James McAvoy and director Andres Muschietti on IT: Chapter Two
A group of childhood friends return to their hometown to face down the horror of Pennywise the demonic clown once again in IT: Chapter Two. We speak to actors Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy and director Andy Muschietti about making this horror sequel
JAMES McAvoy doesn't struggle with coulrophobia, otherwise known as a fear of clowns. But the 40-year-old Scottish actor is musing over his like or dislike of them.
It's a question prompted by his role in horror film IT: Chapter Two, based on the famous book penned by the man considered the master scribe of the horror genre: Stephen King.
McAvoy is sitting in a room decorated to look like it's straight out of the IT film, complete with Pennywise the clown's famous red balloons, a bunch of which are floating ominously nearby.
"I wouldn't say I'm phobic," he muses carefully.
"I wouldn't say I'm afraid (of clowns). I would say I don't care for them necessarily."
He reels off a statistic he says journalists on his press rounds for the film have lobbied at him, stating that in every one in 10 people suffer from coulrophobia.
"I don't think that's right. I think phobia has been confused with dislike."
It seems like the type of statistic his IT character, Bill, would cite too. It's a testament to brilliant casting but also a well-presented dual storyline in the film which sees the adult cast revisiting their younger selves to delve in the past.
The film centres around the Losers' Club, the group of seven kids now grown up, who are beckoned back to their rural hometown of Derry after a 27-year absence to fight off Pennywise the Dancing Clown (played by Bill Skarsgard).
Director Andres 'Andy' Muschietti, who also helmed 2017's IT, the first instalment, is clear on his feelings about clowns.
"I wasn't a big fan of clowns growing up. My experience with clowns was cheap circus clowns and kids' party clowns. I don't know that kids were ever fans of clowns. I don't know a kid that actually has clowns up there in the Olympus of heroic characters," he says.
The 46-year-old Argentine filmmaker also thinks King's material is still relatable to a modern audience.
He explains: "I think IT plays in different levels to modern audiences. I think it's still a love letter to childhood, in the sense that he understands very well what the beautiful treasures of childhood are that are needed to stay alive.
"Even as an artist, as a writer, he keeps that child inside that feeds all the imagination that he needs to keep writing. And it's a universal story, we've all been children. And if we are grown-ups and in our 30s, 40s, we know already what the end of childhood is.
"So it's still so relevant because he talks about things like fears, childhood trauma and maybe on a deep level talks about our society and how fear can be used as a weapon to divide us and turn us against each other."
Animosity, though, was far from present among the cast, with Muschietti signing up Jessica Chastain to play the adult version of Beverly Marsh, with the child version played by Sophia Lillis.
They are no strangers to working together having also worked on horror film Mama together.
Chastain says: "I loved the first film and really responded to the character of Beverly Marsh. She is such a dynamic presence and, in many cases, is the most brave. She's seen a lot of darkness in her life and because of that, it creates a fearlessness in her."
The Oscar nominee also had a hand in getting McAvoy signed up for the role of Bill.
He explains: "We were having a nice chat, and IT came up in the discussion. Jess said something like, 'Oh, Andy Muschietti's my friend. We did a film together'. She had my attention.
"Then she added, 'He wants me to be Beverly Marsh in the next one... would you be interested in playing Bill?' I don't think a second passed before I said, 'I will do that in a New York minute'.
"I got a call a few months later from Andy, and we FaceTimed. He made the case why he thought I'd be right for Bill, and he was really gracious and complimentary. Of course, I found out that he and Barbara [producer and sister of Andy] are bloody lovely, two of the nicest I've ever worked for."
Another pleasantry for him was getting to work on King's material, given he has been a fan since his early days. He reels off the list of King books he's consumed: IT, the Dark Tower series, The Shawshank Redemption and Cujo.
"It's an honour," he says of landing a part in IT.
"Something I loved as a wee boy and then loved again as an adult in preparation for this. Bill's journey is just incredible in that book and getting to be the custodian of that and getting to carry on the great work Jaeden [Martell] had done in the first movie, it felt quite special".
The collective or team aspect as the friends reunite was also something he relished.
He says: "The first movie is very much a coming of age, a rites of passage and if that's a coming of age, our one is almost like a regression of age. We've almost got to become a bunch of kids again in order to have that unity and that bond that really is only as strong when you are a child."
Given that Pennywise has had 27 years to plot revenge, just what incarnation of him are we meeting in the film?
"His anger is very well channelled into a mind game," explains Muschietti, adding: "He's definitely smarter in this chapter, he comes with revenge but he's not out of control.
"Everything he's back for is magnified in this one – he's more manipulative, he's smarter, he's more perverse."
It's a description we're sure horror maestro King would wholeheartedly approve of.
:: IT: Chapter Two released today