Interview with Charlie Rowe, Rhys Ifans, Anna Friel, & Writer/Director Nick Willing from Neverland

Neverland is a two-part miniseries, airing on Syfy tonight, Sunday, December 4th, and Monday, December 5th at 9/8c. It is a prequel to the Peter Pan story we all know. Writer/Director Nick Willing describes the mini-series as “a story of who & where Peter came from, who he was. Where the lost boys came from, how they ended up in Neverland and what Neverland is and why it’s full of pirates and Indians and fairies and crocks and why it’s magical and why it is that Peter doesn’t want to grow up.”

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a conference call with three of the stars, Charlie Rowe (Peter Pan), Rhys Ifans (Jimmy Hook), and Anna Friel (Captain Bonny), as well as writer/director Nick Willing. Check out the highlights from the conversation after the jump!

On the new character, Captain Bonny

Anna: Well I think if – I’m not passing the buck but I think if I hand that question first of all to Nick who created it, he will answer it far more eloquently and articulately than I and then I will tell you the bits that I feel but he created the character and I think Nick it would be nice for you to explain why you chose to create Captain Bonny and I’ll say what I did to embody that.

Nick Willing: Okay. Very briefly Captain Bonny is an incredibly beautiful, vivacious rather nasty, slightly twisted and irresistible captain of the Jolly Roger. You probably think that the captain of the Jolly Roger was Michael James Hook but no. It’s – it is actually this rather extraordinary woman. And to find out why it is that she is the captain of the Jolly Roger and how it is that Hook becomes eventually its captain, you have to watch our movie because our movie is about how it is that all these people became the people we know and love; it’s a prequel. And – but Anna – I have said that Anna does it – does an amazing job of bringing her to life. Incredible. And one of the roles of Captain Bonny in our film is to be the conduit, the trigger for liberating Hook from the repressed Edwardian gentlemen that he starts out as.

Anna: She was a woman who’d been stuck on a ship with the same 20 men or 25 men; however many – so two per 100 years or more. And when Captain Hook arrives he’s like a God that’s come from the sky and she wants all his knowledge. She’s a very smart woman and has a great understanding of astrology and I think makes a great captain but she becomes instead greedy and wants more and more and more and I think doesn’t want to go back to her old life because she won’t have the power that she’s discovered being in Neverland. And I’ve just become fascinated with female pirates. I think it’s a more fantastic thing today. If I could go back in history and be anyone, I’d be a captain of a ship.

On how the actors became involved in the project & the casting process

Charlie: Well I mean I’ve 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 so 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.

Nick: 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…That’s Peter Pan. So it was – I should have gone with my first instinct, you know.

Anna: 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 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 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: 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 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 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 his arrival at the embodiment of evil.

Nick: 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 one of the few actors that is incredibly powerful and imposing on the screen but at the same time shows a certain vulnerability. And 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 was also – I know it sounds weird but in fact, when I cast a movie, I always think who would be the best person and I just try and go for them 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 – there’s a little kind of team and working with these actors are perhaps one of the better experiences I’ve ever had.

On getting Bob Hoskins to come back as Smee—who he played in the movie “Hook”

Nick: Well it was very easy to get Bob to do it. In fact, he said oh, good. I’ve done all the research already so he was really up for it.

The – is he very different? He is a bit different from the other Smee. My Smee or this Smee is the ship’s captain and he’s a lover of fine cuisine and he sees the lost boys as a very good, new source of fresh meat.

And so he’s not quite the same Smee. I mean these evil characters are all evil. I think one of the things I wondered and thought was delicious about the book, the original book, is how Barrie made all his evil characters funny and accessible and would make jokes as they’re killing people. I found that incredibly McCabe and rather delicious. So I kind of tried to do a version of that with some of the other characters like Starkey and Smee obviously.

But the thing about – the wonderful thing about Bob Hoskins is that as soon as you see him on screen, he’s like seeing a very old friend, a cuddly old friend. He is actually very cuddly in real life – it has to be said. We all cuddled him.

But when you see him, he looks like this really sympathetic sweet, generous person and to make him a vicious pirate seemed totally appropriate.

On putting their marks on familiar characters/the intimidation in taking on such iconic roles

Charlie: 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. And also I – 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.

Anna: 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 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.

Rhys: 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.

Charlie: Thank you very much.

Rhys: I think his performance, you know – 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, between him, Anna and Nick, I felt in the safest hands I’ve ever felt.

[As for the intimidation…]

Rhys: Well in Hooks case the boots that you have to fill are literally big because they’re, you know, there have been so many Hooks and each and every one of them has worn big boots.

Anna: I took your hair thank goodness Rhys. You didn’t have the original Hook hair. Bonny got that look.

Charlie: Bonny got good curls this time.

Rhys: It wasn’t intimidating. It – because it was a back story, I kind of just [read] over maybe every other Hook throughout history had been thinking of subtextually. So I just played everyone’s subtext and so and I hope they’re grateful for that. It was really hard work.

Charlie: Yeah. I am – I would say extremely excited when I got the part. You know, danced around my house for ages. But I was hugely nervous of the fact that every single boy and girl around the world had grown up with this magical story and every boy has played with their wooden swords in the playground with their best friend being Peter Pan and Captain Hook. And so you know like Rhys, we both had huge boots to fill and I was very nervous about it. I mean I hope people like the character that I’ve tried to create because I don’t – as Anna has said before, this isn’t – it’s not just – he isn’t Peter Pan this boy. He’s a completely new character that we’ve never seen before and yeah. I hope I did him justice.

On building a new character from the ground up

Anna: Well I think when you’re given something new it’s always exciting because you’re the first one to do it so you’re not having to live up to any expectations or be compared to anyone who’s ever done it before. You know, there’s pros and cons for both of them.

You can watch the Peter Pans or watch the Hooks and try and do variations on them which I think in this case needed Rhys or Charlie did. They completely did their own invention of age old characters in story telling but for me, I always like a challenge. And I like to have things that excite me and is something new and a little bit of a fox to be taken and I’ve never played a character like this before.

As I said before, it’s always hard playing a character that people necessarily won’t like and that’s usually done – is a role and the job of Hook. And I think that the fact that Nick wrote a very complex Hook and gave him a back story and where did his dark side come from and to be influenced by a woman I thought was quite an interesting thing to look at.

On the challenges of playing a female pirate captain who is watchable & likeable but tough

Anna: Oh, I love that you said watchable and likeable. That’s good. I did suppose I did my job if you think that. Get into really tight, tight leather trousers everyday and those corsets. I’d say physically that was the hardest thing and learning to use a sword as being – and wrapped up in that tight corset. Being on the – what they call it when we did – you know, we hung from on the – it’s wasn’t a trapeze. No. The harnesses. At least I didn’t have to fly. I know that must have been the hardest thing for Charlie. I didn’t have to fly.

I don’t think – I don’t look back at these scenes and think of anything being hard. I just found it fantastic fun. Maybe with the wind machines keeping the musket hats on. …it was just – I have nothing but really fond memories of it and I don’t know. I feel like the remaining likeable wasn’t really kind of – wasn’t my aim. It wasn’t really something I had to do. It was just becoming the character and finding an action that made us feel that she came from the 1700s.

And also I think my biggest question to Nick – when I accepted it I said but how am I going to be believable as small as I am that I’d run this ship surrounded by these huge, massive burly men. Who’s going to take me seriously? And Nick said well go online and research female captains and pirates and I did and came across a wonderful one called Granuale who I’ve since become kind of obsessed with. And it’s a story that we don’t know but at that time so, so many years ago, women did – there were certain women who ruled the seas.

On recreating vs. reimagining the original stories

Nick: They’re all very difficult for me these films. The Tin Man which was the Wizard of Oz was more a kind of reimagining of that world in a modern setting. Alice was me going crazy and creating my own story around what I imagined Wonderland would be like today 150 years old.

While this is the first time I’ve really tried to do a more traditional prequel to a fantasy story that is – could be plausible – a plausible part of the mythology of Peter Pan. 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 – 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 story and I thought that would make quite an intriguing movie.

And so it was – they were all daunting because they’re all incredibly revered stories.

But one of the things I think people appreciate is that if you keep that story alive, keep reinventing, keep trying something new, keep making up your own stories around that famous story, then you always go back to the famous story itself and you keep that something that we all treasure alive for longer. That’s kind of how I see it.

On the non-adversarial start to Peter Pan and Hook’s relationship

Nick: Well Hook is – for me I was interested in – I mean maybe I should pass this to Rhys because I know he will say it better than I could possibly say it but I was interested in Hook as a boy also – as a character with a sort of Peter Pan syndrome who had yet to grow up. And the relationship between him and Peter who looks up to him and wants to be like him and who admires him enormously as a role model. And how in the gradual deterioration of that friendship – that relationship and friendship because Hook wants things that aren’t always right for the world and for Peter and how that relationship damages Peter to the point where he is the boy who doesn’t want to grow up.

That to me seemed like quite a good story to tell. And it seemed like a modern story to tell. I mean I suppose it’s universal. It will always be told. But the idea that we aren’t always initiated in the way that we should be as men. That’s about it. What do you think?

Rhys: Yes. It is. I think from what both Hook and Peter are presented with when they arrive in Neverland is the prospect of eternal life. And when you see him is in many ways a lost boy but a grown man. And it was just interesting to explore what, you know, the offer of eternal life does to a boy and what the offer of an eternal life does to a man. I think it makes a man greedy because a man is closer to death than a child. So eternity to a child offers goodness and eternal life to a man is essentially corrupting because it involves a certain amount of vanity I think to embrace it.

Anna: And has any story ever before explained why Hook despises Peter so much. I don’t think it has. That’s what fascinated me with the script is that you get the story before. Which therefore lies the prequel. Why does this man hate this boy so much? In this case, he doesn’t hate him. He’s just very torn. I think it’s a great arrival at the story that we all know. That’s what I found most fascinating is – is that you cleverly did Nick. Is giving that back story of what was the path between them and you’ve created that really beautifully.

Rhys: It’s something that works on very – on a very modern level, you know. To, you know, father – son relationships and also the way that Hook grew up in a very, repressed, sexually repressed Edwardian society and what Captain Bonny offers him is total and utter sexual liberation. And when you give that to a man, everything else falls by the wayside, including their friends sometimes.

On what was is like seeing the final film with the effects completed

Anna: In absolute honesty, I think whenever you’re doing film for television, you look at the budget that you have which is much more constricted than a movie budget and you think God, are they going to be able to do what they say they are. And I know that when I sat down to watch it certainly I was absolutely blown away and the number of effects on it with a TV budget is just they’ve done absolutely all they could. I think it’s spectacular and it’s everything that we imagined. All those photographs that Nick had on the big board to say look. It’s not green. Don’t see green. This is what you’re going to see. When I watched – I could have watched it in various stages when you could still see bits of green screen and when I finally saw, and not that long ago, the final version, I was really, really impressed. It was like everything that we’d been shown and told they would do, they did and that doesn’t happen very often.

Rhys: I think for me the most – the joyous part of when we did the green screen stuff and there was quite a bit of it toward the end, but the most thrilling part for me each and every day was coming on set into this, eternity of green and having Nick describe to us the world we were entering and he described it like, you know, the best story teller you’ve ever heard. So that – it was so inspiring to hear him create these worlds with words. Of course we had some photographic help but his excitement in describing these worlds was so kind of addictive in a way and I think that’s what I’d be after too when they play. You know. You know, what children – when they play a stick can become a snake or a sword or whatever you want. And it engages your imagination in almost a theatrical way. And so I found it actually liberating actually and thrilling to work on the green screen and then finally when we got to see it, it was just a thrill beyond words and I think it’s a…

Anna: He’s very much an actor’s director so admit you hear it. You’re very much an actor’s director. You did go – remember that’s …. Remember you want to …. So think how you’ll move. Think what you’ll do. It was meticulous – the directions because there’s only so much computer work can do. It starts off with the writing, the direction and then the performances.

Charlie: We often spent a long time trying to perfect just the movement of the flying. Just the fact that getting the right pose when you jump off and getting the right posture while you’re flying and not trying to look like you’re in serious pain which you were 24/7. But yeah. No, he did a great – Nick did a great job.

Anna: Yeah. And never complained in the performance.

Nick: No, but believe you to me. I just have to watch. It’s you guys that are on there. I mean the things that I made them do or they had to do for this book. It’s extraordinary that I had to bounce around on spiders webs which was actually a green trampoline, hold them and give these extraordinary performances even though – and sometimes and echoed green warehouses. It’s hard to believe what they were capable of doing. It’s quite an amazing – wait until you see the finished thing. It just looks like they’re there. I mean it…

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