Giving voice to a world of pirates

By Theresa Smith Time of article published May 5, 2014

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TOM HIDDLESTON, who does the voice of James in The Pirate Fairy, won his first television role in Stephen Whittaker’s adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby for ITV, shortly after his role in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

A Rada graduate, Hiddleston’s credits include the series Wallander and Return to Cranford, and movies including Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. He is perhaps best known for his role as the villain Loki in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor for Marvel, and in Marvel’s The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World.

How would you describe your character in The Pirate Fairy?

I play a pirate named James, a young, optimistic, energetic and innocent pirate – if it’s possible to be innocent as a pirate. He’s got a very youthful energy about him. As an actor, I’m always looking for a beautiful journey in a character; I’m always looking for a character that is threaded through a story in an interesting way. Well, James has an incredible arc. I love being in the audience watching big stories on an epic scale – and that’s exactly what this movie is.

How would you describe James’ relationship with Zarina, the new Pixie Hollow fairy? James adores Zarina. He gives her gifts and he’s kind to her. They are best friends and he refers to her as the captain of their boat. James just wants to make Zarina’s life easy. She’s the boss and she completely trusts him. In the movie, Zarina teaches James how to fly using Blue Pixie Dust – and he’s thrilled by it.

It’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to him. At first, it’s a bit scary for him. He’s a bit wobbly and he can’t believe it’s happening – but then he gets the hang of it. He works out how to make the Pixie Dust and how to use it, as well as how to manufacture it. He wants to know everything about it. Tell us about the pirate song you sing in the movie. The song is called The Frigate that Flies and you can hear it in the middle of the film. At this point in the story, everybody is happy. Zarina is overjoyed; she loves these pirates.

The sky is blue and they dream about all of the places that they’re going to pillage and plunder.

The song is about being a pirate. It’s about being on a pirate ship that flies! It’s got an amazing ancient-mariner, sea-rolling energy to it. It’s got an amazing beat that’s really crisp and fun. I’ve never sung in a recording studio before. I’ve done a lot of voice work. I’ve done books on tape and commercial voice work – but singing in a studio was completely new to me. I’ve sung on stage and I’ve been in musicals but singing in a studio was a real thrill. I was a bit daunted at the beginning. I thought, ‘Wow, I’m at Disney and I’m recording a song for a Disney movie!’ I grew up on the great songs of Disney. My childhood was filled with the songs of Aladdin, The Lion King, Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book, so I was a bit scared at first. After warming up, I had the time of my life in there. I found my voice and it was great. It was really fun.

How tough is it to work with your voice alone on an animated project like this? I love voice work because you’re stripped of some of your tools. You’re stripped of your body and your eyes, which tell so much story when you’re doing live-action work. With voice acting, your voice has to tell all of the story, which means you have to work harder but in the most exciting way. You have a freer rein because the only ceiling on the work is your imagination.

What do you think of the animation process at Disney? Watching the animation process is magical. Of all the gifts people get given, drawing, painting and pictorial representation is not my strong suit. I’ve always been in awe of people who have that gift. The studios at Disney are full of people who are like magicians to me. How would you describe the look of James and his pirate friends?

Young James is on a ship full of pirates of different shapes. Basically, these pirates are squares and rectangles and trapezoids. But James is very human. He’s young and lean – and he looks very dashing. He’s got long hair and a sense of youthfulness about him.

Did you want to be a pirate when you were a child? During the school summer holidays my sisters and my cousins would write plays. And at the end of the summer, we’d perform them for our parents. That’s when I started acting. My sisters and my eldest cousin, Zoe, would write the play. My cousin Matt would make the stage. He was really good with his hands so he’d make swords, a ship, the sea… And I would always play the bad guy. I’m pretty sure I played Captain Hook at one point. What do you think of Captain Hook from the Peter Pan tales? Hook wants to be the bad guy. He’s not a complicated bad guy in that he thinks he’s the good guy. He knows he’s bad. He relishes being a pirate and having huge ambitions to steal and plunder. As a child, you love him for that. You’re partly afraid of him, but you partly love him. You think, “Look at that man having so much fun. He’s so elegant and stylish and he’s so witty.” I’ve always loved Hook. I always thought he was a great character.

Are you much of a Peter Pan fan? I grew up on Peter Pan. I grew up on JM Barrie’s book and the Disney film. It was one of the films that me and my sisters – and my whole family – used to watch on a loop. We grew up on all of those early Disney movies, including The Jungle Book, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, Robin Hood and Mary Poppins, which is one of my favorite films. How does it feel to be part of a movie set against the backdrop of Pixie Hollow and Neverland? As a child, I loved the story of Neverland. I used to watch Peter Pan and I loved the story of the Lost Boys and the pirates, as well as Tinker Bell and Wendy. I loved all that stuff. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I would one day be an actor called upon to play a role in a movie like this. It’s amazing. It’s a huge, huge honour. I feel so proud and happy.

What excites you the most? My oldest sister has a daughter who is going to love this movie so much. That makes me really happy. One day, when I have kids of my own, I hope they’ll see it too. I hope they laugh about their dad playing this iconic role.

• From the world of Peter Pan comes The Pirate Fairy. It’s about Zarina, a smart dust-keeper fairy who’s captivated by Blue Pixie Dust and its endless possibilities. When Zarina’s wild ideas get her into trouble, she flees Pixie Hollow and joins forces with the scheming pirates of Skull Rock, who make her captain of their ship.

Tinker Bell and her friends must embark on an epic adventure to find Zarina, and together they go sword-to-sword with the band of pirates led by a cabin boy named James (voice of Hiddleston), who’ll soon be known as Captain Hook himself. The Pirate Fairy sets sail this weekend.

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