A coldhearted Confederate

December 17, 2003|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,Sun Arts Writer

Eight days before it is scheduled to open in movie theaters, the Civil War epic Cold Mountain already is generating Oscar hype.

Set in North Carolina and Virginia, the movie tells the story of Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier who takes a long journey on foot through the Blue Ridge mountains to return to the woman he loves. He dodges Yankee soldiers and his own troops, who are shooting deserters.

The film, which is based on the National Book Award-winning novel by Charles Frazier, stars Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger.

A screening at the Walters Art Museum tonight will benefit the Maryland Film Festival, and will feature a question-and-answer session with cast member Charlie Hunnam. He plays Bosie, a sadistic, albino member of the Confederate Home Guard, which was given the mission of protecting the women and children left behind while their menfolk were fighting. Later, the guard had the authority to round up and execute AWOL soldiers.

The British-born Hunnam has blond hair worn long, a dimple in his chin, and a mouth like a piece of curling ribbon. Unlike his current character, previous roles have exploited his sensual good looks, most notably the 15-year-old confused gay teen he played in the British version of Queer As Folk and the title character in Nicholas Nickleby. He also has had featured roles in two short-lived television series: Young Americans and Undeclared.

In a conversation with The Sun, Hunnam, 23, is cheerful, friendly and garrulous, chasing a question like a cat unwinding a string.

What was it like to play a character in Cold Mountain with a physical condition like albinism?

We were shooting in Romania, and of course, Romanian people are very, very dark-featured. My hair, eyelashes and beard had been bleached white, and most of the people on the crew took to calling me "alp dracul" which means "white devil." When we'd go into the nightclub, I'd walk under the strobe lights, and I'd actually glow. People would turn around and walk away from me. It was interesting to encounter that kind of reaction.

You said filming Cold Mountain brought you a new appreciation for the beauty regimen required of actresses.

Yeah. In the past, it would take me about 20 minutes to put on makeup. But because I played an albino in Cold Mountain, and I had to get rid of all the pigment in my skin, it would take 45 minutes or an hour. I really got to feel for what it takes to be a female actor. As a rule, they have to get up about two hours earlier than the men. Nicole [Kidman] got up at 4:30 each morning to get all made up.

Because true albinos have pink eyes, I had to wear pink contact lenses, and they were a nightmare. My pupils were so contracted that my vision was about 60/20. Try that when you're riding a horse at top speed.

What were other obstacles that you and the cast encountered?

The weather. There's a big fighting sequence in the beginning of the film, and it was 100 degrees the day we shot that scene. We'd hired the Romanian army as extras. They were wearing these thick, thick cotton and wool uniforms, and guys were passing out left and right.

A few months later, we were shooting a night scene around a campfire the week before Christmas. It was 25 degrees below zero, bitterly cold, and we were at a really high altitude. The soles of the boots I was wearing were so thin I might as well have been barefoot. We spent three days just freezing on this hill. The wind was howling. Finally, we nailed this scene. We just got it perfect, and then Anthony [Minghella, the director] started saying, "Cut, cut, cut." We couldn't believe it.

Then he said, "I'm sorry, guys. The film froze inside the camera."

I heard that you developed a close relationship on the set.

(Laughs) Well my horse, Bob, and I had a real love-hate thing going. I'd never ridden before, not one day. He threw me a couple of times, but he would always let me know first. One day, we'd been doing take after take for hours, and Bob was sick of it. He turned his head and gave me this look that said: "If you fire that gun one more time in my ear, I swear to God, I'm going to buck you off." I shot the gun on the next take, and he threw me.

I would have loved to keep him, but I don't really have anywhere to put a horse in L.A. My girlfriend would have to move out to make room for him.

Did you perform your own stunts in the film?

There's a scene where I do a back-flip off a 6-foot fence. I trained for 3 1/2 months to do that scene. At first, they didn't want me to do the stunt, because you have a finite amount of time in which to complete it, and if you don't, you could break your neck. But I was working with Romania's Olympic gymnastics coach, and after a few sessions I asked him if he thought I could do the stunt. He was like, "Man, you can do this in your sleep."

Maybe no one in the audience will be able to tell, but I know it was me doing those stunts, and that's all that counts.

What's your next project?

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