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How Bill Skarsgard has updated Pennywise for a new generation


He's back! Demonic clown Pennywise will be floating our boat this weekend as Stephen King's terrifying story IT makes its big screen debut.

Director Andy Muschietti helms this chilling tale of a group of child outcasts who must band together to defeat the eponymous evil in their hometown of Derry. And as the dreaded entity, Bill Skarsgard's cackling performance isn't one to slip from the mind easily.

But how has Skarsgard differentiated his Pennywise from Tim Curry's celebrated turn in the 1990 TV version?

He ain't clowning around

Far removed from Curry's blackly comic (yet still thoroughly frightening) performance, Skarsgard takes Pennywise back to his roots.

Namely, he's a timeless, all-consuming force of terror who awakens every 27 years to feed on children's fear – and in spite of his malicious glee, the character is nothing to laugh about. The actor also promises to delve beneath the exterior of the clown make-up, exploring the inner-life of IT.

"There is depth and a change in Pennywise from the first scene to the last and there’s a journey there," he tells Metro, "that’s exactly what I want people to feel, 'wait a minute what is this thing?”'And I think that’s what I wanted and that’s where I want to go for the second one, to delve into the psychological and metaphysical spaces of this transdimensional being."

He takes fear to the next level

If you thought Curry was a beast in the role – indeed, he scared an entire generation of kids away from clowns – Skarsgard is ramping up the malicious levels of terror. In fact, he even made a child cry during his first scene on set, the fear enhanced by the fact that he was kept away from the child stars during filming.

"At one point, they set up this entire scene, and these kids come in, and none of them have seen me yet," Skarsgard told his brother Alexander in Interview magazine. "Their parents have brought them in – these little extras, right?

And then I come out as Pennywise, and these kids – young, normal kids – I saw the reaction that they had. Some of them were really intrigued, but some couldn't look at me, and some were shaking. "This one kid started crying. He started to cry and the director yelled, 'Action!' And when they say 'Action!' I am completely in character.

So some of these kids got terrified and started to cry in the middle of the take, and then I realised, 'Holy shit. What am I doing? What is this? This is horrible.'"

The voice

Curry's raspy voice was chilling in a creepy, leering uncle kind of way. Skarsgard intriguingly – and perhaps inevitably – has turned in the other direction, lending a childlike, lilting aspect to Pennywise's voice designed to lure children in. This is then undercut with feral savagery as his real nature is revealed. It can be heard in the following clip.

"I play around with a lot of different versions of what this thing might sound like," he tells Collider. "The voice had changed a lot from the first time I had auditioned. I explored different versions of it, what would resonate the most with the audience. It was really when we did the full make-up test and see what the character would actually look like…it’s a very abstract way of preparing for something when you have no idea what he will look like."

Skarsgard continues: "I didn’t know what the makeup would look like, I had no idea what the prosthetics would look like. Then we started exploring different things and I saw different prototypes of what he might look like and I started working with that. My first test with the prosthetics and makeup was where I saw what the character would actually look like with me in it. That’s something I needed to explore to [discover] what this thing would sound like."

The costume

As previously mentioned Pennywise is but one guise adopted by IT, an inter-dimensional force of fear who has been around for centuries, leaving behind a legacy of violence and murdered children.

His archaic costume only enhances the fear, implying the sense of eerie timelessness circulating around the character. Costume designer Janie Bryant says this was a deliberate decision.

"The costume definitely incorporates all these otherworldly past lives, if you will," Bryant tells Entertainment Weekly. "He is definitely a clown from a different time... There is almost a doll-like quality to the costume. The pants being short, the high waistline of the jacket, and the fit of the costume is a very important element. It gives the character a child-like quality."

He's like a child himself

Fittingly enough for a monster who embodies fear itself, this Pennywise adopts a host of whimsical, childlike mannerisms that tease out our young heroes' pre-adolescent anxieties.

Skarsgard tells MoviePilot: "I had prosthetic pieces on my cheeks – when you have those puffy cheeks it really makes you come off as much more childlike in appearance. That was something we wanted to explore. He is the manifestation of children, so he’s sort of part-child himself. He has these childlike elements – which is a different take on it, obviously, and something that I find pretty disturbing."

His eyes go in different directions

No, really. Watch the above drain scene again and watch the subtly off-putting – and brilliant – way Skarsgard achieves this. It turns out this stems from a physical condition the actor has in real life.

"I have a bit of a lazy eye on my left side, so if I relax the muscle in the eye, my left eye goes out and I become completely wall-eyed," he reveals to Dazed magazine. "We thought that would be cool to use in the character, so throughout the film his eyes are pointing in two different directions."

In short, he's a seriously scary character

And now it's time to face him yourself – click here to book your tickets for IT and send us your immediate responses @Cineworld.

Beep beep, Cineworlders!