The British explorer Percy Fawcett – driven crazy by his obsession to find a lost Amazonian city – vanished in the jungle in 1925. His story has everything you could possibly want in an adventure tale: treacherous colleagues, cannibals with bubbling pots, spears flying out of nowhere, shrunken heads, piranhas, even an opera troupe singing Mozart in the wild.
Maybe it's the character he plays in his new film ‘The Lost City of Z’, the obsessive explorer Colonel Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in the Amazon in 1925. But Charlie Hunnam is a bit of a brooder. If you’re old enough to remember grown-up telly in the ’90s, he’ll always be the beautiful schoolboy in ‘Queer as Folk’, the show that taught the world that rimming has nothing to do with tea stains.
Hunnam left for LA soon after. Which explains why English people are often surprised that he’s English. He appeared in ‘Pacific Rim’ and the biker series ‘Sons of Anarchy’, but is still perhaps best known for turning down ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’.
Percy Fawcett was a remarkable man, and the inspiration behind Indiana Jones. Did you model your performance on anyone?
‘No, I just tried to immerse myself in his world. I read everything I could. The more I got to know him, I became a little obsessed. It sounds ridiculous and pretentious, but I started to feel like he was watching me. He was a stern man so I could imagine his response to this actor.’
Any jungle horror stories?
‘I had a beetle crawl into my ear and bite a hole in my eardrum, which was kind of unpleasant.’
You sport a fine moustache in the film. Did you use Captain Fawcett’s moustache wax?
‘They gave me a pot. But I think it’s more of a hipsters’ thing, a new brand. He did have a remarkable moustache though.’
Your dad was a scrap metal dealer and a famous hardman in Newcastle. Growing up, could you handle yourself?
‘No, I was an artsy kid. My dad had this giant reputation. We would go out drinking in Newcastle when I was 15 or 16. There’d be five or six doormen and 40 people waiting to get into a pub. My father would walk up and the seas would open. It was hard for me to reconcile: how is he this guy who fears no man, and I’m afraid of everyone and everything?’
Charlie Hunnam in 'The Lost City of Z'
‘When I took my shirt off, the director literally went white. He just said: “What the fuck are we going to do?”’
Were you a pretty intense kid?
‘Well, I’ve felt like I’ve been teetering on the verge of an existential crisis since I was about six.'
You got your break in ‘Queer as Folk’. There was more homophobia then. Did anyone advise you against it?
‘No. I remember the homophobia in the late '90s. But my mum had gay friends. I’d been around gay people my whole life. I was pretty fearless then, doing full frontal nudity, probably more than now.’
You turned down ‘Fifty Shades’. Have you sneakily watched it on Netflix?
‘No. I’ve had to talk about it so much I don’t want to have an opinion!’
You’re in Guy Ritchie’s new King Arthur film. You’re the size of a family car in it. How did you get that big?
‘I did an enormous amount of weights. The day after wrapping I had a costume fitting for “Z”. When I took my shirt off, the director literally went white. He just said: “What the fuck are we going to do? You do not look like a gentleman explorer.” I became vegan and didn’t really eat anything for ten days.'
'The Lost City of Z' is in UK cinemas March 24.