Behind the Scenes of Pan, the Movie That Gleefully Breaks Its Own Rules
Joe Wright set up very specific rules for what would and would not make it into his version of Peter Pan. He imagined the film’s version of Neverland as a trauma response to the London Blitz, meaning that his Peter (Levi Miller) had imagined a world of only things that existed in 1941. And then Wright decided he wanted to include songs by Nirvana and the Ramones. “I completely broke my own rule,” Wright says. “And then thought, Oh, fuck it, it'll be fun.” “Fun” hasn’t always been the operative word on Wright’s films—Atonement is a heartbreaking story of loss, and Anna Karenina, well, we know how that one ends. But with Pan, an origin story for the boy hero invented by J.M. Barrie, Wright cut himself loose from some of the constraints he found in more “grown-up” films. “I specifically set out to make a kind of uncool film,” he said. “What I tried to do with this film, is every decision I made was to consult the 11-year-old self and validate him and tell him that he was O.K. and that he was better and more imaginative than he thought.”
That wasn’t always easy; from the moment Rooney Mara was cast as Tiger Lily, the main character from a tribe of Neverland natives, Pan was besieged with protest. In the film, the Neverland tribe draws influence from dozens of indigenous cultures—South African, Indian, Uganda, Mongolian—and actors of various ethnicities play the natives; Wright says he met with Korean, Chinese, Iranian, Japanese, Native American, and African-American actresses before casting Mara. Her version of Tiger Lily has an Irish accent—deliberately, Wright says, to reference Ireland’s history of colonization at the hands of the British. The historical Blackbeard, played in a larger-than-life performance from Hugh Jackman, was English, after all.
The real world does fret around the edges of Pan—scenes of the London Blitz are harrowing even though they include a flying pirate ship—but “larger than life” is the film’s true mandate, which influences everything from the elaborately constructed sets to the voices of the actors themselves. Garrett Hedlund, who plays a rakish young version of Captain Hook, said Wright wanted the character to sound like someone from an old John Ford film, and that the director told him “don’t be afraid to be too big.” Hedlund continued, “He loved whatever you could do that was bigger, because it wasn't like me, and that sort of made him laugh.”
Screenwriter Jason Fuchs, who pitched Pan to studios as a passion project, said he used the Harry Potter films and Star Wars as touchstones for “the kind of giant world creating we're going to be doing.” But what is special about Pan is what is utterly its own, both Wright’s ever-inventive visual style and the inherent sadness in this prequel story: Pan and Hook start off as friends, but we all know they will become enemies. It’s a children’s film full of darkness; the kind of blend the ever-daring Lost Boys would probably adore.