How did the Nirvana reference come about in the film?
Joe [Wright, director] comes from a puppetry, theatrical background so we got all the pirates together for a week. It was just the pirates. We had a big box in the corner filled with dress up clothes and we’d stay in character all day and do all these improvs to find out who we are and how we walk and how we dress. About three days into it Joe says ‘Oh, I have this idea for the entrance, I don’t know what Warner Bros are going to think if we do it, it wasn’t in the script’, but they just loved it.
Joe has created something kind of wild and fascinating. I think he’s achieved something extraordinary which makes you feel like you’re a kid again which is ultimately what Peter Pan is about. Keeping that child alive inside, that sense of awe, imagination and wonder.
How is it going to be different from other Peter Pan movies?
It’s different from any other one you’ve seen. The story’s different too. We were given licence to change it because it’s an origin story. For example, there’s one line on page 53 of the J.M. Barrie book that says, “Hook learnt his trade as the boatswain for Blackbeard”. So the writer’s taken that idea and created this central villain character of Blackbeard. So you start to see a connection between the two of them.
There’s some really clever ideas that play into the story of The Wizard of Oz as we know and it’s similar to that. There was freedom for us to do what we wanted. Joe Wright is just one of the most inventive, ingenious and different creative and visionary directors out there and he just went for it. He really, really went for it. And what I love about this theory on Neverland was that it’s ultimately from a child’s imagination. Adults, from a child’s perspective, are always part frightening and part ridiculous.
Really never sensible, just frightening or ridiculous. So some of those pirates are completely ridiculous and just a little bit frightening but hopefully Blackbeard’s a little more frightening than ridiculous. But all of them exist in their world from a child’s point of view.
We know Joe Wright cried after reading the script. So is it emotional and moving?
Of course, it’s a heart lifting story that everyone can relate to, a hero’s journey about learning to believe in yourself and going through great challenges, to rise above what you think you’re capable of. We don’t want to get too Joseph Campbell about it all, but it’s a hero’s myth and Peter Pan is one of the classic examples of that genre.
What does that mean to you about your journey? Because you’re not only a hero to many on screen but also off screen. Is this like your own journey?
When I was Levi’s age people would say I had confidence but I had a lot of fears. I was a very fearful kid. I was afraid of the dark. I was afraid of being in my home on my own. I was the first kid home I had to wait for my dad to get home. So I would sit outside on the doorstep or in the garden because I couldn’t go in. I was afraid of heights.
It used to frustrate the hell out of me. I can relate to that thing that Peter has of being frightened to do things and people forcing you to do it. I grew up in Australia with older siblings and everything in Australia seemed to be jumping off a cliff or doing something frightening. Even roller coasters were frightening to me. So I had to overcome it.
You’ve talked before about jumping off the Warriewood blowhole.
I spent a month going to my school diving board every lunch time to get through my fear of heights. I started with a 1 metre board, the 3 metre board, the 5 metre board, the 10 metre board, just sort of jumping, jumping, jumping. Like imagine if you were ticklish and you say to someone tickle me for a month until I’m no longer ticklish. It was that kind of thing. But now I love it. Fear is something that all of us can relate to. Most of us are touched by fear in some way and if you don’t tackle it then they can become really crippling.
Do you remember that first fairy tale that stuck with you all your life?
Could you describe The Wizard of Oz as a fairy tale? That was the first movie I remember seeing. It’s stuck with me my whole life. I remember being terrified by that movie. At the end I hid behind the seat. We went on a family holiday to Terrigal, up in north of Sydney. We went to the cinema and we watched that and I remember all of it except for that monkey scene where I was crouched down behind the seat in front of me.
How old would you have been?
I think I was about five. Someone was asking me if this movie is going to be terrifying for kids. I think what Joe has done has made it tantalising for kids because fairy tales exist. Joe was the one who described this to me, and of course I didn’t realise it until then, but if you look at those Grimm fairy tales, they are brutal.
But they exist because fear exists within every kid. It’s the monster under the bed or it’s the bogey man or whatever it is. Those fears are there with the kids. So unlike adults they don’t have the ability to externalise those fears so we watch and tell stories that externalise.
Here you see an example of a kid overcoming great obstacles, and great fear and winning in the end. So with Peter Pan or in this particular story of pirates and walking the plank, all kids relate to fear and facing that fear overcomes it and defeats it. So that’s why fairy tales exist. I’m taking my nine year old to see it, it’s the perfect balance actually.
How can you be such an effective villain when you’re such a top bloke and everyone loves you?
Oh no, that’s the real me. In Joe’s world of Neverland, this villain has a lot of fun being a villain, a lot of fun. It was terrific fun. One of the first jobs that I ever had was one of the most fun jobs I ever did. It was a stage production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and I played the villain Gaston, who was very arrogant.
I never had more fun in my life. Actors really enjoy playing those roles and I just loved it. He’s the pirate that all pirates fear. So there’s a little boy at the beginning of it and all of a sudden he has an adversary, this enemy that had been prophesied would come and the boy is equally frightened but he’s also just activated this exciting thing in him. I just really enjoyed it.
Did you have any say in your physical appearance? Johnny Depp creates his characters. Did you have any say?
I did have a say in it but I will be honest with you, that when I met Joe for the first time, he had his iPad and I said explain the world, explain Neverland to me. What are you thinking? He turned around and he had a picture of my face with white makeup that was cracked like an old painting, it had the wig of Marie Antoinette and the costume of Luis the 14th.
The fingers and hands, they looked like my hands, were completely bejewelled. And he says, ‘That’s what I’m thinking for Blackbeard’. I just said, ‘I’m in’. Joe’s imagination, as you will see in this movie, is just warped, crazy, and wild. Here’s a really incredibly imaginative man. So I did have some ideas and I did have input but I don’t mind telling you 90 per cent of it was his.
We had complete freedom to do whatever we wanted. There were some really cool things that Jason our writer put into it. A lot of really fun ways to tie in the story line. We had this unbelievable freedom to create what we wanted. Neverland is about creation, creating and your imagination. The world can be what you want, whether you’re a villain or whether you’re a hero, you can make it what you want. I love the idea that the all a pirate fears actually comes out of singing a song.
What stories have you told your own children that they enjoy?
Actually my daughter, to this day, and my son for a long period of time, although he’s now 15 and more interested in watching Will Ferrell movies with me, liked me to make up stories. By the way he’s great, I’m fine with that and I love it.
But my daughter makes me tell her a made up story every night. Either my reading skills are really bad or she just prefers that. She’s turning ten in a month, and I’m thinking any minute this is going to stop. So I’m making the most of it while it’s still there.
Is it still wonderful being a dad?
Unbelievable and challenging and tiring and it’s every adjective known to man. It is the greatest, most extraordinary, unexpected challenging kind of role I’ve ever played. And still magical. It’s amazing.
You seem to have a real ambassadorial role for Australia, also the image as one of our true sportsmen. Is that conscious, is that important to you?
I remember when I first started in Hollywood someone was saying, X-Men’s out and you’re a movie star now so you gotta just be very withdrawn and mysterious. I said man, I don’t know if it’s the Australian in me but I’m from the school of, if there’s something good just tell everyone about it. It’s just who I am. And that includes my country which I love. In America people love Australia and Australians.
They love hearing about it and I’m forever grateful for the generosity in this country. There’s not many countries that would take people from all over the world and allow them to work as actors. I’ve had unbelievable opportunities. But I love telling people about Australia, it’s who I am and I grew up there. I’m going back to it very soon actually which is nice.
What did you think of Hungary when you shot there?
Budapest. It was back in time when I was there and when my son did like me to make up stories. He still sometimes asks me to tell the stories that we made up in Budapest because there is such a sense of wonder and magic that I found in that city.
The history is so extraordinary but it feels alive. You really feel like anything could happen. It’s something ancient and incredible. My son remembers it as one of his most favourite trips we’ve ever done. But the river, the castle up on top of the hill, the history, the streets, the food, the people. There something just timeless about it.
What is the moment important lesson you learned as a father?
That’s a great question. Patience. Practice your patience. I say that to myself quite a lot. Kids have a way of pushing your buttons more than anyone else. Not since I was kid have I felt those emotions come up.
It’s that cliché that everyone says, the greatest lessons you’ll ever learn are from your kids. And that is almost every day, because if there’s stuff in your life you haven’t worked through as a parent you’re going to have to work through it.
What do you want to pass onto your kids?
Lots of things. I always try and really encourage them, no matter what it is, with the things they genuinely love doing. I’ve fallen into this job, really fallen into it and I love it. I don’t feel like I work a day in my life and that is the greatest gift. My Dad loved being an accountant. I know that might sound funny, but he absolutely loved it.
In a way I was growing up watching that and without knowing it, me and my siblings, and we have found things that we love doing. That is something that I would love my kids to have. And also the qualities of gratitude and respect. I think if you go through life being respectful to others and not just only thinking about yourself, being grateful no matter what’s going on. It’s always easy to focus on the negative. So, that and to love their father with all their heart.
Is it hard for you not to spoil them when you have so much?
Not for me, my father, I told you he was an accountant and I actually thought we were poor growing up but we weren’t. I’m really glad for the upbringing I had. He made us very respectful, he was very regimented. You know my father brought me up for most of my childhood so with five kids it had to be very regimented. We did all our housework, we cooked all the dinners when I was eight.
Yeah. So five kids, once a week you cooked, once a week you did the washing up, once a week you did the washing, pretty simple. I really appreciated that. I actually feel I’m much softer than my Dad but I’m certainly stricter than my wife. To this day, if I walk into a hotel, I almost jump up and down on the bed with pleasure.
If I’m on an airplane, and I often am, I’m spending many years flying Garuda from Australia to England to see my mum, 36 hours but first class, I want to go up to the pilot and say let’s go the long way round. This is awesome. I still really appreciate everything.
Is there one thing left that you really want to do and what would that be?
When I was 29 I was at the Royal National Theatre doing Oklahoma with Sir Trevor Nunn and that was a dream, I had to go to either the Royal Shakespeare Company or Royal National Theatre from Australia because I spent a lot of my childhood going to London, going to plays with standing room only. So pretty much everything from the age of 28, which is getting on nearly 20 years, has been a bit of a bonus. It’s beyond what I could’ve imagined. So I’m just going with that. I’m just going with this, it’s all fantastic. There’s not a list of things I want to do.
Anything else you’d love to do?
Travelling was always my major love. There’s still a bunch of places on the planet I really want to go to. Like the Maldives, about half of South America, most of India still. I’ve been to about six out 49 countries in Africa. I mean there are far too many to even name. There’s loads of places I want to go.
Do you follow your own lead with fashion or get a lot of advice?
I always wear suits, all day long, even weekends. Do I get a lot of advice? I get a lot, I get a real lot of advice from my wife. Happy wife, happy life, and she’s always right.
Apart from that I’m pretty simple in what I like. And yet occasionally there’s things I love, which surprise me that I love, things like a handmade pair of shoes or a hand tailored suit, or a made to measure suit. That to me is one of the great luxuries in life.