Be aware there are SPOILERS for IT Chapter Two below.
Everybody loves Richie Tozier. The fast-talking Trashmouth with a heart of gold has always been an IT favorite, from Stephen King‘s classic novel to Seth Green‘s performance in the nostalgia-fav 1990 mini-series, and again with Finn Wolfhard‘s take on the character in Andy Muschietti‘s record-smashing 2017 adaptation. So, when Muschietti turned to Bill Hader to play adult Richie in the follow-up, it was a fan-casting dream come true. Heck, even Wolfhard had him as the #1 pick for the role.
Everyone expected Hader to bring a scene-stealing comedic presence to the film, but what folks might not have expected was the surprising emotional arc IT Chapter Two had in store for the character and Hader’s knockout performance in bringing it to life — though that later point will come as no surprise to any fan of Hader’s HBO hit Barry or the criminally undersung 2014 indie drama The Skeleton Twins. But across the board, Hader has been racking up acclaim as the film’s MVP thanks to the thoughtful, touching performance he brings to the IT Chapter Two‘s boldest stroke of adaptation.
Speaking to Collider, Hader expressed his enthusiasm for signing on to a King project that was such a formative part of his life.
“I think we’re both of the generation where the first adult books you read are Stephen King. It’s like Stephen King is … You’re not just about horror and everything, but just into reading for fun, you know? That’s what he represents in your life. And so, it is this weird thing for this book I read when I was in high school and the miniseries I watched when I was in middle school, to now be a part of it is pretty wild.”
But Hader didn’t exactly step into the story he knew growing up. While all of the members of the Losers Club have to face their childhood trauma and repressed fears in the film, it’s Richie’s revelation that takes center stages and gives the film it’s greatest emotion catharsis. In IT Chapter Two, we learn that Richie is gay and has lived his life in the closet, masking himself in crude humor. What’s more, when he returns to Derry and gets his memories back, he remembers his secret love for his best friend Eddie and a moment of childhood trauma that shaped him.
In King’s text, Richie’s sexuality is never confirmed, though he does reference a robust sexual history with women. However, when it comes to Richie and Eddie, there are plenty of moments in the text, from Richie’s penchant for calling Eddie “cute” to his emotional devastation after Eddie’s death, that has sparked conversation from readers (and a very dedicated “Reddie” fandom) for decades. But Hader didn’t turn to the book to understand that side of Richie, it was an approach he developed with Muschietti.
“I didn’t look at the text. It was more of a conversation with Andy, and we just talked it through. My memory of it… I remember being in his office in Toronto, before we started shooting, and saying, ‘There’s a version of this that’s underplayed, and then there’s a version of this that’s more just more explicit.’
And I was more into the explicit version, because I just thought it was interesting for the character, and it would be an interesting thing to play. And you don’t want to be coy about it. If you’re going to go to the bell, ring it, you know? And so, it was like, ‘Let’s just do it.'”
And Hader says Muschietti was on the same page. Screenwriter Gary Dauberman confirmed they were having conversations about Richie’s arc back on the first film, and echoed Hader’s sentiments that it wasn’t something he turned to the text for, but something that arose out of those conversations with Muschietti. “We always knew it was there, he said. “It was just a question of how much are we going to dive into it, or not, or whatever.”
For Muschietti, Richie’s arc was about tapping into the adult “fear of being exposed” built out of the trauma he experienced as a child. Muschietti explained, “Richie is gay and his fear was to basically, expose it and at the end, too, he just lets it go. I think it’s the same as all the other guys, the trauma they had, they are not able to face it and overcome it. They can’t go on with their lives.”
If Hader didn’t turn to the text for inspiration, he was able to tap into his own experience and knowledge as a comedian. After all, the Trashmouth is infamous for his dick jokes and crude humor, and indeed, when we first see Richie in Chapter Two, he’s on stage telling a joke about his girlfriend catching him masturbating. The actor discussed how that side of Richie informed his take on the character’s repression, saying:
“From the point of comedians that I know and my own thing of hiding things through laughter. Andy and I would talk about that a little bit, you make jokes and sometimes your comedy is a nice way of putting a boundary up between you and other people, but also, a boundary within yourself of having to experience any sort of emotion or desire and things like that. And I think that’s something Richie does, where this truth bomb thing is actually usually a mask for someone who’s, I think, an idealist and a romantic.”
And then there’s the matter of Eddie, Richie’s childhood best friend, who he loved deeply. When Eddie dies in the film’s third act, Richie’s journey of self-discovery takes a tragic turn. Hader continued,
“And I think there’s a part of the sadness, spoiler alert, but the sadness towards the end of it is very much about all the things that went unsaid and all the things that were … not just in some sort of a sexual way, but it wasn’t consummated in any sort of emotional way, or any way. You just don’t let someone know what they mean to you, and that, that’s the kind of tragedy of that story, which I thought was really powerful.”
When it came to shooting Eddie’s death scene, and the duo’s final exchange, Hader and Mucschietti confirmed they shot multiple versions. Hader said,
“Yes, there’s tons. We did a lot of different versions of that. We did one that was more … See, I haven’t seen the movie, so I don’t know what it is. But we did one that was more a lot of a big conversation, and then we did one where he was dead, and Richie wouldn’t acknowledge that he was dead. So Richie’s going, “Come on, we got get him out of here. We got to get him out of here.” And everybody is looking at each other like, “He’s dead, Richie. And then we did one where it was a combination of the two of those. And then we did one where he just sits down, and he’s dead, and Richie falls apart. And yeah, we did a bunch.”
When it came to deciding the right way to handle the scene, Muschietti said there were two main ways he considered editing it — one where Eddie dies after the big fight with Pennywise and one, which is what ended up in the final cut, where he dies offscreen during the battle. Muschietti explained that there was another version that was closer to Eddie’s final lines in the book, but ultimately, he went the other way.
There was actually a version where, after killing Pennywise, they return and Eddie’s still like… And Eddie wants to say something, and he dies in the middle of his sentence. He says, “Richie, I…” And then goes. It was two different ways of solving the scene. I felt it was a little bit bit overkill, to find, after all that time, to come back and Eddie was still alive. Because it happened twice already. I think it’s so devastating, it’s so emotional, that moment where I prefer to play with denial, where basically Richie comes back to a dead Eddie and he still thinks that there’s something that can be done to save him.
When it comes to shooting that big emotional scene, Hader’s memories mostly skew towards the tired and the humorous. He recalled,
“We shot that for a while, I remember. I remember shooting that and then having to break for lunch, and then we had to come back and shoot some more of it. And I was just like, “I can’t … I’m exhausted, man.” Everybody was. Me and [James Ransone] were just like, ‘Oh, gosh.’
What I remember most about shooting that is [James]. … We would be in the [set] and he’s really uncomfortable, and then they would just shoot so much fake blood into his mouth, because they wanted him to be spitting up blood while he’s talking. And I was just like, ‘I feel so bad for this guy right now.’ Because he was just choking, and he had to stay still like he was dead. But I could tell he was just trying not to cough and was just like, ‘I want this to be over.’