As Pennywise returns to strike fear into the residents of Derry, Maine, in IT: Chapter Two, we revisit our HERO Summer Zine 3 interview with star Nicholas Hamilton.
As the mullet-cut, knife-wielding school bully Henry Bowers in Andrés Muschietti’s adaptation of Stephen King’s IT, Australian actor Nicholas Hamilton made as much of a mark on audiences as he did on the ‘Losers’ Club’ kids he terrorised. Executed with just the right amount of scowl, the teenage tyrant role shot Hamilton to widespread attention as only a tale as beloved – and feared – as a Stephen King creation can do.
Earmarked as a rising talent, now the nineteen-year-old actor finds himself in that sweet spot where he can begin to define his career path: cue a series of nuanced turns as a deceased lover-in-limbo in Endless and a young soldier thrust into battle during the Vietnam War in Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan. But first – just when the horror of seeing a red balloon silently float by had begun to recide, this year we returned to Derry, Maine, for IT: Chapter Two. It’s 27 years on, the kids have grown up and the malevolent clown pennywise is ravenous once again.
Alex James Taylor: I watched the trailer for IT: Chapter Two and it dragged me straight back into that world – it has the perfect amount of tease.
Nicholas Hamilton: Right, it’s almost like a clip. I had the exact same reaction as you.
AJT: I heard that there was a lot of secrecy around the script, how much of the film do you actually know?
NH: I know nothing [laughs]. People ask me not to spoil anything but honestly, I know nothing. With the first movie, there was a lot of hype when we were making it, but not as much as with this one. There was as much secrecy with this movie as there would be with a Marvel project, it’s on that scale. The premiere will actually be the first time I get to see the whole thing. After all the fun we had making the first one, I was slightly worried that it would be a bit diluted this second time around, but literally every day on set was such fun – we just went straight back into how we were the first time.
AJT: And the older, experienced actors in the new film were actually the newbies on set.
NH: Absolutely. Andy [Muschietti] cast them so well, they’re exactly like their kid counterparts, you talk to them with their younger selves and their personalities are spot on. It’s really weird. I know that was one of Andy’s main goals, obviously to get great actors, but also to really let the audience know that that person is the older version of that kid. He really nailed it.
AJT: So, spoiler alert, in the first film Henry’s story ends somewhat abruptly, but I know that in Stephen King’s novel the character is involved until the end. Are you able to tell us about your part in Chapter Two?
NH: I can’t say too much, but my part is mainly flashbacks to things that happened in the years before and the year of ‘89 – when the first film happened. It’s sort of recapping how much of a dick Henry Bowers was to those kids.
AJT: I’m guessing you weren’t anything like Henry as a kid?
NH: [laughs] Definitely not, I stuck to the rules, I was a very prim and proper kid. I was the complete opposite of Henry and that’s one of the reasons I enjoyed playing him so much, it allows me to completely change my personality and act in ways I would never normally dream of.
AJT: You’re from Alstonville, right? When you Google the place, the first result is a giant prawn.
NH: [laughs] Yeah, so it’s a trend in Australia to make big statues of random things in different cities. There’s a big banana in Coffs Harbour, a big pineapple in Woombye, a big ram somewhere else. Shit like that, it’s really cool [laughs]. You can do a road trip around Australia ticking them off.
AJT: I read that your uncle, who passed away in 2011, had a big impact on your career. Can you tell me about him?
NH: He loved to perform. I remember on his 40th birthday, when I was about seven, he hired out this big hall. It was cowboy-themed and he did an Elvis impersonation and performed a few songs, which was sick. He was very dramatic and the only real performer in my family. He passed away when I was young, before I started acting. When I was in fifth grade, I got the opportunity to be in the school play. I was hesitant, but I did it and I asked for the part with the least lines. They actually gave me the part of an Elvis Presley impersonator [laughs]. That was very coincidental, but looking back there’s something quite special about it. I never thought I’d fall into anything of that kind, I was never really into film or theatre as a kid. But I did the play, it was actually a musical so I basically copied what my uncle did at his 40th, and I loved it. I then joined an agency and it’s snowballed from there. He was definitely a big part of that, perhaps subconsciously. Not only was he my only natural uncle on my mum’s side – my mum has five sisters and he was the only brother – but he was also my godfather. We were very close. He was a very, very good guy, dramatic but also incredibly down-to-Earth, which is something that runs through my entire family. I attribute my laid-back nature and humility to them, if I ever get a big head they chop me down to size.
AJT: How was your Elvis impression?
NH: I think it was pretty shit [laughs]. I only had like one line in one scene, and another scene where I sang. But it was over a backing track and I was only half-singing, I had a guitar but wasn’t really playing it either. I was surprised how much I loved it. None of my family are in entertainment, my dad’s a carpenter and my mum was a charity worker. So it was a pretty unexpected thing.
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AJT: There’s so much scrutiny around films like IT that have a cult following, as soon as they release images of what their version of Pennywise looks like, everyone has their say.
NH: Exactly. With something that big and with such a legacy, anything that comes out is always under intense review and you have to realise that while you’re doing it. It also helps, because you’re able to sort of fix it if it gets a bad reception. If we’d released a photo of Pennywise and everyone had said, “Oh no, that’s shit,” then we could have fixed it.
“…we were chatting as they began the process of turning him into Pennywise, and three hours later he stood up as this menacing, child-eating clown.”
AJT: Did you hear about the upcoming Sonic film? They released an image of what their Sonic character looked like, fans didn’t like it and the creators actually went back to the film and changed it, even though it was all finished.
NH: One hundred percent, it’s another example of having that mass hype around a movie. People talk about it and creators literally use the audience’s reactions to remake their version of Sonic.
AJT: I couldn’t decide if it was a good thing, I suppose you want to appeal to the fanbase, but at the same time, altering your creative vision to please the masses feels a bit wrong.
NH: I think with a film like Sonic, it’s a positive thing that the producers have listened to their audience and taken those critiques as positive criticism, I’m sure it’ll be a better movie because of it.
AJT: Can you imagine being an animator on that movie though and having to go back and change everything, it must be a painstaking process.
NH: Yeah for sure, so painstaking.
AJT: Speaking of which, how long did it take to transform Bill Skarsgård into Pennywise?
NH: I met Bill at the table read before we started shooting and then, because we didn’t have any scenes together, the only time I ever saw him as Pennywise on set during the first film was when he came into the prosthetics trailer and I just happened to be there too. So we were chatting as they began the process of turning him into Pennywise, and three hours later he stood up as this menacing, child-eating clown. Bill really takes the character up a notch, those little movements with his eyes and his smile. It’s sick, so creepy [laughs].
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AJT: And next you’ve got Endless, it’s such a heartbreaking plot – to lose someone and then actually see them grieving your loss.
NH: To come back and see the love of your life grieving your loss? Oh yeah, it’s definitely heartbreaking. It’s such a common story in Hollywood and in books, but Endless gives that narrative its own twist. The way the script is written and how emotional it is, it actually deals with grief in a really authentic way, I’m very proud of what we did. It was a 25-day shoot in a small town near Vancouver in Canada. The whole premise is that I come back in limbo having died, and her ways of dealing with grief allow her character to see me.
AJT: It’s reminding us to really cherish deep and meaningful encounters and relationships.
NH: That’s exactly it. You need to really treasure those moments with people who are special to you.
AJT: It must have been an intense working relationship between you and Alexandra [Shipp, Hamilton’s co-star] with such an emotional script, did you hang out a lot to build up that rapport?
NH: I’d never had a romantic role like that, and never had to work that closely with only one other actor before. We spent about a week or two before starting shooting just together and acting like a couple effectively. She’s been in that scenario in movies before so she taught me certain things, including how to screen kiss, because it’s completely different to normal kissing.
AJT: How does it differ?
NH: I really don’t know if I know now [laughs]. It’s more gentle, in normal life it’s more no-holds-barred. To kiss someone you’ve never met before in front of a whole crew can be quite strange, but yeah we had a great relationship during that time and we keep in touch now because we’re both in LA.
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AJT: I also wanted to touch on Danger Close, which is out later this year. It’s your first Australian film, right? That must be a proud moment.
NH: Actually it’s my second Australian movie, after the first project I ever did. One of the reasons I signed on to do this movie was because Kriv [Stenders], the director, directed Red Dog, which is arguably Australia’s biggest movie, everyone there knows it. Danger Close is truly an amazing story of these young Australian blokes in the Armed Forces who came up against this bombardment from the enemy during the Vietnam War and it looked like all hope was lost. The story is really about these young boys in war and the deep, horrific effects of that experience – these inexperienced guys under fire, it’s such a moving story and a very beautifully-made movie.
AJT: Just putting on the uniform and acting out those events must make such an impact on you, even experiencing it on such a minuscule level.
NH: One hundred percent. It’s daunting but a huge honour to be trusted to tell this story. It’s one that’s never really taught in Australian classrooms and yet it’s the country’s biggest and most important battle in the Vietnam War. So it’s great that they’ve decided to make this film and give those involved the credit they deserve.
“…we’re able to tell this story that may have otherwise been forgotten. The producers put about ten years of research into the movie, they really invested in it.”
AJT: Did you watch any other Vietnam War films as preparation for this role?
NH: We were told not to actually. Kriv wanted us to get a sense of how these boys were really feeling, rather than imitating actors in other war movies. So we got to speak to lots of veterans and guys currently serving in the army and discussed how it really feels to be under fire like that – it was so helpful in terms of us building these characters and their emotions.
AJT: And you got to speak to soldiers who were actually there at the battle too?
NH: Yeah, a couple of the guys we met were the actual boys in the movie, they came to the set and watched some scenes. It was incredible to see how much it affected them to see their story finally being told. The battle was in 1966 – to come back after an event like that and, really there was no recognition for any of the boys, so to finally have their story told like this, they were really touched by it.
AJT: That’s one of the joys of the film industry, shining a light on these lesser-known stories and giving them their place in history.
NH: That’s it, we’re able to tell this story that may have otherwise been forgotten. The producers put about ten years of research into the movie, they really invested in it.
AJT: Did you feel added pressure having met some of those soldiers involved?
NH: There is added pressure but you have to use that and thrive on it. My character, Private Noel Grimes, is still alive, unfortunately I didn’t get to meet him but I did a lot of research in order to really understand him. He was one of the youngest boys under fire that day, part of the story is the relationship between him and Private Paul Large, who was effectively his big brother in battle. The underpinning narrative of the film is how, under those extreme circumstances, relationships such as that can blossom and, in this case, save your life. If you’re nineteen or twenty and going into battle, having that brother-figure is essential. It certainly felt very important. My great grandpa is a veteran and two of my older cousins were in the army, one is still enlisted, so it’s a huge part of my family and to be able to tell a story such as this, for them and for all the veterans across Australia, it’s a huge honour.
It: Chapter Two is set for release in September 2019.