Mandy Griffiths talks with Hugh Jackman about Neverland, becoming Blackbeard, music inspiration, working with Director Joe Wright and getting lost on set in between giant mushrooms.
I was so excited to see this film. I admit I was a total “Hook” fan growing up. We used to play it in the backyard with my cousins…
Hugh: Who were you?
I was Maggie, Peter Pan’s (Robin Williams) daughter but in hindsight I should have been a pirate. I was a little constrained by my gender role. But it was great to see a new side to the story that we’re not familiar with, and reimagined for a new generation. What is it do you think about the Peter Pan and Neverland story that makes it so timeless?
Hugh: It really celebrates the best of youth, of imagination. That sense of fantasy and magic and wonder – that the world is an adventure – with Neverland obviously being a metaphor for a child’s imagination. And that imagination never goes but we forget to access it when we’re older because we’re grown up now and we’re more responsible. But having just re-read J.M. Barrie’s book it is incredibly poignant, and a real sort of warning to adults – don’t lose that sense of wonder, that imagination, don’t lose it because that is the essence of life. I think that’s why it obviously speaks to adults forever. And for kids, it’s just an out and out great adventure with great characters. And I think what’s great about this story is that it’s all the characters you love but a different storyline. You’re discovering how they became the characters you love.
Your character, Blackbeard, is pretty new for this realm, and it’s a different character than anything you’ve played before. How did [director] Joe Wright pitch the character to you?
Hugh: When I heard about idea of the prequel I thought ‘oh interesting but will it be just another version of Peter Pan dressed up’? But when I read the script I went ‘oh actually this is really smart’. When I read the script it made me feel like a kid again, reading it, as did the film when I watched it. When I met Joe I knew a lot about Blackbeard – historical Blackbeard – and I heard some great things about him. He used to have sticks of incense lit and stuck into his beard when he would fight so he would jump onto another ship and it looked like his head was on fire. And he’d take people by surprise then run you through. And Joe said ‘no were not going to do that’. He showed me on his iPad there was my face and superimposed on my head was the wig of Marie Antoinette. And superimposed on my body was Louis XIV’s actual costume. And I said ‘I’m in.’
Well you definitely pull it off.
Hugh: Yeah there’s a bit of scenery chewing going on that’s for sure.
He is a very extravagant character, public facing, but privately he came across as quite haunted. Do you still look for the more humanising elements when you’re playing a character like that?
Hugh: Always. That’s what I think is the best part of being an actor is to make it as three dimensional as possible. There is a Dorian Gray sort of element to the character that he never wants to get old. He just wants to stay young and on top and doesn’t want to accept the march of time – a bit like Peter. He is, however, a little sad and lonely and the things he’s had to do to get there has left him on his own. It was nice to be able to play with that lonelier side to him and play that on screen.
Young Levi Miller as Peter Pan, this is his first feature film, did you feel quite protective towards him or did you go more method and be like ‘I’m going to kill you Levi’ between takes?
Hugh. No I was definitely protective [laughs]. When I first met Levi he stuck out his hand and said ‘Hello Mr Jackman’ and I keep forgetting I’m an adult actually and I was like ‘please call me Hugh, Mr Jackman is my Dad.’ More importantly I understand he’s grown up in Australia and probably a seen a lot about me over the years but within an hour we were doing theatre games and wrestling on a mat and we just became friends. And I said ‘Mate, we’re just going to have fun’. Film sets work best when they’re relaxed. People are better in front of the camera when they’re relaxed. And Joe just set this incredible atmosphere and I just tried to keep it, I’d try to make Levi laugh and try and keep things bubbling, I suppose, between takes, and he just had the time of his life. And he carries the film. Effortlessly. And that is something you can’t teach someone. You’ve either got that or not and I don’t know exactly what that is, but the camera just loves him and you fall in love with him as an audience.
Absolutely I was so impressed, and he just had that charisma and innocence that comes across on screen.
And speaking of the atmosphere on set I understand there was a lot of music played to keep the energy up. Did you have an anthem or a song that really revved you up?
Hugh: Yes, I used to play a lot of Die Antwoord for me [laughs]. Joe really likes Blackbeard, because there’s a slightly twisted side to Joe, and he really likes that sort of darkness. So there was a lot of ‘I fink you’re freaky and I like you a lot’ [laughs]. We used to dance a lot. The gag reel was quite extensive actually of all the pirates dancing to some weird songs.
Will that be on the DVD/Bu-ray?
Hugh: Probably [laughs].
And your entrance song as well to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was unexpected. As a nineties girl I was very excited. Did you have to relearn the words?
Hugh: Yes. ‘Mosquito, mulatto, albino’, I kept getting them wrong. You realise it’s one of those anthems that people really don’t know the lyrics to [laughs]. But that was an idea that Joe Wright came up with during rehearsals, it was not in the script, and he just came up with it one day and we were like ‘perfect’. I remember looking over at the Warner Bros execs and they were like ‘is this a musical? I don’t remember it being a musical’.
Yeah ‘did we audience demographic test that?’. It’s interesting that for a lot of kids watching this film it will be the first time they hear [Smells Like Teen Spirit] and they’ll associate it with this movie.
Hugh: Yes that’s true. I hadn’t thought of that. I’ll have to ask my daughter what she thought of that song.
Now this universe has been established would you like to see it continue?
Hugh: Oh yes, I think there’s a lot of fun to be had even before you get into the Peter Pan story that we know. You can start to see the direction of the characters, you can see where it’s heading. And I don’t what the plans are or what the next script would be, I think everyone’s just waiting to see how this one goes, but they’re characters people love, and if they love them in this film then there’s definitely room for more.
Joe Wright certainly brought a great vision to it. Would you work with him again?
Hugh: In a heartbeat. I love Joe. I think he’s an incredible visionary. He comes from a theatrical background so I understood his language and I felt totally at home. He likes to rehearse. He’s old fashioned in a way. And I haven’t told anyone this but he likes whoever the lead actor is to be like the head of department. He told me how Keira Knightley, who was the lead, used to have go and greet actors when they arrived on set for the first time, welcome them to the group. That kind of ‘we’re all in this together’. And we’re all going to commit to this together and we would go and rehearse for two or three weeks together in a room. No matter what size role you had we were all in there together. And that’s something that is so rare that I love.
And I understand not much green screen? They created all the sets and the ships physically.
Hugh: I was told it was the biggest set they’ve ever built in England. It was absolutely massive. When I first had my hair and makeup done we went out to do a camera test and we went on the set and I said ‘I’ll walk to Joe. Don’t make him come to me.’ It was this massive place. And they were like ‘oh I think he’s setting up a shot, not sure where he is’. I was like that’s fine we’ll find him. It took us 15 minutes to find him. And there were three PAs all talking to each other trying to find him. Finally they were like ‘I found him’ but then it was like ‘well where are you?’ ‘oh by the big mushroom over by the native village’. It was crazy [laughs].
Haha, which big mushroom?
Hugh: Yes. The magic one.
But not that kind of magic.
Hugh: No [laughs].
PAN opens in Australian cinemas 24 September and 9 October in the US.