The day has arrived and our horror hearts are filled with joy because IT is in theaters! For our last interview, Shannon had the chance to speak with Pennywise actor, Bill Skarsgard, and director Andy Muschietti about what it was like to embody the new Pennywise.
Question: When it comes to IT, some people haven’t read the book but they’ve seen the miniseries, and then some people have done both, and now we have the film coming out. With that said, what was your experience with the material? Did you read the book?
Bill Skarsgard: Going into this job I saw the miniseries and I read the novel. After watching the miniseries I wanted to make sure I stayed away from it as much as possible because I knew we weren’t doing that again. But the novel was my Bible, it was my source material; I read through it and marked all the pages and took notes and I would go back to it throughout the whole shoot. It’s a 1200 page book and there’s so much in there, especially with the character Pennywise; there’s so many little bread crumbs that make you wonder what he’s trying to say here. There’s a purposefully mysterious aspect of what the character is and there’s a lot of room for interpretation. Going into this, Andy [Muschietti] and I kind of had a very similar idea of what the character was and reading the book reaffirmed our idea of what the character is and the psychology behind him.
Andy Muschietti: If you look at the miniseries, we’ve obviously had somebody who’s played this character before and you can’t try and ignore all of that. It’s like me playing Hamlet or him [Bill] playing Hamlet, it’s a complete interpretation.
BS: That would be a good way of putting it. It’s just a reinterpretation of a character, they do that for plays all the time, right? You have different actors doing different characters every other year, so for me, or for all of us as filmmakers going into this, we didn’t want to do the same thing that’s already been done. In regards to Andy casting me, I was much younger and a much different actor than Tim Curry. Tim Curry is Tim Curry and nobody will do Tim Curry as good as Tim Curry, but nobody will do Bill Skarsgard as good as Bill Skarsgard (laughs).
Question: What was the psychology behind Pennywise?
BS: I’ve gotten that question a lot now doing interviews and I have a slight resistance in telling it because it’s a weird thing to reveal. It’s ours. You can read the novel and you can watch the film and then you can have your own interpretation of what he is. A huge thing for me doing this film was not only having Andy, but having Andy’s trust in me, and our collaboration in doing the character. We were never in disagreement about the psychology behind him. There is a chapter that we would go back to where Stephen King kind of writes subjectively through IT and if you go and read it you’ll find a lot of clues to the sort of mind behind him.
After I booked the job we had about ten days or so before we started shooting so I was like “Okay, I need to go through this 1200 page book”. Then the whole stage before I had the makeup on was just me intellectualizing the character, the psychology behind him. I would ask myself how he functions, how he works, why does he work, and why is he even around or if he exists apart from the imagination of kids. Once I got the makeup on though, it was like, “Okay, now I need to embody this thing.”
Question: What was it like being transformed into Pennywise and what was your first reaction when you saw yourself in the entire getup?
BS: It’s strange because Andy, he’s such a visual guy, such an aesthetic guy, he was such a huge part in designing the look which is fucking amazing. I think the look of [Pennywise] is so cool. Andy had this temporary picture on his wall and the guys from prosthetics kind of made this temporary look with my features which didn’t really look like Pennywise. I looked like this creature and though we ended up not using it, I still had it on my phone and would ask “Who is he? What does this thing sound like?” It was all abstract to me because I hadn’t had the makeup on so I didn’t know what he looked like, what his outfit looked like, what his face looked like.
The first time we had the makeup test it took like four or five hours to get the prosthetics and everything on. I saw every stage and would just be like “Oh wait, wait a minute, oh is that how it’s gonna look?” I would just stare at myself in the mirror for those five hours trying different faces and seeing how they read. We had our little inputs and we tweaked little things to make it better and then we had the screen tests and we would play around with different faces and Andy would say “Chin down, oh, that’s great!” and we would kind of find things that were really effective or that really worked. Then I would film myself in my trailer looking at myself in the mirror…
Question: Trying to scare yourself?
BS: Yeah! It was a very important aspect. After I was able to have everything on and practice in it three or four time then we did a photoshoot and two screen tests where we were able to say that works, this is fucking cool, this is great, etc. etc. We had the map of faces and expressions so that when we got into shooting we could just say things like “multiverse face!” or “drooly face!” or whatever.
Question: Did the prosthetics or the dentures that you were using enforce how your performance came through? Did you utilize them? Basically, how did that work?
BS: Well, with the teeth, that was all Andy’s idea, the little buck teeth…
AM: It took me a while to convince everyone about them, but they loved it…
BS: I loved it but there was a lot of people who needed convincing every step of the way in making a film like this.
AM: Because they ask you, “Why? Why the teeth? Why the teeth?” and it doesn’t matter in all the arguments on the central ideas. I don’t want to go to far into that but I can tell you that we fought.
BS: We added prosthetics to my cheek to kind of give it a little rounder look. It’s a weird, beautiful contrast of something cute and horrible, which I think is such a key element to what the character ended up being. Those parts of [Pennywise] are almost childlike and cute. It’s a conflict. But the dentures, they were super easy, they were just two little teeth things, and they didn’t change my way of talking. I was worried at that idea because I worked so much with the voice that I didn’t want the dentures to change what I was doing, which they didn’t. I just plugged those [dentures] in.
Question: How long of a process was it to get ready every day?
BS: I think we got it down to two and a half hours. Which wasn’t bad.
Question: When making the film did you purposefully keep your distance from the kid actors just to create an aura of mystery?
AM: We both agreed on wanting to capture the first impact on camera. I wanted to be certain that the camera was rolling. When you are designing the character you become familiar with it and Bill was building his character from details with the makeup. The kids didn’t know what he was going to look like and I wanted to retrieve or capture that moment of first shock. The first scene we shot where Bill was with the Losers’ Club was very meaningful because in the story it’s the first encounter as a group with him. I think it was Eddie, yeah, you versus Eddie Kaspbrak…
BS: Yeah, the scene with the fridge and me coming out of it…
AM: It’s hard to tell how scared the kids were because they are such good actors but my intention was to try and capture that reaction fresh. I can see that on the screen and I recognize that it was a good idea to do.
BS: I remember us talking about doing that. It was one of those things that with kids you don’t know what will happen until you do it. I remember the first day on set and the first time Jack, who plays Eddie, sees me and he goes “Ohhh, what the what?!” he showed such excitement. I was so in my own fucking head because we’re shooting a scene and I was walking around in circles, getting into this kind of essence of what the character was, and then I was to come out of the fridge. I hear “ACTION” and I go out and do it and I’m mocking Eddie’s asthma and his breathing and he’s crying and he’s gagging and I’m drooling all over him and it’s this really tense scene and then I hear “CUT”. Immediately I’m like “Are you okay, Jack? Are you okay?” and he’s like, “Yeah, man! Fucking awesome! I love what you’re doing! I love what you’re doing!”
AM: That was part of the performance because I’m pretty sure that kid was freaking out. It’s not the same seeing you arrive, which is quite intimidating…”
BS: It freaked him out but he used it which is the key element of being an actor. If something is effecting you in the scene then use that to enhance it. He was grossed out by me drooling and then he used that to be even more grossed out because of his character. That’s just a testament of how good these actors were. They weren’t like kids that you needed to manipulate to have a great performance. They knew intuitively how to enhance their performance in the scene that they were in.
Question: Can you talk quickly about making a decent Stephen King adaptation? There have been so many that have been so good, but so many that have been so bad. What was the pressure like to come up with a decent representation of his work?
AM: There’s no such thing as…pressure, I think. Of course I wanted to do something that would make Stephen King proud, but for me it was about looking into my own emotional experience from reading the book for the first time. It was more about searching and finding those emotions and translating it into a film that would blow my mind as an adult. That was complicated enough to even try to think about anything else. One thing I can tell you is that Stephen King was such an influence on me growing up that I don’t have to make an effort to tell a story in the way he tells it because me, as a storyteller, there is so much of Stephen King’s style and narrative and way of provoking emotions that they’re such a part of me. The adaptations that fall are sometimes the ones that try to mimic his tonal schizophrenia, or tonal swings, but I didn’t do it in that artificial way. I know that to get people to care for the characters, to be scared, you have to care for these characters and the only way to do it is generating an emotional engagement and Stephen King is the master of that. The way he really digs into the characters, the obsessive attention to detail and just meeting what the heart and soul of each kid and the group is. For me, IT being such an important work, helped me wire my style as a storyteller.
IT is now in theaters nationwide from New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures