SAN FRANCISCO Charlie Hunnam got very little advice from his "Sons of Anarchy" co-star Ron Perlman about what it was going to be like working for director Guillermo del Toro on the action film "Pacific Rim." Perlman had plenty of insight about the director having made several films with him, including two "Hellboy" movies.
"All Ron said to me was, 'Get ready.' I told him that sounded ominous, then asked him what he meant. He just said, 'Get ready,' " Hunnam says.
The warning wasn't that ominous as Hunnam signed on without reading the script to play one of the pilots of a giant robot who must fight super-sized creatures that come from a rift in the ocean.
Hunnam and the director had stayed in contact since Hunnam tried out for a role in "Hellboy 2." He didn't get the part, but because del Toro is a fan of "Sons of Anarchy," he kept tabs on Hunnam's career. It wasn't until Hunnam got to the set that he finally realized what Perlman had been trying to tell him.
"He's a formidable presence. The hardest working guy I have met in Hollywood, bar none," Hunnam says. "He's a task master who wants to get it right, and he wants to do it over and over and over again until he's got what he wants. I love that because I'm a perfectionist, too. So as many opportunities as I can get to try stuff out, I'm happy."
It wasn't just the director's relentless assault on the filmmaking process that tested Hunnam. There also were huge physical demands, from making it look like he's piloting the robot from inside its massive head to a very complicated martial arts battle with co-star Rinko Kikuchi. Hunnam started training for the movie while "Sons of Anarchy" was still in production.
Hunnam's done plenty of stunt fights, especially on "Sons of Anarchy." The fighting in "Pacific Rim" was different, though.
"It was nerve-wracking. In a fist fight, you just swing and try to get as close to the other person as possible. There is no actual contact. Rinko and I were fighting with sticks and with those, you really are hitting, and she weighs about 100 pounds soaking wet," Hunnam says.
Fear of striking his co-star got so great that he finally asked for Kikuchi's stunt double to step in, a good thing since Hunnam hit the stunt woman on the right cheek with the end of a stick and gave her a black eye.
The British actor enjoyed the physicality of the role, but he was equally happy with the film's emotional moments. Because the robots need two pilots who are joined at the brain, the pair share the most intimate knowledge they have. When something goes wrong, that cerebral connection leaves his character with a mental burden he must forever carry.
Hunnam compares the film's mental bonding to the way anyone who has lost someone dear to them must carry around those memories. He says he has used the loss of loved ones in his own life to make himself a better person because he feels a deep sense of obligation to those he has lost.
It's this very human element that has become a thread in the work Hunnam likes to do. The scale is quite different between the robots he pilots in the film and the motorcycle he rides in "Sons of Anarchy," but at their heart, both works are about family, honor, pride and doing a job the best you can do.
"They are both good men who are very, very flawed. They are trying to do their best for their families and their loved ones, but they keep (expletive deleted) up, which is just the human condition," Hunnam says. "It's funny. As an actor, there's this idea that you want to play all of these characters that are vastly different than you so you can stretch yourself. And I just gravitate and am hired to play characters that are very close to me."
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.