They make the violent outlaws of Sons of Anarchy look, well, tame.
“They” being the skyscraper-sized creatures that stomp, pulverize and squash whatever gets in their way in Pacific Rim, opening Friday.
Standing against them, among others, is Charlie Hunnam, out of his biker jacket on the popular FX series and into a sci-fi suit of armour.
“I’m a really physical guy and I like physical stuff but I’d never been in a situation where I questioned how I was going to make it through,” says the 33-year-old British actor. “It was really, really intense.”
Directed by fanboy favourite Guillermo del Toro, the loud, brash Pacific Rim has been described as a cross between Transformers and Godzilla. And there is a definite tip of the hat to such classic Japanese monster movie characters as Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra.
Known as Kaiju, the movie’s massive prehistoric-looking antagonists were created to attack and destroy the world’s coastal cities to make way for a full-on alien takeover. Humanity countered by creating an equally ferocious group of robots called Jaegers, each controlled by two pilots located in the head of the machine.
For his role as Raleigh Becket — a once-cocky Jaeger pilot left mentally scarred after one particularly bad brawl with a Kaiju — Hunnam spent many 14-hour days on an oversized elliptical machine wearing a 25-pound armoured costume.
“I really hurt my back,” he says. “I ruptured a couple of my discs doing scenes in the helmet of the robot. The elliptical machine stuff was hard enough but I had this f—ing suit of armour that weighs a lot with 250 gallons of water pouring down on me. I was in there for 27 days, so it was intensely difficult.”
What wasn’t difficult was getting the part.
Del Toro says he was a fan of Hunnam’s work in Nicholas Nickleby and Children of Men and wanted to work with the actor since considering him for a role in 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army.
According to Hunnam, he wasn’t physically right for the role of the underworld prince in the film. (“They’d already hired the girl to play the Princess of the Underworld and I didn’t look enough like her, and they kind of wanted identical twins,” he explains.) But del Toro was impressed enough to keep in touch.
“I like him very much,” says del Toro. “I think he’s an actor with a lot of fresh frankness and good nature and a pure heart. When I met him he was like a big kid and I said we would work together one day.”
When it came to casting Pacific Rim, del Toro says his conversation with producers at Legendary Pictures was very short.
“They said, ‘Who do you see as Raleigh Becket?’ “ he recalls.
“I said, ‘Charlie Hunnam.’ And they were like, ‘Charlie’s cool.’ That was it.”
Hunnam remembers del Toro’s enthusiasm about the project.
“He was like, ‘Man, it’s going to be so epic, man. There’s going to be robots and monsters and you’re going to be in the head of these robots and kick the monster’s ass,’” he says.
“He just offered it to me there and then. It was the biggest opportunity I’d ever been given. It’s ironic it took the least amount of work to get it.”
Although Hunnam enjoyed working on his first big-budget adventure, he says he’s not particularly interested in returning to the genre.
“I’m very much a student of crime,” he explains. “I grew up with a father who was a career-long criminal and so that’s always what’s fascinated me. That’s my bread and butter, the world of drama and crime. But that’s the wonderful thing about acting. I get to do things that are completely different.”
Hunnam says if Pacific Rim is the summer blockbuster it promises to be, he would consider doing a sequel if del Toro asks him.
But for now, he’s content working on Sons of Anarchy and trying to get his script about the much-maligned 15th-century Hungarian prince, Vlad III, made into a movie.
He’s also focusing on another project about gypsy culture in England, which he hopes to direct.
But Hunnam has no plans to quit acting quite yet. He says he feels he still has a long way to go before he’s consistently happy with his quality of performances.
“It’s a work in progress,” he admits. “But variety is the spice of life and I’ve never felt like an actor for hire. I feel more like a collaborator and my part of it right now is acting.”
— LISA WILTON, Sun Media News Services