What Scares 'Stranger Things' Actor Finn Wolfhard?
We talked to the young actor about his fears, clowns, and his new film, an adaptation of Stephen King’s 'It.'
What are most Canadian 14-year-olds up to right now? Probably juggling hectic WhatsApp group chats, clumsily pandering for attention from school crushes, and fantasizing about the school day ending. Finn Wolfhard, however, is at home at 9 AM on a Monday, using a rare break from the shoot schedule of Stranger Things to do back-to-back phone interviews.
With a mass of hair, big brown eyes, and a good heart, his Stranger Things character Mike Wheeler is the embodiment of the earnest 80s adventure movie kid who fools his parents and saves the day. As soon as people had binge-watched the show last summer, Wolfhard was whipped away to be dressed in head-to-toe Gosha and Gucci for a string of fashion shoots and fawned over by adult internet super-fans who were more invested in his on-screen romance than the love story of any characters nearer their own age in recent history. Everyone wanted him as a little brother.
The actor is now starring in an adaptation of Stephen King's sickeningly terrifying horror classic, It. He plays Ritchie, one of a gang of boys—the Losers' Club—who band together with a girl who doesn't quite fit in, to fight the pervasive adult evils of their small town. Running amok is Pennywise, the dancing clown, played by Bill Skarsgård, who has surfaced periodically throughout history to terrorize and kill children. Each has to face their own quite literal horror story, as well as a metaphorical one, from abuse and neglect to school bullies. This adaptation follows King's classic closely; relentless in its pacing, a clown appearance one minute, blood blasting from a sink the next.
I spoke to Finn about It and what could possibly scare him more than the most nightmarish clown in pop culture history.
VICE: I read It when I was about nine or ten on vacation, as the first very adult book I'd bought for myself. I got a third through and was having nightmares. Did you read the novel?
Finn Wolfhard: We all tried, like, "We should all do it, right?" and got two chapters in and thought, Yeah, it's really long, and I don't know if I have time to finish this. We also thought we should get more of an organic feel to it, so we didn't copy from the book. We tried but failed. My cousin did because she wanted to read something I was going to be in. That's dedication. She thought it was a special story.
Do you think you'll ever read it?
One day I will.
What's the scariest book you've ever read?
Carrie by Stephen King, for sure. It's really, really creepy because it's told from different perspectives: through one of the teenagers from high school, from an adult perspective, from the police investigation. It isn't like that in the movie.
How about the scariest film?
Maybe The Thing or It Follows. I got more into scary films over the past two years. I wasn't really into them until right before I did It, and then I thought, Oh, I should probably start watching scary movies now, and now I'm so hooked on them—I love them. Horror movies make you think. I think it's drama and horror that are the two genres that activate your brain the most because you're constantly on the edge and you're thinking: Why is this happening and would it happen in real life? It makes you smarter over time if you watch a lot of horror movies.
In both Stranger Things and It you're part of a gang of kids—how did you bond with the other teens in the film?
It was really odd because we all got along almost immediately. I'd met some of them in the chemistry reads before, but production gave us two weeks to hang out with each other before the movie started. It definitely worked. We did exercises with the acting coach, like putting on heavy 80s rock to stretch and getting into it and then we'd do trust falls where we have to walk around a room and have normal conversations, and once someone says "drop" you have to drop into your partner's arms and they have to get there like no matter what. We'd also go to Wyatt's [Oleff] house—who plays Stanley—for dinner or sleepovers.
That's fun. So apart from good company, why did you want to do this role?
It has a giant following and this character is so interesting. On the outside, you just see him as this shell who's doing jokes for his friends, but on the inside he's a hurt guy—no one really pays attention to him at home. I'd never played a role like that, and I can also be funny all the time, which is a great change. Not that Stranger Things wasn't amazing, but I had more creative freedom in It.
Your character has a vulnerable flash when he reveals he's scared of clowns, too. What are your thoughts on clowns?
My thoughts on clowns. I respect them. I love the work ethic. It's a personal preference, but I don't think I would pick one at my birthday party, and other kids maybe would. It's just not my thing. I'd like to give a formal apology to the clown union if we gave them a bad rep in It. If clowns weren't around this movie wouldn't exist, so thank you clowns.
Who's the biggest clown you know?
My dad: He's the Biggest clown and the biggest goof. We watch a lot of movies together and walk my dog and play games. He puts his two cents in when it comes to giving life advice, which is really good but doesn't give me any acting advice ever unless I ask for it. He says don't let anyone change you for the worst because you're just gonna end up blowing it. My dad does aboriginal land claims research and he's written a lot of screenplays, so he knows this world.
It is set in the 80s, like Stranger Things. Are you nostalgic for that period even though you've never experienced it?
Definitely—I love the 80s; it's been great being in them for so long. I watched a lot of 80s movies before doing It, during Stranger Things. I love Sixteen Candles [Wolfhard asks his mom to jog his memory on his favorite 80s movies]. The Goonies I love. Heathers too. I'd love to do something that's not in the 80s soon, so it's not Groundhog Day.
What era would you want to go into next?
I'd love to check out the 60s and the 70s. Actually, the 90s too, just because the differences between the 80s and 90s were huge, and everyone always talks about the 90s.
The film was more about metaphorical horrors than clown horrors. What was the scariest thing for you when you were a child?
I got freaked out by rats. Rats and mice or raccoons—those kinds of street animals—and I still kinda do. Squirrels are fine just because they're everywhere, but it's because those types of rodents hardly come out, and when they do it's kind of gross. The movies I was scared by at three or four are now some of my favorite movies of all time.
What ones were they?
One time, when I was really young, my dad and brother were watching Team America, the Trey Parker and Matt Stone movie. I walked in and they didn't know I was there, but I got really freaked out by the marionettes—just the look of them, their mouths, those grins. That cemented in my brain. I watched it again when I was about ten and I laughed so hard. That's one of my favorite comedy movies, definitely.
Which were the genuinely terrifying It scenes to shoot?
When I'm in that tiny room full of all the clown figures. That was scary for me, just because that was the one scene in the movie where I was by myself. Doing a scene by yourself is scarier—you know you don't have other people to fall back on. The final fight between us and Pennywise was scary, just because we did days of rehearsal for that and we were actually beating up Bill [Skarsgård], which was empowering but at the same time freaky.
He's so unsettling. Was he fully dressed up like that or was a lot of it CGI?
It was all practical: his costume, his makeup, everything. The only stuff that was CGI was impossible stuff like his body twisting around and when his head goes behind his neck. Most of what you see is practical or real in the movie.
That's why he's so scary; that real clotted texture of the makeup or fuzzy wig that makes clowns so horrible as a kid. Who was the most scared of him?
Wyatt [Oleff]. When he first saw Bill [Skarsgård] he was just in a white tank top with his makeup on from the neck up and his clown pants on, sitting in a chair drinking coffee. Wyatt was scared to go up to him in case he was in character.
What was it like watching the film for the first time?
We piled into this little room with a projector and all of us held hands at the beginning. When we first saw the Warner Brothers logo with the balloon we were all freaking out. It was great. We were all so proud and so happy, and that was just the rough cut with stock music and no score or color correction. Once I saw it I thought: Yes! We've done it! We actually managed to scare people!
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