STACK caught up with James McAvoy and director Andy Muschietti during a visit to the set of the highly anticipated horror sequel, IT Chapter Two.
Only two years have passed since Stephen King’s IT became a huge box office hit, but in terms of its hotly anticipated sequel, it’s 27 years later.
With the original set in 1989, the sequel time jumps to 2016 and our beloved “Losers” – a group of bullied kids who banded together to destroy a shape-shifting monster disguised as a clown – are now in their 40s.
While director Andy Muschietti revisits the youthful Losers in his sequel, IT Chapter Two, they are now largely portrayed by grown-ups – Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy stepping into the shoes of Beverly and Bill; Bill Hader taking over from Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard as Richie, and Bill Skarsgård reprising his creepy role as Pennywise.
When STACK visits the set of IT Chapter Two in Toronto, filming on location in a Victorian university building, Muschietti tells us how he hopes to inject more humour into the sequel as a break from the unrelenting horror of its predecessor.
Naturally the grown-up Losers have got as far away from Derry as possible and only Mike Hanlon – played by Chosen Jacobs as a kid and by Isaiah Mustafa as an adult – remains.
“None of them really remembers what happened in 1989,” explains Muschietti. ”But when a scar appears on their hands, they remember they made a pact, a blood oath, and they have to go back.
“When they return to Derry, they don’t like it too much. It’s a journey of remembering not only all the events that happened in the movie we saw, but also the events that we didn’t see in the movie, and these events are real, even if they have repressed their memories.”
If childhood fears are all about scary monsters in the dark then adult fears can run deeper, warns the Argentinian director, who first read King‘s seminal book when he was 14 years old.
“It’s about trauma and buried memories; a very deep trauma that has actually bled into their adult lives. These are things that are very hard to confront. The first movie was more about what a child is afraid of but some of the adult fears in this new second part are a little more surprising.
“From a cinematic viewpoint, there’s a crank up of all the emotions with both horror and humour. But it’s also a new perspective. As a story, it’s a bit of a metaphor of the end of childhood and the second part talks about the same theme, but from an adult perspective. So it’s going to be more scary, more emotional and probably more fun.”
Casting the adult versions of The Losers wasn’t easy. “I have this thing with physical similarities because I always get frustrated when I see a movie where the kid and the adult don’t look alike. But, weirdly enough, James McAvoy looks like Jaeden [Martell], he has the same big blue eyes and sort of round face and the nose and everything and now he has a scar in the same place where Jaeden has,” says Muschietti, who immediately thought of Chastain for Beverly, having first worked with the actress on Mama eleven years earlier.
For McAvoy it was important to get to know the kids on set, particularly his younger version played by Martell. “It’s strange, coming in after and being the older guy and asking a teenager for permission to take over. But Jaeden has been lovely. He wrote a really nice letter to me as a sort of passing of the torch,” says the actor, who replicates the character’s childhood stammer.
McAvoy first read IT as a teenager and was unfazed. But now, in re-reading it as an adult, he confesses, “I actually had several nightmares about Pennywise as I was reading the book.”
Bonding with the cast over dinners, drinks, bowling and ping pong, on set he found it hard to be around Skarsgård whenever the actor was in full Pennywise get-up. “I’ve always had a problem with guys in make-up,” he laughs. “Like my mate Nick Hoult who plays Beast in X-Men – whenever he’s in full make-up, I can’t really look him in the eye. It’s the same with Bill. Even if we’re just talking about normal sh-t, it’s just weird. Poor Bill, I kind of avoid him when he’s in the make-up.”
If Skarsgård endured some unexplained creepy incidents while he was filming the original, then McAvoy refuses to bow to superstition. “I’m staying in a modern hotel. No scary stuff for me,” he jokes.
The Losers – apart from Mike – have all led very successful lives, although none of them has children of their own. “There are some significant changes from the book as there was with the first film. But Stephen really respected the first one and loved it, which is the ultimate seal of approval,” notes McAvoy.
“The Losers have forgotten how close they once were when they are first reunited, but they soon break the ice in an epic fun way,” he teases.
If IT was ultimately terrifying – and its sequel promises to ramp up the scare factor – then McAvoy refuses the horror label.
“For me, I’m making a movie about a bunch of friends who go through something and challenge their own fears. If it was just a movie where I’m running around being scared all the time, I don’t think I’d enjoy that much. It’s the relationships which elevate this for me and Stephen King is a crazy good observer of the human condition.”
The author, as ever, watches the film treatments of his books from a distance. “I’m glad he hasn’t visited the set because that would be terrifying. I’d hate him to look at me and think, ‘You’re not the guy I wrote!’ I remember when Ian McEwan visited the set of Atonement and I ran away,” he says.
Expect Pennywise to be even more formidable in Chapter Two. “He’s got a lot smarter. He’s already been beaten by The Losers in ’89, so he returns with a sense of revenge,” says Muschietti. “He’s angry and even more perverse. He’s eager to play with his victims but he’s ultimately playing a bigger endgame this time.”