The world may be brimming with coulrophobes, but It's Sophia Lillis is not one of them. This fearlessness came in handy when the 15-year-old was face-to-face with Bill Skarsgård's Pennywise, arguably the most terrifying clown in human history, on the set of the 2017 adaptation. Stephen King's classic 1986 horror novel is credited with promoting coulrophobia, or clown fear, amongst the masses. Following the film's release, this phobia will surely spike again, and Lillis' performance as Beverly Marsh is yet another reason to give in to the obsession.
Despite Beverly's perilous home life, she quickly emerges as the lifeblood of the Losers' Club. Strong-willed, intuitive, and bright, she's the only female in the young group, and the only one with the courage to hit Pennywise where it hurts. Alongside her offbeat band of pals, Beverly is the heroine of the film, and Lillis' work has been lauded.
When Zimbio caught up with Lillis on the morning of Sept. 21, the New York native was celebrating Rosh Hashanah with her family, which meant time off from school and a great opportunity to reflect on projects past and present.
Z: What does your day to day look like right now?
SL: It's kind of gotten back to normal now. After the premiere came out, not much has been going on. I'm just trying to focus on school.
Z: Are you in any acting classes?
SL: My school actually has an acting class. I also have singing there, and dancing. It's kind of a theater school.
Z: That works out, huh.
SL: Yeah! It does.
Z: And you feel like that's helping a lot as you kick off your career?
SL: Oh yeah, most definitely. It's something that I really love to do, and doing it on a daily basis has helped.
Z: You've said in prior interviews that you're drawn to projects like It and your new HBO show Sharp Objects. What is it about horror that draws you?
SL: I have no idea. I always get picked for those kind of things, I'm not really sure why. It's fun to do, there's just definitely a big array of emotions you have to have. But it's very fun, those projects are very interesting. The horror aspect is all very new to me, but I think I really like the genre I'm working on right now.
Z: It seems tough. In the horror genre, you're dealing with all these challenges that normal humans don't typically face.
SL: I know! I keep getting these roles where I've had a very depressing childhood, and it's so different from my own childhood. I think I had a very good childhood, to be honest.
Z: Are you afraid of clowns?
SL: No, I'm not afraid of clowns. I never really liked clowns. They're fine, I'm not scared of them, I just don't know why I would like them. They're just a little... they are scary, a little bit, but I'm not really afraid afraid of them.
Z: Do you have any irrational fears at all?
SL: This is gonna sound funny, but I don't really like sharp objects. I'm a little afraid of people getting cut when they're holding a sharp object. Like when they're holding a knife or scissors and they say 'ow', I'm gonna be very, very terrified.
Z: That's funny considering your new show, huh?
Z: Do you have a go-to scary movie?
SL: I really liked The Babadook. I watched it with a friend and I thought it was very, very good.
Z: I loved that movie. Did you watch it because of the Babadook/Pennywise 'shipping trend that's happening right now?
SL: I found out about that recently and it's the funniest thing! It was actually because of the Babdook gay icon thing, I've heard about it constantly from all my friends. So I was like, now I just have to see it, don't I? The first time I saw it was during Pride. I thought it was a good time.
Z: The perfect time.
Z: Do you 'ship them?
SL: Umm, I'm very conflicted. I'm not really sure what to think. I really don't know.
Z: Because, technically, Pennywise was meant to be a female inter-dimensional demon, am I right?
SL: That is true, so it doesn't really make sense.
Z: I guess they could have a heterosexual relationship?
SL: Hmm, I guess.
Z: Your performance in It was so well received. What does that feel like?
SL: I was mostly surprised, or shocked, because I never really knew how big it was going to be. I thought it was going to be like, here's this horror film, then I move on with my life. But I realized there's a lot of people that really love Stephen King that I didn't know about before.
Z: Oh yeah, he's huge. But everybody loved you in that movie, too! That must feel great.
SL: I like it. Uh, I'm not really sure... thank you!
Z: Is it weird seeing yourself in your first big film?
SL: I've watched it twice. The first time was the premiere, and it was less nervous because everyone there were people who worked on it, or actors. It was just less nerve-wracking, it was fine. But the second time we saw it, I invited all my friends and my brother's friends, and some family went, too. Seeing it again, for some reason, was a little more nervous 'cause I saw my face on the screen and I was like, oh god, I don't want to see it. I don't know why, but it was different.
Z: Because the first time, you were with a bunch of other people who were also in it. No one was judging.
SL: Exactly. The second time, all my friends were there and all my family were there. It was actually a lot more than I thought there were gonna be. Some people from my new school, some people from my old school, but then Jake, my brother, brought some of his friends, and my dad came, and my dad's friends, and my dad's family. So many people were there! I was not expecting such a big crowd.
Z: It's cool that they wanted to be there to support you for that.
Z: Being a female and being allowed to play a character that isn't super stereotypical, or ultra-feminine in appearance, is kind of a special thing. How did you feel when you found out that was the direction Beverly would go?
SL: The not really girly look, you mean?
Z: Yeah. Exactly.
SL: I don't really think I look that girly, to be honest. I do kind of give off more of a tomboyish vibe to most people, even though I'm not. I'm not really a girly girl. But, so, when they wanted that, I was more relieved because I was like, oh, I can do this.
Z: I know that after they met you, they changed their minds about what they were originally looking for.
SL: Yeah, it was [director Andy Muschietti] who wanted more of a tomboy type, and I think some people at Warner Bros. and other people who were working on it didn't really want that. So it was a little bit of a controversy at the time, but Andy worked it all out. He finally got me to have short hair so that was good.
Z: I couldn't imagine Beverly any other way. And speaking of Beverly, her life was pretty tough. Were there any scenes that were emotionally difficult for you to perform?
SL: Not really. I'm used to these kind of roles, so I have more experience. I think if it was more of a role that had, like, less of a family problem, it would be new to me.
Z: How did you spend your free time on set? You had such a cool group.
SL: We definitely were together a lot, off-set and on-set. We went to each other's houses and hung out, had dinner together. When I was on-set and I wasn't with them, I liked to take pictures a lot using my step-father's camera. I draw a lot. It's kind of a problem, really. If not on paper, then on my hand. It's definitely a problem I have, I have drawings on my hand right now.
Z: So you're creative in a lot of ways, huh?
SL: Thank you!
Z: Do you sing as well?
SL: I'm taking singing classes, but... I want to.
Z: I mean, if it's something you're interested in, taking classes is a great step.
Z: What would be your dream role?
SL: Maybe something that's less depressing. I really like... I have some favorite directors. Whit Stillman and Wes Anderson, I'm just trying to name a few. I'm not really good with names so I'm trying to remember. The kind of films that are really well shot and they're just kind of beautiful, I really want to be in those films.
Z: What's the last movie you saw in theaters, other than It?
SL: I saw Annabelle: Creation. It was good. One of my friends was in it, Lulu Wilson? She was also my dead sister in Sharp Objects, so we've become very good friends actually.
Z: Tell me a little about Sharp Objects. What was it like working with the cast?
SL: [Director] Jean-Marc Vallée is a very interesting guy. He's very creative, very good, and very good with kids, too. He's kind of spontaneous. In the middle of shooting a scene, he'll do what he calls 'having a vision' where he says, 'Oh, we should do this scene where something crazy happens and it's all a dream.' It's very interesting to be on set with him. As for Amy Adams, we didn't really hang out as much as people think we did. We're the same character, I'm just a younger version of her. I'm not really good at conversation, so I felt really bad having a conversation with her, saying 'hi' and she said 'hi' back, and that was pretty much it. As for Lulu, we didn't have a lot of scenes with each other, but when we did, we got really close.