Movies

‘Oh There You Are, Peter’: A Lost Boys’ Oral History Of ‘Hook’

Starring Robin Williams as Peter Banning, the man who grew up to forget he was Peter Pan, Hook is the movie that made a lot of kids fall in love with Williams before they knew him as the Genie in Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, or the star of Jumanji. In the film, Williams plays Banning as a man who’s grown, become a lawyer, and forgotten his enchanted past. Only when his children, Jack and Maggie, are kidnapped by Hook (Dustin Hoffman) does he return to Neverland with the help of Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts). Once there, over the span of three days, we watch as Banning remembers his past. He can fly! He can fight! He can crow! The rediscovery of his past is due, in large part, to the guidance of the Lost Boys and their fearless leader, Rufio, as played by Dante Basco.

In honor of Hook’s upcoming 25th anniversary we spoke with Basco and a few of the Lost Boys: Thomas Tulak, the youngest Lost Boy who is now a filmmaker and comedian; Raushan Hammond, a magician and actor in the midst of creating a Hook fan film, Thudbutt vs. Rufio; James Madio, who is starring in and producing a biopic on the featherweight champion Willie Pep; and Brett Willis (who acted in the film alongside his twin brother Brian), who is now working as a firefighter. They share with us their memories of being part of the movie, working with Williams, Hoffman, and director Steven Spielberg, and the film’s influence on multiple generations.

You’re Afraid You’re Going To Get Sucked Out

Dante Basco, “Rufio”: I only auditioned for the movie one time. I read on tape for the casting directors and then I ended up meeting with Steven Spielberg and reading the scene a second time. It was a pretty fascinating interview process. Later on the set, I asked why that happened and [Spielberg] said that out of all the kids he saw for the part, I was the only kid who scared him. I don’t think I was a scary kid, but I grew up in a rough neighborhood, Paramount right next to Compton. We were dealing with a lot of gangs, I had friends in gangs, friends who got shot — an aspect of my lifestyle that can contribute to my flavor as an actor for sure.

Thomas Tulak, “Too Small”: Being six years old at the time, I didn’t know the weight of the person I was talking to. [Spielberg] was just some guy at the end of some long Monty Burns-esque table in a dark room with all these people around him. And I come marching up to him and I pound my fist on the table and I shout, “You want to put me in your movie!” And he did.

Raushan Hammond, “Thud Butt”: At the audition, they asked me if I would mind being in a treehouse that was about 100 feet up in the air and I said, “Absolutely not. I would never be in something that high.” And the casting director looked at me and said, “Oh, well, never mind. Thanks for coming in.”

James Madio, “Don’t Ask”: I was 14 when I auditioned and looked like I was about nine. My father told me there was some sort of audition downtown that I had to go to for a movie Hook. That was the early ’90s, that’s when overalls were in style, and to have one overall down, and I had lines in my hair. I had a rat-tail, I had earrings, spiked hair, I had the Rebooks, I just looked like this small little cool rugrat.

Brett Willis, “Later”: I was ten [my brother and I], and we had a lady walk up to us after school and just very blankly ask, “Hey, you guys want to try out for a part in a movie?” We actually had little interest because we were not in the movie business, we were not actors, we did not have an agent. We were getting ready to play after school football with our buddies and that’s what we wanted to do so it was kind of a bother. We gave her this, “I don’t know, talk to our mom.”

Basco: We were breakdancers, me and my brothers, so we ended up getting scholarships to the San Francisco ballet company and that kind of stuff opens up the world to you. Same thing with acting… It was life-changing, working with Steven Spielberg, really getting introduced to Hollywood in this manner was pretty phenomenal.

Hammond: I went back for a second, my accidental, audition. It was different: I actually went to the studio and I saw Robin Williams and a couple different people filming and they just had me play basketball for about 30 minutes. Then myself and a couple other kids auditioning, they put us all up in a little army lineup and Steven Spielberg walked up and said, “Which one of you has stars in their eyes?” All the other kids looked to the floor and I was like, what does that mean? And I looked at Steven Spielberg and I just started smiling and he looked at me and said, “You.” A half hour later, I got the phone call that I had gotten the part.

Tulak: Steven had set himself a rule that he wasn’t going to hire anyone under age nine and I was six, so he broke his own rule to cast me and I didn’t know that until we were done filming. We got home from the audition and there was a voice-mail on our answering machine saying, “Hey, we want to offer you the part.” So something about me he liked and just wanted to break his own rule.

A Week Old Maggot Burger With Everything On It And Flies On The Side

Madio: Everything was so new to me. Being out of the Bronx, it was the first time I was ten miles away from my block and to go all the way to California and go shopping at Venice Beach. It was just a shock.

Willis: We started out in several months of training, all of the Lost Boys. We started out getting to know each other, improv type stuff, swordfighting, skateboarding. And we were trained by professional swordfighters, we were trained by professional skateboarders. For [my brother] Brian and I, it was a little uncomfortable. We had never been asked to perform in front of anybody before so we had to ease into it.

Basco: You train hard for the swordfighting. We shot for eight months. They brought me in early to start my swordfighting training and I trained nearly every day on set, so I am proud to say that in every scene with sword fighting, that’s me swordfighting.

Tulak: With the Lost Boys you have significant age gaps. I was six, there were a few that were nine and ten, then Rufio was 17. You’re not going to get a room with like a 17-year-old and a six-year-old and have them actually hang out and spend time together. So it was very cliquey amongst the Lost Boys because of the drastic age differences.

Willis: The Hook sets were multiple stages and they were extremely impressive. A floating pirate ship, really? And it did bring in people who wanted to be just a small part of that film. And obviously there are a lot of people who had cameo roles. People wanted to play pirates just to have a part in the film because it was supposed to be that cool. And everything worked, everything was functional. Nothing was faux or fake. Hats off to the people who built those sets because it was impressive.

Basco: It’s one of the last films from a different era of moviemaking. When you watch Hook, it’s like this throwback feeling.

Willis: It was impressive to see the group of people who came out to see filming. The biggest stars I remember on-set just visiting were Billy Crystal and Kevin Costner. David Crosby gave my mom a book and signed it while playing a pirate. Liza Minnelli stopped my mom after she recognized my brother and I in costume and told my mom that she was starstruck. Billy Crystal and my mom sat on set watching the filming one day and shared popcorn and ginger ale and spent the afternoon like two normal parents at a little league game.

Madio: Tom Cruise came, Prince showed up — every single day someone came to see the set.

Basco: Peter Pan, the book, is over 100 years old. Peter Pan is beyond the franchise. It’s a fairytale, it’s the world, it’s part of the psyche that we all know. So nowadays people send me pictures, they’re at Disneyland, or cosplaying at a con, at Halloween, and of course there’s Peter Pan and Captain Hook and Tinkerbell. And then there’s Rufio with them as if, all of the sudden, I’m part of this fairytale. This little Filipino kid with three mohawks is a part of a fairytale that’s been around longer than any of us have been around.

Madio: The impact [Rufio] had on a generation — he was a young kid killed in a kid’s movie with a sword through the heart. That decision to do that in a kid’s film, a family action adventure, that took a lot of guts to do that.

Basco: The kids, it wasn’t all bubble gum and chickens and fighting. When someone dies, it becomes dangerous. Neverland became dangerous. And Peter has to get his kids out of there. So I understand now, as an adult. As a kid, it was as jarring for me to do as I think it was for the audience.

Madio: If you really look at the detail of the fashion of the movie, Rufio definitely takes the cake. But of the Lost Boys clan, you take our fearless leader out, I would have to say, yeah, [my character is the most fashionable]. Between the comb and the checkered jacket and the black tailored pants, he has to be. I guess something clicked with the producers and Steven saying, “Hey, we need someone like this to get this character in, give him some fashion, some 1950s flare,” and it worked great.

Basco: When you’re 15 and Rufio doesn’t exist yet, then they start giving you red tights and hole-y jeans and red boots. Then they put a mid-drift t-shirt on me and my belly buttons out — what? I just remember the moment they got me all dressed up, my belly button out and everything, and then they bring me to the set to show Steven. Steven turns around and it’s that pregnant pause and he’s like, “Yes. Yes.” And I turn around and go, oh no, this is it, huh? This is where we’re going.

Madio: That last sword scene, we didn’t know who was getting the sword. When that scene came, the only ones who knew were Robin and Steven and the cameraman. And so all those reactions you’re seeing from all of us, all of them, as he’s going down that row we’re all hoping we’re going to get it. And obviously he handed it to Thud Butt and he’s the next leader of the Lost Boys. There was one point where I really thought I was going to get it. That was all natural reaction right there.

Hammond: I never thought in a million years that I would actually get the sword. A lot of the parents on the set, they were really serious, like, “My kid is going to get the sword.” My parents and I, we never thought in a million years that I would get the sword. They started having polls around the set, throwing in money. I was so shocked, but at the same time, there are 30 parents right on the side of the camera that had those eyes that could kill. You could hear, off-camera, all the parents gasp. The whole scene was pretty overwhelming.

Are You Related To Mighty Mouse?

Basco: I used to go to set on my days off and just sit by his [Spielberg’s] camera and just be a sponge soaking it in. And Steven would tell me what he’s trying to do with the camera, what he’s doing with the lenses.

Madio: Steven had this amazing way of policing us that when things started to get nuts and you have days and days upon days of shooting the Lost Boys it’s like, “Okay, the best kid at the end of the day gets a present,” and we’d all be on our best behavior and everybody at least won one day. I have a signed Raiders of the Lost Ark VHS, that’s from Steven. That was my prize one day for being a good boy.

Basco: As an actor, you grow up admiring Brando, Pacino, De Niro, Montgomery Clift, and Nicholson and Hoffman. He’s one of the greats. He’s one of the living legends. So I would show up to set every day having watched a movie the night before, Lenny or Midnight Cowboy or Kramer vs. Kramer and asking him, “What happened in this film? What happened in this moment?”

Willis: [Hoffman] was in character when he was on set. He was our enemy Captain Hook. But in-between takes he and Robin interacted in a way that was incredible. But nobody ever left us out, nobody ever left us as the kids or anything like that, and that’s what made filming so special.

Madio: [Dustin] grabbed me right off that set and brought me to his next film Hero to play his son. Because I was older than the other kids, but I was their size, and I was quick and I was witty and would give these fresh little remarks back with my Bronx accent and Dustin loved it. We had this banter going back all the time, me and him. And he saw this innocent kid, not really guarded at all, pretty much a wiseass, take-no-crap type kid. And we had a good time and I was allowed to jump in his trailer, raid his refrigerator and I would get candy bars and sodas for some of the other lost boys.

Tulak: I couldn’t tell you what [Hoffman] was drinking, but I could tell you that he was drinking. [Laughs.] In order to maintain that whole lofty pirate persona that he had, he was basically tipsy everyday, all the time. Constantly. What he was drinking, I couldn’t say. You hope that unless it was for a character, he wouldn’t be getting drunk on set.

Basco: I would knock on their trailer doors and ask them for advice all the time with scenes, and they had two different styles of working. Dustin’s very Method and very challenging to me as an opponent, as far as characters. When it came to my death scene he was very loving and incredibly helpful. I knocked on his door and told him I had never done a death scene before and he’s like, “I’ll be there on the set that day and we’ll do it.” And he was like an acting coach all day just running me through it, talking me through the scene and acting, so he was definitely a mentor.

Willis: Julia [Roberts] was on a private set because of the way they integrated her into the film, so we didn’t see a lot of her. But I remember one day — she had a fascination with twins — so I vividly remember spending time in her dressing room while she was getting hair and makeup down and she gave us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You give that to a kid and you’re golden anyway. We thought we were awesome, spending private time with Julia Roberts. We’re just talking and there’s a knock on the door — apparently they had been looking for us to be on set and they couldn’t find us.

Oh There You Are, Peter

Tulak: Robin will always have a place in my heart because he was never like Mr. Professional Actor. He was just a big kid. Of all the kids on the set, he was the one kid that I got along with the most even though he was a middle-aged man.

Madio: Robin was exactly what you would expect him to be. He took us all under his wing and he had this amazing ability to keep us all entertained and just at the end of this rope waiting for any little thing he could do so he could laugh. It kept us all together.

Basco: Of course I grew up with Mork and Mindy, I grew up with so many of his films, but to this day one of my favorite films is Dead Poet’s Society. So we got to talk about poetry in our off time and he would talk about poets and poems he loved, I would talk about poems I loved and I started writing poetry during that time. It was really fascinating.

Willis: At one point while filming a scene with Robin Williams, I told him that he had the hairiest arms I had ever seen. His response? “Well, I am part monkey.”

Hammond: The last day they had me so high up in the tree house that they had me put on a harness, and they had a giant aircraft cable going up my pants so, just in case I fell off, I would dangle by the cable. And Robin Williams looked at me, because I was terrified, and he said, “Hey, buddy, don’t worry. If you fall, you’ll just be dangling by your underwear.”

Tulak: He would come in and knock on my trailer after a day of shooting and my mom would answer, and he’d stand there with his hands behind his back, “Can Tommy come out to play?” Then we’d go and I’d have more fun playing with him than anyone else on the set. There was no air of, oh this is Robin Williams, star struck. He was just a big kid who was a best friend.

Hammond: There were a couple of times on the set of the movie where some kids would literally try to rough me up on the set. And Robin Williams would see this going on in-between shots and he would come over, like he was my dad, and he would turn the other kids straight. Like, “What are you doing? We’re on a set, this is a major film. Why would you act like this?” It was really surprising because we always saw Robin Williams always joking, always laughing, always doing the craziest things. And when he would do that all the kids would stop because they were so shocked that the 10-year-old child in him would stop for a minute or two.

Tulak: There’s a scene where he’s not Peter Pan yet. He’s still Banning and Rufio draws a line in the dirt with his sword and the Lost Boys are going back and forth while he and Tinkerbell are arguing, “But he’s this and he’s that,” and the Lost Boys are running back and forth. Rufio says, “You’re going to follow this loser?” And all the Lost Boys cross the line. And I didn’t cross the line. I stayed next to my friend Robin because I felt like if I crossed the line I would be betraying my friend. And I even held his hand because I was like, I got you Peter.

Basco: Where you put Hoffman as a dramatic actor, as far as the pantheon of gods really, Robin probably trumps that as an improv actor. He’s the upper echelon, maybe number one guy in the world. So it’s quite a task to be in scenes with him. He’d have this look in his eye and look at Steven and he’d put his finger up like, “one more,” and we always knew that meant fasten your seatbelt because here he goes.

Tulak: Towards the end of the movie, there’s a part where everybody, Lost Boys and the pirates, they’re all fighting on the pirate ship. It’s the big war scene. So when you have that many people all in one place it’s hard to keep them under control. Eventually, Steven finally gets on the mega phone and he screams out to everybody to stop talking and pay attention. As soon as Steven finally gets everybody to settle down so they can start filming, Robin decides to turn around and pull down his pants and moon everybody. And, of course, that means they just lost the attention of everybody. They couldn’t contain anybody for ten minutes after that.

Basco: I’ll tell you that right now, I stuck to the script. All you can really do sometimes. You look at a guy who is moving a hundred miles and hour and is so witty, and I don’t even know what he was saying half the time, especially at fifteen. So my thing was like, you could either get steam rolled by him or you can let him do his thing and jump to the next line.

Hammond: A few years ago, I had been talking to a couple of writers and we had been trying to develop a screenplay for a setup for a new Hook, a fan film. At the time I was saying, “I’ve got to get Robin Williams to do it.” I don’t have $20 million to pay him but I’m going to bug him and bug him and bug him and try to get him to come for 20 seconds, just to get me a reaction shot. I sent him letters in the mail, then one day I actually got a phone call and we talked for a moment. He said to let him know when I’m going to do this and if he was in town that day he would be available. A few months passed and I was working on trying to get some money to get the project off the ground. I was in Las Vegas and I went to dinner and my girlfriend told me that Robin Williams had just passed away. I didn’t believe it.

Basco: I’m a fan like everyone else. Before I worked with him, I was a fan and I’m still a fan. He was a mentor of mine and I have very warm feelings for him. I’m also an artist and I know we all have our demons and our dark side and you don’t really know what’s going on. Life is hard, this industry is hard, I get that aspect of it too.

Tulak: I took Robin’s death very, very hard. I think I locked myself away and shut off my internet for days. I did nothing but watch his movies and cry for days.

Madio: I was shocked and definitely saddened. It was hard for me to understand. I only remember him as this man full of life and happiness and he was giving to others and would lighten up a room and he’s incredibly infectious with people and just so warm and engaging with you. I know these are all words a lot of people use about him and they were true. I’m not one to speak otherwise, and it was tough for me to understand that someone with so much and how real that was and how real that disease can be.

Hammond: Before I ever worked with Robin Williams, I was like everybody else, I grew up watching Robin Williams. My brothers and I, we grew up watching him and then to know that person and then to work with them and become really good friends, it’s shocking but teaches you to take one day at a time and be happy for the people that you meet and tell them that you care about them and that you love them while they’re there and in front of you.

Basco: At the end of the day, it was the death of our childhood, for our generation. One of our heroes. For me personally it was my childhood, so literally the death of my childhood. It’s your hero passing. It might hit me in a more personal way, but I can’t say that. So many people felt personal, his work touched all of us in a very deep way.

To Live, To Live Would Be An Awfully Big Adventure

Willis: It translated into a Youth in Film Award for best ensemble cast in a feature film, which was a whole other incredible experience. I never saw that happening. I had no idea what we were getting into when we told the casting director, “Yeah, call my mom.” We had no idea where it was going to go. From learning to swordfight to learning to fly to the finished project to the Youth in Film Award to now seeing it on TV constantly. Totally unexpected.

Basco: Over the past 25 years I’ve become, especially in the Asian community, an iconic figure as far as Rufio’s concerned. It’s a character that broke a lot of boundaries just in the American psyche. It’s fascinating. I get stopped by people all the time, girls that go, “I had a crush on you my whole life. You’re the reason I started dating Asian guys,” or something like that. Or interracial couples, guys go, “My wife had the biggest crush on you growing up and I know you’re one of the reasons why she married me.” That kind of stuff is funny, but also has a seed of truth to it of what art can do and what media does.

Madio: I melt. I get all young again. I get all giddy again. I get these little goosebumps whenever I hear the Hook music. And I think, regardless of if I was in the movie or not, I think I would have been that way.

Tulak: I went through a phase, 10, 20 years ago, where I denied it. Someone would tell me, “You look like the kid from the movie,” and I go, “I do? Well it wasn’t me, just somebody who looks like me.” I even wore glasses so less people would recognize me because it gets tiring talking about it all the time.

Willis: We got teased by kids just because kids are mean and jealous. But Brian and I never looked at it that way, we never saw it as a negative. We thought it was one of the most incredible life experiences we could ever have.

Basco: The legacy of the film, it’s tied to the legacy of Peter Pan, and it will be around with the story for years.

Tulak: I’ve learned that not everybody who was a Lost Boy is proud of it. Not everybody wants to revisit it. Some of us have just left the industry altogether. And on top of that, I’m not going to name any specifics or name any names, but there’s some animosity. Some of the Lost Boys don’t get along with other Lost Boys. There are some of us who don’t speak to each other, who have wronged each other. Who have done things you don’t do to people who are your friends. I’m not going to say any specifics, but some of us just don’t get along to the point where I don’t want to be in the same room with that person.

Willis: To see those guys again, it truly was as if the time gap between the wrap party and the 25-year reunion, it’s like that gap of time was never there. There was a moment where we walked into the room to see each other again and we fell right back into being those 10-year-olds and sharing stories and reminiscing on how much fun we had. What an incredible experience for some young people to do.

Basco: Hook, to me, that’s my junior high or something like that. I look at it like we all share a special time in our life and even when you look back at the movie and pictures, it’s like looking through a yearbook. To see that time in your life. And I’ve been super lucky to have a class like the Lost Boys.

Madio: It was really special and it’s nice to revisit it 25 years later, though I’ve never forgotten it. I still feel like I’m a Lost Boy in general. I don’t want to grow up.

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