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‘It’ Director on Box Office Shock, Sequel Plans

Following the massive opening weekend for “It,” bringing in $123 million domestically, audiences are already asking what’s next for the planned sequel. Luckily, director Andy Muschietti and producer Barbara Muschietti are up to the task.

In an interview with Variety on Monday, the director and producer talked about what they were trying to achieve in the first film, the process of getting the young ensemble right, and their plans for the next movie.

Were you surprised by the outpouring of support for the film before the weekend numbers started coming in?

Barbara: I had a premonition like five months ago that it would do $80 [million in its opening weekend]. I have no idea why, people kept telling me that I was insane, and I actually turned out being wrong — because it turned out to be higher. Andy has the best attitude toward it, which is, he would keep on shooting until the day of the release of a film if he could, so he isn’t thinking about projections.

What was most important thing to consider when adapting the book to the screen?

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Andy: I’d say gaining that balance between the moments of terror and the moments of levity. For me, it was very important to engage people emotionally in the story and this journey and gain an emotional engagement with the characters. That was the most important thing for me going into the shoot — outside of making the film as scary as possible.

So often you can have kids knock it out of the park, like the “Stranger Things” cast, and other times, children don’t live up to expectations. When did you know you had the right ensemble assembled?

Andy: Well, it took us a while in the pre-production and the casting process was a long one, but it was a beautiful experience because it was a lot of fun. I had faith that I would find the right kids and my problem is I’m an optimist in general, which actually isn’t a problem — quite the opposite — but I knew I would find them. I was looking for actors that had the characters’ DNA built in and that was the mandate for me. I really, really wanted to bring this group to life and amazingly, it happened.

There are performances that are so colorful and precise to the personality of the characters in the book. I had more than one option for each character, and the ring of fire was getting them all together in the room for chemistry reads and see the magic happen. When you get to that moment, there is only so much you can do, it’s all up to them. It’s really a magical moment when that happens and the Losers appear right in front of your eyes. The last stage was in this three-week period before they started shooting where I wanted the kids to bond naturally, so we would come up with excuses like “Go to swimming camp to train,” when in reality, we were doing it to create that bond you see on the screen.

Barbara: Our luck was insane through all of this working with around 12 kids who all clicked instantly, they were amazing.

Were you surprised by the studio allowing you to not hold back and go for an R-rating instead of PG-13?

Andy: From the very beginning, New Line was very supportive. When I initially pitched my vision for the film without knowing how they would react they got very excited, and after that it was really about embracing all the changes I brought to the story and giving me that long leash throughout the process.

Barbara: From the very first sitting, we knew where we were going given the intensity of the film is something you cannot hide. It would be ludicrous to fight that and had we tried to make a PG-13 film, it would have been a disaster, probably because we would have still gotten an R and we would have missed all of the wonderful things we were able to do, starting with language. The language the kids use was hilarious and that would have been all gone.

Is there any discussion about possibly splitting the second chapter into two films?

Andy: I don’t think so. I’ve read that idea in the media, which is funny. I understand why they would think that because New Line originally split up “The Hobbit” into three [movies] instead of two. It would make sense because it would give me more turf to develop the characters and more of a canvas to develop the journey, but to be honest, there wasn’t a conversation about that and now we are designing the story as one single film.

What’s the one thing you want to nail in the sequel that you weren’t able to do in this film?

Andy: The thing I want to bring in the next film that I couldn’t do here is the dialogue between the two timelines. That was so important in the book and we didn’t get to explore that here, but I wanted to keep the story of the kids as pure and without interference as I could. The dialogue between those two timelines with all those flashbacks is so important to the book that I want to bring that back.

Does that mean the kids will be back for the second movie or is it just them as adults?

Andy: We are going back to the summer of 1989 and if people love these characters and actors the way I do, it’s going to be a blast to go back to 1989 in the second one. I don’t want to go back just for that, I want to make those flashbacks essential in the plot where in order for the Losers to figure out the clues to defeat Pennywise, they have to retrieve their memories from the past.

Do you have any ideas for actors for the kids as adults? Sophia (Lillis) does kind of look like your “Mama” star Jessica Chastain.

Andy: I don’t know, does she? [Laughs] Jessi is an amazing actress and very good friend and I would love her to play Beverly.

Barbara: She also loves this movie.

Andy: Yeah, she loves the movie and it feels like the planets are aligned in that sense, but we still have to make that happen. There are a lot of ideas for the rest of the cast that I’m playing with, but it’s a bit too premature to say those names right now.

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