Does the circus send a shiver down your spine? You may have coulrophobia, a fear of clowns.
Just because you’re terrified that Pennywise might be lurking in the sewer outside your house doesn’t necessarily mean that you grew up in Derry. Fear of clowns is a real world psychological disorder called coulrophobia and it’s not at all uncommon. In fact, “IT” author Stephen King’s own discomfort with clowning helped turn Pennywise into such an iconic horror creature.
“[C]lowns are scary,” King told Yahoo in a 2017 interview. “There’s just no way around that… I came out in support of some clowns in Europe who asked me to say something nice about clowns because they go to hospitals and try to cheer up sick kids. I mean, if I were a sick kid and I saw a f–king clown coming, all the red lines would go off on my gear, because I’d be scared to death!”
Although his 1986 novel certainly fanned the flames of coulrophobia in pop culture, examples of anti-clown sentiment stretch back throughout human history. In 1887, French playwright Catulle Mendès told the story of a murderous clown in his stage play, "La Femme de Tabarin”, and even sued librettist Ruggero Leoncavallo for doing the same five years later in his opera, “Pagliacci”.
Another enduring pop culture example of a demented clown is Batman’s arch-nemesis the Joker, who made his DC Comics debut in 1940 and who is also the focus of a Warner Bros. film hitting theaters soon. Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, the character was inspired by Conrad Veidt’s performance in the 1928 silent film “The Man Who Laughs”. An adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel, the story’s central protagonist, Gwynplaine, received facial scars as a child and, as an adult, his face is now locked in a terrifying grin. Unlike the Joker, Gwynplaine is a virtuous hero despite his eerie visage.
Most infamous when it comes to the dark side of clown, however, is real world serial killer John Wayne Gacy who, in the 1970s, murdered dozens of young men outside Chicago, all the time working as a volunteer children’s clown. Although there is no evidence to suggest that Gacy dressed as a clown during the killings, he soon became known as the “killer clown” following his arrest in 1978, only a few years before “IT” was published.
“Of all of the scary creatures in books and movies, Pennywise was the most traumatizing for me as a kid,” says actor Andy Bean, who plays the adult Stanley Uris in IT Chapter Two. “I couldn’t go to bed for an entire month.”
When audiences catch up with Pennywise 27 years after the events of the first film, they will encounter another chilling performance from Bill Skarsgård. Although he may seem like the same IT, the actor teases that the dancing clown’s motivations have somewhat shifted.
“So much about what happened in the past was about scaring the kids away,” he says. “Now, it’s about getting them back, because he missed them in his own way. I think that makes for a stronger villain. Fear has always been his weapon, his tool. He instills fear in humans, but he’d never understood what that was until the Losers, and then he felt it for himself. I think a strange bond was formed then. To have an opponent that almost matched him is intriguing. And after a long absence, a craving can develop for the things that one misses.”
“This incarnation of Pennywise is an entity created by Andy [Muschietti] and by Bill,” adds producer Barbara Muschietti. “They both brought a lot to it, and they both realize just how much the other contributes. It’s really symbiotic. And the big difference between ‘Chapter One’ and ‘Chapter Two’ is that, the first time, they were finding Pennywise. This time, they know very well who Pennywise is, and he’s a smarter villain. He’s been planning for all these years, and he’s going to show them all.”
Of course, there is one group that isn’t looking forward to the release of It Chapter Two at all. That’s the World Clown Association, an organization that has, for decades, supported good natured clowning all over the world.
“[T]he character in the movie ‘IT’ should be understood to be a fantasy character – not a true clown,” said the WCA in a statement released alongside the first IT film. “…They are taking something innocent and wholesome and perverting it to create fear in their audience. Please understand, just because someone wears a rubber Halloween mask, that does not make one a clown! The horror movie character, ‘Jason,’ wears a hockey goalie mask. But, people would be mistaken if they actually thought he was a hockey player!”
Despite any potential adverse effect on professional clowns, It Chapter Two is now playing in theaters everywhere.
Twenty-seven years after the events of the first film, the Losers Club is back in Derry… and so is IT
Time can be a funny thing. After all, it was only two years ago that director Andy Muschietti’s first IT chapter arrived on the big screen, delighting and terrifying audiences with a story set in the late 1980s. Now, 27 years have passed and the Losers Club is back in Derry with a singular goal: destroy Pennywise once and for all.
“The hook effect in the whole thing was incredible,” says Muschietti. “People became emotionally invested in the characters and the story, and at the end of the movie, there was a promise of something to come. Basically, if IT returns, the Losers will, too. I shared the moviegoers’ need to see the second half of the story, the conclusion. This second chapter is as necessary to tell as the first. I couldn’t have been more excited to jump in and start imagining what that would be.”
Many fans who grew up reading Stephen King’s 1986 novel found that the 2017 film offers a nostalgic connection to their own youth. As the action shifts to a contemporary setting for the sequel, a new cast aims to strike similar connections with adult versions of the Losers Club.
“I loved the first film and really responded to the character of Beverly Marsh, played by Sophia Lillis,” says Jessica Chastain, the two-time Academy Award nominee who joins Lillis in playing Beverly in the sequel. “She is such a dynamic presence and, in many cases, is the most brave. She’s seen a lot of darkness in her life and because of that, it creates a fearlessness in her.”
This isn’t Chastain’s first time working with Andy Muschietti and his producer sister, Barbara Muschietti, either. She previously headlined their 2012 horror film Mama.
“Andy had been sending pictures of me next to Sophia, asking, ‘What do you think in terms of resemblance?’” Chastain recalls. “When I watched the first film, I wanted to see whether it worked for me to play Beverly Marsh as an adult. I wanted to see who she was as a child in Andy’s vision of it.”
It was during the production of the X-Men film Dark Phoenix that Chastain helped to recruit James McAvoy for the IT Chapter Two cast.
“We were having a nice chat,” McAvoy recalls, “and ‘IT’ came up in the discussion. Jess said something like, ‘Oh, Andy Muschietti’s my friend. We did a film together.’ She had my attention. Then she added, ‘He wants me to be Beverly Marsh in the next one... um, would you be interested in playing Bill?’ I don’t think a second passed before I said, ‘I will do that in a New York minute.’ I got a call a few months later from Andy, and we Facetimed. He made the case why he thought I’d be right for Bill, and he was really gracious and complimentary. Of course, I found out that he and Barbara are bloody lovely, two of the nicest I’ve ever worked for.”
Bill Hader was another talent recruited into the Losers Club by an existing Loser. This time it was Finn Wolfhard, who played young Richie Tozier, whose Hader fancast soon became a reality.
“I had a couple of friends text me, because I’m not on social media,” says Hader. “They said, ‘Hey, do you know Finn, the kid from ‘Stranger Things?’ He just said he wants you to play Richie in the next ‘IT’ movie.’ I thought, ‘That’s sweet, but it probably won’t work out.’ Then, my agent called me. ‘There’s this young actor named Finn, and he’s in the ‘IT’ movie. Apparently, he recommended you to play the older version of him.’ I thought, ‘Oh, okay.’ Then my agent said, ‘You’re going to be having lunch with Andy Muschietti, the director.’ Like, what? this worked? I met Andy, and he said, ‘You know, the reason we are here is because Finn wants you to play Richie.’ And so, the whole reason I’m in ‘IT Chapter Two’ is because Finn gave an interview and everyone ran with it. Clearly, I need to pay more attention to the internet.”
Casting for the Mike Hanlon role meant months of auditions for Isaiah Mustafa and, as if by fate, he was told that he had been cast just a day before his wedding.
“I think the biggest difference between Mike and the other Losers is his memory of IT,” Mustafa explains. “While the others have gone off, lived their lives and forgotten, he stayed in Derry and remembered everything. It became an obsession with him. He’s been researching IT for nearly three decades and his research never took him too far from Derry. That kind of singular focus has a price. All the years of searching for answers, interviewing townspeople, combing over books and stories and deep-diving into the internet has taken its toll on Mike… He doesn’t believe that Pennywise is really dead. He believes that IT is in some form of hibernation, which is something the shape-shifter has done ever since arriving in Derry long ago.”
Selected to play the adult Eddie Kaspbrak, James Ransone, perfectly matches the frantic neuroticism of young Jack Dylan Grazer.
“Reading the book this time around, the scary stuff wasn’t the supernatural elements, but the fact that all of these characters were in their 40s, and none of them had children,” says Ransone. “First part of the story, these kids have unlimited potential, their futures ahead of them. Then, this huge event sidelines them. Time creeps up on them, and their potential is gone. They are whatever they have become. That’s what I was really left with. As far as playing Eddie, though, what I was most concerned with was filling Jack Dylan Grazer’s shoes.”
There was similar concern in casting the adult version of Ben Hanscom who, in the novel, has changed significantly over the last 27 years. Although young Jeremy Ray Taylor played the character as an overweight teen, Ben had since gotten in great physical shape. When casting the actor, however, Andy Muschietti wanted someone who went through a similar transformation in real life.
“They asked me for a picture of myself when I was around 11,” says Ryan. “They wanted to see how much I resembled Jeremy Ray Taylor, which I really did, growing up. I really connected to the young Ben at that same age in the book. I think a lot of us grow up with some insecurity from childhood, the main one being, is this person going to like me? Am I going to make a good impression? To see someone go through that and then overcome that fear incrementally, and become successful in spite of it, is admirable. I wanted to do that justice. But, even though he’s successful at his business, there’s this inability to really connect with anyone. He’s a loner with a thriving firm and a big home... and a dog. I had them add that, because I wanted him to have something.”
Rounding out the Losers Club is Andy Bean as Stanley Uris, taking over from young Wyatt Oleff. As fans who have read the book are well aware, however, Stanley doesn’t return to Derry in the same way as the others.
“Stanley has done an amazing job in forgetting,” says Bean. “He and his wife live this ordered life, which is imperative, because he’s always been upset when things aren’t ordered, when they’re not as they should be. When he was a kid, he was constantly asking questions, double-checking and triple-checking. ‘Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure?’ That behavioral trait comes out in him as an adult, when things don’t make sense, are not following expected order. When Mike calls, it’s almost like he’s trying to buy time, and he comes back at him with questions. This isn’t following the rules. It’s like he’s been terrified of this call for 27 years and, somehow, knew inevitably that it was coming.”
To see how it all ends, be sure to catch IT Chapter Two in theaters September 6.