After years and years of anticipation, Stephen King’s classic novel It is finally coming to the screen in a new adaptation from director Andy Muschietti. It was a long road to the screen for It, which went through various stops and starts throughout its preproduction but that’s all in the past and now It is poised to be a breakthrough horror hit.
“Yeah, there was pressure,” Seth Grahame-Smith, producer of the film and author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, said of bringing the classic novel to the screen.
“Seth and I are massive fans and, for us, getting his stamp of approval was extremely important and we essentially did, but, for us, it was extremely important to get this movie and keep the integrity of the book and that meant breaking it up into two separate films essentially. We sent Mr. King an early cut of the film not too long ago and he wrote a nice email to Andy, tweeted out to his fans and everything,” David Katzenberg, also a producer on the film, said.
“That was the best day of the project,” Grahame-Smith added about King’s endorsement of their film. “We’ve been on this movie for over six years. As David said, we’re both big King fans. I grew up 11, 12 reading Stephen King books. I read this book in the summer of 1989 when I was 13 like the kids in the [movie]. For me it was doubly special watching those kids portraying 13 year olds in a small New England town – that was my life. I grew up in a small New England town.”
For screenwriter Gary Dauberman, coming on board It was a dream come true. “Andy came on board and I worked with New Line on a ton of things. They knew my enthusiasm for It and all things Stephen King,” the screenwriter said. “When they were working on it and developing it years and years ago I kept asking about it, just as a fan. ‘Where is it at? What’s going on with it? Can I read the script’ Finally it was just, Andy came on board they were like, ‘Hey, do you want to get into a room with Andy.’ Before they had the question out I had an answer.”
“When we first came on you feel the pressure that this book is one of the most iconic works by one of the most iconic writers of our time, and, for me, the guy who made me want to write books. Yes, there was pressure,” Seth Grahame-Smith added.
But despite all the pressure, Gary Dauberman was undeterred. “It was overwhelming. The anxiety was terrible,” he said with a bit of levity. “All of those bad things, sure. But I could not turn down one of my favorite books of all time and working with Andy, of course, you know you’re in good hands. Having worked with New Line for so long I knew it, and talking to Seth and David and Barbara [Muschietti]. I think this is going to turn out well. I just need to not get in the way.”
The other element adding a layer of pressure to this adaptation of It is the famed miniseries starring Tim Curry as the evil clown Pennywise. “So you know you’re gonna have to honor and not get close to the Tim Curry performance which we all remember,” Grahame-Smith said of honoring the prior filmed adaptation. “I remember that in ’90. I’ve never seen anything like on TV. It scared the hell out of me. Horrifying. That’s an iconic performance and that’s Pennywise in people’s minds. So how do you do that? How do you take this 1,100-plus page tome and adapt it into something that feels seminal and timeless, and that was the big challenge and the challenge of the six years working on the movie.”
“You could a lot more stuff. You know, I loved the miniseries as a kid. It was a big influence, but not on this. I didn’t go back and revisit it,” Dauberman added on the influence of the original miniseries. “You could push it further with the scares or with the language of the kids. I think the fact that I had read the body first I think had influenced or contextualized all of Stephen King, all the stuff that comes after that. For me, it was really about the dynamic of The Losers and stuff that I really wanted to make sure comes through. I think that’s something that everybody kind of experiences. We all go through these things of overcoming our fears. That was the one thing I really wanted to protect.”
Picking a Pennywise that could stand clear of the immense shadow left by Tim Curry wouldn’t be easy, but they found somebody up to the task in Bill Skarsgård. “I picked him because I saw him in an audition and it blew my mind, basically,” director Andy Muschietti said of his evil clown star. “Before we started talking about the character or anything I saw him on a tape that he did without any direction or anything he brought something that I was looking for, which was the madness, a sense of madness and unpredictability.”
“It feels like a lifetime ago,” Skarsgård said about his preparation for the audition that landed him the role of a horror icon. “It’s thousands of hours away as well. I remember saying the audition itself was something I was excited for. The entire city of L.A., actors were just excited about the read because there was room for so much creativity. I’ve never had a role like this. Here’s the storm drain scene and go ahead.”
The actor continued, “I spent three days playing around with different things and voices and facial expressions to figure out something that was unique to me and something that I could enhance. This is way before the conceptualizing of who the character was. I did the read and Andy and Barbara responded to it.”
“There’s different phases of Pennywise, as he’s a shapeshifting monster,” the director said of the design to the film’s terrifying clown. “I did a sketch early on, one of my first sketches of Pennywise looks very much like the final incarnation. It doesn’t have the smile, but apart from that it’s kind of like a baby-looking horrifying monster. We’re all very excited by that design and I wanted to bring that kind of contrast I was talking about, someone who is luring and sweet and cute with the funny teeth and something with all the elements that are childish, child-like and that darkness that is waiting to surface. Then, of course, the shapeshifting happens because, you know, that’s the bait and then it turns into something else.”
“When I was thinking about the concept of what scary means, unpredict-ABILITY is something that’s scary,” Skarsgård said with an usual tempo to emphasize his point, leaving everyone at the roundtable a bit startled. “Something happens, a change. If you have explosiveness and quick changes it’s something that is very unsettling, so I wanted to incorporate that unpredictability but have the character be almost – you know when you’re about to pop a balloon? It’s the tension of this explosiveness that’s about to happen.”
Even though Stephen King wrote It decades ago, the youthful cast investigating a supernatural entity might cause some to compare it to Netflix’s Stranger Things, and the casting of Finn Wolfhard will only add to the comparisons. “It’s really funny because I think millennials are like, ‘Oh, it’s just like Stranger Things.’ By the way, the Finn of it all was very lucky and coincidental. We knew he was in it and it was going, but we started this seven years ago,” David Katzenberg said with a laugh to the coincidental nature. “Do I think it’s good for our film? Absolutely.”