Here we are — preparing to open that final door. This one is marked “Very scary”. And behind it, you’ll find IT director Andy Muschietti, and Pennywise himself — actor Bill Skarsgard — the third and final part of a trio of interviews with IT cast and crew.
Once again — this was a round-table interview with other members of the press, so all questions will be marked as simply that, “QUESTION”.
With mere hours before our review of the film is released and only days before the film opens in theatres nationwide (Sept. 8th) — here’s a bit of info on the behind-the-scenes of Stephen King’s IT, courtesy of these two gentlemen.
[Note: There are some MINOR SPOILERS discussed in the interview — so be forewarned…]
QUESTION: There are people that have read the book; seen the mini-series. Or haven’t read the book, but have seen the mini-series… people who have done both. What is your own experience with the material? Did you read the book?
BILL SKARSGARD: Of course. Going into this, I saw the mini-series and I read the novel. I saw the mini-series and then stayed away from that as much as possible, ‘cause I knew we weren’t doing that again. But the novel was my bible, my source material. I read through it and marked all the pages. I 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. And especially with the character of Pennywise, there are so many little breadcrumbs. You can go, “What is he trying to say here? I think he’s trying to say this?” There’s a purposely mysterious aspect about what the character is. There’s a lot of room for interpretation. Me and Andy [Muschietti – director of IT] – even going into it – had a very similar idea about what the character was. And then reading it, sort of reaffirmed our idea about what the character is, the psychology behind it. The book was great to have around.
QUESTION: If you looked at any of the mini-series, obviously you see someone who played this character before. Did you try to ignore all of that? Or do you say, “This is like me playing Hamlet or him playing Hamlet?” It’s a completely different interpretation.
BS: That would be a good way of putting it; that’s it’s just a reinterpretation of a character – that you do for plays all the time. You have different actors, different characters every other year. For me, obviously… for all of us as filmmakers going into this, we didn’t want to do the same things that have already been done. Andy casting me – obviously I’m much younger and a different person and actor than Tim Curry. So, Tim curry is Tim Curry. Nobody will do Tim Curry as good as Tim Curry. [pause] But nobody will do Bill Skarsgard as good as Bill Skarsgard. [laughs] I used my tools – “How can I make this a new take on this, make it original? And make it my own?” That was obviously an important aspect of doing it.
RELATED ARTICLE: [INTERVIEW] MAKING “IT” A FILM TO STAND THE TEST OF TIME
QUESTION: What was the psychology of Pennywise? What did you determine?
BS: I’ve gotten that question a lot during interviews. I have a slight resistance in telling it. It’s a weird thing to reveal… it’s ours. You can read the novel. You can watch the film, and you can have your own interpretation of what he is. But we have a very – such a huge important thing for me doing the 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, that – where Stephen King kind of writes, sort of subjectively through “It”. And you can go and look at it in the novel. There’s a lot of clues to sort of the mind behind him… for me going into it.
After I booked the job – we had like 10 days or something before we started shooting. “I need to go through this 1200 page book!” But I also had that whole stage before I tried the make-up on – it was just me intellectualizing the character. What was the psychology behind him? How does he function, how does he work? Why does he work? Why is he even around? Does he even exist, apart from in the imagination of kids? This whole thing – almost existential things that is very true in the book if you read it. And then once I get the make-up on, now I need to embody this thing and this is the third and final stage of the process.
QUESTION: What was it like being transformed into Pennywise and what was your first reaction when you saw yourself?
BS: It’s strange. Andy is such a visual guy – an aesthetic guy. He was such a huge part of designing the look – which is fucking amazing, I think. The look of the character is so cool.
I came to the production and I just saw… [to Andy] Remember this temp picture you had on the wall that the guys for the prosthetic, which they kind of made with my features – this temp look? Which doesn’t really look like Pennywise? Do you remember?
[to round-table] It looked like the creature – it’s not what we ended up having, but I only had that. I had it on my phone, and I was like, “Who is he? Who does this thing sound like?” It was all abstract to me, because I hadn’t had the make-up on. So I didn’t know what he looked like. I was preparing to do this character, but I didn’t know what the outfit would look like, I didn’t know what the face would look like.
So the first time we had a make-up test, it took like five hours to get the prosthetic and everything on. And I saw like every stage. “Wait a minute. Is that how it’s gonna look?” I just stared at myself in the mirror for those five hours – playing with the faces and how things read. We had little inputs, tweaked little things, made it better. And then we had the screen test. We would figure out – play around with different faces. Andy would go, “Chin down. That’s great!” You would kind of find things that like, “This is really, really effective. This really, really works!”
I would film myself. I would sit in my trailer filming myself and looking at myself in the mirror just –
QUESTION: Just trying to scare yourself.
[laughter all around]
BS: Yeah. It never works, ‘cause you know it’s coming. It was a very important aspect of, “Okay, now I have this on”. Luckily, I did it like three or four times before we actually started shooting – I had the full get up for different things – photo shoot of it, two screen tests and other things. And we figured out a lot. We used the screen tests to kind of like, “Okay, that’s a good moment”, “That works!”, “This is fucking cool”, “This is great” Blah blah blah. So we had a map of faces and expressions, when we go into shooting, we can just go, like “Macroverse face”, “Drooly face” or whatever. And go into these things.
QUESTION: Did the prosthetic or dentures you were using – inform how your performance came through? Did you utilize them? How did that work?
BS: The teeth was all Andy’s idea – the little buckteeth.
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: It took me a while to convince everyone.
BS: I loved it. There were a lot of people who needed convincing – every step of the way of making a film like this.
AM: They kept asking, “Why, why the teeth?” It doesn’t matter all of my arguments, the conceptual ideas.
BS: And the childlike – prosthetic on my cheeks – kind of give it a little rounder look. It’s a weird, beautiful contrast of something cute and horrible. Such a key element to what the character ended up being – this cute, horrible thing. Parts of him are almost childlike and cute. It’s a conflict.
But the dentures – they were super easy. Just two little teeth things. They didn’t change my way of talking. I was worried about the idea. I worked so much with the voice, “I don’t want the dentures to change what I‘m doing.” I just plugged those in.
QUESTION: Did it improve it?
BS: It didn’t change anything. It didn’t impede with the way I was speaking. There wasn’t anything prosthetic-wise that I felt was getting in the way of what I wanted to do.
QUESTION: And how long was this process every day?
BS: I think we got this down to 2 ½ hours, which is not bad.
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QUESTION: When you were making the film, did you purposely keep your distance from the kids – the actors – just to create an aura of mystery?
AM: It’s an idea that we both agreed on. I wanted to capture the first reaction on camera. Crazy idea – you never know if it’s gonna work. You have this faith that, you know – you become familiar, when you’re designing the character and building the character and the make-up, you become familiar with it. But the kids don’t know what Pennywise looks like. I wanted to capture that moment with the first shock. And the first scene we shot with Bill [Skarsgard – not character Bill], with the losers – was really meaningful. I think it was Eddie.
BS: Yeah, me coming out of the fridge scene.
AM: These kids are so good. My intention was to capture that – fresh – according to what they see. I can see it on the screen, and I recognize that it was totally a good idea.
BS: I remember… I was talking about it. I was like, “Why not?” With kids, you don’t know. You don’t know until you know, right? The precaution before – let’s create this. But the kids were, I guess a little bit too old. They were all little actors. So even when we were doing the first scene – the first take of it. The first day on set essentially – the first time Jack [Eddie] sees me, he goes, “Oh whoa, whoa, whoa! Fucking great!” And I was so in my own fucking head, because we were shooting this scene. I was walking around in circles, getting into this kind of essence of what the character was. And I come out of the fridge – we block it slightly – just slightly. I didn’t want to put so much energy – expend when you do the character. I go and I do it. Action! It’s the whole thing. I’m mocking his asthma and his breathing. He’s crying and he’s gagging and I’m drooling all over him. It’s this really intense scene! Cut! I’m like, “Are you okay, Jack. Are you okay?” And he was like: “Yeah, man, fucking awesome! I love what you’re doing! I love what you’re doing!”
AM: That was part of the performance, ‘cause I’m pretty sure that he was freaking out.
BS: It freaked him out, but he used it.
AM: Oh, yeah.
BS: Which is the key element of being an actor. If something is affecting you in the scene… and he’s using it to enhance it. He was grossed out by me drooling, and then he used that to be even more grossed out. That’s just a testament of how good these actors were. They weren’t kids you needed to manipulate into having a great performance. They knew intuitively how to enhance their performance in the scene.
QUESTION: Talk a bit about making a decent Stephen King adaptation – because 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 external pressure. 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 while reading the book for the first time. It was more about searching and finding those emotions and translating them into a film that would fulfill my mind as an adult. That was complicated enough – to even think about anything else… naturally, I didn’t think of that.
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. ‘Cause me as a storyteller – there’s so much of Stephen King’s style and narrative and way of provoking emotion – they’re so much a part of me.
Normally, the adaptations that fail are sometimes the ones which try to mimic his schizophrenia or tonal swings. But, I didn’t do it in an artificial way. 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 to generate an emotional engagement. And Stephen King is the master of that – really digs into the characters with an obsessive detail… and just getting what the heart and the soul of these kids and the group is. And for me – being such an important work – it helped me wire my style.
Thanks so much to all of the folks behind IT — for taking the time, sharing some stories and making the fans drool all the more.
Now with our opening of the three doors, “Not scary at all”, “Scary” and “Very scary” for you — you’ll have to open the final door on your own. Go see the film and you can determine for yourself; a proper title for that particular experience.
Go do some floating on September 8th.