There have been a few versions of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan story on screen, both animated and live action, but the new movie Pan from director Joe Wright imagines life before Peter became the boy who never grew up. Taking the orphan Peter from war torn London to the mysterious Neverland, the movie teams the boy – as played by terrific newcomer Levi Miller – with a young, pre-crocodile Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and tough native girl Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) in a fight against a truly infamous pirate, Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman).
Sitting in the ballroom of Claridges hotel looking dapper in a dark suit, Jackman doesn’t look much like a bad guy, and his welcoming, chatty personality is far removed from the bald, bearded tyrant he portrays in the movie. In fact, Hugh has a reputation for being one of the nicest men in Hollywood and his mother was even told about it when she joined him at the Pan premiere the previous night. “When people told her ‘your son is the nicest guy in Hollywood’, she replied: ‘I think we used to call that manners,’” Jackman laughs.
the Pan press conference
Better known as the X-Men superhero Wolverine, Jackman seemed an unusual choice for the role of Blackbeard (he makes children work in mines as slaves! Boo!) but he reached for some classic performances as inspiration for the villainous part.
“The Wicked Witch Of The West was a villain I thought of, as she was from one of the first movies I’d ever seen and I remember being terrified and enthralled by that character,” he recalls. “For me, Hannibal Lecter, Alan Rickman’s character in Die Hard, they are the villains I remember. And when Joe [Wright] and I talked, he reminded me that this [Peter Pan] is taken from a child’s imagination, so all the adults – especially the pirates – have to be portrayed as kids see adults, which is as frightening and ridiculous. For Blackbeard, I had bigger portions of frightening, but there also has to be some ridiculous, too.”
The look of his character helped Jackman get into the role of the nefarious pirate and he even had some suggestions of how he should look. “When I was in early talks with Joe, my son had a subscription to the Junior National Geographic Magazine and it had a feature on Blackbeard,” he adds. “I read this amazing story about him putting incense in his beard and he would light it on fire before a battle so that when he jumped onto a ship it looked like his head was on fire. I thought that was awesome.”
“I suggested it to Joe, and he said ‘erm, no’!” The director was obviously thinking flaming beards may worry the movie’s health and safety department, so instead he showed Jackman a photo of how he imagined Blackbeard would be. “It was a photo of my face with white cracked make-up like an Old Master’s painting, wearing the wig of Marie Antoinette and the costume of Louis XIV,” he recalls. “That was a much better idea. In truth 95% of the look was Joe, the costume department and make up department, and their ideas were so much better than mine. It’s great – you walk on set with that wig and costume and everyone says ‘Wow’, when all you are doing is just standing there!”
One thing Jackman did contribute, much to the consternation of fans of his usually thick wavy hair, was to volunteer to shave it all off for the role – even posting the shave on Instagram. “It was down to laziness, really,” he laughs. “The hair and make up people on Pan said ‘we can do a bald cap for you ever day’ and when I asked how long that would take, they said 45 minutes. So I decided to shave my head so I got 45 extra minutes of sleep every day!”
While fans may have been shocked, the reaction at home was altogether different. “My wife said ‘I think this is one of the sexiest characters you’ve ever played,’” he grins. “It was a very good summer last year. In the UK you talk about the summer of 76 – I talk about the summer of 2014!”
Hugh Jackman meeting fans at the Pan premiere
As well as joking about the effect the black leather costume had on his wife, Jackman was full of praise for his Pan costars, especially now 12-year-old Levi Miller, who plays the young Peter Pan in his first ever movie role. “When I first met Levi, I had arrived at rehearsals and got out of the car and he came over and said ‘Hi Mr Jackman, it’s nice to meet you.’ I said, ‘I’m Hugh, Mr Jackman is my dad!’ He was so polite, so respectful and he continued that way for the whole film.”
“We are ridiculously lucky to do our job and we all love it, but then you are working with an 11 year old on his first job who can’t believe he is in Neverland and not at school, and he’s having the time of his life, and it is infectious. It reminds you we are the luckiest people on the planet. He’s an extraordinary actor and the world is about to fall in love with him. It was a real privilege to work with him.”
It seems that young Miller has already adopted a more grown-up outlook, too, one which Jackman was particularly impressed with. “Joe had all the cast and crew over after the premiere in London for a party at his house,” Hugh laughs.
“At 10.30pm, since we were doing press interviews the next day, I decided to head off, and just as I was going out the door, young Levi was just arriving!”
from left to right: Nonso Anozie, Hugh Jackman, director Joe Wright, Garrett Hedlund, Levi Miller, Cara Delevingne, Rooney Mara
Pan opens in UK cinemas on Friday 16th October and you can read the Movies4Kids review HERE.