Stephen King birthed a fear of clowns in his chilling 1986 horror novel, IT. In 1990, the now-classic novel was turned into a two-part miniseries that aired on television, featuring Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown — he gave us all nightmares. With the forthcoming 2017 film adaptation, director Andy Muschietti wanted to set a new tone and give the iconic character a new look.
With that said, we were able to sit down with both Muschietti and actor Bill Skarsgard, who portrays the new Pennywise, and talk about the inspiration behind the character’s new look, why Andy fought for Bill to land the role, and what it took to bring IT to life.
How did Bill work with the cameras to create the performance of Pennywise, between your acting and the way the camera was portraying him?
Bill: It was an interesting thing for me because I care. want to be involved in the movie that I’m doing. So as an actor, I care about what I’m doing, but it’s also the director’s film, so you a do a scene and do a scene and that’s it. But with this one, I usually don’t feel a need to kind of go and look at how that looks. With this, it was harder because I didn’t know what I looked like with my face and the makeup on and how it translates on to 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 and I would sit and study what I’ve shot. For me, I felt it was important with this role that I knew what I was doing and how it translated to the screen.
Andy: I see why you feel that way. We talked for hours about how that character was and we mostly agreed on everything on how the character should be. Talks are just the beginning, because then Bill started building the character. We talked a lot on the predictability of Pennywise and his dread and impact as a monster. Bill was committed as he was fearless and took the monster and wanted to make him unpredictable.
Bill: Yeah, and even for the sequel, it might be different now that I’m so accustomed to the character and the look of the character. Just leading up to it and figuring it out took some work. What was great too was when I got the audition for Pennywise was that there weren’t any limits to who he was. He could be young, he could be old, he could be a girl, he could be a guy, any ethnicity… there was nothing that limits the character. All characters I go up for are a guy in his mid-20s and going through a phase. I went with the audition tape and did whatever I wanted and then I got it and I was like, “OH MY GOD WHAT DO I DO NOW?!” Then, I find out Andy was actually fighting for me through the acting process and he wanted me. A fear started creeping in of people’s opinions and anticipation and they were going to have expectations that I wasn’t going to live up to. I felt people were anxious to sh*t over all that I was going to do here and I just had to remind myself that Andy believed in what I was doing there. That was enough for me to say f*ck it and do it.
Was there any influence or reference to Tim Curry’s performance? He’s a legend and you did an amazing job, so was there any connection to the 90’s miniseries and Tim?
Bill: I think the way we approached it was, “This is a new take on it.” For my part, I’m going to do two different things. My performance and take on Pennywise, and then Andy and his look and image of IT. I think that it’s so different that you can be a fan of both IT’s without them interfering with each other. I think with Andy casting me for the role, he wasn’t trying to do a middle-aged Pennywise that Tim Curry did so well and different.
Andy: Early on, I did a few sketches of Pennywise and it was a different look. It had the image of a baby with the Gerber baby hair and his eyes are wall-eyed. So from the beginning, it was already something different because I believed that there was something in the nature of the character that I can take from the original work that was worth bringing in. All his childlike traits played into his image and my interpretation. The technical effect I wanted to bring in was that IT was cute and lovable and horrifying at the same time, and that’s exactly Bill. Cute and lovely…
Bill: and horrible inside!
IT hits theaters September 8th.