While the beating heart of the two It films is the group of friends known as the Losers Club, the real draw of Chapter Two is the terrifying Pennywise the Clown. The monstrous shape-shifter draws upon the fears of children -- and, now, adults -- before consuming them. Playing the character would never be the easiest for any actor, but Bill Skarsgård finds surprising blasts of cunning and fear to draw on.
During a press event attended by CBR, Skarsgård revealed the trick of playing Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and how the character remained in his dreams even after production wrapped.
It can appear in multiple forms, abut he prefers the guise of Pennywise while targeting the Losers, both as children and as adults. "We figured out, conceptually, who the character was [for the first film]," Skarsgård said. "Coming back for the second movie, we had shorthand commands. We have 10 faces and names and expressions, so we could be very technical. There's the chin-down smile, all these looks."
Providing the murderous clown with motivation is a daunting task, Skarsgård explored what makes Pennywise tick. "What we talked about going into the second one was like, 'All right, what is different with Pennywise, and how is he different in this new movie?' And of course, we talked about it a lot, where it's like he was defeated for the first time ever and he's come back for revenge," he said. "We talked a lot about [how] there's this kind of urge that maybe Pennywise really, really wants to be defeated finally and forever. So there's this thing of like, we're making it more interesting to me is, like, he's angry, he wants revenge. But there might be, if you can imagine such a thing as a subconscious of Pennywise, that it maybe is wanting to be destroyed."
Even if there were a subconscious element of Pennywise that longed for defeat, it wasn't something Skarsgård necessarily wanted at the forefront of the character. "Early on we talked about this, we can't have a Pennywise in this second movie who's weak. That's weakening the children," he recalled. "He wants them back and he's enjoying it and he's playing mind games with all the Losers, and maybe it's a little bit masochistic. But he craves them... Their fears are more mature, perhaps. But also, part of the movie is the fact that they are not mature, they're not functioning adults. They could never get rid of their old childhood fears.
"So it's matured, but for Pennywise’s perspective, what he is like, 'I know you, and you are a little, scared child.' That is what he evokes in the adults every time. 'You pretend to be something, but you're actually this thing and I know what that is,' and whatever that is with the adults is their fear, which is obviously anchored in their childhood trauma in one way or another. Pennywise doesn't see the adults. He sees the character. If it's Stanley, it's Stanley. If it's Bill, it's Bill. They're the same for him. I don't think he perceives age the same way as we do. Watching the movie, I think the adult Losers are so well-cast that you really feel that these are the same people that you're watching, that are stuck in their childhood traumas and they have to overcome that in order to defeat Pennywise."
Certain characters can stick with actors. For example, Joaquin Phoenix has recently spoken about the impact of playing the Joker. Skarsgård revealed he had a similar experience shortly after filming with Pennywise. "Filming is always, it's a very strange thing to do as an actor," he explained. "You get the part, and you prepare for the part, and you live with this character for so long, and then you shoot the [film]. Every day, you're so intimate with this character in your own head. And then all of a sudden, the last day of shooting, it wraps and then you don't have to think about that character anymore at all. Every project I've ever done, it is a weird kind of thing of waking up the next morning and being like, 'I guess I don't have to think about that person anymore.'
"With Pennywise it was... the shoot was three months, but it was probably a good four or five months of just living with this character. The last scene that we shot was the storm drain scene, which is sort of the most pivotal scene of the first movie in terms of the character. We wrapped, and I flew home the next morning. I thought that I didn’t have to think about Pennywise anymore, but I dreamt about him. It was weird. I was back home and jet-lagged and back in Europe and I would have these very, very strange dreams.
"The dreams were nonsensical. I had dreams at times where I was Pennywise walking around Stockholm, and I was like, 'They can't see me like this' I was upset. 'They can't see me just walking around with the makeup on. It ruins the mystery.' I was walking around, upset about that, embarrassing myself. And then there were other dreams where I was watching Pennywise, separate to me." Luckily for Skarsgård, they were actually kind of pleasant. "[He wasn't] threatening. I kinda liked him."
In theaters now, It: Chapter Two stars Bill Skarsgård, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Teach Grant, Jess Weixler, Will Beinbrink, Xavier Dolan, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff and Nicholas Hamilton.