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Meet Tatum Lee, the “Woman in the Painting” from Andy Muschietti’s ‘IT’

“I fucking love the woman in the painting… it scared the shit out of me.” – Stephen King in an e-mail to Andy Muschietti and Barbara Muschietti, after seeing last year’s IT.

We’re now a week removed from the 4K/Blu-ray/DVD release of IT, so there’s a good chance most of you reading this have already checked out the three featurettes and deleted/extended scenes included in the package. The featurettes spotlight the cast of young stars, Bill Skarsgård and Stephen King himself, but they sadly don’t shed any light on the other creature performers who helped make the titular entity so damn terrifying in his big screen debut.

“IT” takes the form of a headless boy and a decaying leper in the new film, the latter form portrayed by the always terrifying Javier Botet. But the form that terrified Stephen King the most was actually a brand new one not present in his novel. Rather, it was taken directly from a nightmarish childhood memory of the film’s director, Andy Muschietti.

At a couple points throughout IT, the entity appears to young Stanley Uris not as Pennywise but rather a flute-playing, unnatural-looking woman who literally emerges from a painting that hangs in the office of Stanley’s father. Stanley is terrified of the painting, and rightfully so, which IT naturally preys upon to a nightmarish extent.

With her elongated, deformed face and eerily vacant eyes, “the woman in the painting” (named Judith in the film’s credits) looks a whole lot like Mama, the titular entity from Muschietti’s previous film – who was, funny enough, played by Javier Botet. That’s because both Mama and Judith were inspired by the paintings of Italian-Jewish artist Amedeo Modigliani.

It’s a literal translation of a very personal childhood fear,” Muschietti recently explained the creation of Judith. “In my house, there was a print of a Modigliani painting that I found terrifying. And the thought of meeting an incarnation of the woman in it would drive me crazy.

He continued, “[Modigliani] often does these portraits with elongated characters. His vision of humans were with elongated necks, crooked faces and empty eyes most of the time. It was so deformed that as a child, you don’t see that as an artist’s style. You see it as a monster.”

So then, how did Muschietti literally bring a Modigliani painting to life? While many fans have criticized Judith for being an entirely CG creation, the character was actually – much like the Leper – played by a real actor. Her name is Tatum Lee, and her unique look landed her the role of one of last year’s most unsettling movie monsters.

What little we know about Tatum Lee is gleaned from her IMDb bio, which appears to have been written by Lee herself – to date, Judith is her first and only on-screen role.

Lee writes, “Tatum Lee is a Canadian actress from Toronto, Ontario. Her love of performing became apparent at a young age while spending time in her Nanna’s costume Shop (Janal Creations). She would try on all the costumes and create a variety of interesting characters for her family’s enjoyment. By her early teens Tatum had been cast in over seven community theatre productions including elementary school plays. It was clear to all that she had caught the acting bug and went to study with Lewis Baumander at the LB Acting Studio.”

The bio continues, “In 2013 she founded Tandum Entertainment with writer, producer Andy Lyberopoulos (Author of the Blood Mile). Together they produced the play “State of Women” with Lee making her directing debut. Tatum is constantly challenging herself and is looking forward to expanding her career in both mediums theatre and film.”

Unfortunately, fans criticizing the CGI in IT do actually have a case in regards to Judith, as Rodeo FX was ultimately brought in to digitally tweak the character and make her appear as unnatural as possible. Syfy noted in an article last year that “[Judith] was originally only going to involve some minor visual effects augmentation, essentially to warp her eyes further apart. Rodeo kept adding to the character to the point that most of [Lee’s] performance was somewhat replaced.”

Nevertheless, it was Tatum Lee who portrayed Judith in the film, aided by CGI or not, and we’re hoping to see a lot more of her in the horror genre in the years to come. After all, when you’ve got what it takes to terrify the master of terror, Stephen King, we’d say you’ve got yourself a bright career in the horror industry!



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