James McAvoy stars as Bill Denbrough in ‘IT: Chapter Two’, set 27 years after the first onslaught of Pennywise the killer clown. It seems that despite dishing out the scares in M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Split’, McAvoy isn’t immune to being freaked out by a scary clown – as he reveals to RSNG, facing down Bills Skarsgård’s version was genuinely terrifying.
We asked him how he chooses his roles, why fear is a motivator and how he managed to break two fingers at the theatre?
I’m not someone who gets scared easily but I am serious when I say it left me with nightmares
RSNG There have been rumours you had quite a stressful time on set? JM ‘It was a freaky shoot and there was lots of freaky stuff going on and those images we had shot on the day would literally be coming back to haunt me during the night.’
‘I’m not someone who gets scared easily and I read the book as a kid but it didn’t have the same effect on me as it did when I went back to it as an adult – I am being serious when I say that it left me with nightmares. I think it was because what I was reading was then being recreated in front of my eyes.’
‘What Bill (Skarsgård) does with Pennywise is really incredible. Yes, he is dressed as a clown and he obviously wears the scary makeup and a funny voice, but the level of commitment to the character and the sheer amount of effort he puts into it… it’s nothing short of remarkable. What he does is disturbing, just as he was in the first film.’
‘I am told that I can’t say too much about it and him, specifically. I have had press notes telling me not to talk too much about Bill and bits of other things to avoid mentioning, as well. What I can say is that he was pretty disturbing on set and that once he had done his bit, all of us adult actors playing ‘The Losers’ were vocal about it being so uncomfortable, haha!’
‘I think the job of an actor is to enable an audience to suspend belief. In this instance it was the actors suspending belief too and the more we delved into that psychological imprint the more difficult we found to climb out of it.’
RSNG Like some sort of immersive drama? JM ‘Yes, it was. I mean, I know that sounds strange, because we would be shooting and pausing, shooting and pausing, but it was very easy to stay in the moment, and I think when you’re creating drama that is essential… you need to maintain that link to your art, no matter what it is you do.’
‘As soon as you break off from the focus of what you are doing – to have lunch, answer the door, make a cup of tea, whatever it is – you lose the attachment to it, whether voluntarily or not. We are all very much full of respect for him, right now.’
RSNG You've achieved a lot in your career – are you still motivated? JM ‘The work is never done, and I hope that my greatest achievements are still to arrive, but who knows if they will? For every job I do, I put as much in as I can because if what I do doesn't work, there may be no next one. You have got to also bear in mind that it can be all about the ratios. There are so many options for casting directors out there and there just aren't enough roles to go around.’
‘So, for everyone who is successful, another one or two are missing out. Fear is certainly one motivation and every time that you are successful for an audition or someone wants you that badly, you don't want to let them down or let yourself down. Should they not like you or what you are offering them, that is hard to take, that's a lot to deal with.’
RSNG What do you look for when you are considering whether or not to audition for a particular part? JM ‘Well, I find myself asking some of the same things when considering roles – if I go for it, what am I going to learn? Will I be in my comfort zone or can it stretch me? Would it be a film or character that I would pay to go and see? These are very important things and especially as we are in the business of putting bums on seats, you have to weigh this kind of stuff up.’
You have to be in control of your own thoughts and destiny and what that means to you
RSNG What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned from working in the industry? JM ‘Well, I would certainly say that I am more in control in the sense that when I am shooting a scene, I am not as concerned as I used to be about whether the way I was playing that character in question was convincing.’
‘Would the audience believe that my performance was authentic or credible? That feeling is more or less behind me and in the past, but it was at the forefront of my mind in days gone by and sometimes that could be overpowering for me.’
‘I’ve always wanted to tell the truth in a role and play that to the best of my ability. But now for me, it’s now more about my interpretation of the truth and I allow the story to show me where it should be going, instead of where it could possibly go. I am a huge believer in engineering the truth and the reality of what that truth is. I couldn't say that I recommend that to anyone else, because that is just the way that I like to work.’
‘Advice and guidance are all well and good, but you have to be in control of your own thoughts and destiny, and what that means to you.’
I broke two fingers and a rib, and got stitches above my eye in Macbeth
RSNG Was this your most intense role yet? JM ‘I love sci-fi, action heroes and dark stories, but being on stage is a much more intense experience. There's nothing like it – whether you're an actor or a member of the audience. The theatre is electrifying in a way that working on a film – shooting a scene and then waiting around for hours to shoot the next scene – can never match.’
‘Macbeth was the most physical role that I've ever played – I broke two fingers and a rib and got stitches above my eye. I got caught up in the violence of the play and that's the kind of level you want to get to as an actor.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch the super-creepy trailer for IT: Chapter Two starring James McAvoy.