Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara, Garrett Hedlund, Levi Miller, Jason Fuchs and Joe Wright
Give A New Life to Peter Pan In Prequel
by Brad Balfour
Ever since Scottish novelist/playwright J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan first appeared over a hundred years ago, the play and novel became source material for a slew of retellings. No wonder, it’s a classic story about a boy who flies, doesn’t grow up, has his gang of “lost boys” and lives in place called Neverland.
Yes, something about Barrie’s story continues to inspire. Who would believe that this character had become so archetypal that it spawned such a slew of variations and reworkings – from Broadway shows, to cartoons and live-action versions?
Now comes British director Joe Wright’s Pan, an attempt, through a wholly original live-action adventure, to lend Barrie’s beloved characters an origin story. In this telling, 12-year-old Peter (Levi Miller), who has an irrepressible rebellious streak, hopes to escape the bleak London orphanage where he’s lived his whole life – culminating in surviving the bombing of Britain at the start of World War II.
While trying to uncover the secret of a mother who apparently abandoned him in that place, Peter is suddenly spirited away in a flying galleon, speeding him and his fellow orphans to Neverland – a fantastical world of pirates, warriors and fairies. Ultimately teamed with reluctant friend James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), and warrior Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), Peter must defeat ruthless pirate leader Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) to save Neverland and comprehend his destiny – to fly and become the hero known as Peter Pan.
Wright and screenwriter Jason Fuchs take incredible liberties with the original story, its context and imagery both the serve a contemporary audience and fulfill the visual outrageous ideas that suits its 3-D dramatics. Despite some controversies – for example, the casting of Rooney Mara rather than a native American and the dread of stalwart fans in seeing many liberties taken with the story’s visual and dramatic elements – the film has an energy all its own.
There’s a strong undercurrent of punkiness to the pirates’ culture and a brutal side to the tribe that protects the faeries. As to the faeires – they’re not all sweetness and light as in the Disney version. They can turn into a stinging swarm of berserkers who throw pirates to their death. This isn’t your mom, or dad’s, or even grandparents’ Peter Pan, by any means. Even though audiences may not get past its oddness, at least Wright gave it an multi-layered shot.
As for casting, it was a master stroke putting together The X-Men‘s Wolverine and On the Road‘s Dean Moriarty with Elisabeth Salander – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – at least those characters’ simulacra all in one film. Each of these veteran actors employed the same instincts that drove those other characters to give life to these outlandish ones in this film.
Then there’s 45-year-old Joe Wright himself. He’s the English director known for such period films as the romantic dramas Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, the action thriller Hanna and his gorgeous adaptation of the classic Anna Karenina. For another director, making this Pan might be a stretch, but with Wright having already made those other films, it seems a natural step to fashion this elaborate and outrageous fantasy.
So there we were, a bunch of journalists and the director, writer and the three cast members in New York throwing around a touch of the snark and fantasy at a press conference held in the Conrad Hotel a couple of weeks before the film’s release.
Jason, you wrote this. Why this story? Who is Peter Pan and what is it like being a Lost Boy?
Jason Fuchs: I’ve been pretty obsessed with Peter Pan from a young age. I got stuck on a Peter Pan amusement park ride with my dad when I was nine. We were up in a miniature flying pirate ship over London for about a half hour. I got really curious about where he came from and how he flew and where Neverland was. So, for about 20 years, I was fascinated by this; 20 years later I’m sitting here.
Hugh, what did your kids think about you doing this movie?
Hugh Jackman: My kids love it. [They] are 15 and 10 and brutally honest; they went, “Oh, we actually really like this one!” “Oh yeah? What are you saying?” The ultimate compliment was when they said, “Can we have another screening? We want to bring our friends.” That’s when I knew they really loved it.
How did you get into this character?
Hugh Jackman: I always wanted to play a role like this, in a world like this. Swashbuckling, sword-fighting pirates. I loved it. As soon as I knew Joe Wright was on board, I jumped in. I actually did a bit of research about the real Blackbeard and he was kind of amazing. I told Joe, “Blackbeard would take incense sticks and glue them to his beard while going into battle so it looked like his head was on fire.” I asked Joe what he thought of that and he said, “Hmm, I was thinking of something a little different.” He had my face on his iPad with white cracked makeup, the Marie Antoinette wig and the costume of Louis the XIV. From then on, 90% of the characterization was from Joe and the hair and makeup department. They had better ideas than me. Everyday I felt like 80% of my work was done by these over-the-top costumes and ruffles and feathers.
Rooney, how did you create your Tiger Lily?
Rooney Mara: It’s like what Hugh said, a lot of it was done for us. We had an amazing script. We had Joe. We had an amazing hair and makeup team. I really spent a lot of time with the stunt department learning how to fight so I could stand up to Hugh, who’s just good at everything he does. It took a lot of really hard work to be able to come off as somewhat good at fighting. We were lucky enough that we got a good amount of rehearsal time and the three of us spending a lot of time together, That was really helpful.
As a former child actor, what do you do to stay out of trouble?
Rooney Mara: I’ve seen lots of child actors go off the rails and I don’t really want to do that.
What do you think about the internet being this new Wonderland that people can escape to?
Rooney Mara: There’s lot of ways about [getting to] Neverland. I don’t really know…
Hugh Jackman: Well, there are two of us on this panel who are parents. The internet is something I didn’t have as a child, and ultimately it’s an incredible tool. You can have any question answered, you can follow down any road you’re curious. I have to tell you, yesterday around 4 o’clock I went into my daughter’s room – it was her day off from school – and she was playing with her dolls and dollhouse and pretending. Please don’t tell her I’m telling this story, but nothing is really going to replace the imagination.
As Joe beautifully puts it in the movie, Neverland is the world of the child’s imagination. The whole movie is seen from the view of an 11-year-old. Nothing is going to replace the limitlessness of our imagination. Sure, the internet is able to answer questions and you can go places you have never gone, but nothing replaces the vastness of the imagination. As an adult, what I love about this movie, is that it makes me feel [like] that 11-year-old again.
Joe, you’re “introducing” Levi. Why did you decide to do that?
Joe Wright: Because that’s exactly what we’re doing. We saw over 4,000 videotaped auditions and it felt like very hard work. Suddenly Levi’s face popped up and it felt like a radiant, wonderful talent. I hope the world will be as thrilled as we were.
Garrett, you and Levi got off easy because your costumes weren’t that complicated, but Hugh and Rooney, that wasn’t the case by far; how did your costumes help transform you into your characters?
Garrett Hedlund: I know mine wasn’t as complicated as theirs, but it became complicated when rear of my pants ripped. Maybe I was wearing drawers or maybe I wasn’t. But we had to stitch them.
Hugh Jackman: For me, massively. The moment you see Blackbeard in mirrors being dressed, and by the way, on this movie I had to be dressed. On every film you get a dresser and I’m like, “I think I can put on jeans,” but for this movie I was like, “I think we need an extra person in here.” There were layers upon layers. Beautifully handmade boots. It was astonishing. The moment I put it on I felt like a show pony, like a pirate that loves playing Blackbeard. He loves being Blackbeard, he loves all the pomp and ceremony of it and the adoration.
Rooney Mara: I think costumes are one of the most helpful things for getting into character. My costume was incredible. It was inspired by Joe’s son who’s obsessed with belly buttons. It sounded like a cute idea: “Oh yeah, I’ll wear a midriff.” Two months later I’m like, “Why did I fucking do this?” It was really hard to fight in my costume because there were so many things dangling everywhere. It was hard to hide padding or harnesses under it. It was an incredible costume, but by week four I was ready to burn it.
As for the music you used in those big pirate ensemble scenes in the mine and on Blackbeard’s flagship – I’ve never heard a rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” done quite like that. How did that come about?
Hugh Jackman: As for the songs, that was Joe’s idea. It was not something I read in the script. I remember when we were trying it out there were some Warner Bros executives visiting rehearsals. I heard them as they went by and they said, “I didn’t know we were doing a musical.” Joe was like, “Let’s try it.” That was the atmosphere on set. We all filmed it with a lot of stomping, and the pirates had to go back in and record our vocals. So near the end of the shoot we were at the London recording studio and one by one we’d go in and record. I recorded my track and from the sound booth a very polite sound guy goes, “Mr. Jackman, that was fantastic, but it’s sounding a little Broadway.” [Hugh sings a little rendition of his Broadway-esque version.]
Why the music?
Joe Wright: It was just an idea. We had a hilarious week of pirate boot camp where all the actors… It’s amazing how actors jump at the idea of playing pirates, fully grown tough men, and they’re going “yeah, I’ll wear an eyepatch.” So we had the boot camp and I wanted to find some music that was right for the energy for them. We tried some sea shanties and they didn’t quite feel tough enough, then we tried some punk and the energy in the room changed and everyone started pogoing around. So I thought we’d give it a go.
What was behind changing the time period? How did that open up things, story-wise? How did it help the actors come into their own?
Joe Wright: The time period of Neverland is non-specific. I liked the idea of Neverland as a place where all time periods can collide. So you can have Elizabethan costumes, 1930s costumes, and The Ramones. Jason can explain more about the setting at the beginning of the movie in the Second World War.
Jason Fuchs: I wanted it to feel like Peter was really escaping from something, so in the original book it was set just around the turn of the 20th century, but I thought if we set it during WW II, it would heighten the desperation of a kid that wants to imagine a very different world. The second reason was that I really wanted to see pirate ships fighting spitfire planes. Selfishly, I thought that would be a cool sequence and in Joe’s hands, it was pretty spectacular.
Garrett Hedlund: When I first met with Joe, I was reading this origin story of Hook, and it’s not necessarily the version everybody knows and loves; in this version, Peter and Hook are allies, so it’s an interesting take. I met with Joe to see how he saw Hook and he said he saw Hook as a character out of an early John Ford film; if he wasn’t in Neverland, he’d be happy in the prairie on a horse. It was a new spin on Blackbeard and that was super interesting.
Hugh Jackman: It was freedom to play. I assume for Jason, he took this idea and ran with it. I’m the one actor here who’s playing a character that’s fresh to it. There’s a reference here, a cool link there, you can see the ways Joe and Garrett and I try to link things. In terms of the time period, Neverland is in your imagination, so anything is possible.
What was the most challenging or fun aspect of making the movie?
Rooney Mara: For me the most challenging part was the fight with Hugh. We shot that fight for four weeks and we practiced it way longer than that. It was my first time doing anything remotely like that and Hugh is an incredible fighter. He does stunts. He’s a dancer, so Hugh is used to picking up choreography. We’d be rehearsing this over and over and he’d pick it up so fast. He would literally just keep going and going and going. He never got tired or winded or complained. That was a really hard fight and we basically had to do it on a balance beam. On the day that it was time to shoot it we realized we had to do the fight with wires, because it was too dangerous to do it without them. That changes everything about your center of gravity and the way you move. It was really fun, but that was the most challenging part of the shoot for me.
Hugh Jackman: It was three or four weeks. That was physically a particularly challenging scene. I don’t remember when the decision was to take the fight onto the mast. I said that’s a brilliant idea, without realizing that my big feet in these boots were going to be on that balance beam. It was not easy. But I think acting-wise — and it’s something John and I talked about and I’m grateful for — it’s challenging finding the right tone for a movie like this, which is unabashedly enthusiastic and open. My character is larger than life in some ways and loves the sound of his own voice, but is also mournful, sad, and lonely, so you have to have the right amount of menace, but not too much. That kind of balancing is really challenging and fun. That’s why, if I have the choice, I try to work with directors like Joe who have great taste and allow actors to play with the freedom to not worry about whether or not they’re getting it right.
Garrett Hedlund: I had a fight sequence that lasted four weeks that was on a trampoline. I’m still trying to make sure my brain is still positioned right in my skull. Same thing, when I first met with Joe, it wasn’t in the script. There was a fight sequence but he said, “I have this idea. My son loves trampolines. How are you on the trampoline?” I didn’t know if it was my job but then I said, “Joe, I’m really great, I can do flips, backflips.” My opposition is played by Tae-Joo Na, one of the top martial artists in South Korea, so I had my work cut out for me in that scene. As difficult as it was at times, I still had fun. I wanted to be in one of those slapsticky things where the guy that appears to be in control and has the upper hand is just getting the shit beat out of him in a very comedic way. I love what stunt choreographer Eunice Huthart had done with it. It was awesome and wonderful.
Levi, was it challenging looking at Hugh in that get up? Were you really afraid?
Levi Miller: Yes, Blackbeard’s character is very intimidating, but Hugh is lovely. Blackbeard was played brilliantly. Challenging moments-wise, the most challenging day was the first day of filming, where I was underwater for two days straight. The first day I didn’t have the idea of the whole underwater part of it. I had my eyes open for the movie the majority of the time underwater. By the end of the day my eyes were just bulging out. My eyes were very sore. Then the next day I learned to close my eyes between takes.
With so many roles to choose from, did the cast feel any pressure playing these classic characters?
Garrett Hedlund: I wanted some pressure to take the job.
Levi Miller: No you didn’t!
Rooney Mara: I really wanted to work with Joe, but I also wanted to do a movie my family could see, where I’m not taking my clothes off or getting horribly abused by someone. I grew up loving fairytales and Peter Pan. It was getting to go to work every day, not take yourself so seriously and just play make believe. It was something really different for me. It was something I really wanted and needed to do.
Garrett Hedlund: I’m in complete agreement. I hadn’t foreseen myself being in a film like this until I met with Joe. Some of the material we focused on Hook and the evil side of Hook that everyone knows and loves, it was quite dark material. But Joe would ask me to be goofier with it and do a maniacal giggle. I was breaking through this barrier. You always feel like people are watching you all the time, so you try to hold back and resist. Joe wants the exact opposite, and I hadn’t really done a film like that before. To always be asked to be bigger and larger than life, after each take of exercising these aspects we’d just die laughing in the room together. I think my laughs were as maniacal as he asked.
It’s like Rooney said: You do these darker films and you’re sitting in the trailer and you’re stressed. You’re not eating. You’re not sleeping. Why not have an experience where you film a film and you have fun? Our souls need that. It’s refreshing. I never had that before. We’d have these long days and there are these massive sets where they made a zeppelin and stuff and it conveyed the same attitude. You saw all these kids and their faces light up when they’re on set. 200 extras dressed up as natives come onto the set and make it their home. You see them loosening up. Joe would play music between takes. Joe had worked with a lot of the crew members before. [They] were familiar with this to a degree and got into it immediately and everyone loosened up. There’d be 300 people dancing in the native village between takes. This is what we do this for.
Hugh Jackman: I’m glad you said that. It didn’t feel as pressured as a lot of these big movies usually do. Of course there’s pressure. We’re all runners, even Levi. We all understand. It’s a lot of money, it’s a beloved story. Joe just shouldered all that to leave us crew and actors to feel free to play. I’ve never been, but it was a little like what I imagine The Burning Man Festival is like. The other thing I want to mention is Levi, because he’s amazing. It’s his first film, and if there’s ever going to be pressure, imagine doing your first film and walking into that; the biggest set that had ever been built in England. It was massive. But with Joe and Levi at the helm it was fun, it was make believe, it felt like that. You couldn’t act opposite of Levi without getting infected with that sense of “can you believe we’re getting to do this?” This sense of joy. That’s what it was. I really take my hat off to these two guys, particularly Joe.
What did you pull from your own childhood for you to make this image of Peter Pan?
Jason Fuchs: My first childhood memory of the story was [the Steven Spielberg film] Hook and then the Peter Pan animated film. So I had all these ideas of what Peter Pan was like, but I really wanted to experience what Neverland was like through Peter’s eyes. There had been so many retellings of the story and takes on it, and I wondered what it was like for an 11-year-old boy to get taken to a world straight out of his imagination? Is it greater? Is it scarier? More exciting? That got me excited to create my own version of Peter Pan that was organically connected to the one in the book, but also at a different place in his life where it felt fresh and different and in some ways the stakes were higher. He still hasn’t figured out how to be Peter Pan, how to fly, and Levi found a beautiful way of portraying that. Between Joe and Levi, they created a unique take on the character that also felt true to the mythology.
Joe Wright: I just tried to put myself, my imagination, back in my 11-year-old self and try to see the world through his eyes. That was quite an exciting process for me. My 11-year-old self was filled with wonder and excitement and magic. My teenage self came and stamped all over that and told him to be quiet because it wasn’t cool. It was lovely to return to the uncool me and not worry about that stuff. Create a world of color, excitement and joy. And fear as well. It was a wonderful process for me, and feels, weirdly, like a very personal film for that reason, despite this huge, great production juggernaut thing that surrounds it. It feels like a tender, small film.
What were you thinking about with the backlash over the alleged whitewashing of Tiger Lily and people’s preconceived notions of these characters?
Joe Wright: When I first started considering the film and the world of Neverland before considering Tiger Lily’s casting, I thought about the community she is part of. I didn’t want to make them one specific nationality. The idea of Tiger Lily as Native American comes from Disney’s cartoon, not from Barrie’s source material. Barrie is kind of non-specific about Tiger Lily and her community’s race, so I decided trying to make the tribes and natives be native of planet Earth and indigenous of the globe. That felt like a kind of opportunity then to have these people come together to fight Blackbeard, who’s the kind of colonial villain who wants to overtake their land. Then when I got to thinking about Tiger Lily’s casting I thought I could cast her from anywhere. I had a lovely time meeting actresses from India, and China, and Japan, Africans, African Americans, Native Americans, First Nation Australian and so forth. Tiger Lily is described as being a warrior princess and there’s something regal about Rooney and something scary about her too. She’s quite badass, you don’t want to mess with her. Therefore she was the greatest actress that had the qualities described in the screenplay and that’s why I cast her. I think people’s concerns, which I fully understand, about the casting of a caucasian actress in the role, are justified until they see the movie. When people see the movie they’ll understand what I’m trying to do.
Rooney, you are in some very anticipated movies this year like Carol, how does your performance compare in respect to these films?
Rooney Mara: I have a hard time watching anything I’m in until five years later. I don’t have good perspective on myself. I’m super hard on myself and critical and when I watch things I’m in. I only see the things I wish I hadn’t done. I’m never pleased with myself until years later, and then I’m like “oh yeah, that’s not bad.”
Levi, what was it like to see yourself on the big screen?
Levi Miller: It was weird. I liked it. I enjoyed the film of course, but it was a weird feeling seeing myself on this gigantic screen and after seven months of filming… I liked it.
Rooney, What is it like working with young actors? In your earlier film Trash you also worked with kids.
Rooney Mara: I love it. A lot of people really don’t like working with children or younger kids. I also worked with two little girls on another film. I really love it. Working with Levi was one of the great joys of working on this film. He’s so open and curious, and he has no cynicism and made it so easy for us to come in and use our imaginations and play make believe. I find working with children, they don’t know how to lie yet, they’re just finding the truth in whatever they’re doing, I get a lot out of acting opposite of them. The experience acting in Trash was very different from any other experience I had working with children because there was a language barrier. I love it.
Tiger Lilly has a lot of really intense fight scenes. What do you think about what girls would think seeing it?
Rooney Mara: For me it was a reason I wanted to do this film. Like I said, I grew up loving fairy tales, but unfortunately in a lot of them the female characters end up being some sort of victim or damsel in distress. Tiger Lily wasn’t like that at all. In some ways she was more capable than the boys. She could fully take care of herself and then some. I loved and appreciated that about the script.
Joe Wright: One of my favorite audience responses has been from girls coming to see the movie and their favorite character is Tiger Lily. When asked what they like about Tiger Lily they respond “because she can do anything.” I’m always trying to portray as strong and powerful and those are the kind of women I like, so they’re the kind of women I like in my movie. It was a brilliant idea of Jason’s to make that final battle so much about Tiger Lily and Blackbeard. I liked the fact that Peter is pretty brave in what he does, especially when he goes to save Hook, but Hook’s pretty useless, really. I liked seeing Garrett beaten up, that made me laugh, so it all worked out just fine.
What was the thought process in writing her?
Jason Fuchs: I like writing strong female characters. I grew up with a strong Jewish mother who never accepted the first table given to her at any restaurant. The Tiger Lily character, in every iteration I’ve seen her in, felt under-served. She’s usually serving someone else’s goal or quest and reacting to events. So I was excited by the idea of a Tiger Lily that was very in charge of her own destiny, who had a very clear objective, and would do whatever was required to see it through. I think that Rooney’s Tiger Lily is the bravest character throughout the film. Peter is discovering bravery, he’s discovering his courage. When Peter is brave it’s because he’s having fun and doesn’t think before he acts. Tiger Lily is wise and knows the risk of what she’s getting into and still does what she feels she has to. I was excited by that and by having Rooney play the role, because I don’t think there are a lot of actresses that can carry that role with such strength and physical agility.
Did you do any research in handling the role of Peter Pan by look at the work of any past actors who played him?
Levi Miller: This is an origin story. It’s something that had never been seen before. I had seen the Peter Pan films previous to Pan, but I didn’t re-watch them. It’s different. It’s Peter, the boy who can’t grow up, and who can fly, but it’s a new idea. It’s him before he becomes Peter Pan, so he can be anything. He can be a boy who’s living in an orphanage. I discovered the boy through rehearsals. We had a sheet we wrote down the qualities of Peter on. He has all these personalities. He’s quite selfish. Even though he’s the brave hero of Neverland, he’s definitely selfish, because what he’s doing is all for his own achievement at the end. Of course there’s the sweet thing of finding his mother, but it’s for himself and I was excited to play with that.
Will there be another one?
Jason Fuchs: I’m hoping people respond well to this. I loved writing Neverland and seeing where these characters go. At the end of the film there’s a lot of the mythology left untold and unanswered questions about Hook, so if we’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to do another there’s a lot of stuff we’d like to put between our film and where Barrie’s book picks up.
Did anyone take anything from the set?
Joe Wright: I have Blackbeard’s sword.
Hugh Jackman: I stole that earring with a pearl… for my wife.
Garrett Hedlund: I took Levi’s map. There’s a part where Levi finds a map in a crashed pirate ship and I thought it looked exciting.
Levi Miller: I got to keep the Pan pipe, which was awesome. That was a cool thing to take.
Garrett Hedlund: I kept Tiger Lily’s outfit.
Joe Wright: He wore it one day on set.
Rooney Mara: We have a picture. (chuckles)
Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 8, 2015.
Photos 1-3 ©2015 Courtesy of Warner Bros. All rights reserved.
Photos 4-7 ©2015 Brad Balfour. All rights reserved.