Cold Mountain
Mountain Men
Interview with Charlie Hunnam
interview by KJ Doughton, 26 December 2003

Cold Mountain has more layers than a flaky slice of baklava tempting customers from a bakery display case. The cast is massive, with Old Guard reliables such as Donald Sutherland competing with newbies like Jude Law for screen time.  Meanwhile, there are several interwoven stories sewn into Anthony Minghellaís ambitious quilt of a movie. Men are blown to smithereens by exploding gunpowder in the Civil War trenches of Virginia, women and children struggle to manage family farms, and forest wanderers eat fried goat meat from the kitchens of grizzled, Yoda-esque mountain women.

Even so, itís a safe bet that audiences will remember Charlie Hunnamís tiny supporting role. As the villainous Bosie, a restless Home Guard albino itching to shoot war deserters, Hunnam breaks into a backflip worthy of David Lee Roth, before noosing the neck of a terrorized farm mother.  This guy enjoys cruelty the way Hannibal Lector savors human liver. Meanwhile, his pale eyebrows and stringy, blonde locks bring to mind a frontier version of Riff Raff, the bleached-white butler from Rocky Horror Picture Show.

"Bosie is a very vague character in Charles Frazierís book," explains Hunnam from a Seattle hotel room. "In fact, there are only a couple of lines that describe him. Heís depicted as a slight, sickly guy with fair hair. Even during early rehearsals for the movie, he only appeared in the final scene. Eventually, Anthony put me into more and more things, and gave me more to do."

Through a creative collaboration with Minghella, the actor beefed up his under-written role and added a charismatic angle for Bosie. "Anthony would ask me, ĎWhat if he is really flashy, not just shooting someone but also doing a backflip?í But that prompted questions of logic. If heís such an able bodied killer, why isnít he out fighting in the war?"

One of the many story threads tackled by Cold Mountain concerns the Civil War Home Guard, a collection of men deemed unfit for combat and assigned to watch over the families of Confederate soldiers.  Perhaps due to age, illness, or injury, Home Guard members were spared the trenches. Many became bullying killers as the organizationís duties shifted from civilian civility to the execution of war deserters.  Where would Hunnamís re-invented presence fit into all of this?

"There had to be some kind of ailment, some reason he was resigned to serving on the Home Guard. One day, Anthony asked me, ĎWhat if he was an albino?í He told me to go away and read as much as I could about albinism. Thatís the way Anthony works. He gives his actors a great deal of responsibility."

"I read that the condition was often a product of incest. Otherwise, thereís a million to one chance, because you need identical genes to mix. Also, I read that albinos generally have about 60/20 vision, and are susceptible to nosebleeds. Every time Bosie shoots someone, his body fails him and his nose starts bleeding." The appearance of this cadaverous reaper in Cold Mountain is made all the more unsettling by the liquid crimson thatís often trickling down his fare face.

"Hereís a guy who has been ostracized his whole life, with all this rage inside," says the Newcastle-born actor, explaining Bosieís violent demeanor. "Maybe he can fight in the war and get respect. But he doesnít get to fight. Heís going to burst at any given moment."

While Bosieís angry spirit survives the final cut of Cold Mountain, the 23-year old actor empathizes with viewers who might leave theaters feeling as though the Home Guardís transformation, from paternal overseer to remorseless bully patrol, is underdeveloped.

"The original cut of the film was over five hours," he explains. "More than half of it is gone, including a lot of really snazzy chase sequences. The real thing thatís missing is the story of the Home Guard, which was kind of a noble role. Their job was to protect the women and maintain order, a proud responsibility to have. Over the course of the war, during its third year, the groupís primary role became tracking down deserters, and deterring other men from deserting. The arc and change of that is more detailed in the movieís longer version. Perhaps the DVD will have that stuff."

DVD buffs can also find 23-year old Hunnam playing the lead in Douglas McGrathís 2002 adaptation of Charles Dickensí Nicholas Nickleby, even though the actor doesnít cherish his work in the Victorian costume drama. "I feel like it was very one-dimensional the way Doug had me play it," Hunnam admits, describing creative differences that arose between he and the director. "I wouldnít have played it that way. I fought tooth and nail and lost that one."

A more contemporary video store option is the thriller Abandon, where Hunnam plays the long-lost, enigmatic boyfriend of Katie Holmes. Directed by Oscar winner Stephen Gaghan (Best Screenplay recipient for 2000ís Traffic), the underachieving film proved a tough marketing challenge for its studio. "Paramount just kind of dropped it," says Hunnam, lamenting the projectís failure to reach a wider audience. "It was a tricky film, a teen movie that was smarter than that genre of film generally is."

Hunnam is most enthusiastic about future projects, however, including Hooligans, a film exploring the controversial subculture of British football clubs. Slated to direct is German newcomer Lexi Alexander, whose 2002 boxing film Johnny Flynton snagged an Oscar nomination for Best Short Live Action Film. "Itís so much more organized than anyone would imagine," he reveals of the hooligan subculture. "Every single football club in Europe has a gang attached to it. They call them firms. Theyíre fight clubs, basically, but not a bunch of drunken Neanderthals.  A very primal thing. All sorts of people get involved, including doctors, lawyers, and accountants. Itís the ultimate extreme sport."

A new infusion of British blood has boosted the otherwise anemic landscape of Hollywood film, as evidenced by the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings casts. Even onscreen English veterans like Ians McKellan and Holm are receiving long-overdue recognition through their affiliation with such popular franchises. As a more recent addition to this U.K. acting fraternity, Hunnam is asked which of his peers he most admires.  "Daniel Day Lewis a guy whose career I would like to emulate, the way he will just take time off, with no frantic urgency to stay on top.  Some of these guys can be such chameleons. They stay out of the spotlight and then suddenly re-appear, allowing you to get excited about them."

To blow off steam during his down time, Hunnam hams it up with a rap group called King Luster. But unlike other actors who moonlight as serious musicians (for instance, the Keanu Reeves/Dogstar connection), he insists that the band is merely an amusing diversion and nothing more. "Itís just for fun, but I would never pursue it professionally," he chuckles. "My rap group is an Aryan poster boy and three Jews. Not exactly from the streets."


Read KJ Doughton's review.

 

 


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