Call it destiny that Charlie Hunnam won the title role in Guy Ritchie’s “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.”
While Hunnam’s name came up during the search for the lead in the fantasy epic, Ritchie wasn’t that familiar with the actor, the star of FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” for seven seasons and more recently the lead in the film “The Lost City of Z.”
So Ritchie brought him in for a screen test.
“Charlie made up his mind he was going to be in this movie, and he was so adamant I had little choice but to cast him,” says the director of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and the “Sherlock Holmes” films. “Now looking back, it couldn’t have been anyone else.”
One of the reasons why Hunnam, 37, was so intent on getting the part was that the British actor has been infatuated with the Arthurian legend since he was a kid. Another was simply the idea of Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur. “I thought, ‘That’s a film I want to see.’ ”
The actor has been a fan of the filmmaker since Ritchie’s early films, such as “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch.”
“I may have seen ‘Snatch’ more than any other film than ‘The Godfather 2,’ ” says Hunnam. “I watch it anytime it comes on television. It’s so accessible and fun.”
Fun and accessible are pretty much the operative words in Ritchie’s approach to the Arthurian legend.
“My job is to try and make it fresh, and Charlie dialed in very quickly to the Arthur I wanted, and it was off to the races,” the filmmaker says.
While both he and Hunnam were interested in exploring the esoteric aspects of Arthur’s journey to becoming king, the filmmaker wanted to make sure the movie was “a rather good jolly” so you would care about the character.
It was important that this was an “Arthur” for contemporary audiences, which meant taking advantage of the new technologies. This is Ritchie’s biggest special-effects film so far, but up next is the live-action version of “Aladdin” for Disney. The filmmaker says he’s looking forward to the challenge of doing a musical laden with technical wizardry.
While special effects were an important aspect for “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” perhaps the bigger challenge was telling a story that has been told countless times before.
“I found that the film became more energized the more that I concentrated on the narrative,” he says.
That meant pretty much jettisoning iconic characters like Guinevere and Merlin to streamline the plot. (If the film is successful, they appear in sequels.)
However, Merlin’s magical world led Ritchie to the more fantastic elements of the new film, which opens Friday. Instead of dragons, though, the filmmaker opted for football-field-size elephants and snakes as big as subway trains.
Even set against this fantasy world, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” gives audiences a grittier version of the legend, including the once-and-future king being raised in a brothel.