Captain James Hook — the main nemesis of Peter Pan — was first introduced in J. M. Barrie’s 1904 play “Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” and has been included in countless adaptations in the years since, becoming one of fiction’s most beloved villains. Numerous actors have played the pirate in films, television shows and stage productions in the century since the character was unveiled, including Dustin Hoffman in Steven Spielberg’s 1991 swashbuckling flick “Hook,” which stars Robin Williams as an adult Peter who’s forgotten all about his childhood. However, when old enemy Hook kidnaps his kids, Peter returns to Neverland to save them while reclaiming the memories of his past and becoming a better person for his family. The film received mixed reviews from critics, but most singled out Dustin’s Golden Globe-nominated performance as a highlight. Regardless of the response, the fantasy flick grossed more than $300 million in ticket sales, scored five Academy Award nominations and developed a devoted following in the years since. In honor of the film’s 30th anniversary on Dec. 11, 2021, join Wonderwall.com as we run through some of the other leading men who have portrayed Captain Hook over the years…
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Colin O’Donoghue took on the role of Hook on the popular ABC drama series “Once Upon A Time.” He was introduced in the start of the show’s second season and quickly became so popular that he was added to the main cast for the remainder of the fantasy program’s run. This version of the character is born Killian Jones, who becomes captain of the Jolly Roger after his brother’s death. His hand is cut off by the dark trickster Rumpelstiltskin as revenge for Hook running away with his wife. Hook goes on to marry main character Emma Swan and the two have a daughter. Colin confessed to Entertainment Weekly how tough it was to say goodbye to the loveable villain when they show ended in 2017. “I’ve been lucky that with Hook, I’ve been able to do so many different things with him,” he told the outlet at the time. “It will be difficult to let go of Hook.”
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Captain Hook got a musical spin in 2014 thanks to Christopher Walken in the NBC television special “Peter Pan Live!” According to Variety, this adaptation of the 1954 musical sought to “strengthen and deepen” the portrayal of Hook by featuring both songs from the original show as well as new tracks written specifically for the character. The veteran actor spoke to the outlet about his nerves during rehearsals, saying, “This is quite different from anything I’ve ever done before. When you do a [stage] show, even if it isn’t a hit, you’re in previews for a few weeks and you get comfortable in the role. This is rehearsed as a stage show, but then the cameras are there. I’m never even sure when the camera is on me.” The special was a ratings smash, but critics were less than kind to the event, with the Boston Herald writing, “Watching Walken ham it up was a treat as always, but a few gleeful minutes of watching him tap dance is hardly worth three hours of anyone’s life.”
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The 1953 animated film “Peter Pan” — the 14th animated feature film from Disney at the time — has long been the most famous version of the children’s story. Actor-comedian Hans Conried lent his voice to Captain Hook and gave the character a far more comical spin than the source material, portraying him as a vain coward with a childish temper who’s prone to crying out in terror. Hans, who helped set the tone for what the villain looked like in the decades since, did double duty on the classic, also providing the voice of Mr. Darling, the father of the kids who head to Neverland with Peter Pan.
The first film adaptation of “Peter Pan” came in 1924, long before talkies or color pictures landed in theaters. It practically mirrors the original play and brought live-action imagery for the story to the masses for the very first time. Scottish actor Ernest Torrence, who was best known for playing a series of cold and imposing villains, portrays Captain Hook in the film, which opened to glowing reviews, with Life magazine calling it “so extraordinarily beautiful, so utterly true to the childish spirit in which it was originally written, that I have no choice in the matter: I must fall down and blubber.” In 2000, it was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. And in 2003, the American Film Institute selected Ernest’s work as Captain Hook as one of the nominees for its list of “100 Years… 100 Heroes & Villains.”
One of the newer actors to lend his vocal talents to the part of Captain Hook is Tom Hiddleston. 2014’s “The Pirate Fairy” features the British star as a much younger James Hook, a cabin boy on a ship owned by scheming pirates who are joined by a wayward fairy Tinker Bell is searching for. The brand new origin story was the fifth direct-to-DVD feature spinoff film for the popular fairy and provided glimpses at how James eventually became the devious captain. The 3D animated flick, which was clearly aimed at a very young audience, did not win over many critics, but Tom still managed to garner some praise for his work. The London Evening Standard wrote that “Hiddleston is a genius and the scriptwriters obviously adore him,” while The Observer said “Tom Hiddleston has silver-tongued fun as a young Captain Hook, but the results are as unmemorable as they are innocuous.”
Peter Pan received a more contemporary update in the 2015 British TV film “Peter and Wendy.” It follows a teen girl, Lucy, who has a heart condition and is awaiting a risky surgery that would save her life. The night before the operation, she reads a copy of the classic story and dreams she’s Wendy and that Peter takes her to Neverland. In this rendition, Stanley Tucci plays Captain Hook as well as the surgeon in charge of Lucy’s operation. The veteran character actor told The Guardian at the time that he relished playing one of fiction’s greatest villains. “Any actor who says they don’t want to play Captain Hook is lying to you. It is a great role because it is so complex because he is obsessed with his mother,” he told the outlet. “He is a child and yet he is the most ruthless person on earth. He is a child’s nightmare, but in a very exciting way too. The child wants to be confronted by Captain Hook yet it is the thing he or she fears most. What greater role to play?”
Garrett Hedlund stars as a young James Hook in the 2015 prequel “Pan” opposite Hugh Jackman and Rooney Mara. The live-action feature includes a very different version of the character, this time painting him as a heroic, pioneer-era American who teams up with Peter Pan to escape the mines of evil pirate Blackbeard. Garrett skips the traditional mustache, frock coat and long, curly wig for a more rough-and-tumble Indiana Jones-style look. He told Tim Talk Hollywood at the time that he “thought it was a unique take on the story. I obviously wondered if people would accept the version of Hook without a hook, but [it’s] a wonderful and interesting beginning.” It was a box office bomb and was panned by critics, but the actor still garnered some praise. Metro wrote that his “goofy John Huston impersonation gives the film a goofy shot in the arm that delights more than any of its wildly expensive trinkets.”
The 2012 Broadway play “Peter and the Starcatcher” is based on the original novel of the same name, which serves as a prequel to the Peter Pan story. It follows Peter’s journey from mundane English orphan to immortal flying boy on the magical island of Neverland. In this tale, Captain Hook is still known as Black Stache, a witty and poetical but psychotic pirate prone to malapropisms and the occasional pratfall. Christian Borle originated the role, which sees a young Hook as both a dangerous villain and a comic buffoon, and received an incredible response to his work. The New York Times wrote, “It’s a performance that you might classify as over the top, but only in the sense that the entire production is. With grown-up theatrical savvy and a child’s wonder at what it can achieve, ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’… never stops flying.” Christian went on to win the 2012 Tony Award for best performance by a featured actor in a play.
In 1990, a third Broadway production was mounted of the 1954 “Peter Pan” musical with former Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby starring as the titular character. During a 1991 engagement, the role of Captain Hook was portrayed by Academy Award-winning actor J.K. Simmons. The part came early in the star’s career, long before he’d made the transition to feature films. He also did a touring version of the production, where he met his wife, actress Michelle Schumacher. J.K. spoke about the opportunity to The Associated Press in 2018, saying, “There was nobody on the planet, no other actor, that was more the right guy for that role at that production. It’s still to this day one of the five best parts I ever had that were the right marriage at the right time, right up there with ‘Whiplash.'”
Captain Hook made a minor animated appearance in 2004’s “Shrek 2” as a tavern singer voiced by Tom Waits and Nick Cave, but he received a much bigger part in 2007’s “Shrek The Third” as a villain working for the evil Prince Charming. Ian McShane voices the pirate as he and his team attempt to capture Shrek. It was another successful moment for Hook, as the film became one of the year’s highest grossing projects and received a nomination for best animated film at the 61st British Academy Film Awards. Ian left such an impression as the devious pirate that he hit the high seas once again as Blackbeard in 2011’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”
Captain Hook got an alluring reimagining in 2003’s live-action “Peter Pan” when Jason Isaacs brought the villain to the big screen. (Following the tradition of the original play, the English actor also stars as Mr. Darling.) He plays this Hook as feared and ruthless but also gentlemanly. In this version, Peter cuts off Hook’s hand and feeds it to a crocodile, which has followed the pirate ever since. In a 2018 interview with The Guardian, the actor claimed that the role that was supposed to break him as a massive star almost ended his career before it really started. “When I was in “Peter Pan,” it was going to be gigantic. I was told it would change my life,” he confessed to the outlet. “Be careful, they said; make sure you’ve got the right people in place. Then it came out, and it was a catastrophic flop. It killed my film career stone dead for a while.”
2020’s “Come Away” depicts the title characters of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Peter Pan” as siblings trying to help their parents overcome the death of their eldest son. The brother and sister, Peter and Alice, are forced to choose between home and imagination, setting the stage for their journeys into both Wonderland and Neverland. In the fantasy drama, British actor David Gyasi plays Captain James, who starts as a ruthless pawnbroker and crime lord — he’s also the son of the Mad Hatter, the paternal uncle of Alice and Peter and the paternal great-uncle of the Darling children, Wendy, Michael and John. As the children explore their imaginary worlds, viewers eventually see CJ transform into the villainous Hook we know and love.
Tim Curry gave Captain Hook a new spin in the 1990 animated series “Peter Pan and the Pirates” over the span of 65 episodes. This version of the story gives as much focus to Hook and his band of pirates as it does to Peter and the Lost Boys, and it trades in the signature Disney look for a clean-shaven, white-haired appearance. This Hook is also much closer to the vision of the original version and shows the pirate terrifying his crew, brutalizing his enemies and never cowering in fear. While the series didn’t last long, Tim earned a glowing response for his voice work, winning a 1991 Daytime Emmy Award for outstanding performer in a children’s series.
In 1954, “Peter Pan” became a hit Broadway musical starring Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook and Mary Martin as Peter. Moose Charlap’s catchy tunes helped make the production a Big Apple sensation; both lead stars won Tony Awards for their work. Australia native Cyril’s theater career really took off thanks to his celebrated performance as Hook, which he also reprised for NBC telecasts of the musical in 1955, 1956 and 1960. The television airings became a small screen mainstay for years to come.
2011’s television miniseries “Neverland” sees Rhys Ifans as Jimmy Hook, a fencing teacher and leader of a small group of juvenile pickpockets (including Peter Pan) with whom he has developed a father-son relationship. As the series progresses, it’s revealed that Hook killed Peter’s father because he was in love with Peter’s mother and that the watch that Hook owns once belonged to Peter’s father. By the end, Peter takes off the villain’s watch and hand, losing them both for good when they’re swallowed by the infamous crocodile. “Hook is such a wonderful villain, but I thought it was interesting to explore the way that no one is born bad. I was interested in seeing what might have driven Hook to become Hook,” the Welsh actor told The Huffington Post about stepping into the character’s boots. “I saw his becoming a pirate as a coming of age. In the same way that Peter Pan visits the foothills of manhood, Hook finds himself in a place where, liberated of all the oppression of Edwardian England, he becomes like a Hell’s Angel or a hippy.”
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