HEAT VISION

How 'It' Star Sophia Lillis Became a Horror Go-To Before Finishing High School

The actor, in theaters with 'Gretel & Hansel,' recently found herself at a crossroads about acting: "I'm turning 18 soon, and I have to start thinking about what I want to do with my life."
Sophia Lillis   |   Emma McIntyre/FilmMagic
The actor, in theaters with 'Gretel & Hansel,' recently found herself at a crossroads about acting: "I'm turning 18 soon, and I have to start thinking about what I want to do with my life."

Gretel & Hansel star Sophia Lillis has accomplished quite a lot since her breakout role as Beverly Marsh in 2017's It. Whether it's playing a younger version of Amy Adams' character on Sharp Objects or serving as the foundation for Jessica Chastain's portrayal of Beverly in It Chapter Two, Lillis' resume of five films and two series is made all the more impressive by the fact that she's still a few months away from graduating high school. With Gretel & Hansel in theaters and a new Netflix show debuting Feb. 26, Lillis recently made a big decision about her future.

"I'm turning 18 soon, and I have to start thinking about what I want to do with my life: if I want to continue acting or stop for a little bit and go to college. I've thought a lot about it, and I've decided I'll stick with this," Lillis tells The Hollywood Reporter. "This is a good job to have, and I really enjoy it. As for the horror thing, I would like to try new things… but I don't mind horror at all. In fact, I've come to actually like it, but I never saw myself as the main horror girl."

Given how sympathetic Beverly Marsh was in It, it's no surprise why fans of the horror genre have taken to Lillis like they have. Even Chastain was enamored with Lillis. "I remember watching it with the other boys, and they were like, 'She acted just like you! She does the same things that you do,'" Lillis recounts. "And I was like, 'Oh, I didn't know that. I guess she did.'"

In a recent conversation with THR, Lillis also discusses the particulars of shooting Gretel & Hansel, spending time with Adams and Chastain and reuniting with her It co-star Wyatt Oleff for their new Netflix series, I Am Not Okay With This.

Did you ever imagine that you'd oink like a pig and talk to mushrooms on camera?

(Laughs.) It wasn't my goal, but I don't mind that I did it. It was an added plus to my career.

What were those mushrooms made of?

It was marzipan! You're the first person to ask that question.

These are the important questions.

It is an important question.

When you dreamed about your career, was being a genre/horror star remotely part of the plan?

No, not generally. I just wanted to experiment with acting. I never really thought of it as my main go-to or my job until after a few years, when I realized, "Oh, this is getting rather serious." (Laughs.) Now I'm turning 18 soon, and I have to start thinking about what I want to do with my life: if I want to continue acting or stop for a little bit and go to college. I've thought a lot about it, and I've decided I'll stick with this. This is a good job to have, and I really enjoy it. As for the horror thing, I would like to try new things. I don't see myself as doing just horror all the time, but I don't mind horror at all. In fact, I've come to actually like it, but I never saw myself as the main horror girl.

I read that you went to Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. You're not a Method actor, right?

No! I don't see myself as a Method actor. I started with the kids' program and grew up doing that. I don't think they're going to make kids do heavy Method acting. (Laughs.) That'd be a weird program to go into as a kid. They were very fluid on what kinds of things they'd teach kids. It was more sense memory type stuff. What makes you sad? What makes you happy? What are these memories that you could use? So, when you're acting, you can use that as a trigger. I use that, but I've kind of branched off from that too. That's just how I started learning as a kid. So no, I wouldn't consider myself a heavy Method actor, but that's where I was taught.

Was there anything unusual about the Gretel casting process?

No, not really. The director [Osgood Perkins] is kind of unusual — in the best way possible — but the process itself wasn't any different.

Your director, Oz, used to be an actor. Do you notice a difference when you work with directors who used to act? Are they a little more specific with their direction?

It was specific. Osgood knows how actors work. He thought, "I know my place as a director, and I know their place as an actor. I can tell them up to a certain point what to do, but it's up to the actors and what they should do." So he'd let the actors go a little bit, and he put his trust in them. I thought that was a really nice way of directing.

Once you found out you got the role, what steps did you take to prepare?

Gretel is the narrator of the story, so she's basically telling the director's story. So it's good to actually go to the director and talk to him about the character: his ideas, his expectations and what he wants. So I talked to him a lot, and before I start a project, I always ask the director about what kind of films they want me to watch. I can see what their preferences in films are, and I can see what I'm getting into. One of the things that he asked me to watch was Rosemary's Baby. His horror thing is less jump scares and more psychological and disorienting. So I felt that was a really interesting way to make a horror film.

Did you enjoy shooting in Ireland?

I was cold. (Laughs.) It was very cold there. I was supposed to act cold, so I was pretty good on that. The woods were very beautiful, amazing and enchanting in their own way. I feel like that portrays itself onscreen, so being there was the best option for working on this project.

Did they build the entire house in that forest?

The inside was on set, but the outside of it was actually there, which was pretty interesting. I loved the architecture. Oh, my God, seeing Osgood's idea come to reality really surprised me on set.

Given the lighting choices and production design, did the set feel pretty creepy, or does the omnipresent crew ruin the illusion?

The crew was one of the nicest crews I've ever worked with…

Everybody raves about the Irish crews.

Yeah, they're amazing. Usually, when you work on a horror film, people always ask, "Oh, is it scary?" and usually it's not. (Laughs.) Seeing the background ruins the whole scare of it, but at the same time, Alice's [Krige] behavior and acting was absolutely amazing and scary. So, when actually shooting, I was scared, but offscreen, I had a ball.

Alice Krige plays a witch named Holda, and she owned the role in every way. Since the performance was so intense, did she remain in character in between takes too?

No, she wasn't in character all of the time. Imagine being a cannibalistic witch 24/7. (Laughs.) She was great though. She'd work with the character off set and would wonder, "Maybe I should do this or maybe I should do that." She'd sometimes talk to the director a little bit… Besides that, she's one of the sweetest people I know.

Did you notice any similarities between the sets of Gretel and It?

They're both totally different. It was my first film, and I didn't know what to expect from working on such a big studio film. I was trying my best because it was my first time doing it. But with Gretel, I had the gist of how to do this. I'm still learning, but I've got a lot more experience now.

Was the elaborate display of food fake except for the couple of items you and Sammy were eating?

It was real, but these food artists were there to make it look even more real. They probably had to put stuff on it that you probably shouldn't consume. (Laughs.) For instance, I had to eat a strawberry that was definitely real, but there was a lot of other stuff you probably shouldn't eat.

Your character had some adverse reactions to the aforementioned mushrooms she ate. Did you do any research for that sequence, or did you let your imagination run wild?

Imagination! (Laughs.)

Sorry, Lee Strasberg.

(Laughs.) Yeah, Lee Strasberg prepared me for that very specific moment.

You played younger versions of Amy Adams on Sharp Objects and Jessica Chastain on It Chapter Two. Out of curiosity, have Julianne Moore's people booked a meeting with you yet? I think she'd complete the set.

(Laughs.) I would love for that to happen, but no, not yet.

Maybe, this interview can will it into existence.

Maybe!

Did you spend any time with Amy so you could pick up on her mannerisms and what not?

A little bit. I talked to Amy a little bit on set and tried to get to know her a little bit.

Did Jean-Marc Vallee show you any dailies of her performance?

I think he did a little bit, but I never asked to see them much. When I got the chance to, I got to see how amazing she was.

You also had to wear a fake nose. Is that as uncomfortable as it sounds?

Yeah! (Laughs.) A little bit. It developed over time. With the prosthetic, it takes a little while. It was mostly the time that it took to put it on, but slowly over time, the nose got better and better until it was actually just a little bump on the end of my nose instead of a whole thing. Over time, it only took half the time it used to take.

You could still breathe through your nose with ease, right?

Oh, yeah! Most definitely. It wasn't uncomfortable in a way that I couldn't breathe. I was really just nervous that it would come right off.

Did Jessica spend any time with you to pick up on your mannerisms?

What Andy likes to do is set things up beforehand. So I did talk to her a little bit before shooting, especially during the main read-through.

Did you recognize any moments in It Chapter Two where Jessica was incorporating your performance?

I always have these specific mannerisms that I don't really clock, but other people do. So she did act like me, and she was amazing. I remember watching it with the other boys, and they were like, "She acted just like you! She does the same things that you do." And I was like, "Oh, I didn't know that. I guess she did." (Laughs.) So they said she was doing the exact same things, and I believe them.

You went to some pretty dark places on both projects. Did some of those scenes, such as Beverly's bathroom scene, haunt you for a bit?

Not really. What really terrified me was portraying it in the right way instead of the whole process of it. I was mostly worried because I really wanted to do it right. So that's what I was nervous about, and once it was done and over with, I was like, "Now I don't have to worry about it anymore because I can't go back and fix it. What's done is done." So no, it doesn't haunt me much anymore.

When Bev cut her hair, you didn't cut your own hair, right?

Oh, no!

It sounds like that would've haunted you the most.

Yeah! A little bit, yeah. There were extensions, and that was the last shot the extensions were needed. So Andy said, "Just cut it all off," and the one thing that made that really nerve-wracking was that I only had one take to do all of that. So that's what was most nerve-wracking for me. I thought about it later, and I easily could've cut off my own hair on accident. But there were no problems there.

The trailer for your new Netflix show, I Am Not Okay With This, just debuted. What should people know about it?

It's an amazing show. It's a coming-of-age story of an angsty teenage girl who's going through the main hurdles of home, identity and school troubles. At the same time, she figures out that she has superpowers that are triggered by her emotions. So that's a bad mix for an angsty teenager with a lot of emotions. So a lot of trouble ensues.

Did it feel a little strange to reunite with another It actor like Wyatt (Oleff) on a completely different project?

It's so amazing that I got to work with him again. I'm so happy he got that role, because he's one of my best friends. On It, we hung out a lot off set, but we didn't get a lot of scenes on set. So actually getting to really work with him and be doing scenes with him was a lot of fun. It's great to reunite with my friends again. He gets to play my best friend on set, and he really is a good friend in real life. It was really nice to act with him.

According to the internet, you have two upcoming projects, including The Thicket with Peter Dinklage. Do you know what you're shooting first?

Thicket is going to start to shoot around early spring, and I'm not sure how much I can say on that. I also came back from Sundance not too long ago for this movie called Uncle Frank. It's going to be on Amazon. I'm not sure when, but I'm really glad it got picked up. Besides I Am Not Okay With This, that's it for now.

Are you graduating this year?

I am graduating this year!

Congratulations!

Thank you! I'm excited. I can't wait to focus on one thing and not two things. That's going to be a lot of fun, and I can't wait for that.

***

Gretel & Hansel is now in theaters.

  • Brian Davids
LATEST NEWS