Pan is the big family film offering over the September school holidays here in Australia. It was a pleasure to be able to speak with star Hugh Jackman about the film. You can listen to the full interview by clicking here.
Matt: You’re a big name in Hollywood now. You’ve won a Tony, an Emmy and you’ve been Oscar nominated. Do directors like Joe Wright come chasing you for roles like this or do you still have to go chasing them?
Hugh: On this one, he did come and meet me. Joe is cool and calm and it never feels like a chase. I was a huge fan of Joe’s and when we first grabbed lunch, I said I looked forward to reading the script and I asked him to tell me a little bit about the vision and how he saw the character. He then pulled out his iPad and he had a picture of me as Blackbeard with white make-up, the wig of Marie Antoinette, the costume of Louis XIV, and then these rapper’s jewels around my necks and on my fingers. I said straight away – “I’m in.” He’s a crazy, wild, eccentric filmmaker and I love that Warner Bros gave him this massive movie to do.
Matt: The special effects are amazing but one of the things that struck me about the film are the colours in the movie. I don’t think I’ve seen another film this year that’s this colourful and it’ll be great for younger audiences. Did you get an early sense of that from Joe?
Hugh: Absolutely. Joe is a theatrical beast by nature and we share that in common. He didn’t like green screen and so he built one of the largest, most incredible sets that I’ve been on in my life. They don’t often do it like that these days. You could almost get lost in the Neverland set. It was vibrant, bright and colourful. I think Joe’s idea is that Neverland is the product of a child’s imagination so he wanted it to feel colourful and magical and extraordinary. He wanted all the adults to be both frightening and ridiculous.
Matt: I love seeing child actors discovered as there’s such a freshness and innocence about them. Even better here is that we have a young Aussie in the leading role. What can you tell me about Levi Miller? What was he like on set?
Hugh: I’m really glad you said that because I think this is the beginning of big things for Levi. I remember standing next to a cameraman when he was doing a take. After they called out “cut”, I turned to the cameraman and said “how good was that?” He looked at me and jokingly said “don’t say anything… he has absolutely no idea how good he is… just shut up and we’ll keep going.” It’s funny that people like me and the rest of the acting world spend years training and studying but he made it look so easy. It was inspiring to watch.
Matt: I was reading that Levi was actually calling you Mr Jackman during the opening week of rehearsals. Was that the case?
Hugh: Yeah, he was very sweet and polite. His parents are the furthest thing from stage parents that you could imagine. He put down a tape and had couple of things and all of a sudden he’s on this huge movie. I remember him putting his hand out to shake mine and I was like “c’mon mate, we’re acting together.”
Matt: There are a lot of younger actors in this film. Are you able to help out and provide a lot of guidance when working with such a young cast?
Hugh: I’ve got to be honest, when you’re with kids, it reminds you how complicated adults can make things. We do all our research and we have our techniques and then we watch a young kid who has boundless energy because they love what they’re doing. You actually learn from them. I don’t think he really understands what acting is. He’s just there in front of a camera doing what is asked of him.
I saw him making the classic mistake of going to the craft services table that was filled with candy and I was like “you’ll be crashing in the mid-afternoon if you eat that.” It was little things like that which I could help with.
Matt: We’re generally accustomed to you playing heroes and good guys. We saw a different side of you in Chappie and now again here. Is it fun to slip into a role like this and do the complete opposite?
Hugh: It took me all this time to realise that it’s the hero who gets beaten up throughout the entire movie. He wins the final fight… but only just. The villain on the other hand wins every fight except the last one. You get the best dialogue and you’re in 40% of the film. I loved it. Joe Wright is a phenomenal filmmaker and even on this big expensive tent pole movies, he still finds ways to be creative, different and original.
Matt: I always think the secret of a great action or fantasy film is a great villain. One of the cool things about your character here is that he’s forever changing personalities. One second he’s friendly, the next he’s angry. How much of a say do you get in creating this version of Blackbeard that we see on screen?
Hugh: Joe and I talked about it a lot. He said to me – “imagine you are the figment of the imagination of a child.” Neverland is a fantasy world and you’re the scariest thing in it. What would be scary to a child? For me, it’s always the adult who could be charming and nice for one second and could then take your head off with the next second. You had to walk on egg shells because you had absolutely no idea which way this person was going to turn. That’s what we tried to do. During some takes, I would change it up a bit to keep these kids guessing.
Matt: Is there a long rehearsal process for a film like this?
Hugh: Not so much here. There’ll be a 3 week rehearsal period that is more about make-up tests and wig tests. You do a table read and you do some bonding/drinking. Joe has a background in puppetry and theatre and so we did a lot of improvisation during rehearsals. They were the funniest times and they helped us create these characters. For people like Levi, it helped him get comfortable with the tone of the film also.
Matt: The film isn’t a musical but there are some unexpected musical numbers. An interesting touch you’d have to say?
Hugh: I don’t think the studio were expecting them either. Joe came in one morning and started handing our Nirvana song lyrics and I was like “well this is interesting, is this kind of a warm up?” Joe was like “nah, I think this could be a cool introduction for Blackbeard.” I remember looking over to the studio executives when they came in to check things out and all of their faces were like “what? I don’t remember reading this in the script.” It ended up being fantastic and that’s what great about Joe. He’s not afraid to do something radical.
Matt: We’ve seen other version of Peter Pan made before – both live action and animation. Is there a worry that audiences might be thinking this is more of the same? What’s the “sell” here to make them think this is something different?
Hugh: To use common Hollywood vernacular, this is a prequel. It’s an origin story of Peter Pan. The story most are familiar with is when he comes back from Neverland to find Wendy and to bring them back with him. Here, Peter is a young orphan being taken up to Neverland and it’s about how he becomes Peter Pan. By the way, I highly recommend every adult reading J.M. Barrie’s book. It’s a beautiful book that I hadn’t read before. There’s a reference in there to Blackbeard being the bosun for Captain Hook. That little snippet gave screenwriter Jason Fuchs the idea to create this character. If you liked the musical Wicked and how that references The Wizard Of Oz, I think you’ll like what this film does to the Peter Pan.
Matt: What have you got coming up? I believe we’re going to be seeing you in Brisbane soon for some stage shows?
Hugh: I’m so thrilled about it. I’ll be in Brisbane on the 5th and 6th of December. I can’t wait. It’s been years since I did the show on Broadway and we’re expanding it now to have a huge cast, an orchestra, singers, dancers and choirs. We’re going to have a great party.
Matt: Are you working on anything film-wise at the moment?
Hugh: I just did a movie called Eddie the Eagle about the infamous ski jumper. Only the Brits could make a movie like this. He’s a great character and it’s an inspirational sports story but it’s mainly funny. I’ve got a little bit left to do on that and then at some point, I’ve got another Wolverine movie to make.