By Tom Butler
Have you ever noticed how characters in Tim Burton films never seem to blink? Or point?
It’s all part of the filmmaker’s peculiar masterplan according to Eva Green, the star of the gothic maestro’s new film ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’, who told Yahoo Movies, “Tim doesn’t like blinking in general.”
“I don’t,” confirms Burton, “I don’t know why. Even when you’re mentioning it now, it freaks me out.”
“And, I don’t know if she mentioned, but Eva’s the only person that I ever let point on screen. I hate pointing, especially pointing extras. I’ve had that. I almost wanna cut their arms off, especially with extras.”
‘Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children’ – in UK cinemas from Thursday, 29 September – is based on Ransom Riggs’ best-selling YA novel of the same name. Released in 2011, the book features striking vintage black and white photographs of peculiar children that help illustrate the story about Jake, an American boy who travels to a remote Welsh island while trying to solve the mystery of his grandfather’s death, where he stumbles upon the mysterious children’s home.
The book spent a whopping 70 weeks on The New York Times Best Sellers list, before Tim Burton jumped aboard Fox’s adaptation, and now fans of the book will finally get to see the peculiar story on screen.
Here we recount the book’s journey from page to screen with help from Tim Burton and Miss P. herself, Eva Green.
A Peculiar Book
Tim Burton: It’d been a bestseller before I’d even ever heard about it.
So, I came into it quite late, but when I looked at the book, I think it’s probably the first time I ever looked at a book and liked it before reading it. Just because I liked the way that Ransom [Riggs] had constructed this story around these old photographs.
I had an immediate connection to that because I love old photographs, and I look at them, and I have some that I’ve collected – not as many as Ransom does, but I have a collection.
Eva Green: Tim said he was going to send me this book and if I was interested, he’d love for me to do it. Even without having read the book, I was in. But, he’s a gentleman so I read the book and I loved those haunting pictures first of all.
You open it and it’s kind of like ‘wow!’ It’s so odd and austere and beautiful and very Tim Burton actually. I found Ransom Riggs’ world and Tim’s are quite similar, so I read it and I immediately saw Tim’s magic in it, and it was an easy decision to make.
Tim Burton: You feel like when you see these photographs, you get such a mixture of feelings of haunting, spooky, funny, or emotional, or sad, or a weird sense of poetry about it, and I think it had all that.
Then when I read the book, I thought ‘wow’, it’s got all the types of themes that I like. The themes of ‘what’s real or fantasy?’ The feelings of feeling peculiar, the labels of that and also, with Jake’s character [played by Asa Butterfield], this idea of feeling like you’re awkward and you don’t fit it.
Those feelings that I remember very strongly as a teenager, like ‘I don’t feel a part of my world, and I feel like I’m crazy’.
A Peculiar Script
Tim Burton: Jane Goldman (‘X-Men: First Class’/’The Woman In Black’) had written the script, and I’ve known Jane a little bit over the years, she’s a really amazing writer, an amazing person, and a peculiar person herself, so she was the right person for the job.
She didn’t change much. Luckily we had Ransom, since he’s still a young and alive writer, we got his blessing. We changed the characters slightly; we changed the peculiarities from Emma and Olive around, just because for a film we thought that – even though they’re all great characters – that the floating was a bit more poetic for that character.
But luckily, we check it with Ransom, and he’s a writer and he gets the fact that it’s not a book, it’s a movie, and we’re lucky that he had that spirit.
There’s Only One Miss P.
Tim Burton: Miss P. was originally an older person, but Eva was the right person for it. She was the first person I thought of about it because, for all of the reasons that are there, with her.
Eva Green: I think Tim’s Miss Peregrine is a bit more bonkers, in a Burton way. When you see the photograph of Miss Peregrine in the book she’s a bit more ‘beginning of the century’. With Tim, she’s a bit of a sexy creature and it’s in the 1940s, so she’s a bit more cuckoo. Literally.
One of the best things about Tim is that when he picks and actor he gives you a lot of freedom. He has total faith in you.
I see him more as a conductor when he’s on set. It’s a Burton film so you think, ‘how far can I go?’ You’re not going to play too natural, you have to do something, an expressionist kind of thing, but still remain quite human.
I thought we were going to go in the direction of the book, so we started with white hair; it was very beautiful. I sent him some pictures and he didn’t like it, so we went towards a dark blue 1940s inspiration, a bit like Marilyn Monroe’s hairdo but with a f***ed up kind of nest thing going on there, then a bit of a flick thing that reminds us of a bird’s tail.
Because she can transform into a bird, so for the physicality, there are sharp head movements, and they’re quite subtle but there’s no blinking. There’s something quite intense, because as you know my character is a peregrine falcon, so it’s a bird of prey, there’s something quite sharp about her.
Eva Green: Tim doesn’t like blinking in general.
Tim Burton: I don’t. I don’t know why. Even when you’re mentioning it now, it freaks me out. I don’t know why, maybe, you know how you say something and then it stays in your mind? But she’s right, she’s right.
And, I don’t know if she mentioned, but Eva’s the only person that I ever let point on screen. I hate pointing, especially pointing extras. I’ve had that. I almost wanna cut their arms off, especially with extras.
I had this long conversation with Eva where I told her ‘I hate seeing people pointing’, but then she does it and it’s fine. She’s the only one I’ll let point.
Making It Scary
Tim Burton: My sketches are crude, but I do like doing it, just because it helps me think and process it. In this particular one, I come into it more with designing the Hollows. I have lots of great concept artists but things were just starting to look a bit too much like regular monsters.
And so that’s where I did a little bit of sketching and a little bit of drawing, that kind of stuff. I’m lucky to work with enough collaborators where I can do a crude little sketch and then they get it. The word “Hollow” went with the description of the book too, so I like the fact that they still had their clothes on and they were blank, hollowy looking creatures.
From the beginning of my career, I’ve heard that [my films are too scary]. From ‘Beetlejuice’, ‘Batman’, ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’, they were all ‘too scary, too scary’ [holds hands up]. You know what, I grew up on these sorts of movies – I’m different – but I think it’s sort of an adult conceit in certain a way where they say ‘it’s going to be too scary for kids’ and you know what? When kids find it, like ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’, they find these things and they’re not scared.
Go read ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ before they go to bed, see how f***ing scary that is.
The Right Cast
Tim Burton: When I met Asa [Butterfield], I just felt like he was that character [Jake], because he looks like how I felt as a teenager, you know what I mean? So it was all very clear.
Eva Green: Asa looks like Tim drew him, you know what I mean? There’s something very pure and innocent which is so rare today. There’s something otherworldly that is so perfect for Jake, you want to protect him from the outside world for real.
Tim Burton: Terrence Stamp [Jake’s grandfather Abe] was first in my mind as well, and I’ve always wanted to work with Samuel L Jackson [Mr. Barron] so that was great. I’d met Judi Dench [Miss Avocet} but it was great to work with her.
Eva Green: I met [Judi Dench] when we did a bit of press for ‘Casino Royale’, but I was not lucky enough to work with her. She’s such an iconic actress, I was very intimidated, she’s so wonderful. I’m in awe of her. But she’s so funny as well, she’s so down to earth, there’s no bulls***. She’s beautiful.
Tim Burton: With the rest of the kids, a lot of them hadn’t acted before, or maybe done very little, so it wasn’t really about that so much, it was more about them meeting and feeling like they seemed peculiar to me. And that they had this sort of old soul quality that you see in certain children, like they’ve been here before, and they’re kind of spooky in a way.
Eva Green: Tim puts himself in the place of the actor. He understands that you always feel a bit vulnerable as an actor and he tries to make you as comfortable as possible. He’s so excited on set; it’s always a happy set.
He surrounds himself with lots of the same people; it’s like a family thing. You don’t have the studio, you don’t have lots of people who say what they think, and you have one vision from Master Burton. So it’s nice, you feel like you’re in good hands and it’s happy. He’s fun to be around, he laughs a lot, he doesn’t judge you, and it’s nice.
Tim Burton: Oftentimes you can’t do rehearsals, because they’re all off in different places. So, to gather a large ensemble like that, is very difficult most of the time, so no I don’t do rehearsals.
Eva Green: We didn’t rehearse. The first day of shooting was the dinner scene and I think Tim wanted to keep a bit of distance to keep that aura of Miss Peregrine, that respect from the pupils.
It’s in the 1940s too, so there was a bit of respect. The children love and respect her because she has so many rules, so she can be quite strict.
[We shot interiors] in the Gillette factory outside of London. The rest of the house was in Antwerp, because I think the house was a bit too small, so we shot the dining room scenes in London. It’s so rare now that we shoot in real surroundings. It’s never nice to have bloody green screens around you.
But here it was just so easy. It was the typical Tim Burton house, with the garden with the topiary in the centaur shape, or the dinosaur, it was like Edward Scissorhands land.
Tim Burton: I have a cameo in this. We needed a few extra shots, we didn’t have any money, we didn’t have any crew, we didn’t have any permits, so we snuck in a couple of shots at the last minute. We could get into trouble for that, but, you know… [laughs]
We nearly got kicked off Blackpool pier a few times for that.
Tim Burton: There’s a short stop motion sequence in the film. It’s because I love stop motion obviously, I’ve done three movies stop motion and I would have done more it’s just such a time consuming process, it’s not necessarily easy. It was OK in that little sequence, so I had some of the same people that had worked on Frankenweenie and some of my other films do that.
They all appreciate it because it’s such a rarefied medium, but it’s certainly for that sequence, it was great to do. You’ve seen stop motion stuff, it’s all tactile, it’s moving. Which is like the story, it’s inanimate objects coming to life.
The underwater stuff was difficult to do, just because. I would never want to do a full underwater movie, it’s quite painful. Not for me, but for the actors, Asa and Ella [Purnell], they were like drowned rats for several days, but they did it.
The Finished Product
Tim Burton: I’m never happy. I can never watch my films. I can barely start watching Pee Wee’s Big Adventure now.
I love everybody I worked with, I love the crew, I love the cast, so yes, these experiences are just so meaningful to me. It’s like Miss P’s family.
When you make a film, it is like a weird family, and so it was life imitating art.