Imagine finding out that you had just secured your first major film role and it’s as the adult version of Ben Hanscom for the upcoming horror juggernaut, IT CHAPTER TWO. That’s what New Zealand actor Jay Ryan experienced just a few short years ago. Known mostly for his work in television, in shows such as “Beauty & the Beast” and “Mary Kills People”, Ryan is sure to become a breakout star once everyone sees his portrayal of Ben after IT CHAPTER TWO comes out in theaters this Friday.
For the release of the film, we had the opportunity to speak with Ryan. Throughout the course of our conversation, we discussed everything from being a part of the Losers Club to battling Pennywise as well as the love story between Ben and Beverly.
What was your reaction when you found out you got the role of Ben Hanscom?
Jay Ryan: It was a relief because I’ll be 38 next week and I’ve been trying to break into the Hollywood movies for a long time. I’ve been locked in TV contracts for a long time so we decided to take 8 months out and just spend [that time] in Los Angeles knocking on the film doors. I think two days before we were ready to move back to New Zealand and call it a day, I got the call to go in for IT CHAPTER TWO. I’ve always loved the first movie and I was a big fan of Stephen King’s book, so to even have the opportunity to be considered was truly amazing. I auditioned and then didn’t hear anything. Two weeks later, I got a call saying that Andy [Muschietti] loved me and thought that I had the same spirit as Jeremy Ray Taylor, who plays little Ben, but the studio didn’t know who I was so they were a little apprehensive. They asked me to send in photographs of myself as a child at the age of Ben in the first movie. I rang my mom in New Zealand and told her to dig those photos out. We sent them to the studio and funny enough, I actually resemble young Ben a lot as he is described in the first movie so it clinched the deal. I celebrated by a big sigh of relief (laughs).
In regards to the source material, you mentioned that you are a big fan of the book. Had you also seen the ’90s miniseries?
Jay Ryan: It’s funny, it’s kind of like a subconscious stain on your mind – the entity of IT and the clown – because he’s been around for generations. I think the book was printed when I was born in ’81 so [Pennywise] has been around since I’ve come on this earth. The mini-series definitely held images somewhere back there and I definitely remember being affected by it but not really remembering how or why or what, just like the Losers do when they come back from Derry 27 years later. I immersed myself, I started reading the book and then the script actually came in its form. I read the script and then I skipped through the book, like a bit of a Bible, and took out bits that inspired me for Ben. Then I listened to the audiobook version – all 40 hours of it – and that really got me into the world of Derry and who these people were, so that was really cool.
Were you able to chat with Jeremy Ray Taylor much about the character of Ben Hanscom?
Jay Ryan: Not until I arrived in Toronto and we met up and had lunch together and I just praised his performance because I think he did such a beautiful, really authentic performance in that. There’s a moment in there when he first meets Beverly (Sophia Lillis) and he almost blushes on cue and it was just so sweet and innocent and a really difficult thing to do as an actor. How can you blush on cue? (laughs). But he does it and I sort of took that as my essence for the older Ben. I wanted to keep that sweetness and humility that he had in the first chapter.
How was it working with the rest of the Losers Club, especially Jessica Chastain, who portrays the adult version of Beverly?
Jay Ryan: It was terrifying and amazing (laughs). I remember when I got cast, watching the cast announcements popping up on IMDB and then being in that line with [Jessica] Chastain, [James] McAvoy, Bill Hader, James Ransone and Isaiah Mustafa. I was just absolutely chuffed to be in such great company and for my first big movie to be up there with them. It’s a real ensemble piece so we became very tight and close and tried to resemble the chemistry that the kids did in the first movie as adults, which is harder when you are an adult. We really bonded very quickly and Jessica was very generous with me and made me feel comfortable. We worked really well together and had such a ball.
You find yourself in a few precarious situations, one being that you almost get buried alive, the other being when you get carved on your stomach. What were those scenes like and how much of it was done with practical effects?
Jay Ryan: Almost 100% of it was practical. Andy, he loves old school movie making so the scale of the production was overwhelming. To walk into those sets… they weren’t ready until we were about to shoot the scene and then we would walk in and we were in the world of Stephen King on a scale the size of a football field. It was really immersive and it felt like we were on the IT Experience ride a lot of the time. Shooting those scenes in particular, the sequence where [Ben]’s buried, it was different incarnations of shooting that. One of them involved two forklift trucks. It was quite a dangerous stunt because they would have these two machines push the dirt together on cue and I was stuck in the middle of that but they were locked so they wouldn’t be able to crush me, obviously, but it was 5 cm (or so) from the point of impact on either side. So, that was really terrifying to do as an actor and then obviously you had to be immersed in all this sawdust which was everywhere. It filled the space, the studio, everyone was wearing masks except for the actors of course, but I was pulling that stuff out of my hair and my ears for days. That was really terrifying, though, that was probably one of the most terrifying experiences that I’ve had because I really had to put my trust in the production people and the technicians and to not be crushed alive.
The carving the stomach sequence, which is a throw-back to the first movie, that was my first experience working with Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise and we had been shooting that scene for about 8 hours already in the Neibolt House set. It’s quite a spooky place, it’s actually a really old building in Toronto that they say is haunted. It was a real full-on day and then Bill came on and it was his first time shooting on the movie, on Chapter 2. It was the first time we got to see him as his full being as Pennywise and Bill’s a tall guy as it is and when he’s in the getup as IT, he’s like almost 6’6″, so he’s very imposing. It was about 3 or 4 in the morning by the time he arrived and we were shitting ourselves [when we saw him] and tried to continue on with the scene, but also how do we communicate with Bill as IT as adults, it was kind of a weird notion. [Bill] is very quiet and we all were kind of mesmerized by him – he really pulled us in. That’s how Pennywise pulls in a child and he really got our [inner] child and pulled us in. It was a surreal experience. Working with him, he’s like a wild animal, very unpredictable, very frenetic and there’s spit flying and teeth-gnashing so a lot of those reactions are really us just kind of in awe and being petrified (laughs). He does a marvelous job, he’s quite the entity.
IT CHAPTER TWO arrives in theaters and IMAX on September 6, 2019. Check out our review of the film here.
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