‘I’m not one to go and watch horror movies.”
So says Auckland-born-and-raised actor Jay Ryan who, ironically, is about to appear in his first horror film, and a terrifying one at that.
Yet it was the appeal of working alongside Hollywood A-listers Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Hader that lured the self-confessed scaredy-cat to endure the relentless horrors of Pennywise the Clown in It Chapter Two.
Adapted from Stephen King’s bestselling horror classic, fanfare for the second instalment in director Andy Muschietti’s 2017 critically acclaimed remake has been building since the spine-chilling trailers were unveiled.
Picking up 27 years after the events of the first film, It Chapter Two finds Derry’s Loser Club clan reunite as adults in their childhood town when the menacing clown, again played by the talented and versatile Bill Skarsgard, resurfaces.
“What a world to be entering into with a Stephen King 1400-page novel,” Ryan quips when asked about making his foray into horror.
“I was a fan of the first film as well, and I had no idea that I’d be playing the adult version in a couple of years. But to be paired up alongside Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, who I’m a huge fan of, it’s been quite an experience.”
Much like the first film, the second instalment carries elements of comedy and drama amid the trademark “jump scare” scenes, which the 37-year-old says helped put him at ease.
“It was really interesting to work on that film because it kind of opened up my mind to what a horror movie could be,” Ryan says.
“It’s not just all about jump scares and Andy Muschietti who directed the film is very much into character development and, surprisingly, this chapter of the film has a huge emotional arc between these seven characters, or Losers.
“So it didn’t always feel like we were filming a horror movie. There were moments that were very scary but a lot of the time it was about the relationship between these seven adults who were coming back to collectively remember what happened as kids and take down this evil entity.
“It was definitely a surprise for me to work on a horror movie, and I’d happily go back and do another one.”
Ryan portrays a grown-up Ben Hanscom, the formerly chubby and shy boy who was bullied for his weight. On returning to Derry close to three decades later he is noticeably slimmer and has built a successful career as an architect.
Ben is among six others in the Loser Club — including Beverly (Chastain), Bill (McAvoy), Eddie (James Ransone) and Stan (Andy Bean) — who left town but had all but forgotten their pledge to reunite should Pennywise return.
That moment comes in Chapter Two when they receive a worrying call from Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) — the only member of the group who remained in Derry — who confirms their worst fears.
Ryan lauded Skarsgard’s brilliantly haunting rendition of Pennywise but admits to keeping his distance while the 29-year-old Swedish actor was in character.
“When he’s in that make-up, he’s a very scary guy,” Ryan recalls.
“There were times where, even trying to have a conversation with him in between takes, is very unnerving.
“At the beginning I didn’t like it so much, so I just left it until cameras were rolling to interact with him in that form.
“But he’s really amazing in his physical performance and the way he uses his voice to create Pennywise. He’s from the Skarsgard family, they’re chameleons in their character portrayals and Bill is one of those guys.”
Ryan was humbled to work alongside Oscar nominee Chastain and McAvoy, who he says “took me under their wing”.
“They’re veterans and so experienced in their game, and I was extremely nervous going in,” he says. “I thought it was almost impossible for me to be cast when I saw the line-up of actors headlining the film.
“Working with them I’ve learnt a lot. They treated me as an equal from day one and you can see why they’re so successful.”
He adds the film, bar a few heart-racing scares and Pennywise’s terrifying appearance, provides plenty of comic relief that will even be enjoyed by people who are not horror fans.
“With Stephen King’s work, you have a huge story and characters to mine from already so there’s an excess of relationships and story there,” he says.
“I guess maybe horror has had a bit of a bad rap in terms of people thinking it’s flimsy cardboard sets and scary masks.
“But this is a huge entity of a story and I think people who aren’t horror fans or, like me, don’t want to go to the cinema to be freaked out, I think they’ll really enjoy this movie because you’ll get a few scares in there absolutely, but you’re going to be with the story and with the character.”
IT Chapter Two is in cinemas September 6.