PAN – Interview with director Joe Wright

This weekend see’s the Irish release of Joe Wright’s live-action take on ‘Peter Pan’. The British director has a track record of transforming literary classics into beautiful movies, his CV already includes 2005’s ‘Pride & Prejudice’, 2007’s Oscar Nominated ‘Atonement’ and 2012’s ‘Anna Karenina’.

This version of Peter Pan’s tale mixes things up a little, the events take place before the events in JM Barrie’s classic novel, we met with Wright to talk about the challenge of adapting the well loved story for today’s audience. 

Were you a fan of JM Barrie’s book ‘Peter Pan’, or the various adaptations there have been over the years?
Not really! It’s impossible to grow up in our culture and not be aware and have some kind of relationship with the material. It’s material that I liked, but I didn’t have a very big attachment to. When I read the script it all came flooding back. Then I read the book, and just was bowled over by it; I didn’t know it had such depth. I didn’t know it was as strange as it was, or I wasn’t aware of the implications of it. I think it’s an extraordinary book; it feels like people don’t know the book. They know everything else about it, but not where it comes from. I think where it comes from is weird and wonderful and thrilling.

Can you tell us about your imagining of the iconic Peter Pan story?
It’s a prequel… It’s not even a prequel; it’s a reimagining, a reframing of Barrie’s world. My intention was to get as close to the atmosphere of Barrie’s work without feeling hired bound to the structure, the exoskeleton of it, but I wanted to get into the heart of it. It feels like it’s ridding yourself of that crap adolescent fear of being perceived as uncool, and actually delving into something that is far freer and more fantastical.

How did you get involved in the world of Peter Pan?
I was sent the script! I read it in one sitting, and was kind of bowled over by it. In particular, I was bowled over by the character of Peter and how he felt like a super imposition of myself as a child, and my son superimposed over this boy. I related to him, and I also saw my son in him, and I wanted to make a film that somehow was about us.

You mentioned your son; did you take inspiration from him and your experiences as a father when you were making PAN?
Yeah totally. I realise that one of the things you have to be when you’re a parent is as consistent as possible, and so I made Blackbeard as inconsistent as I possibly could. He’s totally unpredictable, you never know what he’s going to do next, ‘cos that’s kind of like the worst kind of parent.

Your cast is incredible – Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard, and Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily to name but two – how did you go about casting the film?
There’s an element of Panto to the movie and Hugh, with his experience in theatre and his disregard for cool – and I mean cool in the worst possible sense – he’s not kind of bound by any of that kind of rubbish; he’s kind of free, really. Tiger Lily was problematic in the sense that Barrie’s not actually specific about what nationality her community come from, so I had to decide upon a community. In the end, it occurred to me that I could create a community that was like the community of the indigenous people of the globe, of the world. The character was described as being a kind of warrior princess, and Rooney has a kind of regal quality to her, and also you wouldn’t want to mess with her. I didn’t want her to be American so we talked about where Rooney’s heritage was from, and it’s obviously Irish, so Tiger Lily is Irish!


The film is fairly action packed; did your experience on ‘Hanna’ help with this?
Yeah, ‘Hanna’ is the only experience I have had in doing anything action related at all, and so I clung to that experience like a man in a whirlwind. I really enjoyed it, I had great people working with me, I had an amazing team, and I was very lucky with a great stunt coordinator called Eunice Huthart, and she’s just magic. So I had a great team and they helped a lot.


There is a scene where all of the pirates sing Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’; it’s really weird and really wonderful, where did that come from?
It comes from rehearsals. I had all the actors together, all these pirates going ‘Arr! We’re pirates!’… It’s funny, ask any actor to play a pirate and they jump at it. Everyone wants to be a pirate. So we had all these blokes and I wanted to find some music that felt like it was their atmosphere, so we tried various sea shanties and it was all a bit too twee, so I out on my punk playlist and that came on. Everyone knew it and started singing it and pogoing and so on. It was such a laugh that I thought we should have it in the film. It was kind of like that, making this film; any ridiculous, outlandish ideas that anyone came up with, we were like ‘Great! Let’s do that!’, which is the kind of thing you can’t do in most normal films.


You seem to have this penchant for adapting beloved literature, was that a deliberate choice?
It’s a complete accident. I mean, it’s quite weird ‘cos I can’t read. I am really badly dyslexic and I couldn’t read until I was 16. Maybe I am just trying to catch up with everyone else. It’s not something I ever would have thought I would do, but somehow it’s turned out that way.

PAN is at Irish cinemas from October 16th

Words: Brogen Hayes