Stephen King’s seminal coming of age horror epic It is once again on the minds and in the hearts of America, as the latest film adaptation has broken records (and is continuing to do so) and reignited the phenomenon of the Loser’s Club and the psychopathic supernatural clown Pennywise. This blast from the past’s success isn’t without merit however, a lot of the genius falls on brother/sister duo Andy and Barbara Muschietti who helmed the movie that was stuck in development hell—switching from director to director for years before they picked it up.
Andy and Barbara (who directed and produced the movie respectively) took the gargantuan task of not only adapting the novel faithfully, but also outdoing the beloved TV movie adaptation from the 1990’s, which featured Tim Curry as Pennywise yet retained very few elements of the actual book. The 2017 version of It is faithful, and thanks to the pitch perfect casting, wonderfully acted as well—with child stars Sophia Lillis and Finn Wolfhard standing out in the Loser’s Club and Bill Skarsgård absolutely killing it as Pennywise. The movie is filled with horrific scenes of violence (mostly on children), but at its core it is a story that is filled with heart, as the protagonists fight against the negligent and manipulative adults they are told to listen to and their own fears. We spoke with Andy and Barbara about the record breaking success of It, getting Pennywise just right, and which one of the cast members had a little too much fun swearing on set.
At what point were you like—okay this movie might break a few records?
Barbara Muschetti: I had a premonition about five months ago, I think it was before the teaser. I honestly believed that [it would do well] because of the fandom. They were so on it. I believed we were going to make [$80 million] in the first weekend, and I lost—which is great [laughs].
Andy Muschetti: In my case, I never expected such a huge response. I couldn’t even speculate that number. But I tend to go in with low expectations.
Were you big fans of the original TV movie, or the book?
Both: The book.
The main thing that people loved about this adaptation of It is how it retained a lot of the book’s more brutal moments while adding some timely cultural moments. How did you decide what to cut or keep in?
Andy: For me, it was the need to stick to my emotional experience reading the book, and conflating that into the movie. I liked the 1990’s adaptation, but it was very much a TV production, with all of its limitations. It was a bit of a journey to do justice to the original book with all of its intensity and violence.
There are a lot of 90’s references in the movie, including a few callbacks to New Kids on The Block. Did you ever consider having them show up in Derry?
Andy: [laughs] Well, yeah. The idea is that the story would [unfold] the same way that Stephen King had envisioned it in, but in present day. It only made sense that we did it the same way. I thought people would relate to the 1980’s more than the 1950’s, and we grew up in the 80’s as well.
Pennywise is a rare villain who is both a smooth talker and a jack of all trades when it comes to terrorizing his victims. What was the process behind balancing Bill Skarsgård’s acting when it came to his personality versus his more physical moments?
Andy: We started with the concept of unpredictability [with Bill]. I spent hours talking about character with him, from the physical and psychological point of view. We decided that this monster would create terror from his unpredictable behavior. And that’s not something that takes away from the essence of the monster from the book—he has a bit of anger there that was implied but it was great to explore. He’s a trickster, you know?
And there are also bits of the book that weren’t reflected in the mini series. In the book, it says that Pennywise isn’t good at conveying human emotion, so we brought that to the table. There’s moments where he’s a good reflection of a trickster, and then he changes his attitude completely. In the opening scene with Georgie, he suddenly goes [blank] after laughing. I wanted to bring a feeling of unease to the character.
In that scene with Georgie, it’s actually more impactful because we see the violence that wasn’t in the [TV miniseries]. What kind of measures did you take to help some of the child actors be more comfortable with the onscreen brutality that’s in It?
Andy: We were very cautious about it. We spoke to [Jackson Robert Scott, who played Georgie], and what we did with some of the actors who weren’t as old as [the others] was introduce them to Bill. They became friends and became familiar before they started to set up the scene. And we worked with [their parents] to make sure that they understood that it was all make believe. Jackson was a very smart kid, so it was fun for him. There wasn’t a moment when he was freaking out.
He got to walk around with one arm for a day [laughs]
Andy: [laughs] He was thrilled about his stump!
I really loved the representation of The Loser’s Club in this adaptation, specifically Finn Wolfhard, who played Richie. How easy was it to get him to be the potty mouthed voice of reason?
Andy: [laughs] Well it was very easy, because he’s exactly [like his character]. For me, it was important that the actors shared the DNA with their characters. Finn is the strongest case of that—he’d go on and on and on [laughs]. He’s very skilled with words, and the moment the camera rolls you can stick with it or go beyond it. There’s a lot of scenes [in the movie] where I [allowed them to improvise] and Finn and [Jack Dylan Grazer, who played Eddie] would just go beyond the script.
Barbara: They got so excited with the swearing, because they were allowed and encouraged and at one point we were like: “Okay, guys you have to tone it down, because you have not said one line of dialogue without a ‘Fuck.’” They loved it, of course but they were fantastic and had the time of their lives. They even got [Jeremy Ray Taylor] who played Ben to swear, and he doesn’t swear at all. They got a kick out of that.
The first chapter of It doesn’t get into the strange, macabre, inter-dimensional stuff from the books—are you going to up the ante for the final movie?
Andy: We’re still working on that. I didn’t want to introduce that, because I wanted to stick to the perspective of the kids. So everything we know about IT and the Macroverse is pretty speculative. I wanted to keep the story and the journey pure, without any interferences. We’ll see how it goes in the second part, we’re working on it.