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4 Things the Filmmakers of STEPHEN KING’S IT Want You to Know About Their Adaptation

4 Things the Filmmakers of STEPHEN KING’S IT Want You to Know About Their Adaptation

Set visits are often a fun assignment. You’re flown to far-off cities to meet movie stars and step into incredible fictional worlds like Narnia or Asgard. But sometimes, these worlds are less “fun” and more terrifying. Even though you can smell the sawdust and sweat of a freshly built set, your heart races with terror when you set foot into a realm like Pennywise’s lair–one splashed with murky puddles, walls of rusted metal, and pathways of people-swallowing pipes. Right before your eyes towers a precarious pile of decrepit children’s toys, a musty, rotting monument to an infamous and fictional–you assure yourself–child murderer. This was my harrowing visit to the set of New Line’s new adaptation of Stephen King‘s IT.

An unnerved pack of reporters in rubber rain boots stepped into the labyrinthine set of sewers and cistern. For our walking tour, these waterways had been drained, but still sloshed with grisly gunk. The massive tunnels were so big even the tallest among us need not duck, save to avoid the hanging threads of scum and slime that stab downward like nauseating stalactites. Aged concrete and rusted metal pipes made every turn feel ominous. But there’s a special terror reserved for crossing the threshold of a huge circular door and into the cistern.

We’d seen concept art, but nothing could prepare us for the sight of discarded dolls and fall flip-flops carrying the terrible weight of young victims. This was more than the setting of IT‘s climax. This was the encapsulation of the new brand of terror Mama director Andrés Muschietti has brought to his take on the tale of Pennywise and the Losers’ Club of Derry, Maine. Together, seven young friends (Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, and Jack Dylan Grazer) will have to team up to take down an ancient evil that takes the form of a sinister clown called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).

Nerdist took to the Toronto set last September to give you the rundown on this fresh interpretation of the King classic.

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Don’t call it a remake.

Yes, King’s novel was first and famously adapted as the 1990 live-action miniseries, which starred Tim Curry in an iconic turn. But Muschietti and his producer/sister Barbara Muschietti are insistent their IT is no remake, but rather an adaptation more comparable to the book itself.

Both siblings have been big fans of King’s writing since their teens, with Barbara saying, “IT was a dream project. We actually never even dreamed–it’s beyond a dream project.” And to two long-time King fans, that meant one thing: “The book is our bible.”

The Muschiettis prepared for production by spending a few weeks in the real Derry.”To just hang and really get a taste of Derry,” Barbara explained. This fueled the rest of the project, from the script to the casting of the stars. She said, “You’ll find that King’s style is all over the place. I’m hoping he’ll feel respected and honored. ”

IT’s Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård, also took a lot of inspiration from the novel, telling us, “What was in the script was not much at all about who this character is. It’s a 120-page script and there’s a point to not having too much Pennywise in it.”

He continued, “There’s a line in the original book where it goes something like ‘the clown was It’s favorite form.’ It really enjoyed being the clown. He preferred to take the shape of the clown. Obviously, that opened ways of thinking.”

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Skarsgård’s Pennywise will be scarier than Curry’s.

Rather than looking like a creepy spin on the famous Bozo, Muschietti looked back to a more “ancestral” clown, turning to the 19th century and King’s original description. The director worried modern clowns looked to “cheap,” saying, “I had a sketch. One sketch. It was like a baby. It was like a Gerber baby. With something very off, because his eyes were wide-eyed–the eyes like, slightly apart. And he had a bit of a turning… the official shape is more like a weird baby.”

On Tim Curry’s Pennywise, Barbara said, “In the miniseries it’s so clearly Bozo. In the book you have moments of Pennywise where you see his blue eyes and a little more childlike wonder, and that’s something that we will see which the miniseries didn’t represent.” To capture this perverse sense of childlike wonder, Muschietti sought a performer “who looked childlike, and that’s where Bill came in. ”

“I watched the miniseries and really appreciated Tim Curry’s take on it,” Skarsgård said, “but now I had to do something completely different.” For the handsome 20-something actor, the role of Pennywise offered something darker and different from the love stories and coming-of-age films he was most often got. He relished the opportunity, “There’s not a lot of [true] character performances or parts out there,” he said in a phoner, “in terms of weird, creepy, disgusting, or full-on characters, in terms of what Pennywise is.”

Bringing a harrowing physicality and ferocity to the role, Skarsgård has created a uniquely creepy clown. He told us, “I just worked really hard to create my own interpretation of Stephen King’s character.”

“You see Tim Curry and you already know that he’s an evil clown,” Barbara said. “There’s never a doubt about this. This Pennywise plays with his food.”

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There are two major changes from the novel.

Something fans noticed straightaway from the first teaser, Muschietti’s IT will focus only on the children portion of the tale. While he’s open to following up with a sequel that would weave the child and grown-up narratives together, the kid-only version was a concept inherited from the Cary Fukunaga incarnation of this project, and it made sense to the Muschiettis.

“If ever there was a book that was perfect to be divided, it was IT,” Barbara said, adding, ” I think it gives you a bigger chance of really understanding the characters in the first part of the movie, rather than spending half of the movie 27 years later.” But she emphasized that while their IT can be enjoyed as a standalone, there will be nods to the fates of the grown Losers’ Club. So look out for cutting Easter Eggs, King fans.

The other shift was a temporal one. Rather than setting the kids’ section in the 1950s–as the novel did–the Muschiettis’ version is set in the 1980s, which is another element maintained from the Fukunaga version. Barbara was quick to stress this is a “grounded” ’80s, and not one steeped in pop culture references (like say, Stranger Things, which shares co-star Wolfhard.) “We wanted to do a very grounded ’80s and not a caricaturesque ’80s, and we can do that because we know the period very well,” she said. “It’s not nostalgic. It’s Derry.”

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IT‘ll be hard-R and practical horror.

Call it the influence of the ’80s, but the Muschiettis were dedicated to bringing practical effects into every possible corner of IT. While there will be no puppetry, which Andres used to terrifying effect in Mama, there were be plenty of Pennywise terror born from the pure physicality of Skarsgård’s performance, chilling production design, and plenty of blood and drool.

“Andy has a thing with spit,” Jack Dylan Grazer, who plays Eddie, told us of the director. “For background information, the prosthetic teeth that Bill wears,” he explained, “Increases the amount of natural saliva. It’s something they’re using.”

“Bill physically does a lot and he is amazing and his structure,” Barbara said, “Yesterday, we were working on some scenes and there’s a great choreographer involved in our production and you will see him do some amazing thing. This is a different, more active Pennywise.”

While visiting the set, we got to see a bit of Pennywise in action as Skarsgård reached out through a window, against a green screen. Even at a distance, his unhinged attitude and seemingly slippery spine was genuinely unnerving. Add to this the slime, blood, maiming, and gore the kids of the cast told us about, and you’ve got a firmly R-rating that the production team anticipated.

Barbara laughed over the idea of a PG-13 Pennywise, suggesting a child-devouring clown would be a hard sell to the MPAA, adding, “It’s good to know that you’re starting with an R — we would have gone an R regardless just out of intensity… There are a lot of bloody moments, that’s for sure.”

IT opens on September 8th.

Look for more from our IT set visit coming soon. What scene from the book do you most what to see translated to the big screen? 

Images: New Line

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