Bill Skarsgard‘s small roles in movies like Allegiant and Atomic Blonde didn’t leave much of an impact on me, but after seeing his terrifying take on Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the new adaptation of Stephen King‘s It, he certainly has my attention. Director Andy Muschietti saw something in the young actor’s audition that no one else did, and together they crafted a new version of Pennywise that’s frightening, otherworldly, and truly feels as if you’re watching evil incarnated.
At the film’s press junket last week, I participated in a roundtable interview with Muschietti and Skarsgard and spoke with them about this updated Pennywise, casting the Losers’ Club kids, and one of Skarsgard’s acting choices as Pennywise that particularly fascinated me.
Skarsgard explained that he spent three days “playing around with different things and voices and facial expressions” before his audition to discover a version of the character that was unique to his strengths as an actor, and that work paid off: Muschietti responded immediately to his take, and the two almost instantly began molding Skarsgard’s spin on the character, even before the studio officially hired the actor.
This Pennywise is an imposing physical presence, looming over his prey and getting in the faces of his victims. When asked about how he went about incorporating that physicality into the character, Skarsgard explained:
“When I was thinking about what scares me, the concept of unpredictABILITY [he shouts the second half of the word to emphasize his point] is something that’s very scary to me. If you have explosiveness and quick changes, it’s something that’s very unsettling. I wanted to incorporate that unpredictability, but have the character be almost like, you know when you’re about to pop a balloon [between your hands]? It’s this tension of explosiveness that’s about to happen. In the character, if something happens, it’s super explosive. But there’s an unpredictability, as if you’re pulling something back and at any moment, it might snap. I wanted to incorporate that in the physicality of it.”
One of the concepts that didn’t explicitly make it into the film is the idea of the Macroverse, an alternate dimension that plays a key part in King’s novel. Without getting too spoilery, there’s always the chance it could factor into the sequel, but Muschietti described why he didn’t want to concentrate on it in this film and how Skarsgard managed to hint at it through his memorable performance:
“The other thing that Bill brought, among all the other amazing things, is there is a section in the book that talks about another dimension, the Macroverse. I didn’t want to go into that in the story because I felt I didn’t want to make it a fantasy as much as the emotional journey of these kids and the magic of childhood against the horrors of growing up incarnated in this monster. But the way that he incorporated the presence of the other side into the performance is fantastic. We talked about, ‘What is the Macroverse, and how do we express it without showing it?’ And it was always present. There was always a balance between alluring behavior and something that was [lurking] there that was not human behavior at all.”
There’s plenty more info out there about how the new Pennywise came to be, and you can read about it in one of Jacob Hall’s set visit articles if you’re dying for more. And while Jacob also had a chance to interview the young cast who makes up the Losers’ Club (the movie’s young protagonists), Muschietti spoke about how he decided to cast those up-and-coming actors:
“I really, really wanted to find kids that not only were talented and looked like they did in my mind, but I also wanted to go further and find actors that had the DNA of the characters. I knew that in the moment it would be helpful to bring that group of characters, those kids, to life. So that was a criteria that I wanted to apply. Bit by bit, tape by tape, I started looking at the personality of the kids, not only in the performing, but also in their off-screen [lives], and that’s how it happened.
You have Richie Tozier and you have Eddie Kaspbrak, one is a verbal diarrhea, the other is a hypochondriac maniac – neurotic, too. Another one is OCD. I’m not saying all of these flaws are one hundred percent in these kids, but there’s something of each character that is intrinsic to the kid’s personality. That was how we started, and then of course comes the chemistry of them all. You had to see the Losers as a character itself. You had to put them together in a room. In some cases I was sure about who it was, and in other cases I had two or three options, and it was about mixing and matching whoever was in that room, and it all shines through. It all comes to the surface, and you see it, and that’s how it happened.”
Muschietti isn’t just tooting his own horn, either: the relationship between the kids who play the Losers is one of the best parts about this film, and the casting is so spot-on that it feels as if these kids materialized straight from the pages of King’s novel and walked onto a film set.
But for me, the most interesting conversation of the day was when I asked Bill Skarsgard about one specific tactic that his Pennywise showcases a few times in the film. This isn’t a spoiler, but throughout the movie, Pennywise mocks his victims directly to their faces, as if he’s toying with them immediately before he goes in for the final kill. When I asked if this was scripted or something the actor added to the movie, he explained it was a choice he made himself and talked about why it was something he thought was integral to the character:
“It wasn’t scripted. That was something that I really wanted to incorporate. With the character, it’s like, ‘What defines evil? Real, real evil, and monstrosity?’ And having a crying child and then mocking that crying child is, to me, one of the most horrific things you can do. So I’m like, ‘Fucking great, let’s do that!’ So the mocking, and it’s almost like Pennywise hates this kid. Like, [makes mocking noises]. In the moment, about to kill this kid, it’s horrifying to me. Anything that is horrifying to me is something that I wanted to amplify, so the audience felt the same way.”
It opens in theaters this Friday, September 8, 2017.
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