An actor who can become just about any character the script calls for is automatically dubbed ‘versatile’ or ‘many-faceted’ or some other term that indicates a breadth of acting abilities. In the case of Charlie Hunnam, yet another term may need to be coined, but we haven’t thought of it yet. For now, suffice it to say that Charlie gets into a role so convincingly that some of his reversals are downright dizzying.
At the age of 33, Hunnam appears to be nowhere near the apex of his acting career; currently he’s deeply involved with (and mostly recognized for) ‘The Sons of Anarchy’ going into its seventh season on FX Networks, but his other credits are interesting to say the least. One role that offers a lot of food for thought and roused considerable speculation was that of Nathan Maloney in ‘Queer As Folk’.
The British drama series ran on Channel 4 for only ten episodes beginning in 1999, when Charlie was 18 years old. It was his first major role, and certainly a ground-breaking event, both for television and for the career of a burgeoning actor. The show’s premise involved a very good-looking, naïve young man (Nathan Maloney) who is drawn into the gay scene around Manchester’s Canal Street, one of the U.K.’s famous openly gay communities.
‘Queer As Folk’ was perhaps a strange (and definitely queer) vehicle for Hunnam, since his prior roles in no way indicated that he might fall naturally into the part. The series aired at a time when gays were really starting to ‘come out’ and be acknowledged as a visible, living part of British social and private life, and its overt and unapologetic treatment of the gay life at that time met with widely varying reactions.
The story is about a gay couple, Vince and Stuart, two very dissimilar types who attract each other as opposites often do. Stuart (Aidan Gillen) is the confident, brazen hustler of young men like Nathan who are brand new to the scene and immensely vulnerable to his charm. Vince Tyler (played by Craig Kelly) is his relatively square best buddy and roommate. Enter Nathan, 15 years old and a virgin in just about every way, but one who learns very fast.
Nathan falls hard for Stuart’s charms (including his love-making) and initially he’s the one pursuing the gay cavalier – Stuart considers him just another conquest and easily forgotten. However, it doesn’t work out that way; in a foreshadowing of later episodes, Nathan says that six months in the future Stuart will be the one begging for a relationship that means much more than a one-night-stand. Indeed, as the series continues, all three of the main characters have to re-evaluate their lives and choices.
Some of the scenes from this extremely well-written script by Russell T. Davies are quite graphic in terms of sexuality amongst gay males, and Charlie Hunnam is utterly believable as the impressionable youngster who rapidly gains self-confidence and with it a different perspective on his own actions and that of the experienced and self-centered older man who orchestrates his initiation into the gay life.
In one interview about his role in ‘Queer As Folk’ Charlie reported being accosted on the subway by a man who said he “ought to be ashamed” of his performance, but that has never worried him. He said if some people object to him playing the part of a gay man, that’s their problem, not his. The actor has noted in several interviews that he’s got plenty of time to make money; he’s determined to accept only those roles that he feels meet his personal standards.
Anyone watching Charlie Hunnam as Nathan in ‘Queer As Folks’ and then seeing his performance as Jax in ‘Sons of Anarchy’ might have a little difficulty reconciling the sexual preferences portrayed – but no problem at all recognizing his physical magnetism and serious acting talent. In fact when Hunnam was picked for the role of Christian Grey, he said ‘Queer As Folk’ was excellent background for the role of dominating male with a willing female sex slave. Nathan Maloney was certainly an unforgettable character, and Charlie Hunnam can be expected to inhabit many more unforgettable characters in roles to come.
Nathan and Christian