Get With IT, Part 1: Catching Up with Pennywise’s First Victim Actress Chelan Simmons
“Laurie Anne…don’t scare Mama, now…”
Laurie Anne Winterbarger was Pennywise’s first victim in the 1990 ABC miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s bestselling novel, IT. Played by young actress, Chelan Simmons, Laurie Anne’s fate was sealed early on in the film after she unknowingly rode her tricycle directly into the belly of the beast— clown, really—all the while singing that well-known nursery rhyme, “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” What actually happened to Laurie Anne at the hands of Pennywise was left to our imaginations, however, we can assume, based on Mrs. Winterbarger’s reaction after happening upon her remains, that it was something grizzly.
Now 34, Simmons is no stranger to horror films. Since Stephen King’s IT, she has gone on to appear in a number of smaller budget horror/horror-comedy films including Snakehead Terror (2004), Monster Island (2004), Chupacabra Terror (2005), Malibu Shark Attack (2009), Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010), and See No Evil 2 (2014). In 2002 Simmons found herself again on the set of a made-for-TV Stephen King adaptation when she starred as “Helen Shyres” in the remake of Carrie. I recently caught up with Chelan to talk clowns, shooting her infamous scene, and to find out what she really thinks about scary movies.
John Campopiano: How old were you when you appeared in that memorable opening scene in Stephen King’s IT?
Chelan Simmons: I was around 7 years old and it was my first audition for something other than a commercial. I was really excited! I remember the producers had me sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” as I rode a tricycle around the audition room. My agent called a few days later and told me that I had booked the job—I jumped around the house screaming. I was so excited.
Soon thereafter I was invited to go to the read-through before they started filming. Because I was a kid my mom brought me. No one in my family had ever been in show business before and, so, my mom was extremely star struck when she saw the cast—so much so that she couldn’t even speak properly (Lol). When it came time for my scene I stood up and sang that entire “Itsy Bitsy Spider” song after which I remember the cast and crew gave me a standing round of applause—I felt very welcomed. It was so sweet of them! After my part was done I asked to leave the set because I knew the scenes were about to get scary…
JC: Did you have much interaction with Tim Curry?
CS: I only met Tim Curry at the read-through because that day I filmed my scenes it was just the crew. I never actually filmed my scene with Tim. The director [Tommy Lee Wallace] was standing in the clothes line giving me directions and having me react on camera to him saying things like, “look super happy…now look confused…now look scared.” During my scene it was raining out and I couldn’t get over the fact that it was one person’s job to stand there with an umbrella over my head all day—it blew my mind! My mom insisted that I hold my own umbrella because she didn’t want me to become some crazy kid diva.
After finishing filming for the day I was headed back to my trailer and while walking down the sidewalk Tim walked by in the full clown costume—make up and all. He turned to me and said “Hi!” tin a very friendly voice, but it still scared me half to death! I don’t remember if I said hello back or not—I’ve always been scared of clowns.
JC: Since shooting Stephen King’s IT have you watched the film and/or read the novel?
CS: I actually haven’t which, I know, is crazy, but I just can’t. I’m so terribly afraid of clowns and of horror movies in general—especially Stephen king horror movies! To this day I’m still afraid to watch it. Growing up my friends in elementary school told me that IT gave them nightmares for months and, so, I was too scared to watch it. If I had been in more scenes and had watched more of the filming of the movie, scenes getting set up and filmed, etc., then I would probably be OK with watching it.
JC: To that point, you’ve starred in several other horror films since your rendezvous with Pennywise. Do you enjoy working in the genre?
CS: As much as I can’t handle watching horror movies (because they scare me too much) I absolutely love acting in them and taking advantage of any opportunity to use my horror scream! I love the prosthetics, the blood, the dirt and just scaring other people. I think horror fans are the absolute best and my horror fans in particular have been so incredibly loyal—they are some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met.
JC: Finally, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the upcoming remake of Stephen King’s IT, slated for release in 2017…
CS: I think it’s great. The original came out in 1990, so I think there’s a whole new generation of people who haven’t yet experienced the movie. When people watch a remake they almost always go back and watch the original. I do wish they [filmmakers of the remake] had asked some of the original cast to make cameos—I would’ve loved to have taken part simply because the original was and is such a special movie to me given that it was my first role in a movie. It had such an impact on my life—it’s what started my horror career!