Like many British actors, Charlie Hunnam can completely transform himself. At the crack of dawn, he rides his Harley Dyna to the Sons of Anarchy set in North Hollywood, which mimics California’s Central Valley. Laidback with a Geordie accent, Hunnam, 34, is comfortably dressed in a tracksuit and runners.
But when he emerges from makeup, he is Jax Teller—all leather SOA gear and outlaw attitude, sans accent and riding another Harley, a growling, more beat-up version, featuring the Reaper on its fuel tank. And Jax roars off into the blazing Southern California sun, like a modern-day, vengeful Hamlet on two wheels, ready to play out SOA’s final season, wherever it may lead.
If you can’t wait till the final season debuts September 8 on FX, Season 6’s mind-boggling developments hits DVD and Blu-Ray this week. So we asked Hunnam about biker behavior, where SOA is heading and why rebellious subcultures have so much mainstream appeal…
“Everybody sometimes wants to punch their boss in the face, or tell a cop to go screw themselves. So it’s exciting to tune in and see a bunch of guys and gals say, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to do whatever I want, and fuck the consequences or anyone who doesn’t like it!’ ”
SOA has used actors who are real Hells Angels club members, and the whole look is dramatically authentic. What inspired your take on Jax?
I’ve spent an enormous amount of time with biker clubs, their rallies, events, shit like that. The most exciting and profitable time was in the initial stages, when I knew nothing about this world. I hung out with a very well known motorcycle club in Oakland. One kid was an inspiration for Jax. His dad had been in the club his whole life. The kid had had 22 birthday parties right in their Oakland clubhouse. He was the heir apparent, like my character—he was the history and the future of that club. He had an amazing presence. Although he was young, he was an old-school outlaw, a badass gunslinger, but very modern day, a fearless kid. People would say he’d put his gun in his belt before he put his white running shoes on. Like he was a straight fucking outlaw. And sure enough he ends up getting killed the week after I left…
Jax wearing those white running shoes was inspired by this kid, right?
Exactly, that was his thing. But I have people come up to me and say, ‘Bikers wears biker boots, not runners!’ I look them over and respond, ‘Erhhh, you wear biker boots because you’re a weekend biker, a dentist or something.’ As for the rebel in me, sometimes if I’m just going to the shop nearby, I even ride my bike in flip-flops!
You grew up in Newcastle where your father was in the local underworld—any similarities between these two outlaw worlds?
I grew up in an environment where it was permissible to use violence to solve a problem. But it wasn’t permissible to call the police, ever. That was the doctrine of my household. My dad was a career criminal, and he’d never call the police. So, that side of these motorbike guys’ mentality, the self-governing and self-policing, it didn’t bother me at all. I understood it. And in a kind of perverse way, you kind of admire it. Men and women who just look after themselves, and eschew any type of self-pity.
“Let’s move, boys. That ice cream truck isn’t waiting around all day.”
What biker behavior do you have any problems with?
Putting myself in those shoes and trying to understand things like infidelity and sometimes the lack of respect for women. The misogynistic flavor seems pretty prolific in that world, and I’ve always found it a little tricky. That was the flip side of the way I grew up. I had a fierce father but an equally fierce mother who was not having any disrespect to women.
Why does SOA resonate with viewers worldwide?
As the world gets more gentrified, and the thumb of big brother comes down on us more, there’s an escape fantasy that people really enjoy—watching people live by their own set of rules and do whatever the fuck they want.
Why are women so drawn to these outlaws?
There aren’t many female escape outlets like that, but creator Kurt Sutter has also successfully provided this fantasy for women. Everybody sometimes wants to punch their boss in the face, or tell a cop to go screw themselves, and all the other things we have to endure every day, yet suck it up and smile. So it’s exciting to tune in and see a bunch of guys and gals say, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to do whatever I want, and fuck the consequences or anyone who doesn’t like it!’
A lot of your fans are members of groups—military, police—and even in prison, right?
Oh, man, we visited a super max prison in Arizona. They were hanging on the bars and shouting at us. The level of tough energy was so intense, and I’m thinking, God, I hope no one recognizes me. And then someone shouts, ‘Yo, Jax, what’s up honey?!’ I felt this other guy staring at me. Unintentionally, I caught his eye and was locked in his stare. And that haunted me because he probably knows who I am. He’s probably never getting out—he’d killed five people while incarcerated—but there was nothing looking back, just pure evil.
You’re filming through September and one producer suggested SOA’s ending will be jaw-dropping but may not “please everyone.” What do you know about it?
I’m completely in the dark, and I don’t really want to know just because it benefits me none creatively. Katey Sagal (Jax’s mother, Gemma) hasn’t told me anything and she’s married to Kurt. We may not know till we shoot it. So, no bits of juicy gossip.
Do you have bittersweet feelings about the show ending?
It has dictated the whole rhythm of my life for the last seven years. But I’m excited to get back to a more gypsy way of life, to a less regimented routine. But, it’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life, so it’s kind of sad to say goodbye to this character. I’m sure there’ll be a moment of depression but then I’m going re-explore my own identity. It is time to move on.