Neverland is Nick Willing’s third movie for the Syfy Network. Previously he wrote and directed Tin Man and Alice, reimagining’s of The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland .
But with Neverland he has fashioned a prequel to JM Barrie’s Peter Pan that is set in Dickensian England, where Peter (Charlie Rowe), along with a group of young pickpockets, have been rounded up by their mentor, Jimmy Hook (Rhys Ifans), to steal a magical orb which transports them to another world known as Neverland. Once there, Hook meets Elizabeth Bonny (Anna Friel), the Captain of the Jolly Roger ship, who changes both his and Peter’s life forever.
Do you have a preference for reimagining stories like The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland, or like Peter Pan, flushing it out more?
These films are all very difficult for me. Tin Man which was The Wizard of Oz, was more a 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.
This is the first time I’ve really tried to do a more traditional prequel to a fantasy story that could be a plausible part of the mythology of Peter Pan. They were all daunting because they’re all incredibly revered stories.
What made you decide to write a prequel to 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.
When I read the book I loved it so much that my imagination ran wild and I wanted to know more of the facts of the story and I thought that would make quite an intriguing movie.
Did you write the story with any actors in mind?
When I wrote the part of Hook I really wanted Rhys from the beginning, because the thing about Rhys is 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. If Hook’s villainy could seem vulnerable, that would be cool I thought.
Anna too was [in my mind]. 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 get them, that’s fantastic.
Have you had any feedback from Peter Pan fans?
When I was writing the script I didn’t get much feedback. The thing about writing is that it’s very difficult. It’s a struggle and you have to keep rewriting and rewriting until you have a very clear vision, direction and focus. If you have too many influences, you get lost I think; or at least I do.
What aspect of the original book did you want to explain in this film?
I particularly was taken by the relationship between Peter and Hook, and how it came about. That was an enormous part of this film.
Peter and Hook’s relationship doesn’t start off as adversarial, what made you use that as a starting point?
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.
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 relationship, because Hook wants things that aren’t always right for the world and Peter, damages Peter to the point where he is the boy who doesn’t want to grow up.
What do you love about the fantasy genre?
I’ve done a few fantasy films and the honest answer is imagining new worlds, the wonder that you could walk into some of these extraordinary places. That’s what kind of keeps me going.
The thing I hate the most is how expensive that is and how difficult it is to achieve often and how sometimes it has to be done on a green screen and so on, but the end results, if it works out, is what fills us with the most pleasure. And you can’t do that with any other medium.
Fantasy is the only thing which allows you to invent and create and imagine worlds that are not there fully.
Did you go to the J M Barrie estate when you were putting this together?
No, I didn’t have any involvement with the Barrie estate. I would have liked to call Barrie himself, but unfortunately, of course, he’s no longer with us. But I’d love to be able to call him and say, ‘Hey, what do you think?’
The book is in the hands of the Great Ormond Street Hospital; the original book was donated to them. So there isn’t really a creative voice as I understand, to approach. But we did approach the Hospital and we donated a large sum of money to them even though the book is technically out of copyright now, and they no longer hold the rights to the original book.
This seems to have sequel written all over it – would you like to do that with this cast?
I don’t think I’d go back to Peter Pan. There are other stories that I’d love to explore – other worlds. 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 for me it’s an intense pleasure and the longer I can live in the fantasy world, the better for me.
Peter Pan has an air date of December 4, 2011 on the USA Sci-Fi channel