In the dark dreary depths of the fictional city of Derry, Maine, down in the infested sewers of this small town sanctuary, resides a wicked ancestral being, on the prowl for blood, and hungry for torment. His name is Pennywise, and he most often appears in the guise of a clown, flashing an evil sharp toothed grin at whoever dare come close enough to peek, gobbling up unsuspecting kiddies, and spitting out their bones alongside the many others in his muck filled lair. Down here, in the underground sewage system which easily leads Pennywise from one so called safe suburb to the next, all of the spirits of those he’s made suffer float so well, and though they don’t know it yet, soon, the sweet little members of The Losers Club will float, too.
In 1986, Stephen King published a book with arguably one of the simplest horror titles of all time: It. The novel tells the story of a group of kids who call themselves “The Losers Club” in two parts: half of the story takes place in the 1950s with the gang as children, and the second half takes place in the 1980s with them as adults. The group consists of Bill Denbrough, the unofficial leader who mourns the loss of his little brother Georgie and is out for revenge, Eddie Kaspbrak, the little boy turned hypochondriac by his Munchausen by proxy mother, class clown Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier, library dweller Ben Hanscom, and eventually Losers Club newbies fierce lady Beverly Marsh and homeschooled on the hill Mike Hanlon. Together, the squad goes up against school bully Henry Bowers, the pressures of everyday life, and inevitably, the petrifying circus clown himself, Pennywise, otherwise known as “It”.
After the novel became a best seller, It was adapted into a mini series in the early 1990s starring Tim Curry in the utterly terrifying yet wholly iconic role of Pennywise the clown and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace. The film followed the same basic storyline of seven kids calling themselves The Losers Club going up against the unknown evil identity which they refer to as “It,” with the main difference being that in the film, Pennywise mainly sticks to the clown get up instead of shape shifting into several different forms as dictated by the children’s fears.
Now, in 2017, Mama director Andy Muschietti is up at bat for the latest adaptation after Cary Fukunaga (True Detective, Beasts of No Nation) dropped out, and he’s bringing along with him a world of change, including a newer, younger Pennywise to pen the role, a whole new gang of gut-busting pranksters, and a time shift from the less tolerant ‘50s to the more relatable and more recent flashy 1980s. However, despite all of this change, it was extremely important to the director to place the same emphasis on the coming-of-age aspect that made the original story so relatable in the first place. Based on what Bloody learned at the set, it’ll be thrilling to see what Muschietti’s vision looks like once it’s fully realized on the big screen.
In Muschietti’s film, the story is set “in a small town in Maine, where seven children known as The Losers’ Club come face to face with life problems, bullies, and a monster that takes the shape of a clown called Pennywise.“
Although Will Poulter (The Revenant) was originally set to play Pennywise in Cary Fukunaga’s version of the movie, the torch was passed on to another young up-and-comer, actor Bill Skarsgard (interview) of Hemlock Grove after Poulter had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. Hundreds of actors were auditioned in order to fill the gaping void that Poulter left behind, and at one point, Tilda Swinton was strongly considered for the role (which aside from her talent would be fitting since It is female, after all), but sadly scheduling conflicts stepped in once again to alter promising plans. Luckily, Muschietti finally found the man he was searching for in Bill Skarsgard, Netflix original star, brother of True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgard and son of Stellan Skarsgard.
As Pennywise, Bill might frighten the kids while they’re filming, but once the director calls cut, Skarsgard turns out to be just as close with the rest of the cast as any other member of The Losers Club.
“He played a prank on Jack [Grazer] on his birthday,” recalls Finn Wolfhard about his clown costar. “Jack walked in and there was a bunch of red balloons, and he turned around and his mom was like, ‘I think there’s something in the closet for you.’ He opened it, and it was Bill! And he gave him a big hug and it was super cool.”
This version of Pennywise will spit. A lot. The fake teeth Skarsgard wears during the film caused him to drool, so while they were at it, the makeup department decided to go ahead and add in a bunch of product simply called “Slime” to the mix, just to make it extra moist.
He will also have a different look than the Tim Curry Pennywise that people are used to seeing, or the image that Fukunaga conjured up. According to Muschietti, this Pennywise is based more off of the style of clowns that were more prominent during the early nineteenth century.
“This entity has been around for thousands of years,” explains Muschietti regarding his choices. “I’m more drawn, I never, like aesthetically I don’t dig the twentieth-century clown because it looks cheap and it’s too related to like social events and circus and stuff. I mean circus is fine, but I’m more like aesthetically more attracted to the old time, like the nineteenth-century clown, and given that this guy has been around for centuries, I wondered to myself, why now? And I found that [the look] really worked better in the 1800s.”
THE LOSERS CLUB
When it came time to cast the actors would who play the kids in the club, director Muschietti couldn’t have had any better luck. Fresh off the heels of Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special, promising young actor Jaeden Lieberher will star as ringleader Bill Denbrough. Coming from an equally exciting background, Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things will play Richie Tozier, with talented little Tales of Halloween veteran Jack Grazer as the “small but mighty” Stan Uris. Hawaii Five-O’s very own Chosen Jacobs joins the cast as Mike Hanlon, one of the very last kids to join the group, with Sophia Lillis stepping in as cool girl and worthy slingshot warrior Beverly Marsh, and Guardians of the Galaxy actor Wyatt Oleff coming on as notorious jokester Eddie Kaspbrak. No stranger to the Hollywood spotlight, Jeremy Ray Taylor also signs on as Ben Hanscom after appearing in 42, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip and Marvel’s Ant-Man. Nick Hamilton (Captain Fantastic, The Dark Tower) will play legendary bully Henry Bowers, with fellow bully Patrick Hockstetter at his side, played by Owen Teague (Bloodline), and Stephen Bogaert (American Psycho, X-Men: Apocalypse) will play Beverly’s abusive father Al Marsh.
“It’s very surreal thinking like, ‘Okay, I’m going to go into work today and then there’s gonna be four dead bodies’ and it’s like, ‘Oh cool, this is my job and this is my life. Cool!’,” Finn Wolfhard speaks bluntly but enthusiastically about what it’s like working on the set of a horror movie about a killer clown. He has the innocent drive of a young actor in love with his craft, but the focus of a guy who’s been here before. It’s a fascinating little combination and one that proves that this kid is going to go far. “Those are probably the most fun scenes to film I think, just in terms of like trying not to crack up even though this is the most serious thing you could ever imagine.”
Aware of the fate that his emotionally unstable character Stan faces in the later part of his life in the original story, Wyatt Oleff has some very wise input to share about his interpretation of his actions.
“There’s a really good connection by the end of the movie where I’m cut right here, it’s like really focused, so it’s kind of on my wrists, so it’s kind of drawing that connection to what he does in the future. I’ve been told that I’m setting up the sequel but I don’t really know how to respond to that. What I interpret from that is they’re saying that he’s been scarred I guess you can say, and they’re saying that I’ve done that well, which I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not. Stanley is scarred mentally and physically by these marks, which they should appear in the sequel, I mean I don’t know if that’s happening yet or not, but that’s what I’ve been told. But they’re permanent, so every time he looks in the mirror you just see it and be reminded of what happened, and eventually, when he hears that It is back, he can’t take it, so.”
When asked to elaborate on the specific ways that his character Mike Hanlon is different in Muschietti’s version as opposed to King’s or Tommy Lee Wallace’s, Chosen Jacobs had this to say:
“He’s more involved. The way my character varies, there are certain aspects that do change his personality, but I feel like in this film, my character is more independent because it’s more recent times so there are still issues, but he’s still an eighties character, so he’s still got some pizzazz about himself. But I feel like my character, he’s very more sweet he’s not just scared, he’s a very genuine character, he’ll do for you if you do for him. And I mean he doesn’t have any friends growing up, isolated, black, in the eighties, in a primarily Caucasian environment, so I think he’s just got a sweetness about him. He really cares about this friendship because it really means the world to him so I think that’s why he would go and fight the clown.”
Jack Grazer, who plays Stan, also feels that friendship is bottom line the most important thing about this movie.
“I mean we start out this movie as losers, right?,” relays Grazer, “We’re in the losers club and as we evolve in this movie we are facing things that not many people see I mean we’re all fighting as a team and we’re all together and bonding and I mean at the end of this movie it’s a triumph, like I said earlier, small but mighty like that’s our whole group, that’s what we are, and it’s a triumph, and we break through at the end and we’re the winners club basically.”
ADAPTING ANDY MUSCHIETTI’S VISION
During Bloody Disgusting’s time on set, it was made very clear that this movie is not a remake of the beloved 1990 miniseries. It is, as we were told, a “theatrical adaptation of the book,” which actually makes sense considering Andy Muschietti’s close interpretation of the source material, which doesn’t veer very far away from King’s original work.
“It was a good script,” admits Muschietti, “In terms of characters and depth of the characters and stuff, but it didn’t really tap into one of the most attractive traits of the character, which was the shape shifting qualities, so that’s one of the things that I’ve started talking about.”
Muschietti’s version will show more of Pennywise adapting into various forms that are based on the children’s individual fears. However, it will not show Pennywise as a giant spider like it did in the 1990 miniseries adaptation. Instead, much like the original novel, it will feature Pennywise in other various forms according to what each child in The Losers Club specifically fears, including a Leper, which will be played by renowned heavy makeup character actor Javier Botet, who also previously starred in Muschietti’s Mama as the gangly maternal nightmare herself.
Muschietti says his It will be scary and bloody, with a hard “R” rating, a decision which as put in place way back in early development but he will capitalize on in his interpretation of the source material.
This film will not intertwine the two stories of the adults and the children. Instead, the first movie will feature the kids, and the possible second movie will feature the adults.
There will be a blood oath at the end of the film, but no rite of passage sex scene. There won’t be any “Turtle” character, but an easter egg will allude to its presence. Look for the egg when the kids are playing in the quarry and think they see something hiding in the water.
Stephen King is not involved in Andy Muschietti’s version of his It novel in any way.
ON SET IN DERRY, MAINE
It started shooting on June 27th, 2016, and shot for a total of 57 days, with roughly about 80% of the shots being exteriors. That September, on a cold and wintery Toronto day, Bloody Disgusting was invited to Pinewood Studios to walk through the set of the brand new movie It, bask in all of its glory, and even chat with some of the stars and director of the film in the process.
At first, we enter a deep well from the bottom. We stood there and looked up, at a dirty, knotted rope hanging down the center. An opening towards the bottom leads into the cistern, its walls carved and formed by fingers, clothes of Pennywise’s victims scattered here and there on the floor. It’s an incredibly moody and atmospheric piece, even though it’s not that big.
Next, we enter the lair of Pennywise, a gigantic circular room in the depths of the sewers. There are puddles of water scattered along the floor and the walls look like concrete. They slope upwards in an interesting pattern, looking almost like a Hershey Kiss or a slime from the Dragon Quest series. But what stands out in this room is the centerpiece: Pennywise’s wagon. Intricately detailed, it looks like something one would see from a carnival show in the early 20th century, possibly even the mid-19th. The side door opens downwards like a ramp, popping up set pieces within so that Pennywise can put on an act. This is done with practical engineering and will (should) not employ any CGI.
Surrounding the wagon is a massive pile of clothing and toys. It reaches up dozens of feet, the objects at the bottom muddy, decayed, and disgusting while the ones at the top look fresher and cleaner. It becomes obvious that these are the remnants of Pennywise’s victims over hundreds of years. He has built a cocoon around his home with their belongings. Towards the top, children float in mid-air, making the infamous line “They all float down here” mean so much more.
There is also a path ‘carved’ into the side of the clothing that the children will be able to ascend in order to reach Pennywise’s chest, although we were told that they don’t make it that far.
At the second set, we see Beverly in the bathroom after the infamous blood explosion. The entirety of the bathroom is soaked in blood. It’s not just the sink, which is also overflowing and dripping blood along the side. It looks like a slaughterhouse and Bev is covered from head to toe in the mess. Her father comes in and acts like nothing is wrong.
“It’s a crazy set,” gushes actor Jaeden Lieberher. “That’s basically Pennywise’s lair and that’s where we fight him and try to defeat him and that’s where we rescue Beverly and it’s kind of amazing being in there with all of the toys. You kind of feel like there’s a monster living in there like he has killed a bunch of children, which is a really good thing.”
THE POSSIBLE SEQUEL
The movie will be split into two factions, with one film showing the Losers Club as children, and the sequel supposedly revolving around the characters as adults. Muschietti says that if the sequel is greenlit, and he’s behind the wheel, he’d like to include flashbacks to events that happened to each of the characters when they were kids, and include footage of the younger characters that would not be shown in the first film.
“It appeals to me because I always thought the kid storyline was always more interesting than the adult but I also appreciate the fact that there is a dialogue between the two timelines and that’s where, I came to the project when that was sort of like dealt, that it would be a first movie about the kids, but I always insisted that if there is a second part there would be a dialogue between the two timelines and we approach the adult life [knowing] there would be flashbacks that sort of illuminate the events that are now told in the first one.”
Although the actors who would be playing the characters as adults has not been locked yet, each of the child actors has a pretty good idea of who their dream casting would be.
“For me, Bill Hader who I think is a great choice just in my opinion,” says Finn Wolfhard hopefully about his character Richie.
Sophia Lillis has her heart set on Jessica Chastain (which is a major possibility considering that she’s worked with Muschietti before on Mama), while Jeremy Ray Taylor is keeping his fingers crossed for Chris Pratt, who, like his character Ben, age is very kind to, as he “gets buff” in a very noticeable way later on in life.
“This has been like my favorite summer ever,” says Jacobs excitedly. “I got to shoot a film, it’s crazy, but I feel like with our characters, and I’ve said this before and I really honestly feel this about this film, Stephen King has a great way of making horror films relatable in a sense of, you know Pennywise is fictitious, is scary, but this story is really about all of our characters bonding. Without Pennywise, I wouldn’t have met anybody, nobody would’ve come together and nobody would’ve been able to defeat it so Pennywise is really just symbolism for all of the hard things that happen in life, to where it brings people together, so of course we changed, we became more mature, people break out of their shells, some people retract into themselves because it was scary but I think this horror film is more than just horror, it’s a coming-of-age movie.”
Don’t forget to go see It when the film hits theaters everywhere on September 8th, 2017, and in the meantime, take the long way around any unreasonably sketchy sewer pipes.
Writer’s Note: In September of 2016, Jonathan Barkan flew to Toronto, Ontario in Canada to visit the set of the newest adaptation of a beloved book, Stephen King’s “It”. Since his recent departure from the website, I was fortunate enough to be handed all of the notes and audio recordings of his visit, which I have compiled and written out as a basic guide shared above.