After much hype, Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur is set for release. The director, and leading man Charlie Hunnam, talk to Susan Griffin about rules, rebelling and finding one’s rhythm
King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword is not yet released but has already been slammed by many critics, and not only for David Beckham’s cameo.
No wonder director Guy Ritchie is in a pensive mood on the afternoon of the London premiere.
He’s walking slowly around a vast round table, a movie prop that’s been hauled into a hotel for the press day, and opts to stand for the duration of the interview.
He did not, as some people have suggested, set out to mock the genre.
“What I’m interested in is a refreshing take on it,” says Ritchie, 48, arms crossed and rocking from side-to-side in self-soothing fashion.
“Genres need to be respected - and not respected, in the sense that there aren’t hard and fast rules to these expressions.
“People have asked me about being a director and I can’t give any advice, because everyone needs to find their own voice within this world - and I would say the same about genres.”
In this telling, Arthur’s uncle, played by Jude Law in Hamlet mode, seizes the crown after his father, King Uther, is murdered.
Robbed of his birthright, and ignorant of his parentage, a streetwise Arthur is brought up in the city’s back lanes.
Haunted by nightmares he can’t quite decipher, it’s only when he pulls the infamous sword from the stone, that he’s forced to acknowledge his true legacy - whether he likes it or not.
There are epic fight sequences, but for the film-maker, the scenes of rebellion are secondary to exploring what drives Arthur in the first place.
“The manifestation isn’t as interesting as the kernel that drives the manifestation. If Arthur can’t fight his inner demons, he can’t begin to fight his external demons,” explains Ritchie.
He admits the tone of the film isn’t as sombre as he’d set out to achieve.
There’s a lot of blokey banter and fast cutting, as you’d expect from the man behind Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch.
“I set out with the principle of keeping a sombre tone but the film dictates its own rhythm,” says Hertfordshire-born Ritchie, who has three children with wife Jacqui, and two, including his adopted son David, from his marriage to Madonna.
“If I’d started out wanting to make a comedy, we probably would have ended up in Monty Python territory, so I had to keep quite a tight rein on it in order to keep the stakes valid.
“But simultaneously, I like the release of levity, so it’s important to me you get the balance right. That’s really the hardest thing to find for a director, to find the expression of rhythm.”
Ritchie enjoys working with people who “are likely to be working on a similar rhythm to me”, even if they’re not trained actors, like Vinnie Jones in Lock Stock, and Beckham in King Arthur.
“David and I are friends. I think he’s got star quality. Also, he’s genuinely talented and I like using him in stuff,” says the director.
Another person he feels in sync with is his leading man Charlie Hunnam, although Ritchie did have initial concerns over his physicality.
“I was very skinny when I did the audition for this,” explains the 37-year-old actor, who was filming traumatic scenes for the last series of Sons Of Anarchy at the time.
“I showed up and was quite meek, and Guy wanted an Arthur with an imposing physicality,” he recalls. Worried he was going to lose out on the role, Hunnam came up with a suggestion.
“I said, ‘Listen, if you’re that concerned about it, why don’t we just **** this auditioning off, and you can bring the rest of those chimpanzees in here, who are auditioning for the role, and we can fight. Whoever walks out of the room gets the role’.”
In Hunnam’s telling, this is the moment he was cast. “There was a little look in his eye, a glint, and he said, ‘That’s the attitude I’m looking for’,” he says, though Ritchie later jokes this is the actor “fantasising”.
“You have to fight for what you want in this life, and sometimes literally,” adds Hunnam.
King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword opens on Friday