“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.”
The journey of Jimmy Hook, Edwardian stuffed shirt and pickpocket crime kingpin, into Captain James Hook of the Jolly Roger in Neverland is one of the tales being told in Nick Willing’s new prequel to J.M. Barrie’s classic Peter Pan. Airing on Syfy December 4th and 5th, Neverland is the origin story of Hook, Peter, the Lost Boys and everything else we’ve come to know about the boy who refused to grow up.
Rhys Ifans joins a long list of actors putting a new spin on Hook, and while there’s some big boots to fill, Ifans isn’t intimidated by the history of the character. Instead, his approach was to look at the subtext of everyone else’s performance and find a commonality that he could use to build his own version of Hook. As he’s playing the character before the one we know, he had some room to move around in the character’s head.
“It’s something that works on a very modern level, you know. To, you know, father – son relationships and also the way that, you know, that Hook grew up in a very, you know, repressed, sexually repressed Edwardian society and what Captain Bonny offers him is total and utter sexual liberation, you know. And when you give that to a man, everything else falls by the wayside, including their friends sometimes.”
The father-son relationship is that of Hook with Peter (Charlie Rowe), and they both have choices to make once they get to Neverland, where they meet Captain Elizabeth Bonny (Anna Friel), the pirate commander of the Jolly Roger. Along with Captain Smee (Bob Hoskins), the pirate community – and Captain Bonny in particular – catalyzes the change in Hook, who is essentially offered the chance at eternal life in Neverland.
Willing’s script explores the relationship between Hook and Peter, in which Peter genuinely looks up to Hook, wants to be like Hook, who is himself a “lost boy” of sorts. But because of Hook’s growing desires and greed, the relationship deteriorates into the animosity from the classic tale. Says Willing, “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.”
Ifans praises Charlie Rowe’s performance as Peter, who has to face some very grown-up choices. “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…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.”
The deterioration of the relationship, of course, includes the sword-play. Ifans had worked with a sword in school a long time ago, but says he “wasn’t a great swordsman” before picking it up again for Neverland. “It’s quite a thrill and you know, initially it took some time to pick it up again but, you know, as the shoot went on, rehearsal times got less and less and less. So it’s more of a dance than a combat.”
The combat comes along with the psychological transformations in the characters, as well, and Ifans is glad for the fact that Neverland is three hours and not just ninety minutes. In the Barrie novel, there is the emotional foundation and stability provided by the house where Wendy lives with her brothers – the scenes in the living room and bedroom serve to ground the story. Ifans likes that the mini-series – having the chance to tell a more expansive story on television – has more time to explore the other side of things, the magical world of Neverland.
Shooting in Ireland, Ifans felt that separation from the “real world” because of the isolation of the production. “We were able to indulge and invent this just absolutely, you know, this visual banquet that Nick’s created.” That includes the green screen work, of which there’s quite a bit toward the end of the story. Ifans actually enjoyed getting to work in that environment. He describes the “eternity of green” as a place where they could indulge in their imaginations, led by Willing’s descriptions of the scenes, almost as if they were kids playing dress-up.
“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.”
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.