Bill Hader on ‘It Chapter Two’ and the Horror of Deepfakes
In Inside Out, Bill Hader voiced the personification of fear inside the mind of a young girl. In the new It Chapter Two, Hader squares off with Pennywise, a monstrous being who exploits children’s anxieties by transforming into the thing they fear the most. Hader has made no secret of his own struggles with anxiety through the years. So does he expressly look for roles like Fear in Inside Out and Richie Tozier in It Chapter Two, that allow him to explore the subject onscreen?
“I mean, maybe,” Hader told me with a laugh during our phone interview last week. “I don’t know. I think maybe it’s just my makeup or something. It’s something I’m able to play well.”
He certainly plays it well in It Chapter Two. Hader is the undeniable standout in a cast that includes Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy — along with the great young cast of the first It from 2017. Hader’s Richie is both the funniest character in the film — not surprisingly, given Hader’s extensive background in comedy both on TV (Saturday Night Live, Barry) and film (Tropic Thunder, Trainwreck) — and the most melancholic.
The new film picks up the story of the “Losers Club” 27 years after they first vanquished the hellish clown monster terrorizing their small Maine hometown. When one of the Losers realizes Pennywise has returned, the group heads home to stop It once and for all. Director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman gave the adult Richie a secret that he doesn’t have (at least not explicitly) in Stephen King’s original It novel, which totally changes the character and takes Hader to some surprisingly emotional places when he’s not running for his life from giant spiders.
During our brief conversation, I talked about Hader’s reaction to Richie’s new arc (it’s in a section below marked for spoilers if you want to skip it until you watch the film), how directing himself on Barry has changed his approach to acting, and got his reaction to the infamous deepfake videos circulating on YouTube where his face uncannily morph into the likenesses of the actors he’s imitating.
You haven’t really done a horror movie before. Was this your first opportunity, or was it really this project you were interested in?
It was kind of both. I was excited by this project, but I've always liked the monster movies. So it was just fun to do that.
I’m curious whether acting scared posed a challenge for you. I would imagine that since you’re being chased by stuff like giant Paul Bunyan statues, you’re reacting to basically nothing on set. How do you get into the mindset for that sort of scene? Do they show you concept art of what you’re running from?
I mean, I just act scared. You could look at concept art, but I just acted scared. [laughs] It’d be kind of the same reaction no matter what it is. It's a monster. Something I've never seen before. So I’d just try to play it that way.
I feel like for you, it must have been appealing to play Richie because he has such a human reaction to all of that. He’s the character who gets to scream and curse and freak out. That’s got to be fun.
Yeah, I got very lucky that I was the guy who was kind of the audience surrogate of the movie.
How closely did you tailor your performance to what Finn Wolfhard did as Richie in the first It?
Uh, not much, you know? I mean, I just kind watched the first movie again on the plane on my way to Toronto.
That was it? Once on a plane, and you got it?
I mean, I think some of [the performance] is in the way they cast it.
Has becoming a director changed you at all as an actor?
Not really — except maybe in a bad way. I understand what’s going on in a way that I wish I didn’t. I’m a bit more impatient now. You’re like “I think we’re fine, I think we can move on.” Directors and producers will tell you things, and I’m like “No, no that’s what I tell the actors on Barry; it’s bulls—.”
[laughs] Were you a Stephen King fan growing up?
Yeah, the first book I ever read — like an actual, adult book — was Salem’s Lot.
And now [It Chapter Two screenwriter] Gary Dauberman’s working on a Salem’s Lot movie.
Yeah, look at that, I’m breaking news to you right now.
That’s a good thing.
[Editor’s note: The next two question contains some minor SPOILERS for the film.]
Richie has such an interesting arc in this movie. Readers have speculated about his and Eddie’s possible relationship in King’s novel, but it’s certainly brought more to the forefront in this film, and I thought it was handled really well. I asked Gary about it, and he said that was something that [director] Andy Muschietti was really passionate about. What was your reaction to hearing about their plans for Richie and his part of the story?
I loved it. Andy came to me and pitched it to me and I thought it was fantastic — a great thing to play, you know? [In the novel] Richie doesn’t really have anything to play. So I loved the idea.
After we all saw the film, my colleagues were all speculating about the extent of Richie and Eddie’s relationship. Clearly Richie has feelings for Eddie, but there was a debate as to the specifics of what might have happened between them. Do you have an opinion?
I don’t know. I don’t think they consummated anything. I don’t even know if Eddie knew it. I only really thought about it from the standpoint of what Richie was thinking. There’s a part of me that thinks maybe Eddie didn’t even know.
[End of spoilers]
When I spoke with Gary, he said he felt ridiculous writing jokes for you to use in the movie. Did you guys improvise a lot of Richie’s lines on set?
Not a lot. Some of it. At this point, I can’t remember what was improvised and what was in the script. Obviously, certain things were improvised, like doing that Jabba the Hutt voice. That was Andy saying “Bill, do Jabba the Hut.” I did Andre the Giant in another take. I’m trying to remember ... the scene where we find the pomeranian — all that was improvised, our reactions to the dog.
All right, I only have time for one more question so I want to know: What is scarier: It Chapter Two or the deepfake video where your face turns into Tom Cruise and Seth Rogen?
I guess It Chapter Two, because I haven’t seen the deepfake video.
You didn’t watch it?
No, I had no interest looking at it.
But you have heard about it?
I did hear about it, but I don’t ... I don’t know, I don’t really like watching myself.
What did you think when you heard about it?
The technology is too insane. It just seems like it would be bad in the wrong hands.
It Chapter Two opens in theaters on September 6.
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