The old showbiz adage “a Bond film is only as good as its villain” also applies to movies made from Stephen King novels. In 1990, ABC hit the jackpot when it cast Tim Curry as the evil, wisecracking clown Pennywise in It, based on King’s 1,138-page book.
The Hollywood Reporter called the two-part, four-hour epic “one big kicky ride thanks to the charismatic acting of Curry as savage, sneering malevolence.”
Director Tommy Lee Wallace tells THR, “My job was to give Tim the stage and not get in his way too much. He was like Robin Williams in the way he brought a spontaneous improvisation to the part.”
The British actor originally had made a name for himself in 1973’s stage production (and later in the film) The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He was a hit as the fishnet-stockings-wearing mad scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter, who was, as the show’s lyrics described him, “just a sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.” Though Roddy McDowall, Alice Cooper and Malcolm McDowell were all considered for the Pennywise part, Curry won out with, he says, “the idea of turning what a clown is upside-down, so he’s not particularly lovable.” He gave Pennywise a gravelly Bronx accent, like an old-time Catskills comic. “I just let it happen,” he says. “Clowns are your worst fear realized. I think I scared a lot of children.”
The $12 million production ($22 million today) was a ratings blockbuster, watched by more than 37 million households. New Line’s version (out Sept. 8) stars Bill Skarsgard, 27, son of Stellan and brother to Alexander, in the Pennywise role.
This story first appeared in the Sept. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.