Need help with a clown problem? The young cast of ‘It’ reflect on a hot summer of scares filming the all-new adaptation of Stephen King’s seminal horror story
We’re currently undergoing an end-of-the-80s screen renaissance, as evidenced by last year’s Eggo-reviving, instant cult classic Stranger Things, and the return of David Lynch’s bizarro Twin Peaks. What is it that we’re so nostalgic for? It might be the ugly jumpers and bad hair, the lack of self-awareness or cynicism – or maybe it’s just being able to be a kid again, to cycle down the street without anything happening. Except, in the new film adaptation of Stephen King’s It, as in all nostalgia-drenched reboots, something does happen – a shapeshifting, malevolent clown kidnaps a child.
It’s been 27 years since It last graced our screens and left us with nightmares. For most people, it’s probably taken that long to recover. Pennywise’s eldritch features, peering out from a stormdrain in the original, Tim Curry-starring TV miniseries, are almost impossible to forget once seen, especially if you were 11 and at your first sleepover. Now, the horror begins again with a new It in film form, ready to terrify a new generation of children (and retraumatise anyone who saw it the first time round).
Directed by Andrés Muschietti, the mind behind the equally frightening Mama, this new iteration of It is far closer in feeling to King’s text – it’s darker, for one. The film centres on six boys and one girl – the self-appointed Losers’ Club – who spend their days fighting their bully nemeses, the Bowers gang. But when the little brother of one of their number goes missing, they find themselves fighting the nightmare-inducing clown Pennywise instead (played by Swedish villain du jour and this issue’s cover star Bill Skarsgård).
It’s not all CGI ghouls, though – the film focuses just as much on the real-life terrors that plague the protagonists. While the club’s imagined fears are preyed upon in vivid Technicolor by the clown, those fears are a product of their parents, who range from vaguely neglectful to downright abusive. It’s also about each of the kids’ weaknesses. Bill, their leader, as played by Jaeden Lieberher, is relentless in his pursuit of the thing that killed his brother, alienating his family and friends. Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) is a self-obsessed hypochondriac. Richie (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard) is all swear-y bark and no bite. Mike (Chosen Jacobs) is scared to stand up to his bullies, and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) is just plain scared. It’s how they overcome their inherent faults that makes the film engrossing and even touching. A sincere exploration of growing up in any era, the gang live life exploring the local wilderness, unencumbered by 21st-century concerns. Perhaps this also explains our lust for the 80s – no phones.
“We actually caught ourselves a few times with that kind of thing,” laughs Grazer.“You’d be doing a scene where you were meant to be improv-ing, and Wyatt (Oleff) would be like, ‘What are you going to do, email me?’” Obviously, it isn’t an option to email ‘Help, clown, lol’, like one might in this day and age. “It was really cool just, like, riding our bikes and listening to 80s music.” Truly, most people would risk Pennywise to not have to answer an email ever again.
Here, Lieberher, Grazer, Jacobs, Oleff and Bowers-gang bully Owen Teague talk about reimagining cult horror for a new generation – which, funnily enough, sounds a lot like summer camp.
How much did you know about It going into the film?
Owen Teague: I’d never seen it. I wanted to wait to see it. I don’t know if Patrick – my character – is in the original, because he’s a very dark character and I don’t know if they go quite that dark. But now I should go back and watch it. I think the two are very, very different – which is good.
Jack Grazer: It’s a lot closer to the book, the movie we just filmed. I’ll say that.
Jaeden Lieberher: I actually owned the book but never got to read it, (and) heard about the original mini-series but I hadn’t watched it. Right before the movie, I watched it for some research.
Jack Grazer: I think the hype is so real for this. This is, like, a cult classic that we’re redoing. The fans are fired up!
“Andy (Muschietti) had this ritual after we shot a scene — he would say ‘...aaand spit’ and everyone on set would spit. Little things like that really made it fun to come to work” — Chosen Jacobs
Which 80s films did you watch to prepare yourself? It is a bit like The Goonies, but more nightmare-inducing.
Jaeden Lieberher: Oh, I love 80s movies. The Goonies is one of my favourites.
Jack Grazer: Yeah. I grew up watching stuff like that. The Goonies, Stand by Me – all those movies.
Owen Teague: One actor who inspires me a lot is Jack Nicholson. I love him, I love his work – The Shining is one of my favourite movies ever. I saw this behind-the-scenes thing of him preparing for some scene in The Shining and it was like he worked himself into this frenzy – it was kinda scary to watch, ’cos you don’t really know what’s going on. It was kind of an experiment to go into someone as dark as Patrick and make sense of it all.
Wyatt Oleff: For me, actually, I prepared a whole playlist of 80s tracks that I called ‘Stanley’s 80s tracks’. It was just tonnes of songs like ‘True’ by Spandau Ballet and ‘Forever Young’ by Alphaville and ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ by Tears for Fears. It was fun discovering all the music.
Jack Grazer: Queen (got me in the mood for the film). They’re my favourite 80s band. Yeah.
What was it like working with Andrés (Muschietti)?
Chosen Jacobs: Man, he’s my favourite director I’ve ever worked with. He is awesome. He really made us feel like more than actors.
Jack Grazer: Andy made storyboards for our scenes. But to break us into character – I actually felt like I was pretty close to Eddie – we’d stick to our guns about a lot of things, we really didn’t back down on our opinions.
Owen Teague: He’s amazing. I think the film really captures the spirit of the book, the essence of Pennywise and what that kind of creature is. It brings in all the elements of the book really well. Stephen King has this way of writing, he gets into the heads of kids so well – I don’t know how he does it, he’s not a kid. But you feel like you’re there, as a child. Andy also did that. I think that’s pretty remarkable.
Chosen Jacobs: Off-set, we really got to know each other. Andy had this ritual after we shot a scene and we could move on – he would say ‘...aaand spit’ and everyone on set would spit. It sounds crazy, other people just say ‘cut, next scene’, but it was like, ‘and spit!’ or, like, looking up and saying, ‘aaand dance!’ and everybody on set has to get up dancing. Little things like that really made it fun to come to work and shoot the film.
Jack Grazer: Also, Andy was a karaoke master. After there was a really good day of shooting we’d go to karaoke with Andy and it was really fun.
Chosen Jacobs: Mister Andy is, like, the karaoke king! He can do the best Elvis Presley songs – he is fricking amazing.
Filming It sounds a bit like being on the best summer camp ever.
Wyatt Oleff: Well, actually, the interesting thing is that we had two weeks at the beginning of the summer to just become friends – they gave us two weeks to really be with each other so that when you see us on-screen, you can really tell that we are friends. You know, it really does show. I’ve never met people I’ve been so close with. It’s just incredible how close we got, and I feel like I could tell them anything. That’s something you’ll be able to do when you work with someone for three months straight.
Chosen Jacobs: It’s kinda crazy, because this is my first major film, so I didn’t really know what to expect going into the shoot. We created a lot of great, lifelong friendships. We hung out all the time. We actually hung out just last week. Playing basketball, skateboarding. Stuff like that. We always stay in contact and hang out a couple of times a month or so.
“Our rule was the first person to fall asleep gets pranked. (Chosen) had a headache and he had to sleep so Jack put Nutella in his ear” — Wyatt Oleff
Wyatt Oleff: I didn’t get pranked that much, but I know of other people who did. Especially at sleepovers. One of the stories was Chosen was really tired, and our rule was the first person to fall asleep gets pranked. He had a headache and he had to sleep so Jack put Nutella in his ear and then he had to go try and wash it out, but it wouldn’t come out so he took a shower and was obviously freaking out!
Jack Grazer: That’s probably one of my favourite parts of the movie – the friendships. It definitely has a Stand by Me feel to it.
Jaeden Lieberher: Honestly, it was the best time of my life. I made best friends, it was so much fun.
Owen, you’re not in the Losers’ Club, you’re one of the bullies! Was there something fun about playing a villain?
Owen Teague: It’s definitely fun to be the bad guy. As an actor, you have to not think of yourself when you’re playing a villain as the villain, because they don’t think of themselves as the villain. It was fun to be like, ‘I’m gonna take out my flamethrower and terrorise these kids and love it.’ (laughs)
Stupid question, perhaps – but is it ever spooky filming a horror movie?
Jaeden Lieberher: Well, when you’re shooting it’s hard to get scared because there are so many people around you – the whole crew, the lights, the cameras. But seeing Pennywise for the first time in our first scene together was very, very creepy. Just because the director, Andy, decided to not show us what the make-up and wardrobe would look like.
Jack Grazer: Obviously, technology has evolved over the years and I think that they can do more things with CGI and everything. They can do more with what Stephen King really envisions in the book on-screen now.
Wyatt Oleff: Most of the time I didn’t feel scared because I was with my friends – just knowing what was going to happen was nice. But there were a couple of times when something unexpected happened, or they didn’t really give us the full extent of what was going to go on.
“Being able to play someone completely different from yourself — you get to take home this character” — Jaeden Lieberher
Owen Teague: Since you’re not exactly in reality – I mean, you are in reality, but it’s a different reality where things are heightened and super-scary – you can do a lot and it’s really fun to play around with that feeling of terror.
Chosen Jacobs: For me, I think the spookiest thing was not actually filming my scenes, but more when I was just watching the other actors do their scenes with Pennywise.
Jack Grazer: But there’s always that little reminder that it’s not real. It’s a blast, with the special effects and everything – so much fun.
Did you get to do any stunts while running away from the nefarious clown?
Jaeden Lieberher: Well, one time in the movie I was riding my bike and I had Jeremy (Ray Taylor) – who plays Ben – on the back of my bike. He was injured and we were carrying him. We had a rehearsal with just me and Jeremy riding down this steep hill – they chose the worst location to do this stuff – and we fell and I was pretty sure I’d broken Jeremy’s ankle. After that, we used stunt doubles!
Chosen Jacobs: The most action I got was my fight scenes. When I fought Henry Bowers later in the film, (that) was all us. Which was pretty fun to do. The whole river scene, with the rock fight, that was all us too, throwing the rocks – which is pretty fun. It’s crazy that your job is to get in water and throw rocks at people. You could never do that in real life.
What was the best thing for you about the experience of filming It?
Jaeden Lieberher: My whole life I didn’t really think about acting at all, it wasn’t even really an option. I didn’t think it was possible. But I feel like I realised I really loved this when I did my first movie. Being able to play someone – be someone – completely different from yourself. You get to take home this character and travel and meet so many new people. I’m very lucky that I am able to do it.
Chosen Jacobs: Shooting a film with guys I like to hang out with and an awesome director, with fun characters to play – and Pennywise. You couldn’t ask for anything more.
It is out September 8
Hair Ramsell Martinez at lowe & co using R+Co, styling assistants Ioana Ivan, Shawn Lakin, special thanks Cathi, Michael, Joel Wyman and Tommy the dog