We’re supposed to be trudging through the knee-deep waters of Pennywise’s lair. Strapped up in galoshes, we’re headed to the swampy underground of Derry, except when we get there the water has already been drained, little more than a thin layer of wetness clinging to the tunnel. With only a flashlight and the occasional burst of natural light creeping in from the grates and ladders build into the impressive structure, the tunnel is dark but you can make out enough of the details to get a thoroughly creepy vibe. But there is no water, and there is no It, and we, of course, are not in Derry, Maine but in Toronto, Canada on the set of Andy Muschietti‘s IT, where Stephen King‘s horror-fantastical world is coming to life on a soundstage.
But there’s no water. and there’s a bit of a to-do about it. After all, they didn’t get us these swell boots for nothing. But production schedules shift, and no one minds a bit because holy hell, we’re about to see the sewers of Derry, Maine realized in the flesh. On the outside, it’s a construct of wood and plaster, craftsman notations and crew insignia scribbled on the walls, but inside… it’s a creepy fucking tunnel where you might just find a killer clown/evil entity who loves to feast on children.
Walk down the tunnel for a bit, take a few turns, pass through some hefty round doors and you’ll wind up in the cistern where It dwells. The walls are a crusted, rusty red-brown, lined with water demarcations.There’s one really good puddle, which most of us make sure to walk through (we’ve got to put those rain boots to use somehow) and then, there it is — Pennywise’s lair.
At the bottom, you see Pennywise The Dancing Clown’s circus wagon. It’s a small, age-weathered room with slightly slanted floors and creaky-looking boards but it’s what’s outside it, above it, and around it that’s truly creepy. Toys and small clothes and little children’s shoes piled up in a cascading 30-foot tower; a jumbled trophy heap culled from It’s kills, centuries worth of evil on display.
Not too far away, in another stage of the studio, Muschietti and his lead Bill Skarsgard are reinventing Pennywise. After we’ve had our fill of the cistern, we head over to observe filming where we see Skarsgard in his full Pennywise regalia — orange hair jutting out in tufts around the pale pancaked face, with a pouty red blood mouth and razor-sharp teeth poking out. Unfortunately, we don’t get to hear him talk. But we do get to hear him yip, bark, yell and a number of other strange utterances as the actor and director collaborate to create the perfect “Boo!” moment. The scene in question happens after the Losers research Pennwyise in a slideshow (taking the place of the photo album from the book) and the image of the killer clown comes to life, reaching out of the screen to prey on the children. Skarsgard’s take on Pennywise is more animalistic than you might expect, and he offers his director a lot of options, shaking up his delivery and physicality with each new take.
To get the shot, Skarsgard is contorted, reaching through a small frame to sneer and snap at the children. Except there are no children, just a big camera, right in his face and between shots, Muschietti runs over to give notes, angling Skarsgard head up or down a little, twisting him to the side, looking for the scariest possible beat. They set and reset, time and again, and they’re still not finished by the time we move on to the next portion of the tour, tirelessly seeking out the best scare.
In between touring the sets and observing production, I also joined a group of journalists to interview Muschietti, the cast, and some key members of the crew. We didn’t get to speak to Skarsgard that day, who was needed on set, but we did get time with production designer Claude Paré, producer Barbara Muschietti, and the Losers Club — Jaeden Lieberher (Bill Denbrough), Wyatt Oleff (Stan Uris), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben Hanscom), Sophia Lillis (Beverly Marsh), Finn Wolfhard (Richie Tozier), Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie Kaspbrak), and Chosen Jacobs (Mike Hanlon).