Shantaram just premiered on AppleTV+ and the world is stoked — for two reasons. Firstly, the series tells a gripping tale of epic proportions. And secondly, because this means we get to see more of Charlie Hunnam. But Hunnam revealed that his intentions never included starring in his series. He just wanted to stay behind the scenes as the producer.
The Origins of Shantaram
Hunnam’s Shantaram is based on the 936-page novel of the same name. A friend gave him a copy of the book right before he headed on vacation to Thailand. As it happened, he fell in love with the story.
“I just devoured it on that vacation,” Hunnam told Entertainment Weekly. “I came back from that vacation and said to my friend, who’s a writer and a producer, ‘Can we make this?'”
Apple TV+ describes the series’ logline as:
“Based on the internationally best-selling novel by Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram follows a fugitive named Lin Ford (Charlie Hunnam) looking to get lost in vibrant and chaotic 1980s Bombay. Alone in an unfamiliar city, Lin struggles to avoid the trouble he’s running from in this new place. After falling for an enigmatic and intriguing woman named Karla, Lin must choose between freedom or love and the complications that come with it.”Shantaram logline, per Apple TV+
Choosing Between Love or Freedom, Spirituality or Riches
Hunnam’s vision for the series goes much deeper than that, though. He told EW that one of the biggest themes is the dichotomy between the hero, Lin’s, search for spirituality and his ties to dirty money.
Hunnam said, “What I thought was really ripe for exploration is this conflict between what I call the kingdom of God and the kingdom of gold. Lin finds himself in India on this concurrent journey of spiritual awakening whilst also getting pulled deeper into the realms of organized crime.”
Interestingly, author Gregory Roberts claims that Shantaram is a fictionalized story of real events. “My skin was virtually flayed off my body,” he said. He was referring to a time when he was beaten while being held in a prison in India. ”There was one point, as I was chained facedown, that I thought I was going to drown in my own blood, and in that moment of terror, a voice clearly spoke in my head and said, ‘This is damn good material.”’
Hunnam on Staying Behind the Scenes
The Sons of Anarchy star had no intention to be the star of his own film. In fact, this is the first TV series that he’s starred in since SOA ended.
“I very much enjoy the process of long-form storytelling and the consistency of working with the same cast and the opportunity to play the same character for a long period of time,” Hunnam told EW.
But he needed time off from the process due to the enormous amount of time that TV series take. “I wanted also to wait until the right thing came along, because it’s such a big commitment,” he added. “It was in my mind, certainly, to make a return to television if I had the opportunity.”
Admirably, not wanting to be in the spotlight, Hunnam’s first priority is storytelling. He told EW that he could have seen “a lot of people” play the role of Lin.
“I have a very not fully formed but kind of a philosophical view of these things, that ultimately stories want to get told, and they can get told at different times with different people,” Hunnam said. “I didn’t feel necessarily as though this is my role and I’m the only one who can play it, by any means. It’s an amazing role and an amazing story, and there were a lot of people that would have done a splendid job.” He added that he does, however, feel “grateful and fortunate” for the opportunity to be the face that brings the story to life.
Shantaram Was Almost a Movie, Would Have Starred Johnny Depp
It seems that other producers had the same thoughts as Hunnam. Warner Bros initially envisioned Johnny Depp as the lead in Shantaram. In fact, when Hunnam returned from Thailand and started looking into adapting the novel, he was instantly shot down. He discovered that WB already had the rights to the movie.
Warner Brothers bought the rights to the movie in 2004 and Infinitum Nihil was going to produce it. Johnny Depp just so happens to be a partner in Infinitum Nihil. Warner Brothers wanted Depp to play Lin.
The movie was never made, which Hunnam says is probably because the book is too long to fit into a feature film.
“A couple of years later, [Warner Brothers] admitted defeat with that process,” Hunnam told EW. “I think because of the length and complexity of the story, it’s really impossible to distill it down to two hours,” he added. “After many, many noble attempts, Warner Brothers threw in the hat and the rights became available again, so the dream became alive again and here we are.”
So, after a month-long bidding process, the rights to Shantaram were sold again in 2018. This time, it was Paramount TV and Anonymous Content who would be producing. Apple TV+ would be the distributor.
How to Watch Hunnam’s Shantaram
Season 1 of Shantaram is being released in portions every week on Apple TV+. Episodes 1-3 came out on October 14 and we’ll get at least one more next Friday. But be warned: season 1 only tells about the first 1/3rd of the story. We only get the rest if there are more seasons. And who doesn’t want more of Charlie Hunnam?