Garrett Hedlund on 'Pan,' poetry and his memories of Peter O'Toole
With "Pan," Garrett Hedlund gets to go from laconic to slightly goofy. He talks about the inspiration for the voice he uses in the film and how he writes on set so as not to forget.
Garrett Hedlund doesn’t tend to do silly. He does brooding (“Tron: Legacy”) or laconic (“On the Road,” “Inside Llewyn Davis”). With “Pan,” from “Pride & Prejudice” and “Hanna” director Joe Wright, he kicks things up a gear. The pricey fantasy is a Peter Pan origin story, and Hedlund plays the younger Captain Hook, here given the first name James and not only more of a cowboy — and still sporting both hands — but a good guy who befriends Levi Miller’s Pan upon his first, hectic trip to Neverland. Hedlund gets to act oversized and speak in a ridiculous voice. Considering how much he gets into character, he found it a nice change of pace.
I spent a good stretch trying to think what the voice you’re doing here reminds me of, and eventually I decided it was John Huston. Am I even in the ballpark?
I have a funny story about that. When I first met with Joe, we talked about how Hook would sound. He saw Hook as someone who would have been out of a John Ford film — who would have been happy if he wasn’t in Neverland but on a horse on a prairie. But when I first met with him, I thought about when I was doing “Troy.” Peter O’Toole [his co-star], I was so fascinated by him and so in awe of working with Peter O’Toole. He would come up to me and say, [slips into spot-on O’Toole voice] “Garrett, my boy…” I think I was trying to do some of that. And Joe said, “ It’s wonderful! It’s like a classic old American!” And I just kept my mouth shut. It’s toned down, watered down. If I was to say I was just doing Peter O’Toole people would say, “You are a horrible actor.”
Peter O’Toole is not a bad meet for your first big film.
I was given “The Ruling Class,” with Peter, by Brian Cox [another co-star] to watch. He said, “You’ll get a kick out of this because Peter’s dancing around, flamboyantly prancing through this field. You’d get a kick out of seeing him then versus now.” Peter would be smoking a cigarette and walking up the stairs, and somebody would say, “Peter, do you ever think about quitting smoking?” He’d say, “Maybe I should quit stairs.”
Do you tend to be watch a lot of movies anyway?
I grew up watching “Bonanza” and stuff like that. It wasn’t films. We had one movie theater in our town that played one movie every weekend, and it was really behind on the times. I think “Men in Black II’ is just coming out now in my town. My dad would spend money on trying to provide for his kids, so that didn’t include paying for films. Because you could watch it on television.
James Hook is a bit of a departure for you. He’s a lot goofier than your previous roles.
I’ve never played a character who’s so big and projective. I’ve done films that are quite stressful. Usually we’re on sets and everyone’s stressed-out and you’re playing the darker character. You have an abusive father or you’ve lost family members or someone’s about to die. You can’t eat or sleep. Joe and I wanted the material to have a darker side, but we still managed to have a lot of fun with it. He and I were laughing so hard, saying, “Wouldn’t this be great to film a whole movie where we’re having a ball and relaxing and not stressing and feeling like a kid again?”
At the same time it does get pretty dark, which is especially notable now, when children’s films tend to be sanitized. Kids die, there’s a scary orphanage out of Dickens and other assorted weirdness.
Joe had said that before we started filming he had a 2 ½ year old son who was having night terrors. He didn’t know how to remedy it. He said that would like to make this film as dark as it can be to show kids that no matter how frightening your fears that you overcome them.
The idea, especially now, seems to be not to talk about it. But dark children’s films almost certainly help them cope with real fears. And I say this as someone with no children, so I honestly have no idea what I’m talking about.
Me neither. We’re in the same boat. But Tiger Lily’s outfit was really inspired by his son, and the fight scene on the trampoline was inspired by his son. Because his son loved this trampoline. It’s wonderful to be part of a film where so many aspects were inspired by this young boy. Levi [Miller, who plays Peter] was 11 while doing this, and it was just awesome to see a kid who has never been on a film set before and getting to do things that any could dream of. It really reminded you to loosen up a bit, that life’s short, let’s have fun.
You’ve talked in the past of writing a lot — including poetry — while on set. Do you still do that? Did you write anything while making “Pan”?
I would sit in Primrose Hill, and down the street you’d always see the plaques outside: Sylvia Path wrote ‘The Bell Jar’ over there, and a philosopher did this over here. I wrote a few poems, and they were kind of in the realm of what this film is dealing with. While we were rehearsing Joe asked Levi to read one of them. He read it and it was a really beautiful moment. That was really about it.
But I continue to do it, only because when we’re traveling we always find ourselves in a hotel somewhere, eating a club sandwich, getting to see lands that a lot of our family and friends don’t get to see, getting to meet wonderful people all over the globe. I really just write so I don’t forget. When I write sometimes I’ll think it’s just s—. A year or two later I’ll read them and think, “Why did I stress so much?” That completely takes you back to that moment. There’s a lot of people I know whose parents took a lot of pictures when they were kids. I never had that many of me taken as a kid. I’ve heard some people say they can’t remember their childhood because of this. So that’s why I do it.