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Tim Burton On Why He Created A Role Especially So He Could Work With Samuel L. Jackson

And reveals to BuzzFeed why he loved the project so much and how he identifies with the ~peculiar~ subjects.

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Later this week we finally get to see Tim Burton's latest film offering, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. It's an adaptation of Ransom Riggs' bestselling debut novel from 2011, which tells the story of a boy, Jake, who ends up travelling to what appears to be a derelict orphanage in Wales following the death of his grandfather.

What follows is an astonishing tale full of many strange revelations and experiences. In fact, it's pretty much the perfect ready-made Tim Burton tale, something that the director joked about when BuzzFeed sat down with him in London recently to discuss adapting the film. He quipped: "When I read the book I thought, wow, it’s got lots of themes that I... I thought, Did I write this book?! I didn’t, of course."


You can tell from speaking to the acclaimed filmmaker just how much he revelled in the story, which he brought to life with the help of Eva Green as the titular lead character and numerous breakout child stars, including Asa Butterfield and Ella Purnell, as well as the inclusion of stars such as Samuel L. Jackson, Judi Dench, and Chris O'Dowd.

And it's actually because he identifies with the main character that he particularly felt close to the story, the "peculiar" theme of it, and the message it sends to young people about embracing their strangeness.

He told us: "The Jake character feels like he doesn’t belong in his world and sees things that aren’t there, you think you’re crazy... I always felt like I grew up with that feeling where you get labelled as peculiar – labelled as something weird or strange and that’s what I liked about this. When I met Asa, the lead actor, I thought he looks like I felt as a teenager... You feel awkwardness, you feel like he doesn’t fit in. And also that dynamic of seeing things that maybe they’re there, maybe they’re not. Then you start to question, especially at that age, if you’re crazy. I remember feeling and thinking thoughts and things – maybe I’m crazy. It was a common feeling for me and maybe it’s something that other people can recognise as well."

But, as with any book adaptation, there of course came numerous tweaks and changes to bring it to life. And, along with the author, Burton ensured the story was told in the best way possible on the big screen. We got him to talk us through some of the biggest changes he made from book to movie...

1. Emma's peculiarity has been swapped over with another character's.

In the book, Emma (played by Ella Purnell in the movie, seen on the left) is a pyrokinetic peculiar who is able to create fire at will with her hands. However, in the movie this "talent" or affliction, as Burton calls them, has been swapped with Olive's. In the book Olive (played by Lauren McCrostie, seen on the right) is aerokinetic and can levitate, meaning she has to have her feet weighed down with metal boots to keep her from floating away. But Burton felt the narrative was better the other way around, so film fans will see Emma floating in the air instead.

He explained to BuzzFeed: "We switched Emma and Olive's afflictions, or whatever you want to call them. But luckily we had Jane, the screenwriter, [and] we ran some [stuff by Ransom Riggs]... you know, the author is still alive! He was a good collaborator. We just sort of felt that having Emma floating would be a bit more poetic and it was in the spirit of the book. So it just felt for the movie it was a better way to go with it. Because often times in novels, characters get omitted, deleted, condensed and I think Ransom felt confident that whatever changes we made were still in the spirit of the book and so it all worked out very well that way. There was no big fights or tensions or controversies in terms of how that came to be."


3. Emma's relationship with Jake's grandfather back in the 1940s is hinted at in the film, but played down compared with the book.

Jay Maidment

Emma is Jake's love interest in the film. And in the book it's revealed Emma was also very close to Jake's grandfather, who was a peculiar who lived at Miss Peregrine's home when he was Jake's age in the 1940s. Staying in "the loop" means Emma and the rest of the children remain the same age, suspended in the same day while it is constantly reset by Miss Peregrine. Which means Emma is still around Jake's age when they meet each other years later in 2016.

Burton, though, preferred for it to be only alluded to in the film version: "We allude to it. I like the fact that things are not spelt out so much... The way we sort of indicate the World War II aspect of it, the Nazi aspect of it... the relationship between Jake's grandfather and Emma, we just sort of allude to it and for me that just made it more poetic in a way and not so literal."


4. Mr Barron, played by Samuel L. Jackson, didn't exist in the book version and was added especially for the movie. Burton admits he created the role because he was desperate to work with the actor.

Barron is the head of the wights in the movie. The wights are former peculiars who turned into monsters called Hollowgasts after a failed experiment in an attempt to become immortal years before. They now set out to kill peculiar children so that they can feed the Hollowgasts to help more of them turn into wights. (We told you it was the perfect Tim Burton story).

But when we asked Burton the reason for adding Barron to the film, he admitted the character was mainly written in so he could work with Jackson. He said: "Well, it's because I've always wanted to work with Sam Jackson! That was the first thing. It just felt like he's got such power, he's got such a presence, Sam, as a person and it was just a dream for me to work with him and then just what he brought to it. I remember when the first time he came on to the set with his look and his white eyes... I was like, 'Wow, that's cool'... next year's Halloween costume come to life. He's just one of those actors who's willing to go for it and try anything and had a real strength about him."

5. Also...Dr Golan is a woman in the film version.

Jason Kempin / Getty Images

Burton didn't explain this one to us, but in the book Dr Golan, Jake's psychiatrist who turns out to be a wight in disguise, is a man. But in the movie the character is played by the wonderful Allison Janney, who turns into Samuel L. Jackson's Mr Barron later in the movie.

6. Cairnholm Island is actually Cornwall rather than Wales, where the book is set.

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

As with a lot of movies, this one was filmed in several locations that were then made to seem like it was all in one place.

The book follows Jake from his home in Florida to an island in Wales after his grandfather leads him there to find out the truth about his childhood. But the island is in Cornwall in real life. A laughing Burton told us: "It's the magic of movies, right?! We use about five or six locations for one location."


7. But Miss Peregrine's house is actually in Belgium, because that's where they found the perfect eccentric one to bring it all to life. So they had to film there.

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Burton revealed the process: "It was just weird because we first scouted in the UK and I've looked for lots of houses over the years for different things. And we obviously went to Belgium and we just saw this house through the trees and the title of the movie just came up when I saw it.

"A lot of houses looked like hospitals or institutions, and this one just looked like an eccentric home as opposed to the institution or hospital or whatever. And I just felt it had an eccentricity of Eva Green living there and a bunch of strange kids, so it just sort of hit me. It wasn't an intellectual thing it was just... it was an emotional response to seeing the house."

8. The movie goes beyond the storyline of the first book, which may well mean it rules out any sequels based on Ransom Riggs' follow-up novels.

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Riggs has actually written three books in the series, the first of which this movie is named after. The first book leaves you hanging, not knowing what's going to happen to the children and Miss Peregrine next. But (without revealing any spoilers) the film continues and ties up some loose ends left from the first novel.

So when we asked Burton if this ruled out any more films in the franchise, he had this to say: "Every movie I make is like the first and last movie I'm ever going to do, so I'm still recovering from this one!"

So we shall see but we won't hold our breath!