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The Curse of the Clown: The Dangers of Playing a Twisted Clown on Screen

Most film reboots feel like a rebound… cheap, unorganized, and most of the time leaves you cradling your sad naked body in the shower at 3am on a Sunday morning. Perhaps that analogy only applies to me, but looking back at the 2011 remake of John Carpenter’s The Thing, we can agree that some films should remain under the covers.

All jokes aside, 2017 breaks the curse of box office blunders introducing Andy Muschietti’s version of IT. In 1990, Tim Curry donned the costume of the evil Pennywise, a shape shifting entity that awakens every 27 years to terrify the population of Derry, Maine, but now it’s Swedish actor, Bill Skarsgard’s turn. With the modern adaptation of Stephen King’s famous novel following the storyline more religiously, it’s no wonder why it has been smashing box office records. One thing remains though, Pennywise returns to the screen 27 years after the original, and completely by accident.

With sex jokes and a horror film, you’re probably wondering why this is relevant to the comic book industry, but put your mind to ease as we stem back to the dangers of playing a tormented and twisted clown on screen.

The Joker, one of the most formidable and recognizable villains in comic book history has undergone many incarnations over the years, from Cesar Romero’s comedic take on the character in 60’s, to Jared Leto’s god awful and dismissible version in Suicide Squad.

Above the wreckage of the live action attempts stand two individuals. Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger. Their role as the joker undeniably shaped the way we think of them today, but unfortunately they had a different recollection.

Nicholson, who played The Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, brought to the screen a very similar character to that of his in The Shining, a menacing smile and a psychotic mind. It’s understandable that Nicholson was emotionally drained whilst filming, but after many years reveals that he warned Heath Ledger before becoming the Clown Prince of Crime.

When Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight crept into theatres in 2008, audiences were eager to see the new Joker, a much grittier version portrayed by Ledger before his untimely death. The critically acclaimed film went on to be awarded some of the highest accolades, but the question on everyone’s mind was about how this character had forced Ledger down such a dark path.

That was before reports started to roll in, and it was revealed that the role was maybe a bit too ambitious. Ledger told reporters that he slept an average of two hours a night, and that he could not stop thinking though his body and mind were completely exhausted. Now it becomes obvious that playing a psychotic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy could be detrimental to the actor who takes it on board.

Going full circle, that brings us to 2017 with Pennywise the Clown. Bill Skarsgard, who has pushed himself to the limit in this rather challenging role, brings the process of transitioning from a young Swede, to a nightmare-fuelled clown from the darkest depths of Stephen King’s imagination. Skarsgard touches on the relationship he bears with Pennywise, defining it as destructive and torturing. Aside from the mentally draining exercises that he underwent in order to get into character, Skarsgard also mentions his exorcism of nightmares, where he embodied the form of Pennywise in his dreams, almost as if there was no subconscious detachment from reality and the set. We will have to wait and see what the real damage is when part two is released in a few years time.

IT is in cinemas now.

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