‘Pan’s’ Hugh Jackman Follows Nicole Kidman’s Advice to Pick Projects by Director

When actor Garrett Hedlund heard that Warner Bros. was making “Pan,” a live-action retelling of J.M. Barrie’s beloved Peter Pan tale, he wasn’t initially keen on the idea.

“There’ve been so many incarnations of the film, and a lot of fairytales have been turned into live-action films lately. I thought, ‘Is the world ready for another one’? Then I read the ‘Pan’ script and it was so fun and different,” Hedlund, 31, told Variety at the film’s U.S. premiere at New York’s Ziegfeld Theatre on Sunday afternoon. “It also affected me emotionally. I laughed, I cried and I knew why the movie was being made. Because of [director] Joe Wright’s unique vision, the movie is very ambitious, has lot of action, and [is] wonderfully colorful. I hope people will like the movie as much as I do.”

Hedlund may not have to worry. He and his costars Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara, Australian newcomer Levi Miller — along with Wright — received an enthusiastic reception from guests at the screening, whose audience consisted of many young children. Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber were among the moviegoers who brought their kids to watch the film, which focuses on an orphaned Peter searching for his mother.

“I was interested in making a big action-adventure movie for quite some time and one that tells a very personal story,” said Wright, 43. “With ‘Pan,’ I had the opportunity to do that. It’s a completely different reimagining of J.M. Barrie’s story, that focuses on the love between a son and his mother, but I wanted to stay faithful to the tone and atmosphere of the book, which is strange and wondrous.”

Screenwriter Jason Fuchs, 29, has been thinking about the origins of Peter Pan ever since he and his father got stuck on the Peter Pan ride at Disney World, when he was 9-years-old.

“While we were stuck in the pirate ship over miniature London, I had a lot of questions about Peter Pan,” said Fuchs. “Why was he Peter Pan? How come he can fly? Why don’t Peter and Hook like each other? I had a lot of annoying questions that my dad didn’t have answers [to]. So I sort of spent the last decades imagining what those answers might be, and the result was this movie.”

Warner Bros. purchased Fuchs’ script in the summer of 2013 and filming began in April 2014, with a budget of around $150 million. Wright (“Pride & Prejudice,” “Atonement”) signed on to direct the family film, which would be his first Hollywood tentpole. Soon, Jackman was on board to star in the film as the villain Blackbeard. Jackman noted that one of the main reasons he wanted to be involved with the project was to work with Wright.

“For the last eight years, I’ve really tried to choose great directors to work with, and it’s advice I got from Nicole Kidman. She’s right,” Jackman, 46, told Variety. “It’s a director’s medium, and I have been very lucky to have worked with Denis Villeneuve, Tom Hooper, Christopher Nolan, Baz Luhrmann and now, Joe Wright. Working with these great directors, you learn so much as an actor and you are offering audiences something different. And that’s what this film is: a different take on the origins of all the characters that you’ve come to know and love. ‘Pan’ is from the point of view of an 11-year-old, and it’s shamelessly optimistic and energetic, and I always want to be a part of that.”

The upbeat and family-friendly movie is what attracted Mara to play Neverland’s Princess Tiger Lily.

“To go to work every day and not have to be in a dark place all day was one of the great things that I loved about this film,” Mara said. “It was all about having fun. And because most of the films that I have done are not family films, I wanted to do something that my nieces and nephews could see.”

Shortly after it was announced that the “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” actress, 30, would play Tiger Lily, fans were outraged with the casting. A petition was created to get Mara replaced in order to stop “casting white actors to play people of color.” Tiger Lily’s presence in many live-action iterations and Disney’s 1953 animated film version specifically set her as Native American.

“I felt really bad about it,” said Mara. “It was something I thought about before I met with Joe. They told me about Tiger Lily and I thought, ‘I can’t play that part. Tiger Lily is Native American.’ But they said, ‘He’s doing something different.'”

Mara said she sat down with Wright and discussed his vision. He explained to her that different cultures around the world would make up the Neverland tribe. Since it was a completely different interpretation and not a remake, it made sense for her to play the role.

“We’re never going to make everyone happy and I think the people who were offended thought I was playing a Native American, but that’s not who I’m playing,” she said. “I’m playing a native of Neverland and she’s a brave warrior, very independent and self-sufficient. In a lot of these types of stories, the women are the damsels in distress, and Tiger Lily is very much the opposite of that. She’s actually more capable than some of the boys, and I loved that about her.”

Mara spent months stunt training, learning martial arts and how to handle wirework for her battles scenes. It’s the most physical role she’s done to date, and she finds working with the special effects green screen to be easy.

“You kind of forget about it very quickly,” she said. “It’s like watching a foreign film with subtitles. As you watch, you end up forgetting that you are reading them. It’s the same with working with a green screen. You kind of forget it’s there and you don’t really think about it.”

Miller, who makes his big screen debut after beating about 4,000 boys to play Peter Pan, hopes to have a long career. He already has his next acting gig lined up: He’s been cast in CBS’ comic book series “Supergirl” as Carter Grant, the son of Calista Flockhart’s character Cat Grant. “I love acting and I would like to continue doing it as I get older,” said Miller, 12, a Brisbane, Australia native, who learned a lot about acting from his “Pan” costars. “Hugh told me to have fun with it and to always work hard,” he said.

One acting skill Miller has learned — and mastered — is to cry on cue. His trick is to think of the worst things possible. “My dog died just before I started filming ‘Pan,'” he said, “so I thought of that.”

After the screening, Warner Bros. threw an extravagant after-party at the Chelsea Piers Lighthouse. The large venue adjacent to the Hudson River was transformed into Neverland’s Native Village forest. Replicas of the native’s tents were on display throughout the event space. Younger guests spent the afternoon getting their face painted, creating bottles of pixie dust, designing Tiger Lily pom pom necklaces and taking pictures dressed as pirates — while eating hot dogs, pizza, chicken nuggets and ample candy. Notable guests at the party included Mariska Hargitay, who brought her husband Peter Hermann and their son; former “ER” actor Anthony Edwards and his daughters; and reality star Bethenny Frankel with her daughter.

“Pan” opens in theaters on Oct. 9.

(Pictured: Garrett Hedlund, Levi Miller, Rooney Mara andHugh Jackman at the New York “Pan” premiere)

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