Get Jacked Like Jax
Long before we see the ocean, we feel it, the brine-fresh breeze gliding up Sunset Boulevard. For the first time since we left Greenblatt's Deli on our Royal Enfield motorcycles, a smile spreads across Charlie Hunnam's face.
"It's a lot cooler out here, huh?" he says as we idle at a stoplight. By "out here," he means outside Hollywood, where the 34-year-old Brit has lived and worked for 16 years. Before we reach the Pacific Coast Highway to head up to Topanga State Park, we'll pass no fewer than four country clubs—Bel-Air, Brentwood, Riviera, and Los Angeles. But Hunnam isn't tempted to pull in. He doesn't much care for fancy folks.
As we travel along the belly of the Santa Monica Mountains, Hunnam cruises with the current of traffic for miles at a time. Then he suddenly throttles up, lurches forward, and weaves his way through a clog of luxury sedans to find the next unoccupied stretch of asphalt.
The man needs time away from the city. In Hollywood, he can't escape the towering magnitude of his own brand. Literally: Leaving Greenblatt's, we pass under a 48-foot-wide Sons of Anarchy billboard, a brooding image of Hunnam with a gun in his hand and a skull superimposed on his back.
"Is that weird for you?" I ask at the next light. But there's no time for a reply. The red light snaps to green; he winds up the engine and lets out the clutch. My guess is that he's getting used to it. SOA's season seven premiere drew record-high cable ratings, second only to The Walking Dead. Now Hunnam has signed on for his biggest role yet: King Arthur in a six-movie deal under Sherlock Holmes director Guy Ritchie. He also has a Calvin Klein ad campaign (a barometer of cash-cow potential) and upcoming leads in Crimson Peak (with his Pacific Rim director, Guillermo del Toro) and The Mountain Between Us (as a doctor stranded in the wilderness).
Yet for all that, he still maintains his down-and-dirty cred. While some stars collect Teslas and Aston Martins the way kids collect Hot Wheels, Hunnam prefers to ride his 2009 Harley Dyna Super Glide to meetings and shoots. Think he's taking business calls on speakerphone on the way? Not a chance. He rides for the same reason any guy rides: to assert his sovereignty and hone his focus. "I can't help but feel present and aware of my environment," he says later when we stop for lunch. As his machine speeds up, so does his brain. He picks up details—a couple kissing on a park bench or the tangled aroma of flowers and roadkill.
He has a common guy fantasy too: going full Thoreau, spending a year off the grid. An ease with solitude and self-reflection are two ingredients of success, and as his career begins to upshift, Hunnam knows his commitment to both will be tested. He'll flow with the current until his restlessness gets the best of him, and then he'll make a break for open road. "Since I was young, I've been aware that I need time to myself to process everything," he says. That's how he is—half Hollywood hotshot, half reclusive loner.
"WHO DOESN'T LIKE A SUCCESSFUL CRIMINAL?" HUNNAM SAYS AT LUNCH, grinning like a con man. In interviews, Hunnam takes the unsettling position that he and Jax, the murderous outlaw he plays on Sons, are constitutionally similar. "It's not about being a gangster," he explains. "It's about doing something that gives you control over your destiny."
In that sense, plenty of successful men have a bit of the outlaw in them. They're always looking out for the opportunity to jump ahead, to find their own space. You think Travis Kalanick's Uber would be valued at $18 billion otherwise? Would Elon Musk be blasting shuttles into outer space?
When Hunnam's first talent agency in England tried to pigeonhole him as a model, he went rogue and found an acting gig on a kids' show called Byker Grove. Then he returned to the agency and said, "You didn't get me this job, but as a good-faith gesture, I'm going to give you the commission. But you need to start sending me out on stuff." The agency listened. His next role was on Queer as Folk, which opened the door to Hollywood. That's what Hunnam has in common with Jax—both guys make bold moves. That, and they're loyal.
When Hunnam peels off his riding gloves, I notice two rings—one from his jewelry designer girlfriend and one from a close pal in a motorcycle club. The first is inscribed "I love you endlessly"; the second, "One for all, all for one." Together they form a powerful reminder of life beyond work. "After shooting a season of the show, I come back, and my relationships have been neglected," he says. But he makes sacrifices to restore the balance.
Example: Fifty Shades of Grey. In September, Universal Studios signed Hunnam to play the film's lead; five weeks later he backed out. Why? Because the newly announced shoot schedule treated him like a cog. "I was going to finish playing a psychopath who'd just lost his wife [in Sons], and five days later I'd be on set playing Christian Grey," he says. "I was like, 'This is going to be a fucking disaster.' It was the opposite of how I've tried to ground my career, not stretch myself too thin, and always do my homework."
Imagine having the courage to back away from the pursuits you didn't believe in or the things you had no time for. You might actually be better off. "There's a tendency in this Hollywood machinery to take on too much," Hunnam says. "You end up not being able to give everything you want."
Just then a woman walks up; she wants a photo. "I really enjoy Sons of Anarchy," she says. "I like that you guys don't glorify the outlaw lifestyle."
"Yeah," he says, rubbing the motorcycle club ring on his right hand. "I don't know why anybody would get into it." Then she mentions the show's bloody season six finale, and her voice actually begins to rattle with emotion. Hunnam seizes the opportunity. "Did you cry a little bit?"
She nods yes.
"Then mission accomplished."
I snap the photo. She retreats with a smile—one more person seduced by a successful criminal.
Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam isn't one to complicate things. Take, for instance, the workout plan he uses to maintain his killer arms and shoulders.
"I go into the gym and do 75 pullups, 75 dips, 150 squats, 150 pushups, and then 20 minutes of ab work," says Hunnam, who can be found this month on the cover of Men's Health. "Done. It takes an hour; I'm in and out. I sweat the whole time."
Hunnam shared other success tips.
"I work out more for the mental than the physical aspect. I can get slightly dark when I'm not keeping a routine. It's all about feeling healthy and energetic."
Respect Your Core
"I'll do crunches, side crunches, leg lifts. I've probably got 20 different ab exercises that I cycle through regularly. I work my abs three or four times a week."
Fuel Up Right
"Good-quality travel and good-quality food are the two luxuries that never have any guilt indulging in. I just try to avoid anything fucked with by man too much."
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