Charlie Hunnam has nothing but nice things to say about shooting a film in the middle of a jungle. For “The Lost City of Z,” based on David Grann’s bestseller, the English actor, 37, spent part of the shoot in the wilds of Colombia. He hacked through a thicket. He got dehydrated. He lost weight. He went a little mad. And he loved it.
“It’s one of those wonderful parts of the film business that you get to experience these extraordinary things,” Hunnam tells us. “It’s something you could do outside of the film business, but it would be very difficult and require enormous amounts of money and willpower and organization.”
Instead, he got paid to do something crazy. Hunnam plays Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who, starting in the early 1900s, journeyed across the globe to map uncharted parts of Bolivia. Over his expeditions, he became obsessed with finding a city he wasn’t even sure existed. (It wasn’t found until the early 21st century.)
Such travels not only open the mind. They change the body, too.
“It became very, very clear that we eat far too much,” Hunnam says. “I was able to survive very easily on a quarter of the food I normally eat. I was losing weight, but there was also a clarity and, oddly, an emotional stability that came with it.”
One of his costars — Robert Pattinson, who plays his partner on two of the missions — liked to say that they got “addicted” to what they were going through.
“You get into that mindset and want to push it more and more,” Hunnam says. “Once the film was finished, there was a real reluctance to go back to a normal pattern of eating. There was something about proving one’s self, a satisfaction that came from abstaining from food that was hard to give up after policing ourselves for so long.”
Of course, he did go back to his normal habits, though that was hard.
“I did it all wrong,” Hunnam remembers. “Rob and I hadn’t been talking very much during the shoot, because we were just exploring our relationship onscreen. So the night we finished, we both decided we’d get drunk and have a feast. I ate pasta and I had a steak and ice cream and French fries and everything. And then I got violently sick, as one obviously would.”
Hunnam contrasts making “The Lost City of Z” with the seven seasons he spent shooting “Sons of Anarchy.” He’s a naturally slim person, he says, which didn’t fit playing Jax Teller, the show’s lead.
“Everyone they hired for the show were big brutes. And I’m supposed to be the toughest and most formidable of them,” Hunnam recalls. “So I felt the need to be as big as possible. For many years, I was carrying around an additional 15 or 20 pounds than my body wanted to carry. In a weird way, losing all that weight gave me the opportunity to go back to center.”
“The Lost City of Z” might sound like one of those imperialist romps, where white Europeans journey to the other side of the world and treat the indigenous locals like scary others. But Fawcett isn’t an imperialist. He’s genuinely curious about the people he finds, and has no ulterior motive other than exploration.
“He was a real pioneer of tolerance and understanding, of the significance of equality and the importance of different cultures,” Hunnam explains. “There were tribes that were seen to be a little bit regressive or unevolved, not as sophisticated as Western European culture. But Fawcett didn’t subscribe to that at all. He thought maybe we were going in the wrong direction. Maybe these guys are the ones that have it right. Unfortunately, he was in the minority and we continued to evolve the way we were going. Now we’re in this s—show of the society we’ve created for ourselves, where social media is a lot more important than literacy. We should have all listened to Fawcett.”
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