After a eerily quiet summer at the box office, “It,” the adaptation of Stephen King’s chilling novel directed by Andy Muschietti, floated in to shatter records for the largest September debut, as well as the biggest opening weekend by a horror film.
Though Bill Skarsgard stars as the titular and terrifying manifestation of It, the thriller ultimately tells the story of seven young children — affectionately dubbed the Losers’ Club — who band together to protect their town of Derry, Maine from being terrorized by the demonic dancing clown known as Pennywise.
Jaeden Lieberher, the 14-year-old who plays the Losers’ Club leader Bill Denbrough, spoke with Variety about the horror movie’s universal appeal, his favorite scenes, and how he perfected his character’s stutter.
Congratulations on the success of the film. Did you expect this reaction?
I don’t know. I knew there was already fan base of the TV series. I didn’t really know it was going to be this big. I don’t think anyone expected it to do this well. It’s very exciting.
Have you been getting recognized more?
I went to the movies and watched “It” with a few crew members and the reaction to seeing me after movie was interesting. These two people that worked at the movie theater saw me in the bathroom and took pictures and were like, “Hey man, are you Jaeden from ‘It’?” So that was pretty funny actually, because it was in the bathroom.
Can you sum up the movie in three words?
We actually came up with a thing. It’s heart, humor, and horror. Three H’s. That’s how we describe the movie.
Do you watch a lot of horror films?
I don’t love horror movies. Before, I was just too scared. I thought that I would not be able to sleep because when I do see horror movies, it makes me extremely paranoid just being in the dark or closing my eyes for more than two seconds. It’s almost just torturing yourself. After this movie, I’ve seen the process and know that everything is fake.
I’m personally terrified of horror movies. How would you convince someone who’s afraid of scary movies to see “It”?
With the heart, humor, and horror thing — not only is it a scary movie, but it’s a movie about these seven kids, these losers. It’s about their friendship and how they come together to fight this clown. There’s a lot of comedy aspects too, and there’s a lot of touching, dramatic ones as well. There’s a little bit of everything.
So then what drew you to the project?
I knew this movie would be so much fun because I’ve never done a movie with other kids in it before. This movie, the cast is seven kids all my age, and that’s really one of the biggest reasons I wanted to do it. I really did make six best friends.
Were you familiar with the book or mini-series?
Before we went on to do the movie I watched the mini-series for the first time. I actually own the book, but I never got to read it. I think I was a little scared, and also it’s a long book. But I plan on reading it.
How did you prepare for the role?
One of the things that’s really important to this role is the stutter. What I did for the audition was I watched YouTube videos on how to stutter and kids stuttering, different kinds of stutters, and educational videos on what stuttering is. I did research and I got used to stuttering on certain words or certain syllables or certain letters and sounds. Besides the stuttering, we had two weeks of rehearsals with Andy and the acting coach that helped us with our acting.
What was your favorite scene to shoot?
My favorite scene was the quarry scene. We weren’t allowed to jump off the cliff, but we watched our stunt doubles do it. That whole day it felt like we were just having fun in the quarry, and we didn’t have to work at all.
Were there any scenes cut that you really liked?
I did have this scene where I climb up the tower at the end. When I’m chasing after Georgie, I climb the tower and I’m at a one-on-one confrontation with Pennywise and then I say that I’m not afraid of him, that none of the losers are afraid of him, and that’s how we beat him. But they took those lines and put toward the end, right after our big fight. So I had this whole thing where Bill Skarsgard is grabbing me and pushing me off the ledge, and I had to wear this harness. That was a more difficult scene.
Do you have any thoughts on who might play grown-up Bill in the sequel?
I think Ewan McGregor would be interesting. I don’t want to offend him or anything, but he might be too old. I love Ewan McGregor, and I think he’s a great actor. I think he could play Bill very well.
Was there anything that surprised you about making a horror film?
That horror movies really aren’t really scary when you’re on set. I always thought that there would be a lot of bad juju. Although, it can be scary on set and always dark and quiet and uncomfortable, but then like any of those other movies, when you get close to the crew and the cast and you become a big family. Even though you’re running through the sewer and fighting Pennywise, you still have the same family bond.