met in-character in the scene. Hunnam explains, “I was always, long before I was involved with this project, interested in the idea that a relationship could exist exclusively between ‘action’ and ‘cut,’ and how that would be as an acting process. It was something I wanted to explore, and with this film, because the requirements were so extreme anyway, and it was in a lot of ways the best opportunity I’d ever been given, I was determined to do everything I could to make the most of it. To honor the gift. Then specifically with Rob, these two characters meet on screen, they don’t know each other prior to the beginning of the story. We shot the film almost sequentially, so it lent itself in an easy way to doing this acting experiment. Rob is really serious about what he does, and I think he also felt the weight of the opportunity. We were excited to do something a little unorthodox and see what would happen. If it wasn’t working, I think we would’ve reevaluated.”
Surprisingly though, Hunnam has developed an extensive list of acting credits he originally intended to get involved in film as a director, not an actor. He recalls, “In my teenage years, my dream was to be a film director, not necessarily an actor. When I started to get more and more invested in storytelling in general, not just from an actor’s point of view, the idea of directing came into clear focus. And when I was going to college, the choice was to study acting or film theory, so I opted to study film. But then I had an opportunity to do an acting role in my late teens—I think I was about to turn 19—so I left film school. I actually didn’t get a degree. I was only there for the first year. I realized I was learning so much as an actor on set, it didn’t make sense to go back to college at that point. Life just took on its own rhythm, and I fell in love with acting.“