The London Hotel, West Hollywood: “I’ve got very strong elbows and exceedingly strong shoulders” says James McAvoy talking through a scene from his new horror film, IT Chapter Two – and I can’t tell if he’s joking or not. Under Swedish personal trainer Magnus Lygdback, McAvoy did recently transform into beast mode to play antagonist Kevin Wendell Crumb in M. Night Shyamalan’s 2019 comic-book thriller Glass – a role that saw McAvoy’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix character Charles Xavier also decently jacked. But strong elbows? How do you train your elbows?
Funny man Bill Hader – who stars as the trash-talking, gangly smartass in the second half of the highest-grossing horror film of all time, IT – isn’t one to ask. “I hurt my groin and had to go to hospital”, Hader admits in his deadpan tone. “Running,” McAvoy interjects. “He did it running.”
“Yes, we were running around in circles and the whole time we said, ‘This is going to be about five seconds in the movie,” says Hader who also stars as a depressed, low-rent hitman in the dark HBO comedy Barry.
McAvoy admits he did get tendinitis – not in his strong elbows but in his quads – while shooting the same scene in which Hader was rushed to the nearest MRI scanner. “I watched some scenes back on set and I’d be like, ‘Holy shit, that is so freaking awesome’ and then I’d see it in the movie and be like, ‘That could be anyone. That could be any stunt guy and I suffered from tendinitis for six months,” says McAvoy, his Scottish accent thick.
“It’s hard being an actor,” he adds, laughing.
Sounds really hard. From director Andy Muschietti and seminal novelist Stephen King, IT Chapter Two sees Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise the clown return to terrorise the fictional town of Derry, Maine. Yes, twenty-seven years after the Losers’ Club defeated the shape-shifting clown, people are disappearing again and their body parts are showing up dismembered in the rivers, sewers and the local fairgrounds. Now adults, the Losers – who along with McAvoy and Hader includes Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain – must return to their hometown and each conquer their deep-set fears to destroy the pernicious Pennywise for good. (And hopefully turn over more than USD $700 million at the worldwide box office again while doing so.)
“I remember when I was working on the novel,” says King. “I was on a walk when I saw this little girl sitting at the side of the road, drawing in the dust and talking to herself about the imaginary people in her doodles. I thought, ‘What if it was an adult doing that?’ We understand that kids have a wider perspective. Their imaginations are unfettered and as we grow older, it becomes tougher and tougher to hold on to that imagination. So, what I really wanted to do with IT Chapter Two was to bring these people back as adults.”
While the film itself is fantastical, it’s equal part gruesome and humourous. ICON gives you a front row seat to the serves thrown between McAvoy and Hader as they comically discuss their new movie, exchange stories of cops and robbers and talk the current state of Hader’s groin.
ICON: In IT Chapter Two, you both play grown-up members of the Losers Club, the misfits in school. Bill, now that you’ve gotten to know James well, what do you think his high school experience was like?
JAMES MCAVOY: “Ooohhh…”
BILL HADER: “I feel like he was pretty popular but also into reading. I think he kind of got along with everybody.”
JM: “Little bit. Not the most popular, I’d say.”
BH: “But you were very sociable. You’re a sweet guy but you’re into sports and sci-fi books. We talk a lot about history. I think he would have just gotten along with everybody until he burned the school down.”
JM: “[Laughs] That’s right. I don’t think Bill would have been as funny in high school as he is now. I think you might have been as funny but maybe you didn’t find your audience.”
BH: “I was as needy. But not as funny.”
ICON: Some creepy things went down in Derry, Maine. James, you’re from Drumchapel in Glasgow. What was growing up there like?
JM: “It was a wonderful journey, it was a school of hard knocks but one I appreciated [laughs]. No, there was lots of green. It was about community and running about in the gardens. You know how all gardens nowadays have tall fences between them? In Drumchapel, they used to be really small and they were made of match sticks basically so you could just jump over them and be in 20 gardens and nobody gave a shit and it was great fun. That’s what I remember about growing up in Drumchapel: having a humungous wealth of about 40 gardens in this whole set of homes and just being in any one of them at any given time until a dog came and chased you out of it – which was kind of fun.”
ICON: Bill, you couldn’t have done that because you’re from Tulsa, Oklahoma and like Derry, it had a pretty high crime rate. Did any weird things happen in your town?
BH: “Yeah, actually we had quite a lot of break-ins and stuff and I remember the night that [1972 British horror film] Tales From The Cript premiered, my sisters and I stayed up and watched it and we got really scared and then that night, a guy who was running from the cops hid out in our backyard. I remember seeing the helicopter spotlighting our garden. We were just going, ‘What?’”
JM: “Do you want a good segue story?”
JM: “So Tales From The Cript was going to get re-done by [American filmmaker] M. Night Shyamalan but it didn’t happen for some reason – because of rights or something. But on an M. Night Shyamalan movie called Glass [in which McAvoy starred in] my stand-in was this nice enough guy. He wasn’t my stand-in from the first movie, he was quiet and kept to himself. This one day, the cops came up to the set – the guy was a bank robber! These marshals jumped out of a bush and he was trying to leave set!”
BH: [Laughs] A bush?
ICON: So many of the scenes in IT Chapter Two were shot together as a group. What was the vibe on set like in between takes?
BH: “Joking around…”
JM: “Or like sleeping upright on chairs.”
BH: “It was long days.”
JM: “It was long – crazy long – days.”
BH: “And [the film’s director] Andy [Muschietti] likes to shoot a lot of takes. There was always this feeling because there are – how many of us? Eight?”
BH: “Seven. You would shoot one actor’s coverage and then another actor’s and you would be like, ‘OK, how many more until me?’ You’re kind of doing the math in your head…”
JM: “Did you ever do this thing where you’d think, ‘Where do I have to be in this room so I’m not tied to the background of anyone else’s coverage or scene?’”
JM: “Everybody did that at one point at least.”
BH: “Yeah, you’d be like, ‘If I just move over here so it’s a clean shot of them and I’m not in it so maybe I can go home early.’ It never worked. The scene of us chanting felt like we did that for a million years.”
JM: “Twenty-seven years.”
ICON: To help create a bond, the kid actors wrote letters to their adult selves, which were given to the actors playing their older versions. They also gave you pictures of themselves…
JM: “Bill got very uncomfortable with this.”
BH: “I got very uncomfortable with this.”
ICON: What? Why?
BH: “It was like a young child and he gave me a framed picture of himself. I’m on location, I have no photos in my apartment. So, I’m going to have a photo of a small boy? I can’t have that. That’s not a good look. He tried to give it to me and I was like, ‘I don’t want this’ [Laughs].”
JM: [Laughs]. It’s like, you bring someone home after a first date and you think, ‘Oh, we’re going to go to second base straight away…’”
BH: “And she’s like, ‘Do you have any wine? Oh wait, why is there a photo of you with a four-year-old boy?’ and I’m like, ‘Oh that’s not my kid, that’s just the young man I’m playing in the movie.’ It’s awful!”
ICON: Could your younger selves have ever imagined you would become big, successful actors?
BH: “No. I’m from Oklahoma. Just the fact I moved to LA was enough to make the papers [laughs]. It really was, it was like, ‘Someone got out!’”
ICON: James, you said you read Stephen King’s book when you were a kid and it didn’t scare you.
JM: “There were certain bits that were scary but I generally I loved it. I didn’t get terrified, you know.”
BH: “It’s kind of an adventure story. There are certain books of Stephen King’s that I find creepier and this one is less Pet Cemetery and more Lord Of The Rings.”
ICON: Well, fears change as we grow up. What frightens you today in life? What do you fear?
BH: “Just normal grown-up stuff.”
JM: “Like hyper-taxation.”
BH: “Just waking up and being like, ‘Oh, my muscles are shortening…’
ICON: My groin’s sore…
BH: “‘My groin’s still sore.’”
JM: “[Laughs] ‘What did I do last night? My groin’s sore.’”
ICON: And who is that little boy in the framed photo on my bed?
BH: “Yeah who is that? Now I got to worry about that. Is that gonna get out to the press?”
IT Chapter Two is streaming on Netflix Australia now.