Stephen King’s It is essentially a book about a scary clown. The author would probably disagree. He would probably say that in its more than thousand-page length, It reveals itself mostly to be a story about the remarkable capacity in children for belief and courage, and what a person gains and loses in the tradeoff between childhood and maturity. Maybe that’s true, but the 4-hour 1990 miniseries based on the novel was absolutely about a scary clown. If memory serves, completing all four parts of the miniseries on my third grade school bus was treated like a sign of superior mental and emotional character, mostly because of Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise.
Well, it looks like the creepiest clown ever is headed back to the screen, this time the big one. Warner Brothers has hired the exceptionally talented Cary Fukunaga to direct and co-write a new adaptation of It, which makes this the second Stephen King adaptation in the works currently, along with Ben Affleck’s version of The Stand. Fukunaga got a lot of praise for his fresh take on well-trodden material with 2011’s Jane Eyre, so maybe the studio’s hoping he can keep this version from being stale. Of course, in order to be a movie worth watching, Fukunaga’s It will have to get the title character right, so let’s help! Here are five choices for actors who could play Pennywise the clown and proceed to properly scare you straight to hell.
Buscemi hasn’t really been cast to play someone unsettling since 1997’s Con Air; it seems like he’s typically called on for comic roles or more matter-of-fact characters like Boardwalk Empire’s Nucky Thompson. That being said, Buscemi’s still got a kind of manic energy that could definitely translate to a preternatural, homicidal clown.
This one is a huge no-brainer. Willem Dafoe is the guy who played a real old-world Eastern European vampire in Shadow of the Vampire, and he’s got the kind of intensity that lets him switch easily between relatively normal characters and entities like the Green Goblin from Spiderman.
Michael Emerson’s hallmark for the first two seasons of Lost in which he appeared as Benjamin Linus was that he was dependably discomfiting and creepy. Granted, the atmosphere that Michael Emerson brought to that role is pretty different than the level of physical fear that Pennywise the Clown provides in It, but that’s a type of performance that might still be in Emerson’s wheelhouse.
Robbins is a performer who’s usually called on to play everyman roles, which he actually does pretty well. However, in 2003 he got the best supporting actor nomination for his uncomfortable portrayal of a man haunted by childhood trauma in Mystic River. It’s possible to see that kind of deeply unsettling tone translate into the bubbling terror needed to play Pennywise.
Jackie Earle Haley
Another no-brainer. As the go-to character actor for depraved creeps, Haley is usually known for playing men who are supposed to inspire fear; from Watchmen’s Rorshach, to Freddy Krueger in the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street. What separates Haley from a standard B-movie psycho is that he’s capable of some serious acting, which we’ll see when he takes on the role of the Vice President of the Confederacy in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Lincoln.