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Interview: Samuel L. Jackson, Ella Purnell talk ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’

Jay Maidment, courtesy of 20th Century FoxDirector Tim Burton has opened himself up to a whole new world with his new film, the dazzling “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” and he’s brought with him largely a new cast of players for the trip.

Apart from Eva Green and Terrance Stamp, who previously starred in Burton’s “Dark Shadows” and “Big Eyes,” respectively, the cast of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” mostly consists of a slate of actors Burton has never worked with before. Among them are young adults like Asa Butterfield and Ella Purnell, and stalwart veterans like Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson.

In a phone conversation with Jackson from New York City Tuesday, Jackson, who has worked often with acclaimed writer-director Quentin Tarantino, said Burton reminded him quite a bit of his frequent collaborator.

“I wrapped ‘Hateful Eight’ with Quentin and I was wearing Mr. Barron’s eyes, teeth and wig two days later,” Jackson said. “I found that both Tim and Quentin are both sure-handed directors who know what they want and how they want to do it, and they have a crack team of people around them that understand them and their shorthand. They get what they want very quickly and don’t work you to death trying to get it.”

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In “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” opening Friday in theaters nationwide, Jackson plays Mr. Barron, an undead, shape-shifting creature on the hunt for a group of “Peculiars” — supernaturally gifted children who are being hidden in a time loop by watchful Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), a headmistress-type with a special gift of her own.

“He’s an interesting character, I don’t know if he’s bad, but he has his interesting moments,” Jackson, 67, said. “He has a great ability to intimidate people, but he’s an affable kind of human when he’s human.”

Jackson knows audiences will likely be frightened of Mr. Barron because of his ghastly appearance, so that’s why he made a conscious decision to lessen the air of fear that surrounds the character.

“Because he has an intimidating look, I thought it was incumbent upon me to find some way to draw an audience in to discover who he is,” Jackson said. “I wanted to give them a brief respite from the look and be able to laugh with him and at him, sometimes.”

Jackson said the reason he got to play around with the role stems from the creative freedom Burton granted him, making Mr. Barron more of creative collaboration than a standard film role.

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“He allowed me to blossom in the role. He had his idea of how the world of the film worked and who the people inside of it were, but allowed me to come inside and show him what I wanted to do,” Jackson said. “Once he figured out that I was playing with Mr. Barron’s humanity more than his monstrosity, he was extremely happy that I was bringing some light moments to things that would be very heavy in the hands of someone else.”

One of the delicacies of the role, at least to Jackson’s character, were human eyeballs — food, if you will, that Mr. Barron and his cohorts need to consume to in order to regain their human form. Jackson said he wasn’t too grossed out by the prospect. Basically he kept the ghoulish thoughts out of sight and out of mind.

“It was actually quite enjoyable. We had one hour of sitting at this table where we sat and ate these delicious marzipan eyeballs they made,” Jackson said with a laugh. “There was a moment of ‘ewww’ and then that repulsiveness turned into the joy of watching us enjoy them like they were the best thing on the planet. It turned into a laughable moment that should be repulsive.”

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Also having lighter moments with her character, quite literally, was Purnell, who plays the Peculiar Emma Bloom — a teen who has the power to levitate and create bubbles underwater so she can swim to unfathomable depths. And while Burton used movie magic to create Purnell’s floating scene, all the underwater work in the film was her — with the exception of the bubbles and air pockets, of course.

“I did all of my work underwater since I knew how to swim beforehand, but you feel in such safe hands with Tim,” said Purnell in a separate phone conversation. “Even though it was this huge underwater sequence and it was before they added the special effects, I wasn’t nervous. I felt, ‘Tim knows what he is doing and how he wanted the scene to be.’ It was fun to take a massive leap of faith with somebody that was so brilliant.”

Purnell also did extensive wire work to create the illusion that she was floating, but despite it all, when she screened the completed film for the first time, she couldn’t help but feel that what she was watching was real.

ella-purnell-in-miss-p Ella Purnell in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.”

“I still have to pinch myself because it’s so surreal. I have to admit, I do quite actually enjoy being up in the air now,” Purnell quipped. “Having spent six months strapped in a harness, I kind of miss it now, where they’d leave me up there and go out for lunch. It was such of a comfortable, happy place, and that’s why I could really relate to the character.”

Purnell believes the key to the success of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” (based on the best-seller by Ransom Riggs) is that reliability — a sort of reliability that extends to the film’s audience.

“I think everybody can relate to the feeling of not fitting in, wondering what your place is and who you are,” Purnell, 20, said. “It’s OK to realize that you’re not as normal as you’d like to be or potentially you are a bit weird and stand out for the right or wrong reasons. Nowadays with social media, with young people following celebrities and trying to conform with society’s expectations, it’s important that they get our message. They have to see this movie because it celebrates individuality. It celebrates it as a strength – as something you can actually use to your advantage. You can use it to protect and save like-minded people. I just think that’s so wonderful.”

Interview: Tim Burton finds happy haunt with ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’

20th Century FoxIconic director Tim Burton has invited us to all sorts of fantastical cinematic settings throughout his illustrious, 31-year feature film career, and quite often we get a point-of-view look at those distinct landscapes through his eyes as his characters virtually take on his peculiar persona.

That’s why fans of the famed filmmaker are certain embrace his new cinematic wonder “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” adapted from the international best-seller by author Ransom Riggs. Set in the present with leaps in time back to 1943, the film finds the caring Miss Peregrine protecting from evil a group of children with different sorts of supernatural abilities. One can see monsters, while another can bring inanimate objects to life. There’s also a child who has the gift to project visions in his mind out of his right eye, and another who has a body inhabited by bees.

Burton said in a phone conversation from New York City Tuesday that he can deeply relate to the isolation and indifference felt by all of Miss Peregrine’s children, and while he’s heartily proven over the years that he can see monsters, create them on a set and project them on a big screen, he’d just as soon leave the insects out of it.

“The peculiarity I’d least like to have is bees living inside of me — I have enough buzzing around in my head and I don’t need that,” Burton said, laughing. “I tried to find myself in all of these characters. That was the fun of it. Each of the characters has a slight symbolic meaning to them that I always tried to relate to.”

eva-green-and-asa-butterfield-in-miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-childrenEva Green and Asa Butterfield in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” (Photo: Jay Maidment)

The great thing is, that symbolic meaning isn’t exclusive to Burton. Much like the characters that populate the director’s other films, the children in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” are also bound to resonate with audiences. True, the children have fantastical abilities that you and I could only dream of, yet they’re multi-dimensional people who are relatable on an emotional level because Burton is the filmmaker serving as the story’s creative conduit.

“One of the things that I loved about the story is that I think a lot of us ar

e deemed as weird or peculiar,” Burton said. “The fact is, while all these kids have their peculiarities, if you didn’t know what those peculiarities were, they’d just be viewed as normal kids. That’s something I really felt close to and was an interesting dynamic in the story.”

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Opening in theaters nationwide on Friday, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” stars Eva Green as Miss Peregrine, along Asa Butterfield as Jacob Portman. Jacob is a shy and sensitive Florida teenager who is perceived as troubled because of his claims that he can see monsters — villainous creatures that turn out to be real and are threatening him, Miss Peregrine and the peculiar children tucked away in a mystical time loop halfway across the world.

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” also stars Ella Purnell as a teen peculiar who has the power to levitate; Kim Dickens and Chris O’Dowd as Jacob’s parents; Terrance Stamp as Jacob’s grandfather, Abe; Allison Janney as Jacob’s therapist; Samuel L. Jackson as villainous former peculiar and Judi Dench who has a peculiarity akin to Miss Peregrine.

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Among the crew on the film is executive producer Derek Frey, who began his career as the director’s assistant on “Mars Attacks!” in 1996. In a separate phone conversation, Frey said that Burton maintained the same level of bursting enthusiasm for “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” as he’s had during their 20 years of collaboration.

“Whether an idea is generated by him or exists in a book previously, regardless of where it comes from,  Tim remains completely committed and gives his all to every single project … he’s putting his mark on it and putting as much energy into as everything else,” Frey said. “That’s what inspires me, to see that energy. Tim’s an artist. He’s truly unique and that’s why he’s one of the few remaining distinct filmmakers out there.”

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Photorealistic

While “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” seems like it was tailor-made for Burton, the truth is that the whole project came together by happenstance. Riggs, fresh out of film school in California, originally conceived the idea of “Miss Peregrine” as a picture book made up of unidentified vintage photographs of people he picked up at flea markets and antique shops in what began as a personal hobby.

The air of mystery about some of the photographs that featured children compelled Riggs to construct a narrative around the snapshots, and before too long, the proposal to adapt Riggs’ then-newly published “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” found its way to Burton’s office in 2011.

derek-frey-and-tim-burtonDerek Frey and Tim Burton on the set of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” (Photo: Leah Gallo)

“It was the first time I looked at a book and loved it before I read it, and it was because of the old photographs,” Burton said. “I like photographs — especially old ones — because they give you such a strange feeling. There’s something quite mysterious, haunting and poetic about old photographs. The way he constructed a story around these photographs was quite clever — that idea was inspiring, just on its own. When I read it and saw all the other layers that went into it, it just felt very close to me.”

20th Century FoxRansom Riggs and Tim Burton. (Photo: Leah Gallo)

Reading a book, of course, is one thing, and adapting it into a film is another, which is why Burton and screenwriter Jane Goldman took great care in maintaining the core of Riggs’ novel.

“It was weird. We were doing a movie, which is based on moving imagery, and obviously that’s different from still photographs,” Burton observed. “That was always in the back of our minds. We wondered, ‘How do you do a moving image yet keep the spirit of the book, the poetry, the discovery and the feeling of a weird children’s bedtime story like the way Abe tells things to Jacob?’ We wanted to keep the spirit of the book and have Ransom’s blessing, because you don’t want to piss the writer off if you can help it, right? Luckily, between Ransom, Jane and I, we found a good mix.”

Top two photos by Leah Gallo.

Interview: Leah Gallo talks ‘The Art of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’

Quirk BooksWhile fans of Tim Burton are waiting with burning anticipation for the release of his latest, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” one of the celebrated filmmaker’s closest collaborators has another look at the film in a most peculiar way.

In the new book “The Art of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” (Quirk Books), photographer/writer Leah Gallo documents the making of Burton’s new adventure fantasy. In addition to a myriad of behind-the-scenes photos and portraits of cast members, the book features an introduction by Burton as well as a foreword by Ransom Riggs, the author of the best-selling novel that the film is based upon.

“Ransom is such a genuine, down-to-earth human being, and he just brings a lot of enthusiasm to everything he does,” Gallo, a Pennsylvania native, recently said in a recent phone conversation from London. “Just being around him, it’s contagious. It’s always fun to hang out with him. We did photo shoots on the film, including Belgium, and he was a lot of fun to take photos of because he was game for whatever.”

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df-08993Leah Gallo. (Photo: Jay Maidment, courtesy 20th Century Fox)

Like she did on her last book on a Burton film, “Big Eyes: The Film, The Art,” Gallo doubled her chores by writing the text as well as taking on many of the photographer duties. While on-set photographs from the making of the film were taken throughout the shoot, the most intensive period of work on the book in terms of the photos and writing took place between November 2015 and May of 2016. Joining Gallo on the book was her longtime collaborator Holly Kempf, who was in charge of design.

Gallo’s “The Art of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” was unique in that the idea of Riggs’ novel was borne out of photographs, assembled from the author/filmmaker’s collection of unidentified vintage portraits that he assembled through trips to flea markets, antique stores and the like. Many were mysterious, if not eerie photographs of children, which led Riggs to conceptualize them in writing as “peculiar” with supernatural abilities.

As a result, Gallo created similar vintage portraits of the characters in the film, which in effect placed her in a parallel universe, effectively, by recreati

ng the original photographs.

“We wanted to keep the vibe of the original photos as much as possible. Whenever we could, we tried to be true to the essence of the photos and the ways the subjects posed in Ransom’s book,” Gallo said.

But unlike Riggs, Gallo said she doesn’t collect old, unidentified photographs of people — nor has she ever had the desire to.

“Whenever I see those old photo bins, I just feel a sense of sadness in a way,” Gallo said. “It’s like they’re pieces of orphaned history that creates a mystery. ‘Who was this person?’ It creates limitless possibilities. That’s why I think Ransom did a great job of curating his collection for his book, and choosing ones that were very striking, intriguing and creepy. I certainly appreciate them and find them compelling, especially in the way he’s constructed the narrative around them.”

“The Art of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” includes dozens of interviews with cast and crew members from the film, including executive producer (and Gallo’s husband) Derek Frey, and of course, the filmmaker behind the peculiar vision that fans will see on the big screen when it opens across the country Friday.

leah-gallo-3Leah Gallo, sketched by Tim Burton, from “The Napkin Art of Tim Burton” (Steeles Publishing).

Gallo recalled the first time she talked with Burton about what inspired him to make the film.

“The photographs from Ransom’s book are what attracted Tim to the project,” Gallo said. “He found them compelling and mysterious. They were a huge part of why he wanted to do the film. I think that’s he was attracted to doing the story of these peculiar children. There’s a similar narrative in a lot of his films, of the misunderstood.”

While she’s collaborated with Burton for 10 years, Gallo said it’s always fascinating to talk with the filmmaker about his newly realized big-screen visions. Essentially, no matter how much she thinks she knows Burton, she always ends up learning so much more about what goes into bringing those visions to life.

“Whenever I interviewed him for the book, he always had answers that surprised me,” Gallo enthused. “The depths in which he thinks about every little detail is amazing.”

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Interview: Ransom Riggs thrilled to enter ‘Peculiar’ world of Tim Burton

20th Century FoxBy Tim Lammers

Ransom Riggs certainly doesn’t mind being called a peculiar person, and not just for the fact that he wrote the novel “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” which spawned into a best-selling book trilogy. He’s peculiar in Hollywood, especially, because he’s a novelist, screenwriter and filmmaker, and not necessarily in that order.

Usually, you’ll find one or another, but hardly ever together.

And through an extraordinary series of events, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” — a little more than five years after it was published — will debut in theaters later this month as the latest film from acclaimed director Tim Burton. The novel has come a long way in a short time, considering that Riggs wrote it while trying to carve out a career as a filmmaker and writer. Usually, it’s the other way around, where a writer writes, and someday, maybe, their novel is adapted for the big screen.

But writing “Miss Peregrine’s” wasn’t a novel idea, so to speak, for Riggs. The genesis of the idea dated back before film school, when he started collecting vintage photos of peculiar people wherever he could find them. Eventually those people — children, in particular — made their way in Riggs’ story to an orphanage on an abandoned Welsh Island, where the titular Miss Peregrine watched over the kids, who were dubbed “Peculiars.”

“I was writing fiction in my spare time since I was a kid, and telling various iterations of a kid trapped in seemingly normal world who finds a door hidden within that world to another one, to an extraordinary place,” Riggs said in a recent phone conversation from New York City. “The photos just became another way for me to tell that story in a style that appealed to me, having just finished film school, because I had been trying to tell stories for three years using words and pictures. So, it was a natural thing to be writing a screenplay on one hand, and at the same time be writing an illustrated novel on the other.”

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The images were not drawings, though, but most of the time were haunting photos that helped Riggs tell his story.

“The photos became a fun resource to draw on when I got to the point of the story and said, ‘OK, I need to create this characters — who are they and what do they look like? — I needed a little grounding,” Riggs recalled. “Also, I liked using the photos because they are a document of a real, incontestably actual thing — a person or a place — in a story that is hugely fantastic and fictional. They just ground in a little bit of history in this story that otherwise might float off into the ether.”

The opening of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” in theaters nationwide Sept. 30, will no doubt assure Riggs that his characters didn’t float off into the ether. Grounding Miss Peregrine is the always charismatic Eva Green, while Asa Butterfield plays Jacob Portman, a Peculiar with the unique ability to see monstrous ex-Peculiars called “Hollowgasts.” The film also stars the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Allison Janney and Judi Dench, while Jane Goldman adapted the screenplay. Burton’s longtime collaborator Derek Frey serves as one of the film’s executive producers.

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Of course, while some authors fret over how their work is going to be adapted, Riggs the filmmaker knows that try as anyone might, they are never going to 100 percent be able to adapt the written words in a novel for the big screen, because they are simply two different mediums. But coming from a similar background as Burton (“We both grew up in very sunny, suburban places dreaming of Gothic castles,” Riggs noted with a laugh), the writer knew his creation was in caring hands.

“I think the best adaptation from novel to film is not always the most faithful adaptation. In order to really make a great film that stands on its own as a piece of cinematic art, the filmmaker has to take the material and internalize it, and make it their own,” Riggs observed. “And yet, while the film diverges from the book in different aspects, Tim captures the spirit and the tone and the messages of the book in ways that I don’t think that any other filmmaker could have. I suppose that’s why Tim gravitated to book. He saw something in it that resonated with him.”

The interesting thing is, while Riggs knew there would be changes in the interpretation of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” from book to film, he was pleasantly surprised with the changes, even to the point where he found himself saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“I constantly was thinking of that. Constantly,” Riggs said, laughing. “So many changes that Tim made — and they’re tweaks, really, there weren’t any enormous changes — were so smart. When something is finished, it’s fun to step back and think, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if the extremely strong girl wasn’t this brawny teenager, but this little, Shirley Temple-like Kewpie Doll girl? Yes! That’s hilarious!’ When you’re making a film and you’re going to be confronted with the visuals of these characters 24 frames a second, making them look right and tweaking the characters to look a certain way is so important.”

September is a big month for Riggs. In addition to Burton’s “Miss Peregrine’s” film, author/photographer Leah Gallo’s “The Art of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children” (Quirk Books), which Riggs wrote the foreword for, was released this week. Then, on Saturday, Riggs’ latest novel, “Tales of the Peculiar” (Quirk Books) — which he describes as “an artifact from the Peculiar world” – hits the shelves.

“‘Tales of the Peculiar’ are like the ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ for the Peculiars. They’re the beloved tales that they have grown up reading or hearing read to them by their Ymbrynes (who hide Peculiars from the world’s dangers) and reading to one-another,” Riggs explained. “In the second book in the series (‘Hollow City’), the tales become very important because they contain all sorts of coded messages and secrets about the location of important loops, and the identities of Peculiars and Ymbrynes, who can help them. There are actually a couple tales entirely told within the text of ‘Hollow City,’ and I had so much fun writing them that when I finished the three books, I wanted to write more.”