According to Bill Hader, the set of the sequel to the highest-grossing horror movie of all time wasn’t that scary a place. Of course, it probably helps that he’s not afraid of clowns.
“I never understood the clown issue,” Hader told Fandom. “But when they turn into a monster, I’m scared of the monster.”
While he may choose to often appear as a clown, such a monster is the iconic Pennywise, the embodiment of evil at the center of It Chapter Two. The new film picks up 27 years after the events of 2017’s It, with Hader (“Richie Tozier”), Jessica Chastain (“Beverly Marsh”), Jay Ryan (“Ben Hanscom”), James Ransone (“Eddie Kaspbrak”), Isaiah Mustafa (“Mike Hanlon”), Andy Bean (“Stanley Uris”) and James McAvoy (“Bill Denbrough”) as the older versions of the Losers Club who faced Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) as children, now asked to reunite in their hometown of Derry as adults to stop the titular force known as It, once and for all.
THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO…
Fear is a central theme to the story, and It Chapter Two makes a point of expanding upon how the fears we might face as children evolve and grow more complex as adults. Director Andy Muschietti’s experience with Stephen King’s classic horror tale echoed that experience. As he explained, “I was roughly the same age as the Losers when I first read the book. So my appreciation of the story then was more related to the kids’ story. When I read the book again 30 years later, because I had to make the movie, I understood a lot of things more.”
Thus, he said, “that different perspective is displayed in [the sequel]. The two movies are creating the same world, but the sub-themes that It talks to the second one are deeper, and the fears that the adults have are more relatable to an adult audience.”
This is why it was important to Muschietti to begin the film with a sequence drawn from King’s original book, in which a pack of teenagers attack a young gay man (Xavier Dolan) in a vicious hate crime that only barely involves Pennywise. “It’s relevant to the time that we’re living right now. This is a part of our reality right now,” he said. “And even though Pennywise appears at the end of it as an exclamation mark, the hate crime is the horrible side of our human experience.”
BEYOND THE SUPERNATURAL
Hader found the opening sequence interesting because of the contrast it serves to the beginning of the first film, when young Georgie gets swept into the sewers by Pennywise — a moment of pure supernatural evil, as opposed to the human kind of evil on display in Chapter Two. “It’s like, oh no, this is the real world, and in real life, that thing’s real, that hatred and that monster,” he said. “It’s grounded you in a place that’s relatable. When I read that, I went, oh, that’s a great way to start a story about adulthood and trauma. We’re no longer in the kid world. This thing is real.”
This played into Muschietti’s approach to how things have changed for the Losers in the process of growing up, specifically the idea that in Chapter Two, we see that “childhood trauma is not childhood trauma until you’re an adult. It’s something that you look back at and say, ‘Oh, that is trauma.’ When you’re a child it’s a horrible experience, something that shocks your foundations but it’s not until you grow up that you look back and say, ‘Okay, I’m like this, because I had that traumatic event in the past.'”
BEEP BEEP, RICHIE
In playing the grown-up version of sarcastic and profanity-loving Richie (portrayed in the first film by Finn Wolfhard, who makes some appearances in Chapter Two as well), Hader came to the role thinking about him as “a guy who hides his emotions. He hides it all and puts it under the veneer of comedy and I relate to that. I think a lot of comedians do that. It’s nice, to put a boundary between you and and your emotions and other people.”
Many of the sets for Chapter Two were real, which Hader appreciated because “I like having the thing there. I haven’t done a lot of things that aren’t like that. I haven’t had the experience of ‘okay, it’s all a blue screen’ — the Star Wars prequel thing. You get lost in the world more when everything is practical, and you don’t have to act that much when it’s all practical.'”
This matters to Hader, an Emmy-winning performer who is not shy about saying that “I don’t like acting.” Instead, what he wants is to “just feel natural and figure out what the emotion is in the scene and then try to display that.”
In terms of doing all that and also playing a specific character, he noted that Richie’s trademark thick glasses and messy hair (a constant from childhood to adulthood) were really helpful for him. “It gives you a lot, actually. In a lot of the parts I play, there’s always some piece of wardrobe or prop or something that helps you with the character. It just immediately makes you kind of walk a certain way,” he said.
For the record, Hader’s personal preference when it comes to the genre doesn’t include what he described as “torture porn” — “my favorite horror stuff always has a bit of humor in it,” he said, listing the Evil Dead films, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead and John Carpenter’s The Thing.
This is because Hader doesn’t see much difference between working in comedy versus horror: “They’re kind of the same thing, where you get an immediate reaction out of the audience — whether it’s a scream or a laugh. That’s why they go hand in hand. One alleviates the other, but also really helps the other. You can have a suspense scene and then you put a laugh in there and it relaxes everybody — and then you put a scare in. It’s all kind of equational, in a way, but it’s fun when it works.”
Those sorts of moments represent one of King’s greatest skills as a writer, as executive producer Barbara Muschietti noted. “It’s an amazing juxtaposition, what he does with horror and drama — the most painful moments then followed by humor, which is part of life. And then, fear,” she said.
King’s work, added Andy Muschietti, “beyond the supernatural element, is a journey into the darkness of human grief, and the boundaries of where we’re capable of reaching, just to cope with grief and loss. It is a great horror vessel, but also it’s an amazing fresco of the journey of a human being, from childhood to adulthood.”
It Chapter Two opens September 6.