It Set Visit: Andy Muschietti Interview

Andy Muschietti somehow looks both exhausted and indefatigable.

It’s very late in the day when the director of Mama is able to peel himself away from the set and join our motley band of film bloggers and journalists for a conversation. We’ve been visiting the set of his new movie, a big screen adaptation of Stephen King‘s iconic horror novel It and while we’ve been allowed to walk through the sewers underneath the cursed town of Derry, Maine (or rather, Toronto-based sets made to look like them), he’s been practically living there.

Muschietti is an intense guy – smart, opinionated, and very open about what he likes about King’s original novel (and what he doesn’t). So, how does one approach a 1,200-page horror novel about a shape-shifting, children-murdering entity that has already been adapted into a famous (but dated) miniseries? In so many words, by trying something very, very different.

NOTE: This interview was conducted as a roundtable with a number of journalists. It has been condensed for length and clarity.

You knew you were making an R-rated movie, so how did you approach it? Because the book is really grisly. And grisly towards kids, a lot. Approaching the film, was it like, we just want to do all those sequences, or was there a less-is-more approach?

It’s great that it’s R, you know, because it’s in the essence and the spirit of the original work, so it was good news that the studio wanted to make an R movie. Which is, you know, infrequent. So it’s rare. So it was a great opportunity to stick to the spirit—

They were on board, right from the jump?

Yeah. The project was always, from the early development, it was R-rated.

It’s hard to get good kid actors and here you have to get good kid actors that are going to be working in sort of this very R-rated, horror environment. Was it especially challenging to sort of find that right balance?

No, in general, they’re very, very… We found, apart from very talented actors, they’re very liberal in general. They come from liberal, sort of liberal families, and they have a very open conversation about the themes of the movie, which is not only violence, but also sexual themes and stuff, so I was lucky for them to come to it.

How did this project get to you?

Well, as you know, it was, it had a previous development with Cary Fukunaga and when he left, the project became open, and I just contacted the studio, and I came in and I pitched them my idea, according to the existing script, and they liked it.

What were some specific ways that you made it your own, distinct from what Fukunaga had developed?

Well, one of the things… It was a good script, in terms of characters and the depth of characters and such, but it didn’t really tap into one of the most attractive traits of the character, which was the shape-shifting qualities. So that’s one of the things that I started talking about.

Since you approached them, so was this a book you had already been a big fan of? What was it about the story that really resonated with you?

I [have] been always a big fan of Stephen King, especially in my teenage years. It was always one of my favorites. But in years when you grow older and start to appreciate certain things, like friendship, and love, and you know, you go through several experiences in life and you get to know several stages of friendship, like the disintegration of groups and stuff, and that’s why I felt like connected to the story, again, probably 20 years [after] reading it for the last time.

I know that the idea of splitting the story pretty evenly in half, just doing the adults in one movie and just doing the kids in one movie, originated from Fukunaga’s camp. Can you talk about what benefits you see in not trying to make one long, giant story and intertwining the adult story and the kid story? Like, as a storyteller, how does that appeal to you?

Well, it appealed to me because I always thought that the kids’ storyline was more interesting than the adults, but I also appreciate the fact that there is a dialogue between the two timelines. […] But I always insisted that if there is a second part, there would be a dialogue between the two timelines, and that it would be approached like the adult life of the losers, there would be flashbacks that sort of illuminate events that are not told in the first one.

Are you shooting those flashbacks now? When the kids are at that age?

No, I’m just praying that the kids don’t grow up.

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Earlier, [producer Barbara Muschietti] said you used the phrase the “ancestral clowns” to talk about Pennywise. That’s an interesting description, can you talk more about what that means to you?

Yeah, sure. I don’t use ancestral too much, but again—

Or just how you see Pennywise.

Yeah. Well, the fact that this entity has been around for thousands of years…I’m more drawn…aesthetically, I don’t dig the 20th-century clown. I think it looks cheap, and it’s too related to social events and stuff and circus and stuff, but I’m more aesthetically attracted to the old time, like the 19th-century clown. And given that this guy has been around for centuries, I wondered to myself why, why not, have an upgrade that was 1800s.

What do you like more about the 19th century?

The 19th century? The aesthetics I guess. And it’s also about the need for me to bring something into the equation, the character. I didn’t think much about it. It was more of an instinctive choice.

What were you looking for when you cast Pennywise? Because Barbara said you [looked at] a lot of people, even females.

I know. Even females. I was basically hoping for someone who would surprise me in any way. I had a pre-existing criteria of someone who looked childlike, and that’s where Bill came in. And I remember I was sort of interested in Will Poulter. He was part of a previous approach, and I had a meeting with him. He wasn’t very interested in doing it at that time. And also his career was starting to take off and I think he got a little scared. So to be honest, I saw a lot of people, but there was very few, a small short list, and Bill was on top of it.

Did you give him specific direction, or was he able to create this entity and you just let it go?

I gave him some, yeah. I gave him some, but then there was a long conversation.

What was it?

I won’t tell you.

Can you talk a bit about how the design of Pennywise is developed? We heard you had sketches from your first meeting with the studio. From that point to now, can you tell us about that evolution?

I had a sketch. One sketch. It was like a baby. It was like a Gerber baby. With something very off, because his eyes were wide-eyed, like slightly apart. […] And then, to be honest, it didn’t evolve much from that point. And then the Pennywise you saw today is special because his hair is crazy, but the rest of the movie is different. I’m playing a little bit with his mood, and his mood sometimes in terms of the hair. There’s like two hairs maybe. But the official shape is more like a weird baby.

One of the big things with the mini-series was Tim Curry’s performance and his voice. It’s a very iconic voice. Are you going to be doing anything to Bill’s voice in post-production, or will it be left as he is performing?

No, it will be left as he’s performing it. It’s a different approach, but he’s not sticking to one voice. He has different personas. Because it’s a character that is based also on unpredictability, so he has this stagey persona, the more clowny appearance, but then in certain scenes when he turns into this other, which is harder to grasp, and that’s the “other,” you know, the “It.” And he has a different tone, he has a deeper voice, and a different feel to it.

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