A Fascinating Look Behind The Scenes Of ‘Hook,’ Which Is Now Old Enough To Have Forgotten Neverland

Steven Spielberg’s twist on the centuries-old tale is now 32 years old! Released on December 11th, 1991, Hook tells the story of a middle-aged lawyer named Peter Banning, whose children are abducted by his old nemesis. That nemesis is none other than Captain Hook himself. Throughout the film, Banning makes a hazy-eyed return to his whimsical roots as Peter Pan in order to rescue his children.

Though not as well-received by the critics, Hook survived the test of time and became a family classic (see also: Spielberg). But upon writing this list, we learned that some behind-the-scenes secrets were almost as entertaining as the movie itself. We’re sharing some of those with you today; we hope that they’ll really hook you in (sorry).

Dante Basco Got The Role Of Rufio By Scaring Steven Spielberg

Photo: TriStar Pictures

How did Dante Basco land the role of his career as Rufio? “I got booked from just one audition, which was pretty cool,” Basco said in 2015.

According to Basco, something made him stand out during the audition: “Later on I asked Steven Spielberg why he gave me the part, and he told me out of all the kids that auditioned for the role, that I was the only kid that scared him.”

After Filming Wrapped, Robin Williams Gave Dante Basco A Heartwarming Gift

Photo: TriStar Pictures

Dante Basco was only 15 years old when he took on the role of Rufio. In between takes on set, Basco practiced his other passion: poetry.

The young actor was especially excited to talk with co-star Robin Williams about the movie Dead Poets Society. “Talking about that movie with him, he just inspired me to continue writing poetry,” Basco said in a 2015 interview. “We talked a lot about our favorite poets.”

When Hook wrapped, Williams gave Basco a memorable gift. “My wrap present from Robin was a beautiful limited-edition copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and that’s a great memory for me,” Basco recalled.

The gift inspired Basco to pursue his own poetry activities.

There Was A Moment Of Genuine On-Screen Surprise During A Scene

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In a touching scene at the end of Hook, before leaving Neverland, Peter must choose his successor. But which Lost Boy is up to the task?

Robin Williams upped the emotions by not telling the Lost Boys actors who the new leader will be. 

Dante Basco explained on Twitter: “When they shot this scene… none of the #LostBoys knew who Peter was going to give the sword to!”

Peter ends up giving it to Thud Butt, a noble successor to Rufio.

Dante Basco Trained To Do His Own Sword Fights

Photo: TriStar Pictures

Handing a 15-year-old a sword didn’t scare the stunt coordinators on Hook. That’s because Dante Basco trained for months to do all his own sword fights.

Basco revealed the behind-the-scenes story during a 2020 watch-along. “I trained for months before and during filming,” Basco tweeted. “One of the things I’m most proud of is that all of the sword fighting you see Rufio on film was me!”

There Were Multiple Celebrity Cameos

Photo: TriStar Pictures

When it comes to cameos, Hook set a high bar. Many Hook fans know that Glenn Close (pictured) sneaked into the film as the pirate thrown into the terrifying Boo Box. But Close wasn’t the only A-lister with a hidden part in the film.

Phil Collins popped in to play a detective in London, while two huge Star Wars fans took on a small role in the opening. The couple standing on the bridge in London sprinkled with Tinkerbell’s fairy dust were none other than Carrie Fisher and George Lucas.

Fisher contributed in other ways, too. As a script doctor she did an uncredited rewrite on the script to punch up the dialogue for Tinkerbell. 

There Was A Fight That Was Filmed Backwards

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Learning the choreography for fight scenes takes a huge amount of time behind the scenes. That was definitely the case for the first fight between Peter Banning and Lost Boy Rufio in Neverland. Director Steven Spielberg decided to film the entire fight backward. This tactic made the scene safe: Instead of swinging a sword at Robin Williams’s face, actor Dante Basco would pull the sword back. 

But that meant Basco had to say his line backward. Instead of simply saying, “You’re dead, jolly man,” Basco learned how to say the line in reverse. 

Dustin Hoffman Stayed In Character While Filming

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Villians enthralled Dustin Hoffman. “I was dying to do the Joker in Batman,” he confessed to People magazine in 1991. So when he got a chance to play Captain Hook, Hoffman stayed in character. 

On the set, Hoffman drank black velvets (Guinness and sparkling wine) with the mermaids because he thought that’s what Hook would have done.

But some members of the crew didn’t enjoy working with Hook. The method acting “made him a little aggressive and mean-spirited,” said one cast member. “Maybe that was part of his character, too.”

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Role In ‘Silence of the Lambs’ Helped Her

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A future Oscar-winning actor showed up in an unexpected role in Hook. Gwyneth Paltrow played young Wendy in the movie, and the story of how she landed the role shows that in Hollywood, it’s all about whom you know: Director Steven Spielberg is her godfather. As Spielberg explained in an Entertainment Weekly interview, he and her father, Bruce Paltrow, were driving back from taking Gwyneth to see Silence of the Lambs when he noticed something:

I was looking at her in the rearview mirror, and she was talking about the film and she had this really frightened look on her face, and it suddenly clicked, and I said, “Hey, you could be the young Wendy! You could be the young Maggie Smith!” So I turned around and said, “Do you want to make a movie?” She got a SAG card because of it.

Famous Actors Visited The Set Even If They Weren’t Part Of The Film

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In 1991, People magazine called the set of Hook “Hollywood’s hottest attraction,” noting that “everyone and his mother and father wanted a glimpse of the fantastical $8 million Neverland, with its 70-foot Jolly Roger pirate galleon, the Lost Boys’ labyrinthine tree house, and the live storks and flamingos.”

That included Hollywood royalty. Tom Cruise stopped by for a visit. So did Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg. Other A-listers included Michelle Pfeiffer, Warren Beatty, and Prince.

Michael Jackson Was In Talks To Play Peter Pan

Photo: TriStar Pictures

Originally, Michael Jackson was going to play Peter Pan. But as director Steven Spielberg shared in a 2011 Entertainment Weekly interview, he and Jackson didn’t have the same vision for the character:

Michael had always wanted to play Peter Pan, but I called Michael and I said, “This is about a lawyer that is brought back to save his kids and discovers that he was once, when he was younger, Peter Pan.” So Michael understood at that point it wasn’t the same Peter Pan he wanted to make.

Pirates Were Not Allowed To Pet The Monkey

Photo: TriStar Pictures

The Neverland set was enormous and expensive, and the 150 pirate cast members recruited from biker hangouts had to follow 35 rules, such as not talking to or touching the principal actors, and not asking for autographs. The pirates also weren’t allowed to take pictures or eat food for the cast or crew; they got only pretzels and water. 

Another rule warned the pirates, “Do not touch the animals. Do not pet the monkey or YOU WILL BE FIRED.”

“The hierarchy on the set was hard to take,” one pirate said. “I personally was thinking of petting that monkey on several occasions.”