A voy­age of dis­cov­ery

James Mot­tram

The National - News - Arts & Life - - Front Page -

Di­rec­tor James Gray and star Char­lie Hun­nam tell about their ex­pe­ri­ences in the jun­gles of Colom­bia dur­ing the film­ing of The Lost City of Z, an epic ad­ven­ture film based on the true story of British ex­plorer Percy Fawcett

“I didn’t find it a shock to the sys­tem,” says 37-year-old Hun­nam, “but it def­i­nitely was not with­out its chal­lenges…you can never re­lax when you’re in that en­vi­ron­ment. “It’s not like be­ing in a for­est in Europe where it’s pretty be­nign in terms of the things that can re­ally harm you. It’s just a mul­ti­tude of things all over the place that are pretty deadly – from plants to in­sects to larger an­i­mals.”

If the ac­tor wasn’t “par­tic­u­larly both­ered” by such tri­als, Gray “was pro­foundly ill- at- ease”, says Hun­nam, who de­scribes the di­rec­tor as “a mag­net to ev­ery deadly crea­ture in a 10-mile ra­dius”.

He cites one par­tic­u­lar in­ci­dent in which Gray was sit­ting be­hind a cam­era mon­i­tor in a small tent and lean­ing his back against a spi­der on the other side of the gos­samer-thin can­vas.

“One of the lo­cal guys saw this, pan­icked, ran over and hit it off,” says Hun­nam.

“If that spi­der had bit­ten him, he would have been dead in 30 sec­onds.”

Phys­i­cal fears aside, Gray was de­ter­mined to make some­thing orig­i­nal.

“I wanted to try to reach for some­thing that was much more po­etic in na­ture,” he says. This meant avoid­ing ground cov­ered by clas­sic jun­gle-ad­ven­ture films such as Werner Her­zog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Fitz­car­raldo.

“Ob­vi­ously I love those movies, they’re great. They’re hugely in­spir­ing,” says Gray. “But I didn’t want to rip them off.”

The only film he did watch be­fore film­ing be­gan was Bur­den of Dreams, a doc­u­men­tary about the tu­mul­tuous mak­ing of Fitz­car­raldo – if only to learn what not to do. The Lost City of Z was not en­tirely shot on lo­ca­tion in Colom­bia. Scenes of Fawcett lec­tur­ing at the Royal Ge­o­graph­i­cal So­ci­ety were filmed in Belfast.

Miller, who filmed High- Rise ( di­rected by Ben Wheat­ley, whose lat­est film Free Fire is in cin­e­mas from to­mor­row) in the same city the pre­vi­ous sum­mer, shot all her scenes here, call­ing the shoot an “iso­lat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence” due to the na­ture of her char­ac­ter.

“She was quite lonely,” she says. “I think that was some­thing I un­der­stood in her when I read it.” Rather than stay­ing back with the rest of the crew in Belfast, the ac­tress re­lo­cated to nearby Ban­gor, “so it felt melan­cholic”. Hun­nam went to even greater ex­tremes to get him­self into char­ac­ter; he cut him­self off from his girl­friend of 11 years – the jewellery de­signer Mor­gana McNelis. “I wanted to ex­ac­er­bate this sense of sac­ri­fice and iso­la­tion that is cre­ated some­times by trav­el­ling so much,” he says.

He didn’t use the in­ter­net, send emails or make a phone call for the four months of shoot­ing.

“It’s amaz­ing how sta­ble life be­comes when you’re not be­ing stim­u­lated one way or an­other… when you’re just liv­ing in the present,” he ex­plains.

Af­ter his re­turn to civil­i­sa­tion, Hun­nam was de­lighted with the end re­sult of the ef­forts by the cast and crew. The first time he saw the film, he took McNelis.

“She watched it and re­ally re­ceived it in the way that I hoped she would,” he says. “Both for James and my­self, it was re­ally present in our minds as we were mak­ing this film – re­ally we were mak­ing it for our loved ones.”

from to­mor­row is in cin­e­mas

Photo by Ai­dan Mon­aghan

The Lost City of Z is based on the life of ex­plorer Percy Fawcett, who set out at the dawn of the 20th century to lo­cate a ru­moured lost city in the heart of the Ama­zon forests.

Courtesy Ama­zon Stu­dios

Char­lie Hun­nam in The Lost City of Z.

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