Joe Wright on set with his lead, Levi Miller, who plays Peter.
Joe Wright is often associated with making period movies about 'girls with big dress falling in love' such as "Pride & Prejudice" (2005) "Atonement" (2007) and "Anna Karenina" (2012), but now the British filmmaker has stepped out of his comfort zone for "Pan", a big-budget Peter Pan fantasy adventure adaptation starring A-listers like Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara and Garrett Hedlund. Naturally, we were curious to discover how this would all pan out (pun intended).
We traveled miles to the Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, U.K. and then later to a plane hangar in Cardington to see first-hand how colossal the movie sets were.
We then got word that Wright's one of the old school filmmaker types who prefers real-life sets to shoot rather than to depend on CGI, and thus for "Pan", he commissioned not only colossal pirate ships - yes plural; SHIPS - to be built, but also an entire village from the ground surrounded by actual plants and trees that needed to be watered daily.
To say all of this impressed us, would be an understatement. We were after all visiting a USD150 million Hollywood production.
So when we actually got to meet Wright in person, in the midst of all the huge impressive movie sets and costumed pirates, we didn't expect to be greeted by a very laid-back guy in t-shirt and shorts.
Rolling up his cigarette and taking the occasional drag in between conversation, there were no red ropes or barricades separating the press from the director, just folding chairs laid out around a small intimate group.
Putting all formalities aside, Wright made us feel like we're all a bunch of people casually talking movies. Never mind that Hugh Jackman was just around the corner, we were undeniably engrossed in how the filmmaker decided to take on this well-loved but much adapted story.
Wright with Hugh Jackman, who plays the villain, Blackbeard.
What was it about this Peter Pan adaptation that attracted you to it?
The movie doesn't underestimates kids or talks down to them. And there's stuff in it that also for adults. It's morally ambivalent which I really enjoy and it doesn't set anyone out to be 100 per cent good or bad, which I can identify with.
This is unlike the films that you are usually involved with. Is this your way of switching genres?
I didn't see this movie as a career move or going to the other end of the spectrum. I have a kid myself and he's a little boy, and I kind of wanted to make a film for him, really. He was going through night terrors and the shadows on the ceiling were really scaring him, I wanted to make a film for him that reflected those terrors and showed him that with bravery and humour, he could overcome it like Peter does. That's a lesson I'm still trying to learn myself [laughs].
What's the biggest challenge to make a movie for both kids and adults? As this is not just another fairytale, it seems rather dark.
I've never made such a technical film before and I never really worked with much CGI, and I'm trying to limit the amount of CGI - most of the stuff we're doing in this film is real and there is a fair amount of stunts and action sequences and special effects. As you know, I'm used to girls with big dresses and falling in love, which holds its own challenges [laughs], but in terms of a film for families, it's lovely. It's quite liberating actually, it's a lovely opportunity to not take myself too seriously. And the silliest idea I come up with is usually what we shoot. It's the kind of ideas that you wouldn't get to do in a Tolstoy adaptation.
On board one of the ships on set.
Do you have your own personal statement for making this film apart from making the movie for your kid?
I identify with a passage in the film where Peter is wondering if he is what other people want him to be. I found that quite moving. That question of your own self. I try not to make films with messages; I just try to make films with lots of questions.
How did you find your lead, Levi Miller, to play Peter?
We had an incredible search. We did a huge global search and viewed thousands and thousands of tapes and then Levi came in and we flew him from Australia to L.A. and he just has this kind of lightness about him. An openness. Primarily, he is very very talented, but he's not moody. Peter needed a kind a sense of joy. He's not a kid who tries to conform, Levi, he's kind of independent and unique.
A glimpse into the colourful world Joe Wright's "Pan" is set to.
How did you conceptualise this world?
A lot of the imagery is very simple; I didn't want to make a gadget-y film. It's very surreal. I just liked the idea that the world is full of colour. The world Peter comes from originally is very grey and when he comes to Neverland, I had an idea that we could create something a little more psychedelic. A lot of the films I grew up with like "Camelot" had these extraordinary colourful worlds, and I wanted to reintroduce that. Also I had made a theatre play in London for which I had visited the democratic republic of Congo where I was very impressed with a street artiste who had all this colour in his work. Also, my wife is Indian, there's a definite Indian influence to the visual world we're creating. So it's a very global world.
Will this film be screened in 3D or has any part of it been shot with an IMAX camera?
There are talks for 3D which I'm quite excited for really. But not IMAX, no, no, no, give us a chance! [laughs]
"Pan" comes to cinemas this 8 October 2015.
Cinema Online, 22 September 2015