NEW YORK — In the film fable “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” a group of young people who possess some very unusual traits live inside a time “loop” that repeats the same day over and over again — basically in a world where they never age and live forever.
The point is to protect these special kids in the story — based on the debut novel by Ransom Riggs — from being devoured by a cadre of monsters, known as Hollows.
The kids’ peculiarities range from an ability to control wind and air, to the gift of being invisible, to having the innate power to light fires, to the power to see invisible monsters.
Riggs’ book was very much in the wheelhouse of Tim Burton, the director who has given us such offbeat tales as “Edward Scissorhands,” “Beetlejuice,” “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” “Mars Attacks!” and the animated “Corpse Bride.”
“Even if you didn’t know what those children’s individual peculiarities were, you come to discover they are just great kids,” Burton said earlier this week. “That’s how I always felt as a kid. While I didn’t feel that I was myself peculiar, I was labeled that — because I loved monster movies and things like that.
“I used to take offense at that, but then I embraced it. So, today, if I hear someone describe another person as peculiar, that means I’ll probably like them. Usually that means they’re quite sensitive, have an artistic steak, and are emotional. Even if they’re quiet and seem like they don’t fit into their world, they’re usually good people and I find they tend to be very creative.”
For Samuel L. Jackson, the chance to work with Burton was what he called “a dream come true.” While Jackson has worked with virtually ever notable director — as well as actor and actress — in Hollywood, “Miss Peregrine’s…” represents the first time the two were able to collaborate on a movie.
Jackson clearly loved developing the character of the shape-shifting monster Barron, who believes the key to immortality — and perhaps the chance to regain his humanity — is to hunt down the Peculiars and Miss Peregrine in particular.
As the actor noted, “Barron is a very rich character — a scientist who was part of an experiment gone wrong in an attempt to find immortality. A lot of people have done that in a lot of different movies. He’s figured out how to get there, but he’s also messed up some of his other friends in the process.”
Jackson noted that the word “peculiar” can conjure up negative reactions in a world where individuality is frequently suppressed by pressures to conform to accepted norms.
“I prefer [the children] be called unique,” he said. “I also think these kids today — if they existed of course — would be far better tolerated. In the millennial world we live in now, I think these kids could go to a regular school and not be ostracized. I think millennial kids would think they would have some really cool friends with those Peculiars, who had this unique thing about them.
“There wouldn’t be parents — I would hope — telling their kids, ‘We’ll have none of that! Oh, no! You can’t play with that kid’ — as would have been the case in 1943, when most of this film takes place.”
Eva Green, who plays the title role, understands the whole concept of being an outsider. “When I was young, I always felt a bit weird, as if I was floating in a parallel universe. I was extremely shy and always felt like an outsider. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to discover that everyone has felt a bit strange in their lives at one point or another. We have to learn to accept who we are. It’s OK to be strange. We need to be unique — that’s what makes us beautiful,” said Green, who laughed when reminded Burton called her his “very dark Mary Poppins.”
Green recalled a time when she never could have given a speech, let alone acted in a movie.
“I was extremely shy. I couldn’t speak in public. It was really hard for me. … Then when I was 12, one of my teachers forced me to go to a theater workshop. I so didn’t want to go, but I did, and I had an epiphany. I realized I felt really good being someone else and pretending to be a character. It helped me to tame my demons,” said the actress.
Miss Peregrine’s name has a direct meaning: She can morph into a peregrine falcon, since she is a ymbrine, meaning she can manipulate time and take the form of a bird. “They brought a real one on set so I could study how the bird functions, moves and views the world,” she recalled.
“It’s very acute the way it looks at you. It’s very sharp-looking. When it looks at you, it almost seems it looks straight through you and can almost read your thoughts. It was kind of weird, actually.
“This past February I went to Africa and actually saw some real ones in the wild. They are among the fastest animals on the planet. They go right for their prey — and they go so fast!”