Killer clowns are no joke: Inside the battle between Pennywise and the Losers in It Chapter Two

A couple of years ago, actress Jessica Chastain visited the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank to watch an early cut of a new ’80s-set horror movie by director Andy Muschietti and his producer sister, Barbara. The Zero Dark Thirty actress is friends with the pair, having starred in their 2013 hit fright film Mama, so she was a bit apprehensive viewing the Muschiettis’ latest project with the two of them sitting in the room with her. Barbara gave Chastain a glass of red wine to sip, much of which never made it to her stomach. “In the first five minutes I jumped, and the wine went everywhere,” says the actress. “Right after the movie’s end, Andy goes, ‘You want to do it?’ I go, ‘Yes, I want to do it! Of course I want to do it!’”

The “it” in question, naturally, is It: Chapter Two (out Sept. 6), the sequel to the film Chastain was watching that day. Adapted from Stephen King’s classic novel, 2017’s It tracked a group of misfit kids — who dubbed themselves the Losers’ Club — battling a child-slaying supernatural entity who reveals himself to his prey as a clown called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). Despite initial doubts from horror fans that Skarsgård could match Tim Curry’s iconic performance as the fanged entertainer in the much-loved 1990 It miniseries, the Swedish actor and the Losers’ Club turned out to be winners, with the $35 million-budget film praised by critics and going on to gross $700 million at the global box office.

Brooke Palmer/Shutterstock/Warner Bros.
Brooke Palmer/Shutterstock/Warner Bros.

That success is reflected in the production of the sequel. “In general, I feel more comfortable. I have more toys,” says director Muschietti. “On the first one, I was struggling to get a Technocrane [a massive telescopic crane for a camera] on certain days. But now the Technocrane is always there!” His goal: to make an even more overwhelming experience this time around. “I think that everything that people love from the first one, like the humor and the emotions and the horror, will all be there,” says Muschietti, “and cranked up, in some cases.”

It Chapter Two is set 27 years after the events of its predecessor, as Pennywise returns to the streets — and sewer drains — of the fictional New England town of Derry to slay more children…unless the Losers’ Club can stop him. The young cast of the first IT was, unsurprisingly, in large part made up of unknowns, with Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard, who played the wiseacre Richie, the best known of the bunch. Chapter Two, in contrast, boasts several high-profile actors, including Chastain, who plays Beverly, the lone woman in the Losers’ Club; Bill Hader as Richie; Sinister franchise actor James Ransone as the grown-up version of the supposedly sickly Eddie; and James Mc­Avoy as Bill, who lost his younger brother, Georgie, to Pennywise in the first film.

Bill has gone on to become a Hollywood screenwriter. “He’s in L.A. shooting a movie,” says the X-Men star, describing his character as a “Stephen King avatar.” In King’s novel, Bill also writes screenplays, which explains McAvoy’s willingness to discuss the subject. Other actors are cagier, reluctant to spoil the deviations screenwriter Gary Dauberman (the Annabelle movies) has made from the novel. “It’s not the same as the book,” says Hader about his character’s post-Derry life. “But it’ll be a real mindblower.” Is he a porn star? “Yeah,” Hader jokes. (We think.)

The Muschiettis cast Jay Ryan (Top of the Lake) as Ben, Andy Bean (Swamp Thing) as Stanley, and Isaiah Mustafa (Shadowhunters, the Old Spice commercials) as Mike, the one member of the Losers’ Club to remain in Derry, who now works as a librarian. “Mike sees how Derry is very special in a dark way,” says the actor. “He’s trying to figure out what the hell’s going on in this town and what he can do to put an end to this cycle. It’s an obsession for him.” Mike needs the help of his childhood friends for a repeat match against Pennywise, who was beaten but not destroyed at the end of 2017’s It. The catch? All the other members of the Losers’ Club don’t remember the traumatic events of their childhood. “When you leave Derry, something happens where you forget it all,” says McAvoy. “I think it’s like a [power] of Pennywise’s. Because if everybody could remember what he gets up to every 27 years through history, we’d go, ‘Hey, Derry’s really f—ed up, we should do something about that. We should send in the f—ing Army!’”

The Losers’ Club reconvenes in Derry, where the members size each other up at a Chinese restaurant. “We had so much fun,” says Chastain of shooting the sequence. “We literally sat, pretending to drink shots and eat Chinese food, for two days. Andy would yell stuff out like ‘Take a shot with your mouth, no hands!’” Though she’d previously worked on two other films with McAvoy and shared one scene with Bill Hader in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, the actress “didn’t know anyone else. As the Losers were getting to know each other again, we were all getting to know each other [as actors].”

Muschietti also gathered the young performers who played the Losers’ Club in the first film for scenes depicting the recovered memories of the adult characters. “Instead of us just standing around going, ‘Oh, I remember that time,’ we get to show it to the audience,” McAvoy tells EW. “Which is great, because that would be real sad if we had to say goodbye to that cast that the audience across the world fell in love with. And actually, in a weird way this movie resembles the structure of the book, in that it goes back and forth.”

As for Skarsgård’s clown, well, it turns out that after losing out to the Losers in the first film, he is really not smiling — at least not on the inside — this time around. “He’s scarier and he’s angrier,” says the actor. “There’s a couple of very brutal things in the film.”

Sounds like you should leave the wine at home.

-Reporting by Anthony Breznican

Get ready for Comic-Con 2019 with EW’s special It Chapter Two issue. Buy one — or both — of our collector’s covers featuring the Losers’ Club and Pennywise. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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