Joe Wright Reveals How Nirvana Anthem 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' Made It Into Neverland Prequel 'Pan'

How THAT Nirvana Anthem Made It Into 'Pan'

One of the most memorable scenes in 'Pan', Joe Wright’s lavish Peter Pan prequel is when young Londoner Peter is first transported to Neverland, and encounters Blackbeard, an out-of-control Hugh Jackman, tyrannising thousands of pirates to mine for fairy dust. All this is accompanied by the anthemic chants of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, and it’s a moment that wasn’t even in the script.

“The script didn’t have anything like that,” remembers Joe now. “He was just supposed to walk on and make a speech.

“But during rehearsals, we had a ridiculous pirate boot camp for a week, so Hugh could get to know the other pirates. We were playing music, one day that song came on, everyone started singing, pogoing, and here we are… it was one of those films, where we were liberated to come up with the craziest, silliest ideas and make them real.”

Hugh Jackman brought his own ideas to the role of Blackbeard in Joe Wright's 'Pan'

One of the finest moments of all shows a nimble Hugh Jackman leaping up onto a balustrade to lord it over the pirates in the pit below. “That was all Hugh,” says Joe admiringly. “There was a safety cable so that if he fell off, he would have survived. But it was all his idea, and all Hugh, no post-production.”

‘Pan’ serves as a prequel to the familiar story of Peter Pan, showing the first encounter of Peter and his nemesis Captain Hook, played here by a swashbuckling Garrett Hedlund.

For Joe Wright, making a film of this size and scope was a chance to indulge the small child in him, the one he says he regretted turning his back on when he discovered girls and started trying to be cool.

“I’d just had my first son, and by the time I’d finished reading the screenplay, I was sobbing gently,” he admits, laughing. “I immediately felt like I needed to make the film.”

Levi Miller has made his big screen debut in 'Pan', the excuse Joe Wright needed to dodge CGI effects

“I guess I was interested in exploring that part of myself, the pre-adolescent self who was incredibly uncool, and was incredibly excited by the world, before I I started worrying about what other people thought of me, especially girls but boys too, and I started trying to conform a bit more, to adolescent peer group pressure, and so I turned my back on that kind and told him to shut up and stop embarrassing me, and instead I embarked on a kind of misguided journey to what I thought was cool, what I thought other people would think was cool.”

What was your worst cool crime?

“Gagging the child within myself,” says Joe quickly. “That was a terrible crime, really, so the process of making this film was trying to rediscover that kid, give him a voice and give him space to get creative and tell him I’m kind of proud of him, actually, and he’s all right and he is the cool kid.”

Joe’s young lead, Levi Miller, had never been in a big film before, and the director admits he used him as an excuse to eschew the suggested CGI effects in favour of building whole real sets to bring Neverland to life.

“I’d just never been any good at maths,” says Joe, shrugging. “I was nervous of embarking on a CGI kind of movie, so I thought I’d just try to build it all. I was just scared.

“They said, ‘You could just use CGI,’ and I kept saying, “It’s really important for Levi, he’s never made a film before and I don’t want him to stand in front of a green screen and try to act.’ I just used him to protect myself. Terribly exploitative, but hopefully he enjoyed himself.”

'Pan' is in UK cinemas now. Watch the trailer below...

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