Alpha, Bravo, Charlie

Hunky Heroes: Charlie Hunnam (above) stars as Raleigh Becket in Pacific Rim.

In a movie filled with giant monsters and massive robots, Charlie Hunnam strangely finds opportunities to take his shirt off.

Hunnam plays a washed-up ex-pilot with a tragic past in Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim, which opened here this Thursday.

Clad in futuristic armour and stuck in a cockpit that looks suspiciously like a cross-trainer in a gym, Hunnam still has more than enough time to give his chiselled abs a proper airing.

Oh yes, and there's a stick fight with co-star Rinko Kikuchi in which both of them duke it out in tank-tops.

Hunnam laughed when FiRST grilled him about the randomness of him getting his top off for no apparent reason but to give girls something to ogle.

"Guillermo told me 'I'm going to have you take your shirt off in the movie. And when you do, I want the audience to think, okay, this guy is capable of saving the world. So you got to look ripped and ready for action'."

And Hunnam isn't bashful about embracing this aspect of his role. In fact, he attacks it with just the right amount of wry humour.

"Sex sells. Gone are the days where movies exploit the female form exclusively. The male form gets exploited plenty these days too. And I'm willing to do all it takes to put bums on seats," he said.

"If Guillermo thought that it was important to see me with my shirt off, then hey, who am I to question it?"

Those who know Del Toro's work know that he doesn't create two-dimensional characters, but nevertheless, the Mexican director confessed that he didn't want Hunnam's Raleigh Becket to have too many moving pieces.

Said Del Toro: "Raleigh is a very simple character. He has a fundamental distrust of people after a devastating loss, but when the time comes for him to be a hero, he's not Hamlet. He doesn't question his role in the grand scheme.

"It's the opposite of (Hunnam's) character in (TV series) Sons Of Anarchy, which was very dark and conflicted."

Being the headliner in a Hollywood summer blockbuster is a far cry from what Hunnam is used to.

Fans of the long-running motorcycle drama series Sons Of Anarchy would recognise the 33-year-old Englishman as Jackson "Jax" Teller.

In fact, Hunnam has spent most of his time on the smaller screen shooting to fame playing the 15-year-old schoolboy who is Aidan Gillen's (you may know him as Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish in HBO's Game Of Thrones) object of desire in the critically acclaimed gay drama Queer As Folk in 1999.

Nevertheless, Hunnam takes his shot at super blockbuster stardom in his stride.

"I got the sense right away that the scope of this project was massive. Then I put that out of my mind as quickly as possible," said Hunnam.

He added with a grin: "I just told myself that it doesn't matter that your whole career is resting on you doing a good job. Try not to think about that and just show up!"

Though that fell through (the part eventually went to Luke Goss)

But showing up was just the start of the pain. Hunnam laughed when he recounted how tough it was shooting the scenes in the Conn-pod (the cockpit of his giant robot).

"It was an arduous process, shooting the inside of the robot. It was exactly how it looked - being on an elliptical machine wearing a suit of armour, 14 hours a day. Most people get tired after 20 minutes.

"And Guillermo would be shooting flames at us, and pouring 250 gallons of water a minute on us... I was doing it for 27 days, so most of the time, I was just mad as hell."

Real action

Nevertheless, he relished the physicality of his role and said he especially liked working with co-star Rinko Kikuchi on their stick-fighting scene.

"It's not like shooting a fist fight. Fist fights are all about camera angles and you are missing the other person.

"In a stick fight, you have to have contact, and you can't do it half-heartedly, otherwise it would look fake. So we were actually fighting, but with controlled, precise movements.

"Rinko is a total badass but she's 100 pounds soaking wet, so if I rap her across the head with a stick, it's not going to be pleasant for her."

I had to find someone to play a 60-year-old transexual who was going to fall madly in love with me and so of course I immediately thought of Ron.

And I sent it to him for a laugh, thinking that he'd going call me and tell me to go f*ck myself. And he called me back and says *mimics a low she-male voice* 'How did you know, darlin', I've always wanted to play a woman'."

"There was this sequence where Ron tries to bed me, and there was this scene where he tries to seduce me and we just could not get though the take.... 'cos we were both laughing so hard."

Del Toro stalwart Ron Perlman, who plays the mercenary Hannibal Chau in Pacific Rim, testifies to Hunnam's professionalism on set.

Said Perlman, 63: "I'm very fond of the kid. I like that he takes the work seriously but doesn't take himself seriously. And Guillermo adored working with him (Hunnam). After all, someone has to replace me."

He may well be this summer's breakout star, but Hunnam still retains a healthy dose of humility mixed with humour.

He said: "I'm not in any better shape now than in anything else that I do, they just shot me better.

"On Sons (Of Anarchy), you're shooting eight scenes a day, there's only 20 minutes to light a scene. In the movie, you can get two days to shoot one scene, the DP (director of photography) has eight hours to get the lighting perfectly right.

"So it's not me, it's creative camera work. The 3-D glasses help too! (guffaws)"