James McAvoy: Stand by It

September 3, 2019
Despite being scared of clowns, the popular actor had a ball making It Chapter 2.

Is there anything you can tell us about where the Losers’ Club are now? Did they live up to their name or have they been successful in life?

Well, if you look at the book, we kind of copy the book in this point. They’ve all been particularly successful, other than I guess Mike who stayed in town, so that Derry has its own power over people. One of the interesting things that Stephen King does is that he shows that the Losers all go off to become exceptionally successful. None of them have children, which is a feature in the book. They all go out and be really successful, like massively successful. Some of them even really famous.

The spark in the book at least, is the phone call from Mike saying, ‘Come back’. What’s that like as an actor?

It’s good. It’s nice. The best moments to play as an actor are the moments where something new is happening or you’re changing somehow, but your character is being challenged and you have to turn it into something else. Remembering something so pivotal and fundamental to your character and is so key to the history of your life, would definitely do that. There’s a lot of moments in the film, for all of us, where we are having these huge paradigm shifts. Just by remembering something. That’s fun to play. There’ll just be a lot of shots of us going like, ‘Oh yeah I remember that.’

Are there a lot of changes for fans?

I can’t tell you what the changes are really because I’ll get shot and it’ll create too much chatter online. All that rubbish. But yeah, there’s a lot of changes. I mean there’s a lot of changes in the first film as well, but I think fans of the book still warmed to it. Stephen really respected it and loved it, which I think is the ultimate seal of approval. But there are definitely some pretty humongous changes this time around as well. But it’s necessary.

As an actor how hard is it to make stuttering believable?

I think most people stutter and stammer in their life all the time. What’s really interesting is that he doesn’t remember that he stammers because he hasn’t stammered in 25 years. He doesn’t even remember that he used to stammer. That’s how far the magic of Derry goes. That’s quite an interesting thing to play. Not just dealing with somebody who’s been stammering for 27 years. You’re dealing with someone who doesn’t even remember that he used to fucking stammer. It’s almost a pain in the ass.

The first one was great, not just being horror, but because it had that weird Amblin coming-of-age type thing about it. Will this have any influences from other genres or is it more of a straight horror?

I don’t know really. I think the book, and the first movie as well, and the TV show that was a big success too, I think it succeeds off the back of being about a group of people, a group of friends, and a bond, and exploring those relationships. That’s what drives it. Then the horror and all that kind of stuff is successful because you care about those people. It’s basically the same thing. You make the audience care about this group of people and give a shit. Then you try and kill them off.

That’s essentially it, isn’t it? You say Amblin, but I think Stephen King was before all that. He was there writing Stand By Me, and It, and all that. He was writing about those relationships and those groups of people in those scenarios way before, but I think he’s doing that again but it’s just with adults.

What’s nice is that as kids they had to adult-up, and take on the work of warriors, because the full grown people couldn’t do it. But as adults, we’re ill prepared to do it. It would have been easier for us as kids, so we have to regress a little bit. It’s not so much a coming-of-age, it’s a destruction of age or something like that.

One of the nice things about the film is that we do act childishly with each other as a group. One of my favourite things about the books is what we would call ‘It’ in moments of high peril. The crazy fun expletives that would come.

Are you a big fan of horror? Is that a genre you love playing in?

I’ve never really had a need to come and do horror. I don’t really feel like I’m showing up to make a horror movie on this. I feel like I’m doing a movie about a bunch of friends who go through something that could have been what they go through in Stand By Me. It’s like they’re challenging their own fears just like they do in Stand By Me.

I don’t really feel like I’m doing a straight up horror movie. It was just a movie where I’m running around being scared all the time. I don’t know if I would enjoy that to be honest with you. But I have enjoyed horror movies as an audience member. But as an actor I don’t know if I want to just be that guy running about fighting and being scared all the time.

The thing that elevates this for me is the relationships. The detail in all the characters, because Stephen King is a crazy good observer of the human condition. Sometimes people criticise him because he goes off and describes what it’s like for this old man who sits on his porch every day for 10 years. They’re like, ‘Get back to Pennywise.’ I’m like, ‘I love that shit.’ He does that with all of his main seven as well. The character work is really rich. That’s what does it for me.

Horror movie stuff, it’s all right, it’s fun, but it would get boring after three or four months.

The chemistry in the first film between those young people was great. Did you do anything to prepare this chemistry beforehand?

We rehearsed a lot, we just had lots of dinners, and played ping pong, and went bowling, and did shit like that. And got drunk a lot. As adults, getting drunk together is a really good barrier breaker. It’s just really good for their esprit de corps.

But I think that bond between everybody is really important. I know Jess [Chastain] very well. This is the third time we’ve worked together. I’ve worked with Bill [Hader] before as well. That made those relationships easier. The rest of the guys are so easy, and everybody came into this really keen to be open and be available. You’ve got some actors that would not usually be in big ensembles, but they’re all keen to just be part of it, which is awesome.

Was there any talk of Stephen King coming to the set?

I hope not because I’d find that terrifying. I remember making Atonement and Ian McEwan came to visit set. Everyone was like, ‘Are you excited to meet him?’ I was like, ‘No!’ I ran away. I didn’t meet him. I didn’t want to meet him. Fuck that, I don’t want him to look at me and be like, ‘You’re not the guy I wrote.’

What’s your memory of Pennywise?

Tim Curry playing Pennywise was massive for me. We all watched it and I can’t even remember what age I was. It was probably primary school. We all watched it when we were way too young. It’s the same thing now. There’s eight-year-old boys and girls who are like, ‘Oh Pennywise. There’s Pennywise.’ I’d be like, ‘Have you seen the movie?’ Some of them have, which is so fucking wrong.

When I think about my kid watching it, I’d be like, ‘Never in a million years.’ But even the kids that haven’t seen it are obsessed by the idea of Pennywise, Pennywise, Pennywise. What is it about clowns, and scary clowns, that captivates the imagination?

I never liked the circus because I didn’t like clowns. I found them really freaky. That was before even coming across It. I don’t know, there was something about scary clowns which takes hold of our imagination.

Have you ever dressed up as anything on Halloween?

Mr. Spock. Well I once dressed up as a bottle of Sriracha hot sauce. … a sailor. A vampire once – I didn’t have a costume, so I just painted my face white and put black lipstick on. That’s it. Really went for it!

With the last film I know Bill (Skarsgård) was deliberately keeping away from the rest of the cast. Is he doing the same thing here?

Yeah, he’s really antisocial. He’s a horrible cast member. He’s really aloof. No, he’s cool man. He’s actually been really social with us. I think with the kids it was different because he had no real understanding, or a position of what that was going to be like, or what it was going to look like. Also, it’s a different dynamic. We’ve all seen the movie, so we know what Pennywise looks like. There’s not much point in keeping him hidden from us. We’re like, ‘We’ve watched the movie.’ Also, I think maybe, as an adult, he was just relieved to have some sort of interaction.

In the first film Pennywise turns into a leper – that terrifying thing from the painting. Are we going to see anything new that he might change into?

Yes. But again, can’t tell you any of that. But I get one particularly cool moment near the end where I’m confronting my demons. He does something really fucking disgusting, which I’m excited about doing. But that’s about the size of it.

It Chapter 2 is in cinemas September 5

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