Tim Burton’s adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the debut novel by Ransom Rigg, is an eccentric, fantastical, mysterious story of childhood.
Read about the early memories of its stars Judi Dench, Tim Burton, Eva Green and Chris O’Dowd, below…
Tim Burton: “I was young but I felt 80 years old”
I grew up in Burbank, California, which I remember being very bright, very square and very stark. I ended up watching a lot of monster movies on TV. My parents said even before I could walk I was watching them. I was never a studious kid. From the beginning to the end, I faked my way through school. You put those things together, and that’s probably why I became a director.
I was a shy boy. I don’t think people realised I could speak until I was into my 20s. I wasn’t a bad kid, but I did have a subversive streak. Part of me enjoyed staying home and drawing, but I also liked scaring the other kids in the neighbourhood, faking alien invasions with weird homemade wreckage and footprints in the park. And eventually I started making little movies with a Super 8 camera, roping in those same kids to help out.
The huge thing for me was Jason and the Argonauts, which I saw when it came out in 1963. I was five. I saw it at this old movie theatre on Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles, this old amazing cinema covered with murals of sea life. It was like being in the sea, and the movie hit me like a dream. Seeing it on the big screen, I think it shaped something in me.
The world is such a different place now. I was a television kid myself… anyone seeing me would have said ‘Get that kid away from the TV.’ But I do think the world of screens kids live in now is different, because there’s always more than one of them and it feels like they end up getting in between the kid and a real experience. But that’s not just children, it’s everyone.
When I was young I felt 80 years old, but now I still feel like the kid I was. Whenever I’m back in suburbia, it still feels too bright for me. And all these years after seeing Jason and the Argonauts, I still love skeletons.
Judi Dench: “I missed my parents terribly”
When I think back to my childhood I remember an enormous ottoman we had at home in York filled with dressing up clothes. No television, of course, so we were always dressed up, my older brothers and I. And there were bike rides, swimming and roller skates. Idyllic is the word for it. We made our own entertainment. There were picnics. We would paint. I would get enormously excited pressing flowers. Which child would want to press flowers now? It would probably distract them from Pokémon Go.
I was at boarding school not far from home, and although I liked it, I missed my parents terribly. If it was raining when we had games lessons, we were supposed to go for what they called a “wet walk”. So I would phone and get my father in the middle of his surgery – he was the local doctor – and he would say ‘Hang on! Hide!’ Then he came and fetched me, and we would go home for tea, and when it was time to go back my mother would get the watering can and soak me in the garden!
But I enjoyed school, even though I wasn’t an academic girl. I was all right at English, and fond of Geography, but I couldn’t understand algebra – or why I might possibly need to know about it. And I had a rebellious streak. My Ma was from Dublin, and could be very fiery indeed, so I must have got it from her. On my very first day at boarding school, a friend of mine and I set off a fire extinguisher, and my poor Pa had to pay for the damage. It took me a while to learn to toe the line.
It also took a while for me to get interested in acting. But when I was young, my eldest brother Peter was in a school production of Macbeth. He played Duncan, so his first line was ‘What bloody man is that?’ And I thought ‘Christ – this is for me! Not only Shakespeare but swearing!’
It’s funny, but the friends I made at school I’ve kept. A lot of my really close friends are people I’ve known since childhood, and I appreciate how rare and lucky that is. It’s part of why I still feel so connected to who I was as a child.
Chris O’Dowd: “I was 6ft when I was 11”
My mother tells me I was quiet when I was very young. She always says I was ‘easy’. I slept well. I didn’t get into trouble.
My actual childhood, I remember pretty clearly, because I ended up going back and putting most of it on TV in the Sky series Moone Boy. The setting in late 80s/early 90s Boyle in rural west Ireland, the three older sisters, the dad who’s a sign writer and mum who’s a Weight Watchers instructor, all of that was taken from my life, because frankly my imagination is very poor.
Back then everything was an adventure. Being part of a big family, there was a lot of arguing, then a lot of laughing, then more arguing and more laughing. And wool – I think all of us wore nothing until we were 17 but hand-knitted woolly jumpers.
But really the thing about my childhood was my height. I was 6ft when I was 11, and when you’re towering over everyone else like that, it can leave you feeling a bit insecure. So I started being funny, although my memory in Boyle is being the fourth funniest kid in the class.
Predictably, I got into sport. I did relatively well at Gaelic football, but I wasn’t terribly talented. It was just sheer size takes you a long way and I always looked like I was in the wrong age group.
Then as you get older the perk is that you become the guy who can get served in the pub when you’re 16, and the girls flirt with you a bit so they can get beer out of you. But even then I was never very interesting. I was still well behaved.
Eventually, I got obsessed with music. I was a Britpop kid. My friends and I knew that Noel and Liam Gallagher’s mother lived down the road from Boyle, so we felt a real affinity with them. I don’t know that the Gallaghers felt the same about us. And of course I was in a band. We were called the Basket Weavers, and if that isn’t rock ’n’ roll then I really don’t know what is.
Eva Green: “I was terrified of being the centre of attention”
I’ve always felt a little peculiar. Growing up in Paris I was always quiet. Very shy. I was scared of going to birthday parties, because I couldn’t play games and I didn’t like being in a group. I have a twin sister, and she had that bravery, she could join in with the group. But for me, it was painful.
On my sixth birthday, another girl and I had a shared party, and I was so nervous I vomited. I know how crazy it is – from that terror of being the centre of attention, here I am as an actress. My parents made some home movies when I was three or four and I was already in my own bubble, looking away from the camera, thinking my own thoughts. Now I’ve tamed my demons but if I have to appear as myself in public, it’s hard. Deep down the child is still there.
As a girl, I used to go to the cinema on my own. I hate it when people say the cinema is an escape, as if making small talk about the weather is more real. I loved the films of Ingmar Bergman and also A Room with a View. I saw it first when I was about eight, and I loved it immediately.
At 16, I studied for a year at the American School of Paris, and that was a revelation. The French school system is very judgemental. There, everything was about the pressure to get a certain grade in Maths. Who cares? I don’t remember a thing I did in Maths. But at the American School, the individual was celebrated. I’d never been into fashion, but I would dress up every day, wilder and wilder. I did art, drama, photography, even sports. It was an epiphany for me.
If enough people call you weird, you start to see yourself as weird. But in adult life, it can be a strength, too. And sometimes I do still feel like I belong to a different planet, where all the peculiars should go.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is in cinemas from today