When he’s not singing and dancing in some Broadway stage production, Hugh Jackman has made a successful career out of playing movie heroes (“Van Helsing,” “The Fountain”) or at least good guys (“Les Miserables,” “Real Steel”) or conflicted fellows (all of his Wolverine appearances). Jackman didn’t have a totally villainous role till last year’s little-seen “Chappie.” But in director Joe Wright’s “Pan,” an origin story imagined from J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” he embraces the idea of playing a nasty person, and does so with flair. He’s Blackbeard, the dashing, full-of-himself diva of a pirate who rules Neverland. Interesting note: Blackbeard doesn’t appear in the Barrie book or any films that have been adapted from it, but he was a real person, a fearsome British pirate who made much plunder in the early 1700s. Jackman recently spoke about the role, the film, and especially the costuming, in New York.
Q: How did you find your way into playing this character?
A: I’ve always wanted to play a role like this, in this kind of a world that had swashbuckling, sword-fighting pirates. I loved it. As soon as I knew Joe Wright (“Anna Karenina,” “Hanna”) was on board, I was ready to jump in. I had actually done a little bit of research about the real Blackbeard, who’s kind of amazing. I said to Joe, “You know, he used to glue incense sticks inside his beard, and then light them before going into battle so it would look like his head was on fire. That would be pretty cool [for the movie]. What do you think?” And Joe said, “I was thinking of something a little different,” and he showed me a picture of my face on an iPad, with white-cracked makeup, and the wig of Marie Antoinette, and the costume of Louis XIV, and all these rings. I thought, “Yeah, that’s a better idea.” and from then on, pretty much 80 percent of my work had been done by these over the-top costumes with ruffles and feathers and wigs. [Playing] Blackbeard brought out the ham in me, which is not too far below the surface.
Q: So wearing these costumes actually affected your performance?
A: Massively. I think from the moment you see Blackbeard, in the mirrors, being dressed ... by the way, I did have to be dressed. In every film you get a dresser, and often I think, “You know, I can put on JEANS myself.” But this was a film where I felt like we might need an extra person. Because there were layers upon layers, and it was beautifully handmade, down to the boots. It was astonishing. The moment I put it on I felt like that kind of show pony pirate who loves being Blackbeard, and loves all the pomp and ceremony of it, and all the adoration. So it really helped a lot.
Q: Was there any concern that Blackbeard isn’t in the book?
A: There’s one line in the original book: “Hook learned his trade as the boson for Blackbeard.” Which I presume [“Pan” screenwriter] Jason Fuchs took and ran with. So I’m playing a character who’s fresh to the story. But there is actually that little reference.
Q: Was there any one particularly challenging part of making the film for you?
A: It’s challenging finding the right tone for a movie like this, which is unabashedly enthusiastic and open. My character is larger than life in some ways, and loves the sound of his voice, but is also soulful and a bit sad and lonely, and you get the right amount of menace in him, without doing too much. I always find those kinds of balances really challenging and fun.
Q: Have your kids seen the film yet?
A: Yes, and they love it! They’re 15 and 10 and are brutally honest, and they said to me, “We actually really LIKE this!” And I thought, “Hmmm, what are you saying?” (laughs) But the ultimate compliment was when they said, “When you have another screening of it, we want to bring our friends.” That’s when I knew they loved it.