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'Pan' star, writer thrilled to give new 'hook' to iconic character

Garrett Hedlund, Jason Fuchs among creative forces behind new

Levi Miller and Garrett Hedlund in "Pan."
Levi Miller and Garrett Hedlund in "Pan." (Warner Bros.)

By Tim Lammers, DirectConversations

When the characters where drawn out for the hotly anticipated "Peter Pan" film prequel "Pan," filmmakers Joe Wright and Jason Fuchs, along with star Garrett Hedlund were pretty intent on giving the J.M. Barrie story's iconic characters a different spin.

Since it's not often such a time-honored tale gets a fully fleshed-out back story, Fuchs decided to give one core character, Captain Hook, a new, well, hook; and Hedlund was thrilled to be a part of it.

"It all starts with Jason. When I read the script, it examined how Hook and Peter were sort of forced to be allies. I thought it was a unique take on the story," Hedlund told me in a recent phone conversation from New York. "I obviously wondered if people would accept the version of Hook without a hook, but since it's a wonderful and interesting beginning, who better to create a world like this than Joe Wright? He's one of the best directors out there."

Hedlund said he loved how Wright brings "a beautiful, fantastical underbelly" to every film he makes.

"I love 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Anna Karenina,' and he takes these stories that people know and love, and gives them the Joe Wright flair that's so brave and unique. That's why I so excited to see what he was going to do with the story of Peter Pan. For Joe Wright, I would have played Tinkerbell," Hedlund said with a laugh.

Opening in theaters nationwide on Friday, "Pan" examines the origin story of Barrie's classic character, Peter Pan (Levi Miller), a young boy given up by his mother (Amanda Seyfried) as an infant and raised in a London orphanage during World War II.

Whisked away from the orphanage in the middle of the night by pirates, Peter finds himself transported to the mysterious island of Neverland, where thousands of other "Lost Boys" are forced to mine the landscape for pixum, a gem which contains fairy dust and the key to keeping the evil ruler of the island, Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), immortal. Fortunately for Peter, he gains a fast friend in James Hook (Hedlund) and together they team with island native Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) to stop Blackbeard's dastardly plans.

Fuchs in a separate interview told me that his inspiration for penning the prequel story was partially an ode to the musical prequel of another classic fantasy.

"'Wicked' in some ways is a semi-inspiration for 'Pan,' because I think what 'Wicked' does so beautifully is that it's not a prequel for the sake of a prequel to tell more of a story that people like, it puts the characters that people know and love in a different context -- it rephrases things," Fuchs said. "'Wicked' gave us a better understanding of who those characters are in the original 'Wizard of Oz,' and for 'Pan,' my aspiration was to achieve the same thing. It's not about filling in blanks, it is saying, 'Hey, take a second look at Peter Pan, Hook, Tiger Lily and Tink,' and walking out of this film, you may look at them very differently now that you have an understanding of where their journeys begin."  

Glimpse of home  

A native of Roseau, Minnesota, a northern town close to the Canadian border, Hedlund was asked by Wright to recall his farm boy upbringing to help determine and inform Hook as a character -- which the actor was thrilled to do.

"When I first met with Joe, he revealed to me that he'd always seen Hook as somebody out an old John Ford film," Hedlund recalled. "If he wasn't in Neverland, he would have been happy being on a horse in some prairie. I thought that was quite brave and it wasn't like any version of Hook that we've seen before. Ultimately, though, it's an origins story, which reveals that there could something mischievous going on with this character and we're yet to find out what that is."

The 31-year-old actor's upbringing also determined Hedlund's accent for Hook, but for fans of Minnesotans being portrayed in film, don't expect a "Yah, you betcha," which Joel Coen and Ethan Coen joyfully brought to light in "Fargo." (Ironically, Hedlund got a glimpse of home working with the Minnesota-born brothers a couple years back on "Inside Llewyn Davis.")

"I was trying to make my tagline in 'Pan' be 'Uff da,'" Hedlund said, laughing. "We'd miss something careening down on us and we'd escape the impact just in time, and I'd say 'Uff da.' Joe just fancied this sort of Scandinavian-route with Hook. Or maybe he just hasn't heard too many Minnesotans speak before, and there was something about the way I spoke made him crack up and look at Hook in another light."

Fuchs views Hedlund as much more than a hearty Midwesterner. In fact, the writer feels he represents all of us.

"Garrett is an extraordinary actor and the definition of an American movie star," Fuchs said. "The guy just oozes charisma and a tremendously talented dude."

Needless to say, Fuchs was happy when Hedlund, whose credits include the original film version of "Friday Night Lights," as well as "Tron: Legacy" and "Unbroken," committed to play his bold new version of Hook.

"When I conceived the character for this film, I knew that this wasn't going to be the character that we know in J.M. Barrie's book, this is someone that you find cut from the mold in 'Treasure of the Sierra Madre' or 'Indiana Jones' -- a roguish leading man-type of adventure," Fuchs said. "Also, he's a man who's quite selfish and hasn't grown into the man he's supposed to become. All of those things led us to things led us to the version of Hook you seen in the film. In a way, it's quite different, yet it has the seeds of the Captain Hook we know and love, or love to hate."

Tim Lammers is a nationally syndicated movie reporter and author of "Direct Conversations: The Animated Films of Tim Burton" (Foreword by Tim Burton)."