HE RED BULLETIN: Charlie, you play King Arthur in the new film, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. What exactly does it take to become king?
CHARLIE HUNNAM: In Arthur’s case, he comes from nothing and is suddenly presented with a destiny he never intended for himself. He’s terrified of this responsibility, because no external challenge can prepare you for that.
What is the challenge?
You have to conquer the demons within to be strong enough. While I was playing Arthur, I thought an enormous amount about Conor McGregor, the reigning lightweight champion of the Ultimate FightingChampionship. His attitude is: “There is no opponent. I am fighting myself in the octagon. It’s only me and my own fears and the execution of my own ability that is going to win or lose a fight for me.”
Even though you’re neither king nor champion, do you have inner demons to conquer?
Yeah. When you get to your mid-30s, you realize that, for better or worse, you’re a product of the social and environmental influences you were exposed to as a child. So over the last four or five years I’ve been digging deep, trying to identify what’s helpful and good and healthy and what are just hangovers from disappointments or traumas I experienced in my childhood.
Are you doing this by yourself or do you have your own personal Merlin to help you?
I’ve been lucky enough to have had several mentors, one of them being Guy Ritchie. He turned me on to a book by Napoleon Hill, titled Outwitting the Devil: The Secret to Freedom and Success. It’s a 350-page interview between the writer and the devil. What you realize is that the devil represents our own struggle with ourselves. You have to break down your innermost fears into digestible portions, then you can understand and overcome them. I must admit it’s not a particularly fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but it’s incredibly valuable in the long run.
What kind of traumas have you suffered from?
As a kid, I got picked on. I got into a lot of fights, losing some and getting severely beaten a few times. When that happens to you, you just feel like, “I’m going to do everything in my power to never be in a situation like this again.” Hence you go out and learn how to fight.
Sounds like a reasonable reaction…
I still do martial arts training and I’m eager to never let that happen again. But then I developed this tendency to carry [that belligerence] into every room. I wanted people to know, “Look, if you’re going to f*ck with me, it’s going to go badly for you.” But then you realize you’ve become a slave to the thing you’re afraid of. In a lot of ways, I started channeling my father.
A father who, according to interviews with you was something of a hard man in your hometown of Newcastle.
He was a formidable guy, and when I was younger I was actively playing the role of my father, especially in my film work. A lot of people who have come into contact with violence and felt victimized in their childhood will grow into a person who perpetuates that cycle and themselves become a bully. What I did was play a lot of really hard characters. I felt that I exorcized those fears by being a macho dude on screen. But that also bled into my perception of myself in real life—it’s not that I was a bully, but I identified with having the respect of the men in any circle I was a part of. Now I realize that’s just a bunch of nonsense, because I know who I really am.
What’s the best technique for getting to know oneself?
First of all, you have to be aware of the social and economic responsibility that we all get weighed down with. It can often prevent us from allowing ourselves to come forth with our essence and intentions. Look back at your childhood and think, “What were my intentions in life? What were my hopes and dreams?”