The Freaky Trick IT Star Bill Skarsgard Was Able To Do As Pennywise Without CGI

Pennywise The Dancing Clown Bill Skarsgard

Reviews of IT have been floating in since late last night, and one of the commonalities found between them is praise for the performance by Bill Skarsgard. The actor had large shoes to fill playing Pennywise The Dancing Clown -- previously played by Tim Curry in the 1990 miniseries adaptation of the story -- but Skarsgard delivers a genuinely creepy and properly off-putting turn as the monster. According to director Andres Muschietti, there were many signs during development that they had chosen an appropriate star -- but few more than the discovery that the actor can move his eyes independently and give Pennywise a perfect inhuman appearance. Muschietti recently told me,

We were talking about the character, and I said, 'In post-production I'm going to deviate your eyes,' and he said, 'I can do it.' He was here in the morning and he was doing the trick. It's crazy. What are the chances the guy that you picked for the role could do it?

In IT, a big part of what makes Bill Skarsgard's Pennywise impressively upsetting is not just the fact that he looks like a psycho clown, but also the fact that he occasionally lets his human mask slip and you can take a peek at the monster underneath. In order to get this effect, it would have been totally understandable if Andres Muschietti had to use CGI to adjust his actor's eyes -- and in fact I had entirely accepted that before I sat down with the filmmaker and his sister, producer Barbara Muschietti, late last month in Los Angeles. The director was prepared to do just that, but that was before he realized Skarsgard could provide his own unique special effect.

You can get a nice preview of Bill Skarsgard odd eye movement as Pennywise in IT watching the clip below!

Following this reveal, the conversation opened up to be about the nature of Pennywise and his abilities. As is written is Stephen King's original novel, he can manipulate his form to appear as an individual's greatest fear -- but Andres Muschietti took particular note of the fact that the book says that he isn't always 100% perfect. Said the filmmaker,

Pennywise, IT, is a monster that is a shapeshifter. He uses his form as bait. But that doesn't mean he's good at it! In fact, in the book it says that IT isn't good at mimicking human emotions. And I wanted to use that to make it more and more creepy. And in the opening scene it's very clear how he does it.

Andres Muschietti told me that finding the right actor to play Pennywise in his adaptation of IT was by far the greatest casting challenge. That being said, he also did notice something special about Bill Skarsgard almost immediately, and the reasons why he was the perfect choice for the part emerged during the process. The director took me through the steps, as well as his final epiphany:

Pennywise was a tough one. But the moment that I saw Bill, I got immediately intrigued by him. And I said, 'Maybe this guy...' Barbara was also [snaps his fingers] immediately reacted to him. So we started doing further tests, if you will, and each test I discovered something new that he was bringing, and I became more and more excited about him. And then he was with the makeup, and then doing the thing with the eye, and he got better and better!... I made this sketch of Pennywise, it was my first sketch actually. And this is way before casting Bill. And you see it now, and you put it side-by-side with Bill, and you say, 'Man, this is a drawing of Bill! This is a portrait of Bill.'

Stephen King fans have been anticipating seeing Pennywise on the big screen for years, and the experience is now just days away. IT will be in theaters this Friday, September 8th - and we'll have plenty more interview pieces and features coming your way soon here on CinemaBlend!

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.