After studying acting for half of her young life, Sophia Lillis is officially breaking big. The teenage talent scored the role of Beverly Marsh in “It” from Andy Muschietti. Though the horror film, based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same name, centers on a group of ragtag pre-teens who take on the demonic clown Pennywise, audiences couldn’t help but be drawn to the grounded Lillis. More than just being the only girl in the group, Lillis stood out for her thoughtful performance as the tomboy who is tormented in her home life just as much as by Pennywise.
Lillis: “In eighth grade, which was around the time I heard about casting for this, I was reading ‘The Shining’ for eighth grade book club. So I knew about Stephen King, but I never really knew how big ‘It’ was. I really enjoyed horror films, and I always wanted to act in one, so hearing about the casting of a horror film was enough for me.
“I was definitely drawn to her as a strong character. I could see she had a not-good childhood and because of that, she kind of locks everyone out. The first time I auditioned was with a different director, and back then she was not really as tomboyish as Andy suggested. It was more like she had given up or was giving into her father. Working with Andy, we developed her as rebelling against her father. Andy is the hands-on type, and each of us kids had a meeting with him, and I remember sitting down with him and he said, ‘So what do you think of Beverly and what do you want to do with this movie?’ It was ‘How do you want to direct it?’ almost.
“Because he let us have independence with the characters, we became the characters. We definitely talked about her mother, who was never there — she wasn’t even in the movie, but we talked about background for the character. In the very beginning, I get slushed on with garbage by Gretta, and this wasn’t written in the script, but the reason she was doing that and calling Beverly a slut was because she said hi to her boyfriend and he thought she was nice, talked to Gretta about it, and she was jealous.
“So she turned it around and made [Beverly] the evil person, and that was Beverly: she never really had a good relationship. The closest relationship she had was the worst relationship she’d ever had — with her father. And that’s the only real connection she had with anyone so she didn’t really know how to react to other people and stayed away until she met those boys.
“Like Beverly, I definitely had a wall I used to create because I didn’t really know how to talk to people. But acting has actually helped me quite a bit.
“‘It’ was my first time ever acting in a studio film. It was a whole new experience for me — it was unchartered territory. I was definitely very, very, very nervous about the haircut scene. It was an extreme scene and kind of a turning point for my character, and when we shot it, it was straight-out 14 or 15 minutes of one shot, which made it even harder.
“I had extensions in, and Andy said ‘What if we just cut all of this hair off in one take?’ We only had one set of extensions, so we had to just do it. I was supposed to cry, I was supposed to be very agitated, and I was very agitated, yes because of my character, because I was really afraid of messing up. My hand was shaking, but I think that actually helped in the scene.”