At the press junket for It, Nerd Report got to talk to Pennywise actor Bill Skarsgard, director Andy Muschietti, screenwriter Gary Dauberman and producers Seth Graeme Smith and David Katzenberg. Here are their answers to some of the questions we know Stephen King fans have about this long-awaited movie adaptation.
Getting Stephen King’s Approval
DK: Getting his stamp of approval, we finally took a breath when we got his approval.
SGS: We screened this movie for him and we got his reaction. At this point it was like okay, well no matter what else happens, we’re good.
DK: He watched a rough cut early on when we were back in editorial. Honestly, I remember exactly the day when we got the feedback. He sent a really sweet e-mail to Andy. He put a message up on his board and he tweeted out that he was extremely pleased. For us it was just a huge weight off our shoulders. We spent so much time and energy getting this movie right and keeping the integrity of the book, essentially trying to please him and the fans that it really meant a lot.
SGS: That is the one thing I would not have been able to surmount. If he had been disappointed or had even just not been enthusiastic, then I would’ve been moping in front of you right now. Getting his stamp of approval as it were, high watermark of the process for me. I can deal with anything that happens from this point on. I pleased the maestro. I had some small part of playing in this adaptation that he’s pleased with, so I’ll take it.
GD: There’s huge pressure, a lot of anxiety and a lot of sleepless nights. I’m writing this, I’m looking at my bookshelves, and they’re all around my house. My wife’s from Maine and Christ, I’m never going to be able to go visit there again if this thing gets f***ed up. So I’m looking around the house and I’m going, “If this thing’s over, am I just going to have to pull all the books down because I just don’t want to be reminded. If he comes out and says he hates it, I’m just going to have to sit there and live with that for the rest of my life.” I was on location scout for The Nun in the heart of Transylvania, and we got a text. Fortunately they did not tell me he was seeing the movie. Thanks for not telling me because I couldn’t deal with that. They told me after and told me he loved it, or whatever he said. I could finally breathe again. When it comes down to it, yes, I want my family to like it. Yes, I want you guys to like it but him, he was the most important to me. The pressure was there. The pressure is real.
BS: I think the way we approached it was this is our new take on it. I think for my part, I’m going to do two very different things. I’m going to do my interpretation and my performance as Pennywise. Also with Andy, just with him designing the look and everything it’s just a completely different, new take on it. I do think that it’s so different, you can be into both things without them having to interfere. Andy might be better to answer this, but even in casting me as the role, we weren’t trying to do this middle-aged Pennywise that Tim Curry did so well. We’re doing something different.
AM: Absolutely. I had a sketch. I did a few sketches of the look of Pennywise and it was already like something else. It’s like Gerber baby hair and his eyes are wall-eyed. Little did I know that he can do that.
DK: We were never trying to outdo Tim Curry. We knew we needed to bring something fresh and new and re-imagine what our Pennywise was going to be. Andy came in with these little sketches of horseshoes essentially. We didn’t know quite what they were but they eventually turned into the mouth and went through the eyes. Early on, Andy had these visions in terms of what Pennywise’s voice would sound like. He worked with Bill hours and hours, really getting the mannerisms and the facial features.
SGS: We all agreed Tim Curry’s performance is iconic. We’re going to do something different. We’re going to try to put our own stamp on it and then Bill and Andy, in the casting process he singled out Bill pretty early on as I remember and started having him come back and doing more reads and working with him already, refining the character and refining the facial expressions and refining the physicality and refining the voice. That continued through production. We were all kids the first month but Bill was in Toronto, not shooting. He and Andy would meet and Bill would sit there and look in his mirror and practice voices.
They Did Not Hire The Real Clowns Who’ve Popped Up
SGS: We’ve caught so many lucky breaks in this. Two years ago when people started clowns all of a sudden, which by the way was not us. We had nothing to do with it.
DK: We did hear from a lot of people, “Hey, great viral long lead marketing.” No, no, no, no, that’s not us scaring kids in the woods.
BS: As an actor, mostly when I do films, it’s the director’s film and you go in and do a scene and the director goes, “Try this.” And you do the scene and then he goes, “Okay good” and you’re like all right, great. I usually don’t feel a need to go, “Can I go and look at how that looks?” With this one, I had no idea what anything looked like. I didn’t know what my face with the makeup on looks like and how it translates onto the screen. So for the first time, I was much more curious to see what it was that we were doing. The studio wouldn’t give me any access to the dailies but Andy would, like, “Okay, here you go. You can look at the dailies.” So I would sit and study what we already shot because I felt for this role it was important to see what I was doing and how it translated to the screen. All the things that I thought about with Andy and talked about with Andy, that that translates onto the screen with all the makeup and all the things and looks and contacts and everything. Even the first screen test we did as well, I was like, “Oh, okay.” It’s such a technical and important aspect of the character. Andy would show me things and you could go, “Do this exact same thing but there.” These minor differences of how the light hits and the face and the chin, it really reads as the visual impact of the character. So it was really important for me to understand that aspect of it.
GD: I’m never going to not recommend someone read the book. I don’t think you need to read the book to understand the movie at all. The movie’s it’s unique experience. I think the book is a unique experience. I think everybody should experience both.
It’s About The Kids
DK: Andy was one of the very few directors that came in that really solely focused on the kids, on the children. We already knew at that point that we were going to break the movie into two parts essentially, because we could not jam everything into one feature. Andy came in right away. Rather than talk about Pennywise the clown, scares, stuff that a lot of other directors came in talking about, he really focused on the kids. For us, that was always the seminal part of the movie that we needed to get right.
SGS: What impressed us was he came in talking about being a 13-year-old in Argentina and reading the translation of the book and how it affected him. He came in and he locked into the relationships of these kids and how important it was to get the kids right. That was music to our ears because the movie we referenced most in the last six plus years has been Stand By Me. We wanted to recapture in that relationship that feeling that we felt watching that movie, of that camaraderie of that sense of time and place. If that didn’t work, that didn’t matter how cool the clown was and how scary the other stuff was, it was never really going to resonate the way that we wanted it to resonate emotionally. It’s already tough you’re making a rated R movie, and we were never going to flinch off that, starring 13-year-old kids. So they’ve gotta be strong, they’ve gotta be charismatic, you’ve got to believe those relationships. That really is what won Andy the job. He came in focused on that first. Everything else came into place to support that.
GD: I won’t forget the moment of walking onto the set and the sewers are there and the cistern. I couldn’t comprehend the scale of these sets. It felt like one of those hamster aquariums, but so well done. I was on the location scout and seeing where they’re going to set up Neibolt House and Derry. It was an experience I won’t forget.
SGS: I was 13 in the summer of 1989 in a small New England town. So watching 1989 come to life in a small New England town with those same bikes, those same posters, that was incredible to watch, to say nothing of the fact that oh my God, we’re building 29 Neibolt. We’re building the cistern. We’re building Bev’s bathroom. All these things, you’re watching it happen and you can’t believe you’re lucky enough to be a part of this.
DK: It was an extremely difficult shoot. It was all kids essentially and they had to go to school, and we were in Toronto, summer, 100 degrees, humidity, location.
SGS: The kids made it fun though. The kids made it fun because they were having fun. You can get caught up in the production blahs but the kids would show up and they’d do something stupid or just remind you how cool it was that we’re actually getting to make It.
GD: I think our part one is important. I don’t want to take anything away from them as adults too because they’re going through their own fears and dealing with their own issues. I didn’t do a rough draft where it’s like oh, is there a way we can crunch this all down into one movie. It helped reading that part and being familiar with what they grow into so you can make setups that maybe down the road can pay off later.