It’s only been two years since It: Chapter One swept the box office, but in between films 27 years have passed since The Losers Club defeated Pennywise in the summer of 1989. The kids grew up and now they’re played by Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Jay Ryan, Andy Bean and James McAvoy. Bill Skarsgard still plays Pennywise.
Andy Muschietti also returns to direct It: Chapter Two. Muschietti, Skarsgard, Chastain, Hader, Mustafa, Ransone, Ryan and Bean were at a press conference in Los Angeles to discuss the second part of the horror epic. It: Chapter Two is in theaters Friday, September 6.
Q: Does Pennywise change in 27 years? How do you feel he’s different the second time?
Bill Skarsgard: We figured out conceptually who the character was and then on the day, going back to do the second movie now, we had a lot of shorthand commands for stuff. We have 10 different faces and names for the different faces and expressions and all these different things. So we could be very, very technical, just like having a shorthand of how we communicate.
Q: What’s an example?
Bill Skarsgard: There’s the macroverse look. There’s the chin down smile. There’s a whole thing, there’s a whole thing. But yeah, what we addressed going into the second one was like what is different with Pennywise and how is he different in the new movie? Of course, we talked about it a lot where he was almost defeated for the first time ever and he’s come back for revenge.
Andy Muschietti: Also, he’s one step ahead. There’s events in this movie that are different from the first one, which is basically a one on one on one on one encounter. He’s a very manipulative, over manipulative creature more so than the first one. We see this in the scene with Vic under the bleachers. He’s smarter. The kid is smarter than Georgie and she says, “No, you’re not my friend. I’m going.” He starts crying, says, “People make fun of me too because of the way I look.” He says that so he knows how he get to those people initially who are smart enough to get out of there. At that point we notice that Pennywise is smarter than we thought or more manipulative. And he’s more perverse. The way he plays with fears, the way he plays Bill into aggravating his guilt to picking a poor innocent child and killing him in front of him. I don’t know, every bad thing that Pennywise is is intensified. And he’s sort of one step ahead and he has a bigger plan. He just doesn’t see what’s coming. No spoilers.
Q: What kind of direction do you give Bill to bring the character to life?
Andy Muschietti: We talked for hours about who Pennywise is. One of the things of course you have to relate this or that. Bill as an actor had to find a full experience and to draw it from somewhere. I don’t dig inside Bill every day to see what the process is but we did a lot of talking about it. Conceptually we did reach several criterias for what character should be. How it would be scary, unpredictability probably is the one thing that we allocated as a concept and Bill then worked it to a point where it really started surprising me because unpredictability is unpredictable. And it’s great. We basically talked every night before shooting, we were talking about how the idea of these things would work on every scene. I basically gave him the capability again to like different things, different performances. I will edit the scene different bits from different takes and it will be awesome. It was very exploratory. It was very experimental in a way but only because I really wanted to reach something that can’t really be planned, because if it’s unpredictable it’s unpredictable.
Q: How did you approach working with the adult losers any differently than you did the kids?
Bill Skarsgard: Yeah, that is something that we talked about. It’s double. It’s two-sided because yes, their fears are more mature perhaps, but also part of the movie is the fact that they’re not mature. They’re not functioning adults. They could never get rid of their own childhood fears. So it’s matured but from Pennywise, what Pennywise is kind of doing in every scene is I know you and you are a little scared child. That is kind of what he evokes in the adults every time. You pretend to be something but you’re actually this thing and I know what that is. Whatever that is with the adults is their fear, is obviously anchored in their childhood trauma in one way or another. So for him, working with the adults,
Bill Hader: It wasn’t that scary. He can’t really do that to us. We’d be like, “Right. What are you doing? Don’t do that.”
Isaiah Mustafa: We went to dinner a lot with him. And well, tasted a lot of rose with him.
Bill Hader: Remember, I landed, and Andy was like, “You must come and meet Bill, Bill Skarsgard.” And there was this whiskey thing that I drank, remember? And they brought it out and it was —
Andy Bean: Covered in smoke.
Bill Hader: It was like this whiskey thing covered in smoke. And they took the lid off of it, and all the smoke dissipated, and it was just this thing of whiskey. And it was like Andy and Bill Skarsgard like, “Drink it!” My bags were still with me. I was like, “Oh, okay. Cool. What are we doing here?”
Andy Bean: Start of a different horror movie.
Bill Hader: Yeah, another horror movie. You have this lost weekend with those two guys.
James Ransone: Bill was in full makeup, too.
Jay Ryan: He is very unpredictable, though, when you’re shooting a scene with him in the getup as Pennywise. Every take is completely different. There’s spit flying. He has a very frenetic energy. And you often have to remember that you’re shooting a film to stay in it with him instead of just fall into his mesmerizing performance.
Bill Hader: Yeah, and like, even off camera he’s like touching you and stuff.
Q: Was part of the film about how you never lose your childhood fears?
Andy Muschietti: I think the currency is belief, belief as a weapon but it’s your defense. There’s a scene that was scripted that wasn’t incredibly relevant to the plot, but we decided to lift it to get a better pacing. I don’t miss it, but it’s basically a scene with Mike and Ben. It’s more like a sort of like a chess game scene where they’re talking about the plans. And the idea of belief comes to the surface and Mike is like, “I’m going to get you. Now they belief.” Then he says, “They believe… in me.” So basically it’s the same energy as the scene we have in this where there’s the thing that you had as a child that you don’t have anymore when you’re an adult which is imagination, the power of believing in things that don’t exist. That’s when Mike sort of makes up this Ritual of Chud maguffin to make them believe in something. But essentially Pennywise’s currency, it’s Pennywise’s weapon to make them children again. So basically both forces are trying to drag these losers into the same tunnel with different outcomes. You have to go through the same thing. You have be children. You have to recover and as Bill was saying, these are adults that are broken. They have been going in circles since they were children. There was trauma there that didn’t let them grow up.
Q: How physical was this movie for the actors?
Bill Hader: I pulled my groin muscle simply running. When it’s like the clown spider and we’re all like, “Ah!” And Andy was like, “Now turn around, and you run from the clown spider.” And then I turn around, and like, he’s doing barrel rolls. He’s doing barrel rolls. You’re jumping over and sliding, doing kick-ass, like, he’s an action star. McAvoy is finding stuff to jump and pirouette over. And I was like, I just turned and went, “Ah.” And pulled a groin muscle and had to have this nice Canadian doctor give me an MRI.
Chastain: We’d done a rehearsal [of the blood bath] with water, but water was a lot thinner than whatever the liquid that they use. And there’s visibility with water, so it’s kind of the fear of, well, when it fills up and I go under, no one can see me. And if something [went wrong]… and it was kind of deep. So you kind of have those little fears.
Q: What did all the new actors think when you saw the previous film?
Jessica Chastain: I loved it. I thought it was like Stand By Me. This coming of age story.
Isaiah Mustafa: That’s what I was going to say, too. It’s a really story of friendship when you’re kids. Because that’s like a golden time in your life. And you really love your friends the way you love your family. And they mean everything to you.
James Ransone: There’s a hyper-specific thing that’s done in that movie, that I really liked about Goonies. Which is all the kids talk all over each other. They don’t listen and they’re all talking at the same time. And that feels so organic and built into it that you can tell that a lot of the kids were improving from the first. Or at least there were certain real organic moments being caught on film, and I remember thinking, “Oh, that was a really well-articulated choice as a director.” to be like “Okay, everybody speak at once.”
I love that, because that’s what I love about Goonies.
Q: Bill, is it true you had dreams bout Pennywise?
BS: Yeah, well, filming is always a very strange thing to do as an actor where you get the part and you prepare the part and you live with this character for so long. Then you shoot the thing and every day, you’re so intimate with this other character in your own head. Then all of a sudden, the last day of shooting wraps and you don’t have to think about that character anymore at all. Every project I’ve ever done, it is a weird kind of thing of waking up the next morning and being like, “I guess I don’t have to think about that person anymore.” With Pennywise, I don’t know, the shoot was three months and it was probably a good four, five months of just living with this character. The last scene that we shot was the storm drain scene which is sort of the most pivotal scene of the first movie in terms of the character. And we wrapped and I flew home the next morning and I don’t have to think about Pennywise anymore. But I dreamt about him. It was weird. I was back home so I was jetlagged, I was back in Europe and I would have these very, very strange dreams. The dreams were like nonsensical.I had dreams at times where I was Pennywise walking around Stockholm and I was like, “They can’t see me like this.” I was upset. “They can’t see me just walking around with the makeup on. It ruins the mystery.” I was walking around in my streets back home upset about this.
Andy Muschietti: Embarrassing yourself.
Bill Skarsgard: Embarrassing myself. There was other dreams where I was just like I was watching Pennywise separate from me.