Originally published on Vanity Fair Hollywood
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Facing puberty is bad enough—but try doing that while also juggling an absent mother, a disturbing father, and an amorphous, shape-shifting evil spirit that’s terrorizing your town.
None of this difficult material deterred Sophia Lillis, the actress who plays tweenage Beverly Marsh in the film It. The adaptation of Stephen King’smammoth horror novel, which struck millions with a bad case of coulrophobia, is directed by Andy Muschietti, who previously helmed the maternally macabre Mama. Hitting theaters September 8, It tells the story of the Losers’ Club, seven scrappy pre-teens who take it upon themselves to fight the evil spirit murdering local children in their hometown. What else is there to do when school is out?
King’s lengthy book inspired countless nightmares about supernatural forces as well as domestic despair—a classic combination for the prolific writer. But portraying Beverly’s unhappiness wasn’t a new challenge for 15-year-old Lillis, whose résumé includes a troubled teen in 37, an estranged daughter in The Lipstick Stain, and the victim of a disturbed matriarch in the upcoming HBO series Sharp Objects.
“I’m kind of used to those scenes, to be honest,” Lillis says of her character’s charged, sinister exchanges with Beverly’s menacing father, played by Stephen Bogaert. “All the roles I’ve gotten were really depressing background characters—either [my character has] a dead mother, or an abusive father, or abusive mother and dead father. It was kind of the same role I’ve been playing forever.”
Beverly finds some comfort and joy with the fellow members of the self-titled Losers’ Club—seven children who find themselves drawn together not because they’re all outcasts, but also by their shared experience of being terrorized by It, a chameleonic evil that appears in the form of their various worst fears. Often taking the shape of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, It is brought to vivid, maniac life by Bill Skarsgård,stepping into the oversized floppy shoes last filled by Tim Curry, who played Pennywise in the much-loved 1990 TV adaptation of King’s book.
Without the restraints placed on the miniseries by ABC, Pennywise’s reign of terror in the new It is uncensored and truly horrific. The film’s young cast—which also features Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs and Jack Dylan Grazer—encounters some startlingly dreadful and disgusting moments while battling Pennywise. But throughout, Beverly’s courage is notable. The only girl in the Losers’ Club is quickly seen to be one of, if not, the bravest member, the first to jump off a cliff or attack Pennywise head-on. Beverly rallies her friends to help new Losers’ Club member Mike as he is chased by the deranged teenage bully Henry Bowers, and she dares to state the obvious—that they need to fight Pennywise because no one else in Derry will.
It was Beverly’s courage that drew Lillis to the role, the actress says. “I learned about her and how strong she is and how desperate she is. It was kind of like someone I wanted to be: how brave she is, and how she went head-on to defeat this clown that could have killed her at any second.”
As menacing as he is on screen, Lillis says Skarsgård was friendly and even charming when the camera wasn’t rolling. In between takes of Pennywise attacking or strangling Beverly, the actor would ask her how her day was going—while his hands were still wrapped around her neck.
The horror that It manifests represents the personal demons of each member of the Losers’ Club, and for Beverly, that is her father. Their relationship is strained to a breaking point, with sexual abuse hinted at in both the book and movie. Lillis recalls discussing Beverly with Muschietti before filming began, creating a history between the two: “I think she doesn’t really know her mother that well, but kind of has a vague memory of her. And her father didn’t really become that intense abusive father until when she started to get older, and she’s starting to resemble her mother a little bit.”