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'Neverland' explores origins of Peter Pan, Capt. Hook

by jmaloni
Sat, Dec 3rd 2011 11:00 pm
Jimmy Hook (Rhys Ifans) and Peter Pan (Charlie Rowe) like you've never seen them before. (photo by Patrick Redmond/Syfy © NBCUniversal, Inc.)
Jimmy Hook (Rhys Ifans) and Peter Pan (Charlie Rowe) like you've never seen them before. (photo by Patrick Redmond/Syfy © NBCUniversal, Inc.)
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Syfy miniseries stars Rhys Ifans as Jimmy Hook, Anna Friel as Capt. Elizabeth Bonny, Charlie Rowe as Peter Pan and Keira Knightley as the voice of Tinkerbell

Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni

We've all heard the story of Peter Pan -- the boy who never grew up -- and his adventures with pirate captain James Hook. Their land and sea battles are legendary.

But what if the two literary foes started off as friends? And how did they wind up in another world -- one in which time stands still?

Such is the origin of "Neverland," a Syfy miniseries exploring the backstory of Peter Pan, his trusty lost boys, and his greatest foe: Hook.

"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," said writer/director Nick Willing. "I was just -- when I read the (original) book, I loved it so much that my imagination ran wild and I kind of wanted to know more of the backstory and I thought that would make quite an intriguing movie."

In "Neverland," "Jimmy" Hook (Rhys Ifans) is a London west ender who's lost his social standing. He takes in a group of lost boys -- Peter among them -- and trains them to be pickpockets and petty thieves.

When they stumble upon a mysterious orb, they soon find themselves transported to another place: Neverland. Peter (Charlie Rowe) finds his way with Tiger Lilly (Q'orianka Kilcher) and her Native American tribe. Hook, meanwhile, is taken prisoner by the merciless Capt. Elizabeth Bonny (Anna Friel) and her Jolly Roger band of pirates.

Slowly, Bonny starts to turn Hook away from Peter and onto her own greedy intentions.

Willing called Bonny "tough, slightly crazy, extremely dangerous, nasty, but you want her. She's irresistible. It's a quite difficult part to cast, but Anna is absolutely perfect in that role."

Friel, who gained fame playing the charming Charlotte Charles on the whimsical "Pushing Daisies," wholeheartedly took on the challenge of creating this evil new character.

"Well, I think when you're given something new it's always exciting, because you're the first one to do it, so you're not having to live up to any expectations or be compared to anyone who's ever done it before," she said. "You know, there's pros and cons for both of them. You can watch the Peter Pans or watch the Hooks and try and do variations on them, which I think in this case (was needed by Rhys and Charlie). They completely did their own invention of age-old characters in storytelling. But for me, I always like a challenge. And I like to have things that excite me and ... something new and a little bit of a fox to be taken, and I've never played a character like this before.

Bonny adds a new layer to the Peter-Hook dynamic.

"I think that the fact that Nick wrote a very complex Hook and gave him a backstory and where did his dark side come from and to be influenced by a woman I thought was quite an interesting thing to look at," Friel said.

As it is, the relationship between Peter and Hook is quite the dichotomy. Concurrently, the two have an affectionate, father-son connection and a bitter rivalry birthed on mistrust.

Ifans and Rowe put their own spin on the characters, which made assuming the iconic roles a little easier.

"It wasn't intimidating ... because it was a backstory. ... I just played everyone's subtext, and so, and I hope they're grateful for that. It was really hard work," Ifans said.

Rowe was "extremely excited when I got the part," he said. "You know, danced around my house for ages. But I was hugely nervous of the fact that every single boy and girl around the world had grown up with this magical story and every boy has played with their wooden swords in the playground with their best friend being Peter Pan and Captain Hook. And so, you know, like Rhys, we both had huge boots to fill and I was very nervous about it.

"I mean, I hope people like the character that I've tried to create, because I don't -- as Anna has said before, this isn't -- it's not just -- he isn't Peter Pan, this boy. He's a completely new character that we've never seen before, and yeah, I hope I did him justice."

Repurposing beloved stories has become Willing's "thing." He's recently put his own spin on "The Wizard of Oz" with "Tin Man," and "Alice in Wonderland" with "Alice" -- both Syfy Channel films.

"I've done a few fantasy films, and the honest answer to what it is that I love most about the nature of fantasy movies is imagining worlds," he said. "Imagining new worlds -- the wonder of feats that you could walk into some of these extraordinary places. That's what kind of keeps me going is sort of -- the thing I hate most, on the other hand, 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 result, if it works out, is what fills us with the most pleasure.

"And you can't do that with any other medium."

Willing sees his genre in much the same way Peter envisions Neverland.

"Fantasy is the only thing, which allows you to invent and create and imagine worlds that are not there fully," Willing said.

Discover the "story behind the story" of Peter Pan with "Neverland." The miniseries debuts with a two-night airing: 9 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 4, and Monday, Dec. 5, on Syfy.

Click below for a preview. 


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