It’s not that “Pacific Rim” star Charlie Hunnam hasn’t had a chance at a breakout movie role. The English actor was nearly cast as Thor and turned down Russell Brand’s part in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” which Jason Segel originally wrote for Hunnam.
Yet only now, in Guillermo del Toro’s fantastic monsters-versus-robots epic “Pacific Rim,” has he found a big part that synced up with the interests of both the filmmaker and Hunnam, who always “had a really, really specific idea of the type of work that I wanted to do.”
In the film, opening July 12, the 33-year-old actor plays Raleigh, a former pilot pulled out of retirement in 2025. He’s needed to command one of the remaining Jaegers—giant, mechanical robots that people created to defend the planet against massive monsters known as “Kaijus” that have destroyed cities worldwide for more than a decade.
Hunnam, best known for the TV series “Sons of Anarchy” and Judd Apatow’s cult favorite “Undeclared,” talked by phone from San Francisco about preparing for monstrous battle, the most “brutal” experience of his life and his advice for the (apparently) approaching apocalypse.
To play an ex-boxer in “Deadfall” you trained like a boxer. For “Pacific Rim,” what monsters did you fight to prepare?
[Laughs.] You know, I just argued with my girlfriend a little bit. That was enough. [Laughs.] She’ll kill me for saying that. It took a lot of training for this film. I had to train for the actual replication of what it would be like to pilot one of these machines. There were a couple of really in-depth fights that I did, too. A martial arts fight and a hand bow—a stick-fighting sequence. It was a lot of training.
When someone argues with their significant other, how often does that seem to them like they’re battling with a giant monster?
It depends how formidable their significant other is. Mine is pretty formidable. [Laughs.] I don’t know if I would rank her quite as Kaiju-esque, but she’s maybe a baby Kaiju.
How do you prepare to have 250 gallons of water dumped on you every minute for a week?
I thought I was prepared. I just did a lot of physical training and a little bit of meditating and really trying to get my mental and physical strength to as strong as it could be. I was actually one of the last people to go in the [control] pod. I was going to be in there for a much, much longer time than anyone else, so they got everyone else in it first.
And all these guys that consider themselves such tough dudes were all crying like little girls about how brutal the [control] pod was. And I thought, “You know what? I’m going to show them how a real man handles a situation like this.” By the end of the third day, I too was crying like a girl. But I was in there for 27 days.
All joking aside, it actually was the most brutal, physical experience of my life. We were essentially on an elliptical machine at high resistance for 14 hours a day wearing a suit that weighed approximately 30 pounds dry. But then, as you said, they would pour 250 gallons of water a minute onto my head, so then .. it was probably closer to 50 pounds. Movement was completely restricted because you were strapped into the machine. So it’s not like between takes we could get out of it.
We were standing on this elliptical machine for seven hours and then a half-hour lunch and then another seven hours. I had to really dig deep and take all of my strength to find some kind of calm place. Otherwise, I felt like I was going to lose my mind in there.
For a while I’ve been bringing get-ups like that to the gym’s elliptical machine so I can be prepared if any situations like this come up.
God bless you. If the Kaiju come, you’re one of the few that’s going to be ready.
It seems like they are coming. In the movie, the year 2020 is Year 7 of the war, so I think we better start getting prepared.
Oh, we better get prepared. One way or another, we better get prepared. The Kaiju are a beautiful allegory for what we’re actually facing. [The film is] a big, spectacular action romp, but at the center of it is a really beautiful human story. It’s about people facing potentially the impending apocalypse and putting their petty differences aside and coming together to try to figure out a solution. I think that’s a really nice, potent message because I am one of the people out there that truly believe that the apocalypse is nigh. [Laughs.] With the population spinning out of control and global warming and the myriad of problems that we’re facing as mankind, we better drop our petty differences pretty quick and figure out how we’re going to deal with this.