On December 4th and 5th, Syfy will debut its latest miniseries taking a classic piece of literature out for a modern-day spin. “Neverland” follows in the footsteps of “Tin Man” and “Alice”, bringing to the screen the story of Peter Pan and Captain Hook – before they were Peter Pan and Captain Hook.
Writer and Director Nick Willing says this is the story of who Peter and Hook were and how they came to be in Neverland with the Lost Boys. Willing has been interested in this story behind the story since reading the original J. M. Barrie classic. “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 they ended up in a place called Neverland and what that was and why there were pirates and fairies and Indians there. 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.”
The main difference between “Neverland” and Willing’s work on “Tin Man” and “Alice” is that this one is more of a period piece. He describes “Alice” as “me going crazy and creating my own story around what I imagined Wonderland would be like today 150 years old”. This time around, his approach is more traditional, adding to the mythology of the original Peter Pan story with what he hopes is a plausible origin for the character.
Willing also has an interesting theory on prequels and re-imaginings: “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.”
“Neverland” is as much about James Hook as it is about Peter Pan. Willing’s take on the story has the two in a sort of father-son type of relationship, with a healthy dose of hero worship mixed in. Peter looks up to Hook, which of course, isn’t the best thing for the boy. Hook himself has issues with the whole “growing up” thing, apparently. Which may play into the story arc to get Hook and Peter from “father-son” hero worship to bitter enemies.
Willling says he wanted to explore how Hook’s choices impact Peter to the point where the boy doesn’t want to grow up at all. Certainly, Anna Friel’s character, Elizabeth Bonny, will play a role in that change. “One of the reasons I wanted to create a character like (Elizabeth) the pirate queen you see in our film is tough, slightly crazy, extremely dangerous, nasty but you want her. She’s irresistible. It’s a quite difficult part to cast but Anna is absolutely perfect in that role.”
“Anna… 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.”
The Elizabeth Bonny character is original to the “Neverland” story, and serves as the catalyst for the changes in both Hook and Peter. In Willing’s script, the Jolly Roger doesn’t quite have the same crew as we’ve come to expect. Smee (again played by Bob Hoskins) isn’t the first mate. He’s a captain in his own right. And the Jolly Roger is helmed by yon Bonny lass. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)
“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.”
Willing’s approach has been to humanize Hook a bit, making him somewhat vulnerable on the inside. More than likely, it will keep the whole story grounded, as the entire concept of Neverland is a big epic fantasy world anyway. And Willing tends to enjoy the fantasy realms he gets to play in as a result of doing genre work.
He even has a few nice things to say about Syfy: “…they allow me to take great risks and experiment and try new things and they also are brave enough to go into dark areas which sometimes it’s more difficult to do for the big screen.” Working with a network, he says, is much easier on the creative process because there are fewer executives involved in decision-making. Even with the constraints of a smaller budget, he’s had more creative freedom to explore and experiment with the story.
“Television currently in America I feel is a medium that is taking the greatest risks and trying new things. And so that’s one of the reasons I did it for TV.”
Willing also likes the creative freedom of the genre. Being able to create worlds out of whole cloth is very liberating for him, and just as he’s done with “Tin Man” and “Alice” before, he’s able to visualize things on a grander scale and design an environment that wouldn’t otherwise exist. And despite the main challenges of genre work – the effects budgets and extensive use of green screen – fantasy is the genre he loves the most.
“I mean you’re talking to a guy that actually lives in a fantasy world. In my case, I live in many fantasy worlds. I live in Neverland, Oz, Wonderland. So I just, you know, for me it’s an intense and vicious pleasure and the longer I can live in the fantasy world, the better for me.”
NEVERLAND, produced by Sky Movies, will air on Syfy December 4th and 5th 9/8c. Starring Charlie Rowe, Rhys Ifans, Anna Friel, and Bob Hoskins, with Keira Knightley as the voice of Tinkerbell.