What is Pennywise the clown from It, who plays him in the 2017 film and where does the mask come from?


PENNYWISE the Dancing Clown is the villain who haunts a small American town in the recently-released big screen version of the Stephen King book, It.

And with real-life clown sightings going on in the UK, the character reflects our fascination with these so-called entertainers. But what do we know about it as Halloween approaches?

 Pennywise the Dancing Clown is back - 27 years after it last fed

Pennywise the Dancing Clown is back – 27 years after it last fed

What is Pennywise the Dancing Clown?

Pennywise the Dancing Clown is the main antagonist in the novel It, by Stephen King, published in 1986.

The reader comes to learn that Pennywise terrorises the town of Derry in Maine and is responsible for the disappearances of dozens of forgotten children – and adults.

Pennywise is first seen hiding in a gutter during a rain storm and begins talking to six-year-old Georgie Denbrough, whose boat has fallen through it.

In the book, Pennywise wears a silver clown suit and introduces himself as “Mr Bob Gray, aka Pennywise the Dancing Clown”.

He attacks Georgie when he sticks his arm down the get the boat, and severs his arm – before leaving him to bleed to death in the rain.

The rest of the novel focuses on a gang called The Losers Club, led by Georgie’s older brother, who endeavour to discover who or what Pennywise is – and why it seems to emerge every 27 years.

 Tim Curry played Pennywise in the 1990 adaptation of It

Tim Curry played Pennywise in the 1990 adaptation of It

Pennywise has two haunting phrases in the book which were picked up in the adaptation: “Don’t you want a balloon?” and “You’ll float down here, you’ll all float!”.

On screen, Pennywise has been portrayed by two actors as there was a two-part TV movie of It made in 1990, and one made as a brand new feature length film, released earlier in 2017.

The feature film will be followed by a sequel as the story is being broken up into two parts, as with the original version.

Who has played Pennywise?

Tim Curry

The 1990 TV movie, made for US channel ABC, featured British acting legend Tim Curry in the role of Pennywise.

In this version, Pennywise had white face make-up; a red nose; a large head and fluffy red hair; a colourful, baggy costume with big buttons; and a rattle for when he got excited.

Curry, now 71, was praised for his terrifying portrayal of the character – who was constantly popping up to goad the Losers Club members – and many believe it to be his best career performance.

He also played Frank ‘N’ Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Rooster in Annie, Darkness in Legend and Wadsworth in Clue.

While Curry says he’s proud of his work on It, he said he found the “unconvincing” climax of the TV movie silly – and has said of the new movie version: “I hope they make the ending better.”

 Tim Curry, left, played the original 1990 Pennywise and Bill Skarsgard, right, is playing him in 2017

Tim Curry, left, played the original 1990 Pennywise and Bill Skarsgard, right, is playing him in 2017

Bill Skarsgard

Born in the year the TV movie came out, Swedish actor Bill Skarsgard – brother of Alexander and son of Stellan – was cast as Pennywise for the 2017 movie.

He impressed casting directors so much that he beat off stiff competition from main rival Hugo Weaving – though Will Poulter was previously attached, and Tilda Swinton had been approached.

Original Pennywise Tim Curry has expressed his approval of the casting, saying: “Well, I like [Bill] Skarsgard very much, I think he’s very clever.

 Bill Skarsgard's It looks a lot more like a traditional clown, or a doll

Bill Skarsgard’s It looks a lot more like a traditional clown, or a doll

“It’ll be interesting what sort of clown face he puts on, because it’s not an obvious clown face at all. I’ve seen the trailer and you can’t really see him at all. So I’m fascinated to see it. He’s very good.”

Meanwhile the director of the new film, Andres Muschietti, has said Bill terrified the kids on set, explaining: “Bill is like, seven-foot high, and I can’t describe how scary he looks in person. He’s a wiry man, crouching, making sounds, snotting, drooling, speaking in Swedish sometimes. Terrifying.”

Muschietti also emphasized that his Pennywise has a different “personality” from Curry’s – and its look is different, too.

Stephen King has refused to pick his favourite out of the two portrayals but he’s watched the new movie several times.

Where does Pennywise’s mask and costume come from?

Skarsgard’s 2017 costume, designed by Janie Bryan, has an old-fashioned edge, inspired by the traditional pierrot character.

Bryan has also stated that the grey costume is inspired by Renaissance clothing – as well as Victorian, Elizabethan and even Medieval.

The overall effect is that the clown has more of a “doll-like quality” and the feel that the villain is from a different era.

The trailer for It has shown that modern special effects will be used prolifically in the new movie too, which is no surprise considering its budget is thought to be around £30-40m.

 The original It from 1990 featured gruesome make-up effects

The original It from 1990 featured gruesome make-up effects

When is It out in cinemas?

Horror movie It was released in the UK on September 8, 2017.

The seven kids in the Losers Club are played by Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jaeden Lieberher, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs and Jeremy Ray Taylor.

The 2017 movie is the first of two, with the second set 27 years after the events of this one.

As huge fans of the 80s TV show, the Duffer Brothers – creators of Netflix series Stranger Things – wanted to direct this big screen version, but were considered too inexperienced at the time it was planned, a whopping eight years ago.

Trailer for ‘IT’ the horror film based on Stephen King’s terrifying novel

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