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CHARLIE HUNNAM: SON OF ANARCHY, LORD OF THE PULL-UP BAR
HOW JAX GETS JACKED
BY ANDREW VONTZ
On a sweltering Los Angeles afternoon, Charlie Hunnam steps to the pull-up bar in a city park near Hollywood and easily whips himself above the bar into a muscle-up, a decidedly advanced move. As Hunnam powers his way through staccato sets of dips, pull-ups, push-ups, muscle-ups and variations of these strongman classics, his chiseled torso glistens and sweat cascades onto his Dickies shmants and his prized Nike Air Max runners—one of 82 pairs in his collection. He pauses for a second to stuff the bullet hanging on a thin chain around his neck into his mouth, busts another muscle-up, then somersaults around the bar before lowering himself again. Yoked gangbangers play hoops on a nearby court while Hunnam, who plays Jax Teller, a motorcycle gang member on FX's hit show Sons of Anarchy and stars in the upcoming film The Ledge, does work and sets his phaser to annihilate as he cranks the intensity. Deep in the heart of shooting the third season of Sons, Hunnam was on set until 4 a.m. the night before. But the reps pile up until he's dropped more than 100 push-ups and an equal number of dips. Training is more than something Hunnam just does to look good. “The benefit of working out is 90% mental and 10% physical,” he says.
“I feel better and like 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 him on, no arm piece girlfriend holding his water, nothing but him, a pull-up bar, parallel bars, and the sand underfoot. Hunnam keeps his workout gritty, hardcore, and raw. Like most guys, he works long hours—up to 15 hours a day—and gets creative to find time for his training. Sometimes he'll swim a mile, other times he'll squeeze in workouts at his house using bodyweight moves. It helps that he keeps his diet clean sticking to lean protein and natural whole foods.
Lately, he's caught the Bartendaz bug. “Bartendaz is a group of guys in Brooklyn working out on playgrounds and in parks,” says Hunnam. After one of his training buddies started using Bartendaz workouts and got ultra jacked, Hunnam searched out the Bartendaz moves that inspire his park workouts on YouTube. “Working out in the gym doing the same stuff day in and day out can get boring. What keeps it fresh and fun is I just freestyle like I did today. I got to the point where I could do three muscle-ups then started adding the flips in between and creating signature stuff.” From the looks of Hunnam's statue-esque physique, Bartendaz training is working for him.
After an hour of Bartending, Hunnam bounces off the sand and onto the streets of Hollywood. He strides with the same thug strut that Jax showcases on Sons but an easy smile and a warm demeanor quickly wipe away his training scowl. Born to an artist mother and a father involved in the scrap metal trade who ruled the underworld in Newcastle, England with an iron fist, Hunnam's upbringing prepared him to master outlaw psychology. Hunnam's parents separated early in his childhood and he moved with his mom and brothers to the Lake District in rural England where he got his first taste of real street violence at the hands of bullies. “I was a city kid in a country environment and I got a couple real good beatings, five or six guys just slamming me.” That's when Hunnam learned to box. In short order he doled out so many asswhoopings to his would-be assailants that they feared crossing him.
England's version of Hollywood discovered Hunnam at age nine and the son of a tough guy stumbled into an acting career that has kept going strong ever since with turns on shows including the original British version of Queer as Folk. In 1999 he moved to Los Angeles and landed a role in the short lived TV seriesUndeclared before larging it with roles in Cold Mountain and 2005's Green Street Hooligans. In 2008, Hunnam began his reign in blood as the badass but thoughtful Jax on Sons, the most-watched basic cable show among men 18-49.
A few hours later Hunnam rumbles into the parking lot at a low-key cafe on his murdered-out Harley Dyna Super Glide with flat bars, souped-up engine, and loads of custom touches. His black brain bucket sitting next to him, it's tough to separate him from his Sons role until he opens his mouth and spills the sounds of a working-class British accent. To prepare to play Jax, Hunnam spent time with an outlaw motorcycle gang in Northern California. “There was a kid in that 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 very 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 and to remember that flavor he taught me.”
Off camera, Hunnam and his cast mates have become legends to both outlaw and wannabe outlaw bikers and draw huge crowds at biker runs, rallies, and other events. But celebrity, fame, and power haven't insulated Hunnam from the mean streets of Los Angeles. A few weeks back, Hunnam was sitting in his home office at 1 a.m. when he heard rustling in his house. He picked up a machete he keeps in his office and hunted until he found a robber with a towel over his hand. “He was about 5'10”, 245 pounds, a beast. I pinned him to 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 crook. He never came back.
When Hunnam finishes shooting season three of Sons in a few weeks, he'll still have a full plate. He's developing a script about his father's hard knock life and Brad Pitt's Plan B production company has acquired Hunnam's script for Vlad, a biopic about Vlad the Impaler, the historical Dracula. Before he goes back to work, though, Hunnam will pack his bags and head to China where he’ll study Kung Fu at the famed Shaolin Temple. “I really wanted a strong spiritual contingent to the trip and found this academy. There's 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 centered.” But first he has a Sons production meeting to get to so he straps on his lad and straddles his hog, heavy metal thunder reverberating off the buildings as he roars down Beverly Blvd., indistinguishable from the outlaw he plays on TV.