Hugh Jackman: ‘Pan reinvents a story everyone thought they knew’

Hugh Jackman Pan
Warner Bros.

In October 2015, Première met Hugh Jackman on the occasion of the release of Pan, by Joe Wright. We are republishing this interview on the occasion of the rebroadcast of the film, tonight on TMC.

What convinced you to play in Bang by Joe Wright?

Like almost all children in the world, I grew up with the story of Peter Pan and its adaptation because it is a very beautiful fable that celebrates the power of the imagination. Certainly, one day we must grow up, pay bills and die, but Peter Pan encourages us to preserve the magic of childhood: it is this which makes our lives more joyful. And this story that begins in an orphanage speaks to me even more since I adopted my children. So as much to say that it was an incredible opportunity to participate.

What the hell is Blackbeard doing in Captain Hook country?

Pan sheds light on another era of Neverland: that of Blackbeard’s reign. It tells about the arrival of Peter but also how the young Hook became what he is. Joe imagined this whole story from a very precise sentence at the beginning of JM Barrie’s novel which indicates that Captain Hook was a servant of Blackbeard.

Why is this adaptation of Peter Pan so offbeat?

Joe brings a very surprising point of view on a story that everyone thought they knew. He started from the principle that the imaginary country can be reinvented endlessly and that’s why he mixed all styles and genres, there are even some scenes from wild musicals (Editor’s note: like when Blackbeard and his slaves start singing Smells Like Teen Spirit from Nirvana in chorus…). Similarly, all of the adults in the film are both terrifying and ridiculous because they are seen through children’s eyes.

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It’s a risky bet…

On the contrary, it is a very interesting representation of the imaginary country: it is a world which, in essence, has no meaning, no logic, it is elusive and unpredictable. This is particularly well shown in the scene where the pirates capture the children: there is something terrifying in the costumes of these buccaneers, but also strangely joyful and soaring in the general choreography of the scene. I think Joe understood the role of the fairy tale: to externalize the fears of children and give them the strength to fight the monster that is lurking under their beds.

Was it easy to recreate Neverland?

Joe Wright wanted to abolish the green screen and shoot as much as possible in natural settings. So much so that we had a good time on a gigantic creek on which huge waves came to throw themselves: it was really the imaginary country, we literally lost ourselves there. This film set was transformed into a dance club as soon as the singing parts were rehearsed. We made Nirvana roar there for three weeks. But what particularly struck me is that this imaginary country was precisely “imagined” collectively: actors and extras, we were all free to shape our costumes by drawing from gigantic boxes. We had to get to know each other and to sing together to give substance to this universe. It really is a great memory. I will never have such an experience again.

How do you get into the black beard skin?

It’s a very intense role, much less explosive than Wolverine’s, but decidedly darker. It requires a lot of concentration. Blackbeard is someone dangerous who flees the light, who lives alone in a boat and sometimes thinks he’s a rock star to manipulate crowds. He is dressed like Louis XIV and wears cadaverous white makeup. Playing him was really entertaining, I had to sing, I had a sword fight and I did a lot of stunts on the ship… so much that I bruised everywhere and I finished by breaking my voice. I was unable to utter a word for a week. My wife hated me!

You are rather convincing as a rock star…

Whoa how you go! Music has indeed a big place in my life, listening to it allows me to transcend my emotions, it’s a bit like meditation that I practice daily.

After Wretched and The Foutainyou shave your head again for a role, admit that you love it?

A little … it’s very pleasant to swim, I assure you (laughs). The problem is that I immediately pass for a dealer as soon as I walk down the street. Besides, I spent a few days at Disneyworld with my children, bald and bearded. Every time I accompanied them to the swimming pool we passed a girl, a little stoned, slumped near the pool. I could see her looking at me funny and then, one day, she finally said to me in a hoarse voice: “you remind me of someone… you really look like a pirate, man!”

Interview by Mathias Averty

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