When we catch up to Andy Muschietti, the director is deep in It Chapter Two post-production. Coming off a long day in-studio, where he listened to composer Benjamin Wallfisch’s latest Derry-centric terror be recorded, Muschietti is remarkably giddy about still living in that malevolent town after all these years. Derry has that effect on folks, as does Pennywise the Dancing Clown who rests beneath its streets.
Returning to Derry was never a question for the director or his sister and producer, Barbara Muschietti. As he makes clear in our conversation, he might have been cautious about expecting the chance to film the second half of Stephen King’s 1,200-page magnum opus on childhood and the scars it leaves, but he always intended to come back if a sequel was made. It’s why he began planting the seeds of Jessica Chastain playing adult Beverly Marsh when he showed his Mama star the film early, and as he reveals to us, he always had James McAvoy and Bill Hader in mind to play adult Bill Denbrough and Richie Tozier too.
Having familiar faces around in a story about reunions was important, but It Chapter Two also presents a unique challenge for Muschietti. By choosing to mostly tell the story of King’s sprawling novel chronologically, he both loses the advantage of having intercutting scenes of childhood and adulthood echo each other… and he is also liberated from it.
In our below discussion, Muschietti considers many of the creative opportunities he’s had to build and expand on the book, such as what adult Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) is willing to do in order to fight Pennywise; how the fact that everyone knows Bill is an avatar of Stephen King himself can become an advantage; and just what new avenues there are to travel along in Pennywise’s mysterious origins that were only teased in the novel, including cosmic elements and It’s relationship with a figure Stephen King aficionados know well: Bob Gray. It’s a cryptic town history that It Chapter Two will bring to the fore. And if a potential prequel should occur, it’s likely we’ll never want to leave either.
I know you’ve said you weren’t sure there would be a Chapter Two unless the first movie was a success. Were you always certain that if it was, you and Barbara would be back to finish the story?
Andy Muschietti: Yeah, when I said that I meant, like having learned how the industry works and how the studios work, it was always my intention to be able to tell the second part of the story. I always put a lot of heart in my movies in general, but in It too, I put a lot of heart in it. Like in the edit, I knew that it was coming together well, so there really wasn’t a time when I thought, “Oh, this is going to go to someone else.”
Even back when the first movie was coming together, I got the sense that you always had Jessica pegged for Bev. Is that fair to say?
Yes, we are friends and it was inevitable to speculate about who was playing the characters as adults. Even when we were shooting, we always were speculating with the kids about who would play their adult part. In my mind, I was always sure that at least I would go to Jessica first because I worked with her and I know how great she is. I love her as an actor. We showed her the movie even before it was released and she was in almost immediately.
You do have your past history working with her, and by extension she’s worked quite a bit with James McAvoy. How important is a shared history on a movie about reunions and old relationships like this?
Does it help with casting a movie like this, and were there any other actors cast that you were thinking about back in 2017?
The idea of getting McAvoy in the cast is solely because I think he’s one of the best actors of his generation and I’m a personal fan. I think that he has enough similarities, like physically with the character, with Jaeden [Martell], to play his adult counterpart. It was more of like a coincidence that he had worked with Jessica, but it was definitely a good one. Of course it’s always easy when you work with people that worked together, or you work with people that you worked with before, because you develop over years some sort of shorthand of communion that is always very valuable. And if it’s a friend of a friend, it’s a transitive quality that is valuable.
I knew that I wanted Jessica and James. Bill Hader was always in my mind. Even in 2016, we were basically speculating who would play Richie. Finn [Wolfhard] was a big supporter of Bill, and Bill is a hero for me. Bill Hader, nobody can play Richie like this guy, I think. It was great because, for some reason, Chapter Two was a movie that everyone wanted to be in. [Laughs] It was pretty easy in a way to get all the people we wanted to sign in.
That’s got to be a good feeling.
Yeah! James Ransone, who plays Eddie, is a guy that I always liked in Generation Kill and Tangerine. I mean, he did a bunch of other things, but those were the main things that I had seen. One day, it clicked when I saw him in person. I met him socially, and I’m like, “What? This is it.” Because I saw him acting, I saw basically his behavior in real life, and he has that same energy that Jack Grazer has. He thinks very fast, he’s very smart, he’s very neurotic, he talks fast, he’s funny. And he looks like him! They’re almost like the same person, so it’s good.
I’m curious if it feels more apt to you that this is set in the modern day as opposed to the 1980s in the novel given how nostalgic and backward-looking pop culture has become, especially about the ‘80s.
Yeah, I didn’t grow up in the ‘50s like Stephen King so I’m more versed in the ‘80s and the present day than the ‘50s. Like drawing from my own childhood and my experiences, and the movies that I grew up watching and the books that I read. So I think it’s relevant to translate this movie, tell this movie in the present day and in the ‘80s because there’s a whole generation of people that grew up in that, who are the same age of the Losers, and I think they’re going to relate a lot.
What are some of the challenges in adapting this specific half of the novel? In the book, it directly mirrors the events from their childhood, as we discover reading it. Do you feel more of a need to depart or reimagine major sequences?
Yeah, there’s a lot of re-imagining. The story takes turns that are not in the book that I think people will appreciate, and even Stephen King appreciates—I should say that. But no, I think the challenge probably was instrumenting the flashbacks in a way that would still make the story move forward. When I made the first one, I knew that the second one, if I made it, would have that dialogue between the two timelines the way it is in the book.
Our challenge when we started talking about how the second movie would go was I knew that there were going to be flashbacks, but those flashbacks had to be integrated in each of the Losers’ journey as part of the plot, the character moments. That was the challenge and we managed to basically make them have a very specific function in the drama, and I’m proud of the script that we pulled together.
In the novel, I recall Pennywise being described as much crueler and angrier. Are you and Bill [Skarsgård] taking him darker? Is he less childlike this time?
He still keeps that façade, childlike façade, because he still has to lure children to him, but he definitely has a side that is more vindictive. There’s a sense of revenge and anger, and a need to take vengeance that you can see it. He’s meaner, he’s angrier, he’s smarter. He’s always a step ahead.
I know Adrian Mellon is in the film, and I saw the bridge in the trailer, so can you say if that’s the first scene? Also how important is it to show the cruelty of Derry early this time as opposed to just Pennywise?
Well, you know how it works. You only need to hit them hard at the beginning to basically set the tone and start the spark in their minds, so their minds can just play. I think if you hit them hard enough at the beginning there, they can imagine things. Again, it’s like a game of imagination and belief, and if you strike hard, they will believe that Pennywise is able to do anything or appear at any moment and be unpredictable.
So yeah, Pennywise appears and there is a scene with Adrian Mellon. I can’t tell you if it’s the first scene or the fifth. [Laughs] It’s a very, very devastating event. Not only because of the outcome, but also it has the implications of the social undertone. It’s a hate crime, basically, which is something that resonates in the times that we’re living in and at the time that we lived before. It’s a sequence that will have impact on a couple of different levels, I think.
Is it fair to say Derry is more villainous in this one?
You could say that. You could say that because we didn’t really see a hate crime in the first one, and this is another layer of perversion. I think Pennywise, on his first appearance, has a deeper level of manipulation. So it goes deeper in a couple of aspects. I think it’s clear that Derry came back with a deeper sense of malice, if you will.
I know you’re going to expand on Mike in a major way, and he’s the one who stayed behind. How has that affected him in this movie? Is he more than a good natured librarian like in the book?
Yeah, the difference from the book to this movie is that in this movie, Mike has quite a bit more purpose in finding the key to kill Pennywise. It’s not about just he’s doing research, finding out about It and the history. It’s more orientated toward finding the weapon or the key to It.
So when we find Mike in the story, he’s more like a guy at the end of a rope. A little desperate, because he’s run out of choices and he made a decision that will affect each one of the Losers, but from his perspective, it’s the only way. I’m not going to tell you what he did, but I can tell you that he read all the books in the library that relate to Derry history, he interviewed every person in town that had an exchange or an event with It, no matter what or how old they are. When he came to a dead end, he went further.
He came in contact with this community of natives that don’t live in Derry anymore, because they were wise [Laughs], but they live in the outskirts out of It’s reach. So he comes in contact with them and he starts drawing knowledge from their experience and he even goes into psychoactive experiences, and all of this takes a toll on him. And Pennywise knows and Pennywise basically taunts him with him being a madman.
To contrast that, how important is the success the rest of the Losers’ Club enjoys outside of Derry? Does it feel like they’ve made a Faustian deal whether they know it or not?
[Laughs] Yeah, it is. Probably. But the pact dies very soon, you know? They are summoned back to Derry and this is where the movie gets interesting. In the book, as amazing as the book is, there’s really not a lot of reasons why they should stay in Derry. They could go back to their lives and just enjoy whatever they were doing in fucking New York or Nebraska. Of course they were broken on a deeper level. All of these characters were damaged, and they had to face something that they were repressing, but they could actually turn their backs on Mike and go back to their hometown or wherever they live. In this movie… once they decide that they don’t want to be there, there’s an event that changes their mind. I mean, they have no choice, actually.
How do you view James’ adult Bill? In developing him as an author, were you taking any notes from knowing Stephen King?
Yes! We play with that a little bit. Stephen King created Bill Denbrough as an alter-ego of himself, and it is no different in the movie. There’s some curious traits about Stephen King that are translated into the portrayal of Bill Denbrough, both for a little bit of levity, but also character construction, and we make fun that a bit.
He’s an author, a bestselling author that made his jump into the movies, and he’s now writing scripts, but he has a little bit of a problem with the endings, which is great character-wise, because that gives a lot for jokes, but also it’s a character that has problems with endings because he can’t find an ending for his own life and he won’t until he basically makes peace with what happened 30 years ago.
He’ll find an end to this story. We can say that?
You mentioned earlier that in the script you’re able to have a dialogue between the past and present, and you brought the young actors back for the original Losers’ Club. How important was it for them to play off of their older actors and were they able to meet and exchange notes?
I think it was very important, especially for them. I encouraged them, of course, getting together and talking about the characters and about the character. What all the details of those encounters, I can’t really tell you, because it’s something that I’m okay with the actors keeping for themselves, but I really encouraged that. There was another interesting thing there, which is the actors, the adult actors, had to basically mimic some of the characteristics or details in the performance of the kids, which was very interesting. You can see it in everyone’s performance. It’s very cool from posture to affectations, to gestures with their hands.
There’s a lot of details there that some of them can go unnoticed, but they each of the actors did a great, great job in that part where they mirror the characters that they were as kids. Of course they brought a whole new set of traits and performance because obviously 30 years have gone by, but it’s a bit of balance between the two.
What can you say about how Bev has changed over the years and how maybe Jessica Chastain’s Beverly differs from her younger self?
With Beverly, what we have to know is that all of these characters, even though they’re successful in their work, in their job and their adult life, they’re broken. All of them, in a way, are repeating a pattern. They’re like enslaved to a childhood trauma that will not leave them alone.
So Beverly is probably more similar to her child self that everyone expects. She has basically a childhood trauma, she was abused as a child by someone that she loves. When that happens with people like that, their understanding of love is very distorted. That’s why we find her 27 years later sharing a house and a bed with a man that abuses her.
You said Mike will talk to some of the old-timers who had the wisdom to move away. Is there a chance we’ll see some interludes of Pennywise’s history from before 1989?
Yes, but don’t raise your expectations too much. The interludes in the book are amazing, there’s so many cool episodes and the Brady Gang and the Silver Dollar, and the Black Spot. There’s a bit of that, but I think those events in the past might be more suitable for the future.
How deeply are you interested in exploring Pennywise? Will we learn the full breadth of his origin in this movie?
We’ll learn something about Pennywise in this movie that we didn’t know before. There’s something very cryptic in the book. Everything that relates to Pennywise and Bob Gray is very cryptic, and it’s like that for a reason. Probably the success of that character as a monster, as a villain is because of that crypticness and uncertainty that people have towards him. We don’t know exactly what he is, where he comes from, or how Bob Gray is related. Was Bob Gray a real person? Is he incarnated in that thing because Bob Gray played a clown? He knew it attracted children, so that was a perfect bait? That’s all we know. So there’s a lot of speculation in the book and I think it’s wise to keep it cryptic. So you’ll find new things, but not too much.
Is there a chance we could get a little more cosmic? We saw the Dead Lights the last movie. Will you expand on that?
You know that I tried to avoid the Macroverse in the first movie because the moment that you go to the other side [of the universe] and change the perspective of the storytelling, it becomes a different kind of movie. It becomes a fantasy movie or some sort of hybrid with a fantasy movie, and I didn’t want to go there on the first one.
I want to keep it relatively contained in the second one. I still believe in the same idea of keeping the perspective of our human characters and not jumping to the other side, because the moment you jump to the other side, you’re revealing things that are actually not cool to reveal if you want to maintain the tension and uncertainty. So expect a little bit of the other side. There’s more deadlights, that’s for sure.
How difficult is it to adapt Stephen King, especially It? He tends to have such a dense universe. Has he seen this movie?
He did see the movie. He did see the first one of course, which he loved, and the second one he also was thrilled by and he expressed it. He tweeted it like a month ago, even though the movie is not finished. He really enjoyed it. How difficult it is? I grew up reading his books. I read It when I was 14, so there was—my education in storytelling comes strongly from him in a big way. It comes a bit natural for me to include all those colors and flavors and tones in the same story.
It’s not often that you can make a compelling drama with deep characters, but there’s also humor and there’s horror, and there’s scatological humor, and there’s a lot of things. I learned storytelling from him, basically. I think I’m a bit wired with his way of telling stories.
One thing that I learned, that I have very ingrained, is that you have to care for the characters, that you may play the story before you even try to make people be scared or laugh. For me, it’s essential that the audience develop an emotional engagement with them.
Is there any other Stephen King story you would like to adapt?
Pet Sematary. [Laughs] Too late! No, but Pet Sematary was one of my favorites growing up, and there’s of course a bunch of others. There’s a short story that I always loved, which is called “The Jaunt.” It’s a story about teleportation that blew my mind. I always said that I wanted to make that into a movie, and we’re actually developing that into a feature film with Plan B. For now, that’s my plans with the Stephen King world. Of course the mystery of Bob Gray gives a lot of play, and I would be interested in exploring how that happened. When did It become Pennywise and how?
You think there’s another movie to Pennywise past Chapter Two?
There might be, yeah. I mean, this is very unofficial and really there’s no serious plans to do it, but in my imagination, it’s something that is possible.
When it came to making this movie, is there one day or one scene you remember shooting that you think you’ll always keep with you or treasure from It Chapter Two?
Oh yeah. There’s an event at the end of the movie that is quite, it’s very impactful and it involves all the Losers, and it’s very emotional. Unfortunately, I cannot tell what it is, but it happens at the very end. There’s actually two scenes at the end that have a deep, emotional impact that I will always keep in my heart. Both, it was very emotional shooting it, and it’s very emotional when you see it in the movie.
It Chapter Two opens in theaters on Sept. 6.