Hugh Jackman: Fear-some villain

PIRATE: Actor Hugh Jackman plays the villain Blackbeard in upcoming fantasy movie Pan.
PHOTO: Warner Bros

In Pan, film-maker Joe Wright's new reimagining of J. M. Barrie's beloved classic Peter Pan, our boy hero has to overcome many fears, from heights to living up to expectations.

Hugh Jackman can relate to all of that too.

The 46-year-old Australian actor admitted to being a very fearful kid - he was afraid of the dark and suffered from acrophobia, a fear of heights.

But like the titular protagonist Peter, he managed to overcome them because he "hated being scared".

Jackman met journalists at The Peninsula hotel in Hong Kong yesterday to promote Pan, a swashbuckling fantasy flick that tells of how Peter (Levi Miller) finds himself in Neverland.

Pan, which opens here on Oct 8, also focuses on the friendship between Peter and Hook (Garrett Hedlund), and how together with maiden warrior Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), the trio stands up against Jackman's dastardly pirate Blackbeard.

For Jackman, the appeal of starring in Pan was that it's a "family film".

He told M: "I don't think I've done one where I can tell kids and parents to go watch it together."

How will moviegoers relate to the story of Pan?

Peter is fearful of the pressure that's put on him. Everyone believes he's the saviour to liberate them from Blackbeard... That sense of dread, living up to what people want from us, that feeling is relatable to everyone.

Most of us have bosses, we want to please them, or meeting your parents' or your own expectations, it's hard for us adults, let alone a child.

What are your fears?

Growing up, I was scared of heights, I was scared of the dark. I was scared to be home alone. I used to be the first person home after school, and I wouldn't dare to go in and would sit outside. If I went in, I'd run straight to the TV and turn it on, as I didn't want to hear any noises in the house.

I overcame the fear of the dark after attending a school survival camp. I was 15 then. You were given a plastic sheet, some food and a string, and then you were sent into the Australian bush for two days and two nights all on your own.

So if you want to be cured of your fear of the dark and any kinds of creepy-crawlies, going into the Australian bush will definitely help you! (laughs)

I overcame my fear of heights by jumping off the diving board over and over until I wasn't scared any more.

I hated the feeling of being scared. I hated how it'd restrict me. I hated how it'd affect me (from) having a good time, like going to an amusement park and not being able to go on the roller-coasters... I knew my friends would make fun of me, so at some point I knew I had to overcome that.

How did you approach your character Blackbeard?

The same way as how they did in Judy Garland's The Wizard Of Oz. I remember the movie really scared me when I watched it as a kid. Those monkeys were terrifying, yet very real. When you're a kid, you really do think there's a bogeyman behind the door, and that there are monsters under your bed. Those fears are very real and as kids, they don't have the ability to process that fear, so fairy tales exist to reflect that fear.

And when you watch the hero overcome the fears, you can identify with him and that's what Peter Pan did. So I wanted to make sure I have a character who's sinister and scary, but also fun and funny. If I were too relentlessly evil, then it's too much for kids.

In Pan, there is a scene where Blackbeard leads his entire stronghold in a mass singalong of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. How was singing in Pan different from Les Miserables?

Oh, very different (laughs). Les Miserables was actual singing. This was pirate singing!

No one cares if anyone sings out of tune. Actually I wanted to sing more off-key. It was more shouting than singing (laughs).

You were a guest of honour at the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance event as part of Hong Kong's Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations. How was the experience?

They explained to me how it was an annual ritual that began about 100 years ago to ward off bad luck when Tai Hang, this former fishing village, suffered from a plague following a typhoon.

The dance involved me carrying this huge incense ball. Well, the incense was definitely powerful as my eyes were stinging afterwards.

It was an amazing event. Being part of it was a great honour, even more when I was told I'm the first international actor to be doing it.

I was really taking it seriously, hoping that I did the moves right.

The incense ball was heavier than I thought. At one point, the embers were falling on me! I just told myself to keep going. I don't want the bad luck to start (laughs).

This article was first published on September 30, 2015.
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