Like the outlaw biker he plays on the cult TV show Sons of Anarchy, CHARLIE HUNNAM is no easy rider when it comes to SMASHING workouts.
By Andrew Vontz // Photography by Jim Wright
On a sweltering summer afternoon in Los Angeles, Charlie Hunnam steps up to a pull-up bar in the small park near his home. With ease, he whips himself above the bar into a “muscle-up”, a decidedly advanced body-weight exercise. Clad in Dickies shorts and Nike Air Max runners — one of 82 pairs of sneakers in his collection — the 30-year-old actor powers his way through staccato sets of dips, pull-ups and push-ups. His chiselled torso glistens as he pauses to slip a bullet hanging on a thin chain around his neck into his mouth. He then busts out another muscle-up, somersaults around the bar, and lowers himself to the ground.
The reps pile up until he’s dropped more than 100 push-ups and an equal number of dips. You’d never know Hunnam was up until 4am the night before, shooting scenes for the third season of the gritty action drama Sons of Anarchy (screening on One at 9.30pm on Wednesdays), in which the 31-year-old Brit plays motorcycle gang member Jax Teller. Hunnam’s physique reflects the hard work he puts in on this familiar turf, but he doesn’t work out merely to look good. “The benefit of working out is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical,” he says. “I feel better — like that I have more energy. But the mental side is an extraordinary benefit. I’m happier, more confident, and more positive when I work out. And I feel like I’m a better actor because of the clarity it gives me.”
There’s no celeb trainer cheering Hunnam on, no arm-candy girlfriend holding his water bottle. Nothing but the man, a pull-up bar, parallel bars and the sand underfoot. He strives to keep his workouts gritty, hardcore and raw. He works long hours — up to 15 hours a day — and must be creative to find time for his training. Sometimes he’ll swim a kilometre, other times he’ll squeeze in workouts at his house using body-weight moves alone. It helps that he keeps his diet clean, sticking to lean protein and natural foods. The secret to a long and happy life? “Drinking vegetable juice every day,” he says.
Lately, he’s caught the Bartendaz bug, adopting a program created by a group of guys in Harlem and Brooklyn who work out rigorously at playgrounds and in parks. After one of his training mates started using Bartendaz workouts to get ultra-jacked, Hunnam YouTubed the group and witnessed for himself their dynamic acrobatic moves.
He was hooked. “Working out in the gym, doing the same stuff day in and day out can get boring,” he says. “What keeps it fresh and fun is freestyling moves. I got to the point where I could do three muscle-ups then start adding the flips in between and creating signature stuff.”
“Working out in the gym, doing the same stuff day in and day out can get boring. What keeps it fresh and fun is freestyling moves.”
After an hour of Bartendaz, Hunnam bounces onto the streets of Hollywood. He strides with the same strut as Jax on Sons, but an easy smile and a warm demeanour quickly replace his training scowl. Born to an artist mother and a scrap-metal-dealing father (who also ruled England’s Newcastle underworld with an iron fist), Hunnam’s upbringing prepared him to master outlaw psychology. His parents separated early in his childhood, so Hunnam moved with his mum and brothers to the rural Lake District in northern England, where he got his first taste of street violence at the hands of local bullies. “I was a city kid in a country environment, and I got a couple of real good beatings,” he recalls, “five or six guys just slamming me.”
He learned to box, and in short order Hunnam was doling out so many arse-kickings to would-be assailants they soon feared crossing him. By age nine Hunnam had stumbled into the world of acting and had turns on shows such as the original British version of Queer as Folk. In 1999 he moved to LA and landed a role in the TV series Undeclared before moving to the big screen in Cold Mountain (2003) and Green Street Hooligans (2005).
His ride as the tough but introspective Jax on Sons of Anarchy began two seasons ago.
A few hours after his workout, Hunnam rumbles into the parking lot of a low-key cafe on his tricked-out Harley Dyna Super Glide. Surrounded by flat bars, a souped-up engine, and loads of custom touches, it’s tough to separate him from Jax — until he removes his helmet, opens his mouth, and spills his working-class British accent. To prep for his role, Hunnam hung out with outlaw bikers in northern California. “There was a kid I met in this club who was exactly who I was hired to play.
He was the son of a man in the motorcycle club, he’d grown up in the club, every one of his birthday parties had been thrown in the clubhouse. I wear exactly the shoes he wore, the jeans he wore. He had a powerful impact on me. He was an amazing guy.” And he was shot dead before Sons started production, hence the bullet necklace. “I wear it for him — to remember that flavour he taught me.”
Hunnam and his castmates have become cult heroes, drawing huge crowds at biker runs, rallies, and other events. But fame hasn’t insulated Hunnam from LA’s mean streets. A few weeks before sitting down with MF, he was sitting in his home office at 1am when he heard rustling in his house. Picking up the machete he keeps in his office (yes, he keeps a machete in his office), Hunnam walked down the hall and bumped into a burglar. “He was about 5ft 10in [178cm], 245 pounds [111kg] — a beast,” Hunnam, who stands 186cm and weighs 82kg, says. “I pinned him to the ground and said, ‘Dude, I’m not going to fuck you up this time, but if you ever come near here again, literally, they’ll never find your body — I’ll cut you in so many pieces.'” Then without calling the cops, he released the intruder, who never came back.
Though the filming of Sons wraps soon, Hunnam still has a very full plate before him. He’s co-starring in the upcoming movie The Ledge (a suspense thriller about a man who threatens to jump off the ledge of a high-rise), and he’s developing a script about his father’s hard-knock life. Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company also recently acquired his script for a bio-pic about Vlad the Impaler, which is the historical basis for the Dracula story.
Before he starts any new gig, though, Hunnam will pack his bags and head to China to study kung fu at the famed Shaolin Temple.
“I really wanted a strong spiritual contingent to the trip and found this academy. There are four hours of silent meditation a day and eight hours of kung fu and weapons training. I want to switch my mind off for a while and get centred.”
In the meantime, he has a Sons of Anarchy meeting to ride off to, so he straddles his hog and roars off, his heavy metal thunder reverberating off the buildings lining Beverly Boulevard.