Why Jaeden Martell's IT History Didn't Specifically Impact His Role In New Stephen King Adaptation Mr. Harrigan's Phone

There is a select collection of actors who have starred in multiple Stephen King adaptations, and joining that club this week is Jaeden Martell. The actor plays the lead in the new Netflix original movie Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, and it’s his first time being a part of a King-related project since playing young Bill Denbrough in Andy Muschietti’s IT and IT Chapter Two. This is something that will surely catch the attention of people who are Constant Readers of the author, but according to writer/director John Lee Hancock, it wasn’t actually something that impacted the casting.

I recently interviewed the filmmaker during the virtual press day for Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, and among the subjects discussed was the involvement of Jaeden Martell. I asked if his history in the IT duology either had an influence on bringing him aboard or was a possible source of reticence. Hancock explained that it didn’t have much of an impact because he didn’t necessarily think that audiences at large would connect the dots. He explained,

I didn't think that it was so profound and that he was so well known that beyond the Stephen King fan world, they would say, 'Oh, of course they just plugged in a Stephen King guy.' For me, my interest in Jayden was because he's such a fine actor; he's really an amazing young actor. I'd seen him in St. Vincent, from the very start, he was a boy.

Written and directed by Theodore Melfi and co-starring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O'Dowd, and Terrence Howard, St. Vincent was Jaeden Martell's first appearance in a feature film, and he plays the lead in the coming-of-age dramedy. He followed that 2014 film up by working with directors Cameron Crowe and Jeff Nichols on Aloha and Midnight Special, respectively, and it was after a recurring role in the series Masters of Sex and the titular part in Colin Trevorrow's The Book of Henry that the young actor landed his part in IT.

This is all to say that Jaeden Martell has spent a number of years working with a lot of notable filmmakers proving himself as a talented performer. Continuing, John Lee Hancock explained that he reached out to fellow filmmaker Rian Johnson to ask about Martell, and the Knives Out writer/director gave him a glowing reference:

I talked to a friend, Rian Johnson, who had him in Knives Out, and Ryan loved him and said, 'Oh, you just hire him. You'll be really happy you did.'

In Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, Jaeden Martell stars as Craig – a teenager living in a small town in Maine who gets a part time job reading to his recluse millionaire neighbor, Mr. Harrigan (Donald Sutherland). Over the course of multiple years, the two of them end up forming a strong bond, and it’s cemented in the year 2007 when Craig wins $10,000 from a lottery ticket gifted to him by his employer. He ends up buying Mr. Harrigan a first generation iPhone as a demonstration of gratitude, and the device quickly earns the man’s fascination… but it also becomes a source of horror after he dies and Craig discovers that he can still communicate with his friend through it beyond the grave.

In casting the protagonist for the film, John Lee Hancock needed an actor who could realistically play a teenager over a multi-year span, and he found that Jaeden Martell had the qualities he was looking for. Additionally, Martell was a resource for him, as he was able to adjust the dialogue from a youthful perspective when necessary. Said Hancock,

We needed someone to be able to play between 15 and 18 or 19, and Jayden had a quality and an ability as an actor to make himself kind of 15 – and that's helped with wardrobe and things like that. But he was very precise about, 'This doesn't quite sound like a 15 year old,' or 'This is when I'm 18, this sounds kind of a little more 15ish.' And so we would adjust dialogue all the time based on that. And he was spot on. I mean, he's closer to that age than I am, so he knows better.

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, featuring a great cast that also includes Kirby Howell-Baptiste, is now available to stream with a Netflix subscription, and, funny enough, you can also presently find Andy Muschietti’s IT in the library as well (one of the best Stephen King movies of all time).

To keep track of all Stephen King projects that are currently in the works, check out our Upcoming Stephen King Movies and TV guide, and learn about the full history of the author’s books being brought to life with my weekly Adapting Stephen King column.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.