The brother and sister filmmaking team of Andy and Barbara Muschietti impressed Guillermo del Toro so much with their short Mama he helped them turn it into the 2013 feature starring Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones). It would become one of the first successful films of that year, grossing $146.5 million worldwide based on a $15 million budget.
More than four years later, the Muschietti’s have been given a chance and the challenge to make even bigger waves as their adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel It is about to hit theaters. It was already turned into a popular TV mini-series starring Tim Curry, but now they’re taking on an ambitious two-part feature film in an environment where sequels just aren’t getting moviegoers excited.
In the case of It, that’s not likely to be the case as the movie is pacing to make over $60 million this weekend with some predictions at $80 million plus. It’s a fairly safe bet that the planned sequel will happen. (Update: With $13.5 million made in Thursday previews, it could end up surpassing $100 million as long as it’s not terrible frontloaded.)
The plot is the same as the book and the original TV movie where a group of outcasts in suburban Maine are being terrorized by a demon clown who calls himself Pennywise (played by Bill Skarsgard). The cast of young actors seen on screen for more than 90% of the film, mostly sans adults, includes Jaeden Lieberher (Midnight Special), Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things), Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer and Wyatt Oleff.
It’s a ballsy move to make any big studio release without much of a name cast, but New Line and the Muschiettis look to break every mold as well as a few records with this horror flick.
(Check out Chief Film Critic Drew McWeeny’s review.)
The Tracking Board got on the phone with the Muschiettis earlier this week for the following interview.
I know you are a big Stephen King fan, so you must know the history of his movies where some were good like Carrie and The Shining, some were bad. King fans are fairly picky. So knowing that, why did you want to make a movie based on It? As a fan, did you feel you knew what other fans would want to see?
Andy Muschietti: I think there’s a line that you can see between… as you said, there’s good ones and bad ones, and there is a line that can be traced between the movies that you can perceive are made out of love for the story or for the original book and the ones that are more on the exploitative side, and there’s a commercial nature for doing them. I think you can see quite clearly in most of the cases, the movies you mentioned are movies that are made with love. There’s other ones that are not. Because I love the book, I love Stephen King and it’s a story that has been in my heart for years, I felt like I wanted to do it and I had something to bring to an adaptation.
Considering that you and Barb had come up with Mama as an original idea, was it hard to shift into doing a movie based on an existing property like Stephen King?
Andy: The reason that was that we did It is because, as I said, it is a love project so it’s something that basically I did with a lot of passion. It’s a variant from Mama, but it was something that I really, really wanted to explore, because I am a fan, and I always wanted to see a movie made of It, a movie that is a more faithful adaptation than the one that everyone knows, but I wanted to see this movie even before we were on the project. When I found out about the development and the previous situations and directors, I was like so excited. Turns out that I ended up doing It.
Barbara: But of course, we want to continue writing and developing original material. That said, when something that you read at 14, 15 years of age and completely shaped your view of the world at that age comes knocking on your door, the temptation is incredible.
The movie has been in development for a long time, so what kind of shape was the script in when you first read it? Was it pretty much what you’d want to read as a fan or did it still need a lot of work before you could start making it?
Andy: No, it wasn’t ready to go at all. The studio shared the script with us, just to show what they had been working on, but the studio was completely open to a new vision. To be honest, we kept some of the things in the script because they were very good, and some of them I just needed to change because they didn’t match my emotional experience or memories of reading the book. It was great because the studio was open to that and they understood that it was about finding the director that had a vision, and my vision was built from my personal experience with the book so that is how I brought all of the changes that I needed in the story and they also were very excited about them.
Barbara: But from the point that we boarded the project basically, Andy started working with the writer we brought in which was Gary Dauberman, and they worked on the script for a year before we got to film, so it is a movie tailored to Andy’s personal experience, very much so.
You both are from Argentina, originally, so were you able to relate to the New England suburban childhood depicted in King’s book and compare it to your own growing up in South America?
Andy: Yeah, it wasn’t too different. We lived in a suburb of Buenos Aires, and even though Argentina and American culture are different there is values and traits that are just universal. That is why it resonated so much with us. It is a story about childhood, and the end of childhood and the beginning of teenage years, and it is something that is stronger than any culture, because it happens in every country, or in some countries in a similar way. If it wasn’t like that, it wouldn’t have resonated so much. I was recognizing experiences from my life that I was reading in that book. That is basically a book that takes place in Maine in the 1950s, but there is some universal things that are resistant to time and place, I guess.
Knowing that the movie would only be with the kids, was that a daunting challenge, first to find these kids that could pull off the characters and then the normal challenges of working with young actors, limited hours, etc.?
Andy: For me, it wasn’t only about finding people that had the physique of the characters or the talented performances and skills, but it was also about finding kids that had their characters built-in, had the characters of the story sort of in the DNA of themselves. That made the search a little more intricate, some of the “Losers” are very specific and they are particular in the personality and the psychology and behavior. I knew that if I wanted to bring those to life I wanted to count on people who had that ability and characters like Richie Tozier or Eddie Kaspbrak, they are characters that are very colorful and very funny. I mean, you can’t act that. You have to be Richie Tozier in a way. I’m not saying that they are not amazing actors, because they are, but it is definitely helpful that Finn is incredibly talented. He has a certain ability to talk and talk and say funny things non-stop and same thing with Jack Dylan Grazer who played Eddie Kaspbrak. He knows, because he’s that kind of kid who’s sort of neurotic a little bit and non-stop talking. So I was going for that and I was lucky enough to find them.
What sort of challenges were there to you as a producer, Barbara? Kids can only work certain hours, and especially finding Sophia to play Beverly, which I imagine was going to be the most difficult role to cast because there’s so much involved with her character.
Barbara: One thing was that yes, the huge challenge of working with kids, not to mention seven kids that are your leads, plus one who is a very important role, and four bullies that are working-age children as well. That was a challenge, I must say. (chuckles) One thing Andy said to me will never leave my brain is “These kids are Ferraris,” and they were. We never had to repeat things because of them. Ever. They were just amazing in their performances and their professionalism. About Beverly, Sophia, her scenes went with a lot of thinking. It was a very delicate subject from the beginning. There was a lot of preparation with her. She’s an extremely sensitive young girl, incredibly smart, and I think what you see in the movie is a balance of definitely showing a terrible situation … the worst of situations for a child, but in way, it doesn’t make the audience so uncomfortable that they cannot face what they’re seeing.
Was there any consideration into the fact that someone, probably you, is going to have to eventually find adult actors to play these kids when they’re grown-up in a second movie? Or did you have to put that aside and just find the best kids?
Andy: No, when we picked the kids I was focused on getting the best that I could. Not thinking of who would play them as an adult. I had enough trouble with that quest to even think about who would even play them as an adult. To be honest, it’s very fun to speculate about who will play each of the characters thirty years later. It’s now a different challenge, because of course you need great actors that have part of the characters built-in, but also I’d love to find that resemblance which is an added difficulty, but its a great challenge, too.
About halfway through the movie I started thinking about who could play the older version of some of the characters. I’m sure others are going to play that same casting game.
Andy: Did you come up with anyone?
No, I didn’t. I’m sure there’s someone out there that’s better at it than me. I want to talk about Bill as Pennywise, because that’s an amazing performance where I couldn’t tell how much was him, how much was make-up and effects. How’d you find him to play Pennywise and what was involved with getting that character to be so insane?
Andy: It was a sum of things. Some of them were in the preparation and designing of the character. First, it started out with a sketch. I did a couple of sketches of my idea of how Pennywise should look. I wanted him to look sort of childlike and innocent and establish a weird balance between an innocent look and his terrifying behavior, and bring that unsettling balance to the character, mainly because I think that Pennywise could be read as a product of children’s imagination. I wanted to bring that childlike quality into the physical aspect of the character, and then there was a lot of work that we did with Bill.
When I first saw Bill, I immediately reacted to his state. He had that balance already built into him, because he had this sort of childlike cute facial features. He had the big eyes and he matched my ideas about the character should be in the physical and behavioral aspects. We cast him after a lot of deliberations, and we started working on the character. Basically Bill and I came up with the idea of making him unpredictable, to give him unpredictable behavior and that he would be terrifying, because you never know what he’s going to do next or how he’s going to react to situations, apart from being part-clown part-monster.
Were any of the kids scared of him? How do your protect your kid actors, so they don’t get nightmares later?
Andy: They were pretty scared, because I kept them separated from Bill. I wanted to build that tension in real life and that expectation. It was so much fun for the kids, because it’s a little bit like a dance. I wanted to build anticipation regarding the monster, so basically we kept the kids away from Bill, as a person. I didn’t want them to become familiar with Bill, because the effect would be washed out or diminished. So basically, two months after they met for the read-through, because there wasn’t a way around it. Two months after that, they encounter Pennywise in full glory in the middle of a scene. I think they were pretty terrified in general. You will listen from different actors like all the nuances, but I think they were pretty freaked out. The first scene was in the middle of the kitchen, the confrontation with Eddie. It was a huge one-on-one, because it was that scene where Pennywise lunges after Eddie and pins him against the wall, so you can imagine the intensity of that scene. Pennywise with all the head and hair is almost seven-foot tall, and Jack Dylan Grazer who plays Eddie is like five-foot tall, so you can imagine the difference.
Andy, you’ve been attached to a lot of projects and have placed a lot on your plate. Do you have any idea if you’ll get to some of these things or is it really about getting ready for It: Part 2 at this point?
Barb: What am I gonna say? Nothing new really. We read a full story with a twenty-seven year span, and we’ve only shown half of it. The immediate desire, and also thinking that we’d like to have our beautiful “Losers” for flashbacks, is that we want to shoot that as soon as possible, clearly before they become ancient. So that is the plan, but as you know it’s a tricky business and a lot of planets have to align, but we all want it, Warner Bros., New Line, Andy, I–we all want this, so we’re going to try to make that happen.
It is now playing across the nation.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor