Why Charlie Hunnam Isn’t In Pacific Rim 2

The Lost City of Z star says his absence from Pacific Rim 2 was all about following his heart.

It’s not often that an actor walks away from a role in a major franchise, not necessarily because he or she doesn’t want to return but simply because they are contractually obligated to do so. In the case of Charlie Hunnam, who played the main character in Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 monsters-vs-robots epic Pacific Rim, he did manage to get out of a second movie — but not due to any bad feelings about coming back for a second installment.

Instead, it was Hunnam’s devotion to a new version of Papillion — the story of French prison escapee Henri “Papillion” Charriere that was made into a classic 1973 film starring Steve McQueen — that forced him to make a choice. “There was a huge scheduling conflict,” he revealed when we spoke with him at the press day for his new film The Lost City of Z. “I was already really, really invested in doing Papillion.”

He continued, “What happened was Legendary (Entertainment, the production company behind Pacific Rim) was sold to Wanda, which is the big Chinese corporation, and Pacific Rim, although it underperformed in other territories in the world, was an enormous success in China. All of a sudden, it became their primary focus to make this and they wanted to do it very, very rapidly…I think their schedule subsequently changed, and I might have been able to do both, but at that time, they were writing the script and they needed to know, was I in or was I out?”

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Hunnam says he reluctantly had to bow out, but there was one issue: he did have a contract to appear in what is now called Pacific Rim: Uprising. “I have great relationships with everyone at Legendary, and they were incredibly generous to me and let me out of my contract,” says Hunnam. “I had to do the film whether I liked it or not. When I spoke to (former Legendary chairman) Thomas Tull, who is a dear friend of mine, I said, ‘Listen, man. It’s not that my heart is not in this. I’m invested in this creatively, but my heart’s going to be broken because I already was going to do this other film.’

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“He was like, ‘Dude, you were going to do that other film and that’s where your heart is. I don’t want you being on set if you’re not going to be happy, so go do the other film,’ which was ludicrously generous of him. But that’s just the type of man he is.”

We won’t know how Pacific Rim: Uprising might have turned out with Hunnam back at the jaeger controls, but the movie — out next February and directed by former Daredevil showrunner Steven S. DeKnight — still features a solid cast, including new members John Boyega, Jing Tian and Scott Eastwood alongside returning stars Burn Gorman, Charlie Day and Rinko Kikuchi. As for Hunnam, his beloved Papillion is in post-production (more on that later) and The Lost City of Z opens Friday (April 14) in New York and Los Angeles before going nationwide on April 21.

Look for more from our talk with Charlie Hunnam next week!