“Neverland,” a prequel to the popular children’s story “Peter Pan,” will begin airing on the SyFy Channel beginning with Part One on Sunday, December 4th and Part Two on Monday, December 5th. MediaMikes recently took part in a question and answer session with the film’s stars, Charlie Rowe, Rhys Ifans and Anna Friel and “Neverland” writer/director Nick Willing.
Mike Smith: Nick, what made you decide to write a prequel rather than do say a remake. How did you come up with the idea?
Nick Willing: I’m interested in the – I was interested in the genesis and how it is that a boy doesn’t want to grow up and I was interested in how it is that it ended up in a place called Neverland and what that was and why there were pirates and fairies and Indians there. I was just – you know, when I read the book I loved it so much that my imagination ran wild and I kind of wanted to know more of the facts of the story and I thought that would make quite an intriguing movie.
MS: How did you become involved in the project?
Anna Friel: Charlie, you go first. It’s your story.
Charlie Rowe: Well I mean I’d worked with Nick a long time ago on my very first job when I was nine and so the minute I heard that he was directing and he’d written this, I was – I just wanted to get involved. Originally I was going up for the part of Fox, Peter’s best friend. And I went out for that and I wasn’t too keen on it. And then I read the script and I was like, “mum, I just really want to go out for Peter” and then the next day Nick called and was like “I want you to go for Peter.” And so that was just absolutely amazing and I got the part eventually and I’m so glad I did. Thank you very much Nick.
NW: Yeah. I knew he was good but – because I had worked with him before, I thought I can’t work with him again. I’ve got – there must be some other kid out there. I must have seen 400 kids and then finally right at the end he walked in for Fox and I went “ah, shit…that’s Peter Pan. So it was – I should have gone with my first instinct, you know.”
AF: I loved it…and it was one of the best things I’d read. I loved the whole fantastic element of it. I loved the idea of playing a baddie and then a female baddie and introducing a new character. So it was a great stage with which to write with and I had a conversation with Nick on the phone and he spoke so eloquently about the story and what he intended to do with it and how to work within that story and how he could make that world become true and told me that it would be one of the most fun shoots I ever did and it ended up being that.
Rhys Ifans: Yeah. And I’d like to reiterate what Anna said. You know, I hadn’t met Nick. I was sitting in a bar in a beautiful village in Spain and I received this script and read it in one go and that’s kind of my measuring stick for any, you know, for any script. It’s if you don’t put it down, it’s worth considering and then Nick pretty much said the same to me that it would be a, you know, a joyous (occasion) telling a beautiful story and a story that explains another story that we’re all familiar with. And I just from a personal level – the Hook – Nick’s version goes a long way into describing the Hook we see in the novel into this – painting his psychosis and, you know, his arrival at the embodiment of evil.
MS: Nick, can you talk about the casting process and also if you wrote the story with any actors in mind?
NW: I wrote the part of Hook… I really wanted Rhys from the beginning. And even when that – because the thing about Rhys is that he’s – he does – he’s one of the few actors that is incredibly powerful and imposing on the screen but at the same time shows a certain vulnerability. Hook to me – if Hook as villainy could seem vulnerable, that would be cool I thought. And so I kind of had in my mind this tall figure or Rhys I have to admit. Anna too was – funny enough but also – I know it sounds weird but also – in fact, when I cast a movie, I always think who would be the best person and I just try and go for them, you know, and if I don’t – and if I get them, that’s fantastic. I’ve always been very lucky with this. Bob Hoskins too I thought I’d love – I mean because I’ve seen him obviously in Spielberg’s version. To me he was the embodiment of Smee. I couldn’t think of – I couldn’t get him out of my head when I was writing and I always imagined that he’d be perfect for Smee and indeed he said yes. I mean I was – so I kind of got three hits. And then with Charlie, I’ve just told you that story. It turned out to be perfect. So we were very, very lucky or at least I was very lucky to get all the people I kind of dreamed of and it’s proved to be, you know, true. I mean one of the things about making this film was that it was quite a collaborative process in all. You know, you’ve got to get together – there’s a little kind of team and working with these actors are perhaps one of the better experiences I’ve ever had.
MS: Rhys, Anna and Charlie, can you talk a little bit about the challenges of putting your mark on characters that people are so familiar with.
CR: Yeah. Well I mean I actually – it was my first proper big part and I was just more scared about actually being any good at acting. But I was lucky on set to have Rhys and Anna who really taught me a lot – just taught me a lot. They were – I’m very grateful for that. I felt that I went into doing the show as just a little kid really, a little child actor, and I think I’ve come out as an actor; or I’d like to think so anyway. Also looking at Nick and being around Nick all the time, I realized that he was actually – he was this character Peter that he’d written about. So I just used to look at how he was behaving and just replicated it really.
AF: Nick’s really set the tone for it also and he wanted individual and unique performances because it was part of the story that we’d never heard before and particularly from my character; she’d never – she was completely created and invented and it’s always hard to play or accept a character to play that people will maybe not like and to play it badly. And Nick said, “you may go as far as you want with that” and we had a great rehearsal process in which Rhys and I played around a lot. You know, the different characteristics and how those two came together and what made Hook be intrigued by this incredibly powerful woman who used her prowess and her femininity to get what she wanted.
RI: And you know I think just to pick up on what Charlie said, both Anna and I have said and I’m sure Nick would agree, that I was not working with a boy. I was working with a professional actor from the very beginning to the very end and then I can put my hand to my heart and say he is one of the most professional, eloquent young men I’ve ever, ever worked with so that was a pleasure from the oft.
CR: Thank you very much.
RI: You’re welcome. And you see him – not only did he – you see the character he plays become – you just see this huge change in the character he becomes. He develops and gets all these new sort of addled emotions and struggles with, you know, the morality that Hook and Bonny present him with and I think it’s a really, really mature performance. So throughout, you know, between him, Anna and Nick, I felt the safest I’ve ever felt.
MS: Did you have any involvement from the Barrie estate when you were putting this together initially?
NW: No. I don’t – I didn’t have any involvement in the Barrie estate. I mean the one I would have liked to call is Barrie himself. But unfortunately, of course, he’s no longer with us but I’d love to be able to call him and say, ” hey, what do you think?” But we’re always doing this of course and we’re always creating vivacious, variance on famous stories; you know, whether they be Shakespeare or the Greek myths and it’s always keeping them alive for us.
MS: Did they have to approve this project before it was made?
NW: No. No. The book is in the hands of the Great Ormond Street Hospital ; the original book was donated. I don’t believe there is creative voice as such that you can approach and ask about the story and the book but we did approach the hospital and we donated a large sum as a gesture of appreciation and good will but that’s kind of – that’s what we did but we didn’t – I don’t know anyone else to contact because the book belongs to the hospital.
MS: Rhys, you were brilliant in “Anonymous.” As an actor do you enjoy more doing a period piece – more of a period film than modern day?
RI: Well, the joy of the period film is your take into another world. And the costumes also I think in a period piece determines the way you move and consequently the way you breathe and when the way you breathe effects the way you think. So it is always kind of a more of a transformation.
And especially in this case and I guess in “Anonymous,” you know, it is joyous for any actor to enter other grounds of consciousness and thought and that’s always… at the end of the day we just like – we all like dressing up and playing around.