Did you know that Captain James Hook began his life in the back alleys of Dickensian London? In SyFy’s new miniseries Neverland that’s exactly where the story begins. Jimmy Hook, played by Rhys Ifans, along with his group of young pickpockets, lead by Peter (Charlie Rowe), snatch a magical orb which transports them to another world – Neverland.
On their adventure they meet a power-hungry Captain named Elizabeth Bonny (Anna Friel) and her band of pirates, who changes Peter and Jimmy’s relationship forever.
Rhys Ifans spoke about playing the iconic figure of Captain Hook, and filling in his back story.
How did this role come to you?
I hadn’t met Nick (Willing, the writer and director of Neverland).
I was sitting in a bar in a beautiful village in Spain and I received this script and read it in one go.
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 said 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 from a personal level, Nick’s version goes a long way into describing the Hook we see in the novel, painting his psychosis and his arrival as the embodiment of evil.
Did you grow up as a Peter Pan fan?
Not so much the novel but I was familiar with the many variations that the story was being presented to us over the years, be it on film or on the stage.
I think everyone in the western world has been touched by Peter Pan in some way in their life.
It was kind of a thrill to have a lot [of the back story] explained as Nick has so eloquently done in this film.
Was it intimidating to play such an iconic character?
It wasn’t intimidating because it was a back story. I would say that Hook is a damaged man who is liberated by badness.
Can you talk about Hook’s relationship with Peter in this?
I think what both Hook and Peter are presented with when they arrive in Neverland is the prospect of eternal life. And when you see him, he is in many ways a lost boy but a grown man.
It was just interesting to explore what the offer of eternal life does to a boy and what the offer of 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 man is essentially corrupting because it involves a certain amount of vanity, I think, to embrace it.
This story works on a very modern level, a father-son relationship and also the way that Hook grew up in a very, sexually repressed Edwardian society, and what Captain Bonny offers him is total and utter sexual liberation.
When you give that to a man, everything else falls by the wayside, including their friends sometimes.
Can you talk about working with Charlie in this?
I was not working with a boy. I was working with a professional actor from the very beginning to the very end.
I can put my hand to my heart and say he is one of the most professional, eloquent young men I’ve ever worked with, so that was a pleasure from the beginning.
In his performance you see this huge change in the character he becomes.
He develops and gets all these new addled emotions and struggles with the morality that Hook and Bonny present him with, and I think it’s a really mature performance.
Did you have to learn how to use a sword for this?
I’d done it many years ago in drama school and there were several injuries, so I wasn’t a great swordsman, but it was really exciting to fight Anna and Charlie. Initially it took some time to pick it up again but as the shoot went on, rehearsal time got less and less. So it’s more of a dance than a combat.
Do you enjoy doing period films more than modern day?
The costumes I think in a period piece determine the way you move and consequently the way you breathe and then the way you breathe effects the way you think. So it is always more of a transformation.
What was it like working with the green screen in this?
There was quite a bit of green screen stuff 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. He described it like the best storyteller you’ve ever heard.
It was so inspiring to hear him create these worlds with words.
When children play, a stick can become a snake or a sword, and it engages your imagination in almost a theatrical way.
I found it actually liberating and thrilling to work on the green screen and then finally when we got to see it, it was just a thrill beyond words.
Peter Pan has an air date of December 4, 2011 on the USA Sci-Fi channel