Imagine this staring at you from inside the concrete chamber of a storm drain.
We’ve already gotten a close-up of Pennywise the Clown from the new film version of Stephen King’s It (out Sept. 8, 2017), but here we step back for a fuller view of the creature that likes to take the form of a leering, sinister clown.
Bill Skarsgård is playing the ageless, supernatural beast who feeds on the fears of children, and it’s clear director Andy Muschietti (Mama) is steering away from the modern, baggy-suited, rainbow-hued clown for something a bit more… archaic.
For that, the filmmaker relied on Emmy-winning costume designer Janie Bryant (Deadwood, Mad Men) who crafted a form-fitting suit that draws upon a number of bygone times – among them Medieval, Renaissance, Elizabethan, and Victorian eras.
Pennywise, after all, is infinite.
“The costume definitely incorporates all these otherworldly past lives, if you will,” Bryant says. “He is definitely a clown from a different time.”
There’s a classic Harlequin quality to the elegant red lines, drawing up his cheeks like fangs to bisect his eyes. In this new image, we can more clearly see the fissures in the caked-on makeup atop his domed brow, resembling the sutures in the plates of a skull.
We even get a hint of his yellow, buck-toothed smile — or might those be something sharper?
His neck is frilled by a thick, puffy collar, like a ruff from the late 16th century, and here’s where we zoom in and venture into geek-out territory for costume enthusiasts. Every part of the costume is meant to suggest something both ancient and disturbed.
“That pleating is actually Fortuny pleating, which gives it almost a crepe-like effect,” Bryant says. “It’s a different technique than what the Elizabethans would do. It’s more organic, it’s more sheer. It has a whimsical, floppy quality to it. It’s not a direct translation of a ruff or a whisk, which were two of the collars popular during the Elizabethan period.”
For Pennywise, there’s no need to stay faithful to any era’s fashions. He is a manifestation of what an immortal, supernatural being thinks of as a clown, amalgamating various styles it finds appealing. …Or maybe he’s just thinking of a toy that once belonged to a child he devoured.
“There is almost a doll-like quality to the costume,” Bryant says. “The pants being short, the high waistline of the jacket, and the fit of the costume is a very important element. It gives the character a child-like quality.” Even the gloves are so tight and seamless they make his hands look like porcelain.
At 26, Skarsgård is a much younger Pennywise than Tim Curry, who was in his mid-40s when he played the role in the 1990 TV movie. The costume accentuates his youth, making it look like The Blue Boy outgrew his dandy outfit.
“If you look at the sleeves, there are the two puffs off the shoulder and biceps and again on the bloomers, I wanted it to have an organic, gourd or pumpkin kind of effect,” Bryant says. That includes the peplum at his waist, the flared, skirt-like fabric blossoming from below his doublet.
“It helps exaggerate certain parts of the body,” Bryant says. “The costume is very nipped in the waist and with the peplum and bloomers it has an expansive silhouette.”
It’s all aimed at creating a subliminal suggestion of a creature with long, lanky limbs, a head and neck like a cephalothorax, and a bulbous, arachnoid abdomen. But this creature is walking upright, and calling to you with a fistful of balloons.
The main color of his costume is a dusky gray, but with a few splashes of color.
“The pompoms are orange, and then with the trim around the cuffs and the ankles, it’s basically a ball fringe that’s a combination of orange, red, and cinnamon. It’s almost like Pennywise fades into his environment. But there are accents to pull out the definition of the gray silk.”
While studying those pustule-like ball fringe around his shins, you’ll also note the red and white boots with a pompom at the tip aren’t actually standing on anything. They’re floating.
While this isn’t the bright and cheery Pennywise, Bryant’s version of the character prefers to camouflage himself and strike rather than lure children with lively plumage.
“It makes him almost like a shadow,” she says.
For more coverage of Stephen King’s It, follow @Breznican.