At its dark and gruesome heart, IT is a story about children. In fact, some chapters of Stephen King's book play out more like a tender coming-of-age story when read in isolation. That is, until a demonic, shape-shifting clown starts ripping off children's arms and eating them.
Even in its scarier moments though, IT isn't really about Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Instead, the story is told from the perspective of the Losers' Club, battling evil in a world where adults literally ignore their cries for help and even abuse them through violence and neglect. As they grow older, the children begin to lose their belief and therefore the strength needed to defeat Pennywise, who embodies childhood fears of adulthood at their most literal.
Clowns are deliberately childish by their very nature, but by specifically imbuing the adult form of Pennywise with child-like features, Stephen King tapped into our deep rooted fears of innocence warped and subverted, something that actor Bill Skarsgård understands all too well.
Your Eyes Will Float Too!
Performing as an eternal devourer of worlds for the better part of three months would take their toll on anyone. Fortunately, it seems as though Bill Skarsgård floated to the challenge better than fans could have hoped for — at least, judging by everything that we've seen so far. In an industry in which CGI has become the real monster, it's refreshing to hear how Skarsgård imbued the role with his own unique performance tics that will terrify audiences without the need for special effects.
Speaking to Dazed magazine, Skarsgård revealed that he has an unusual eye disorder that he used in the film to help unnerve cinema-goers:
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. We thought that would be cool to use in the character, so throughout the film his eyes are pointing in two different directions.
Eagle-eyed fans may have spotted Skarsgård's lazy eye rolling around as Pennywise surfaces out of the water in the basement scene, saving director Andrés Muschietti a fortune from the special effects budget in the process.
Amblyopia occurs when signals between the brain and the affected eye don't work well together, and is usually treated through the use of eye-patches. Other stars such as Russell Crowe and Taylor Lautner also suffer from this condition, although few have used it to such chilling effect as Skarsgård.
Puffywise The Dancing Clown
That's not all though. As we've already heard in the trailers, Skarsgård unsettled his victims further with a strange lisp that's even more horrifying when heard from underneath layers of make-up. Skarsgård revealed to Dazed that he played around with the lisp and lazy eye before applying make-up, describing how these elements combined to create an oddly child-like version of Pennywise that distorted his good looks into something monstrous:
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.
Skarsgård needed to veer away from Tim Curry's interpretation of Pennywise in the '90s TV version of IT and clearly, this is something that the young star took to heart. Telling Dazed that he had a lot of "sleepless nights" thinking of all the ways that he could fail in the upcoming movie, Skarsgård is determined to make the role of Pennywise his own, breaking down the psychology of his character to create something new on screen:
I wanted to figure out not only who the clown is, but also what’s behind the clown. Part of that was making it a lot more psychological and kind of glitchy and strange and unpredictable. There’s this line in the novel where (one of the Losers) Mike Hanlon is analyzing what he thinks Pennywise might be, and he comes to the conclusion that he’s the entity’s favorite form. So there’s this sense of enjoyment that this entity has while he is a clown – he’s getting off on it...
Both the novel and the subsequent TV adaptation of It have become iconic for a number of reasons, chief among those being the character of Pennywise. As we already know though, Stephen King's magnum opus is ultimately about children and that's exactly why so many of us who encountered the book or Tv mini-series at a young age remain so affected by it. While other horror classics demonize kids or avoid killing them on screen, IT celebrates the strength of childhood friendships, which is exactly why it was so clever of #BillSkarsgård to subvert that in his take on Pennywise, the monstrous yet child-like clown.
The new IT is scheduled to hit theaters on September 8th, 2017.