James McAvoy’s first encounter with Pennywise came when he was 15, not much older than the average age of the Losers’ Club kids when they faced the murderous clown in Stephen King’s 1986 novel IT.
The then teen from Glasgow, already a budding fan of science fiction and fantasy, had tackled the Lord of the Rings series a few years earlier. So reading something as “incredibly deep and dense” as King’s 1,138-page horror story wasn’t a stretch. “I didn’t find it that scary,” McAvoy says.
Now at 40, the actor is around the same age as the grown-up Losers’ Club members in IT Chapter Two (Sept. 6). McAvoy plays the adult version of Bill in director Andy Muschietti’s sequel to his 2017 adaptation of the horror classic. But when McAvoy faced King’s concept of a killer clown this time around, he definitely wasn’t as blasé as he was in his youth.
“When I reread IT as an adult for the film, I actually had nightmares about Pennywise in a way that I never did as a child,” he admits. Bill Skarsgård’s bone-chilling clown makeup as Pennywise notwithstanding, McAvoy’s new outlook on the story may be the same reason he keeps returning to a very particular kind of science-fiction and fantasy role: the half-goat faun Mr. Tumnus in the first Chronicles of Narnia movie; benevolent genius Professor Xavier in X-Men films; the buff, villainous Beast and his many personalities in the Unbreakable sequels. Clearly, the actor is drawn not only to a certain brand of badassery in his characters but to films that tend to transcend their genres.
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