When children begin to disappear in the town of Derry, Maine, neighborhood kids band together to square off against Pennywise, an evil clown whose history of murder and violence dates back for centuries. That’s the basic premise for IT, but anyone who’s familiar with the 1986 Stephen King book, or the television miniseries that followed, knows there is so much more to the story. We got the chance to sit down with the director and star of the upcoming film to ask them about what it was like to bring such an iconic villain to life.
Andrés “Andy” Muschietti is an Argentine film director, known for his 2013 horror film Mama, which was produced by Guillermo del Toro – amazingly, IT is only his second feature. The actor who plays Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård, has starred in the sci-fi thriller Allegiant and the TV series “Hemlock Grove” as a supernatural heartthrob.
Dread Central: Bill, since it is so predicated on the visual – how did you work with the cameras to create the performance of Pennywise?
Bill Skarsgård: It was an interesting thing for me because I like to be very involved. I want to be involved and I care about the movie that I’m doing. But it’s the director’s film and you go in and you do a scene and the director goes, “Oh try this.” And you do a scene and then he goes, “Okay good.” And you’re like “Alright, great.” But with this one [I wanted to see how the makeup was working with my performance]. I usually don’t feel a need to kind of go like, “Can I go and look at how that looks, ” you know? But with this one it was like I had no idea what anything looked like. I didn’t know like my face with the makeup on looks and how it translates onto the screen, so for the first time I was much more curious to see what it was that we were doing. The studio wouldn’t give me any access to the dailies, but Andy would, so he was like, “Here you go, you can look at the dailies.” So I would sit and I would actually kind of study what we already shot because I felt for this role it was important to see what I was doing and how it translated into the screen. All the things I thought about with Andy, and talked about with Andy, that translates onto the screen with all the makeup and all the things and the looks and the contacts and everything.
Andy Muschietti: So yeah, it was unique for the first time ever… even the first screen test we did as well, I was like “Oh, okay, ” you know, because it’s such a technical and important aspect of the character. And Andy, he would show me things and I could say, “Do this exact same thing, but like there.” [It was] just minor differences of how the light hits and the face and the chin. It really reads as the visual impact of the character, so it was important for me to understand that aspect. And we talked a lot about the predictable behavior of Pennywise as part of his dread and his impact as a monster. And we have here, a guy that is committed, we’re talking about – that committed and fearless. He just took the concept of “What is this monster and how we make him unpredictable.” And I think one of the greatest things he brought is embracing that concept of unpredictability, and really giving something new at every point. I was so surprised and gratified to see him doing things because he was not surprising the audience only he was surprising me at every point. And he was maybe surprising yourself at one point, and that’s why I understand that [to Bill:] you wanted to see what it looked like apart from the whole makeup thing and what I told you about staying there and there because also I’m very visual. Bill is very angular and the makeup added that extra-faceted persona. So the angles were very important.
BS: Yeah. And even for the sequel it might be different because I’m so accustomed to the character now and the look of the character. It was the whole leading up to it and the figuring it especially the beginning to kind of figure it out. The fear and being fearless is such a topical thing for the movie, right? I knew going into this. But auditioning for this movie was a really fun thing to do. Like, “Here you go, there’s an audition for Pennywise. You can do whatever you want with it.” And there’s no instruction. There’s no anything that describes why Pennywise would be either one way or the other. It could be young. It could be old. It could be a girl. It could be a guy. It could be any ethnicity. There’s nothing that limits the character. And all characters that I’ve gone up for are usually like, “Oh it’s a guy and he’s mid-20’s you know and he’s going through some things. ” The characters that you go up for are always sort of limited to who you are in a sense, but this is not. So, I was like, “This is an audition, and I can go with it and do something fun with the take, even in the audition, ” and then that was a whole process. And then when I finally booked the job, I’m like, “Holy shit, I’m doing this now!”
The first stage was like, “I’m gonna fucking get this role, ” and then like, “I got the role! Oh my God, what do I do with it? Maybe I just fooled all these people in trusting me.” So there was this fear into it, and I always felt ’cause Andy was really fighting for me throughout the casting process. He wanted me in terms of convincing all the chefs that are involved in making this. I was in Toronto leading up to production, and I was like, “How am I going to pull this off,” and you know, this fear started creeping in, of people having opinions and anticipations, and they would have expectations that I’m not going to live up to. I felt that people were almost anxious to shit on whatever I was going to do here. And then I would remind myself, “Well, Andy believes in what you’re doing here. And Barb [producer] as well. They’ve stressed how happy they are that you’re here, and they believe in you.” So that was enough for me to fuck it, “Bill, just fucking go with it.” ‘Cause I knew I can’t have fear and I can’t pull anything back here. I trust Andy, and I trust Barbara, and I’m gonna give them all I have, and I can’t resist anything with the fearless giving me everything that I have. The movie wouldn’t be able to be made I wouldn’t be able to make the character any other way.
AM: But I think it worked both ways too because, you know, when we met, we bonded really quickly. And there was a very quick development of trust, I think, because I didn’t have all the answers. We became like kindred spirits as you said one time. And it was very important to feel confident about one and the other.
DC: Was there any influence of point of reference with Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise in the 1990 miniseries?
BS: I think the way we approached it is, this is our new take on it, you know? And I think for my part, it was like, “I’m going to do a very different thing. I’m going to do my interpretation in my performance of Pennywise.” Also with Andy, with him designing the look and everything it’s just a completely different, new take on it. I do think that it’s so different that you can be into both things without them having to interfere, you know? So, Andy might be better to answer this, but even in casting me as the role, we weren’t trying to do this middle-aged thing, you know, Pennywise that Tim Curry did so well. We’re doing something different.
AM: Absolutely. Yeah. I had a sketch… I did a few sketches of the look of Pennywise, and it was already something else. It’s like a baby with Gerber baby hair, and his eyes are walleyed. Little did I know that Bill can do that! So it was already from the beginning, it was something different because I believe that there’s something in the nature of the character that I retreat from. It’s not part of the general conception of the character, but it’s a very important little detail, and it has to do with the nature of the character, and that might, because it’s very speculative, you know… with the book the point of view is from the kids, and everything they know about it is like what they think and what they speculate about. And there’s this thing that basically implies that Pennywise might be a product of children’s’ imagination. In fact, when that little bit there’s a page in the book where we jump into the mind of Pennywise and his thoughts are so simple “The turtle is stupid. I hate it. It doesn’t do anything all day.” So all those things that are very childlike, and my interpretation was that there’s a lot of Pennywise’ nature that has to do with an invention. And I wanted to translate that into the look. And also there’s a bit of a more technical effect that I wanted to bring there was that contrast between something that is cute and lovable and horrifying at the same time.
Stephen King’s IT has been rated R for “violence/horror, bloody images, and for language.”
Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Nicholas Hamilton, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, and Sophia Lillis star with Bill Skarsgard, who portrays Pennywise. In addition, creature performer Javier Botet has signed on as The Leper, and Owen Teague plays Patrick Hocksetter, part of a group of bullies who torment The Losers’ Club.
IT hits theaters on September 8th. Andrés Muschietti directs.
The behind-the-scenes creative team includes director of photography Chung-Hoon Chung (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), production designer Claude Paré (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), editor Jason Ballantine (The Great Gatsby), and costume designer Janie Bryant (“Mad Men”).
When children begin to disappear in the town of Derry, Maine, a group of young kids are faced with their biggest fears when they square off against an evil clown named Pennywise, whose history of murder and violence dates back for centuries.