Words: Tim Heap
When It Chapter 2 sashays its way onto cinema screens in September, it’ll open with a scene depicting a homophobic assault on two men that ends with the return of murderous demon clown Pennywise.
Starring in the scene (alongside Xavier Dolan) is 30-year-old Taylor Frey, an LA-based actor who escaped from his strict Mormon upbringing to pursue a career on Broadway before landing screen roles, including in 2013 gay teen comedy G.B.F.
The horror movie genre rarely spawns critically acclaimed films, but 2017’s It — a remake of the Nineties TV adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel — was a hit with audiences and critics alike, holding an 85 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Chapter 2, set 27 years later (2016), sees the adult Losers Club return to Derry after recognising the spate of violence — including the homophobic attack — means Pennywise is back at large.
Directed by Argentinian Andy Muschietti, the new film marks the first time the book’s homophobic hate crime scene has been shown on screen, after it was cut from the original Tim Curry-starring TV mini-series.
He says: “I’m not sure [why it was cut previously]. I know people really wanted this scene in film. Andy [Muschietti] definitely wanted it in.
“It’s based on a real-life event, and Stephen King had such a strong reaction to it when it happened that he put it in the book.
“It’s a pivotal scene — it’s the start of the horror of it all, and it’s important because hate crimes still happen. And because of who I am and my upbringing, it means a lot to be a part of it.”
King based the scene on the 1984 real-life murder of 23-year-old Charlie Howard, who was walking with a male friend in Bangor, Maine, when three teenagers set upon them, eventually throwing him into a river where he drowned.
The horrific crime didn’t get as much national attention as the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, but it galvanised the local community to combat homophobia and LGBTQ intolerance.
Watching his scene back, Taylor says he had a “weird reaction” to the violent content it depicts.
“It’s kind of bizarre to feel connected in that way and to see it play out in front of you. It’s odd to see your image go through some of that stuff; it was very arresting," he says.
Prior to being cast, Taylor had helped a few friends with their self-tapes for the same role, which gave him the upper hand when the chance to audition landed in his own inbox.
He says: “I was familiar with the scene and I just thought, ‘I have to commit this to tape’. I went full out. I can’t really go too much into what the material is, but I don’t recall having ever committed to an audition like I did for this. It was extreme.
“I had this thought in my mind: ‘Am I going too far?’ Then I got the call a couple of days later, telling me the director loved my tape, and they offered me the role.”
Although not a fan of horror movies in general, Taylor has fond memories of watching the original It with friends in high school.
“Me and a group of friends used to watch it repeatedly. I thought it was truly terrifying," he adds.
When the 2017 remake came out, he went to the cinema to see it and recognised new elements that weren’t obvious as a teenager.
“I thought it was beautiful. I didn’t realise that as well as being a horror story, it’s a love story, it’s a story about friendship, about humanity triumphing over evil. And to have the chance to be part of chapter two is mind-blowing.”
It Chapter Two hits UK cinemas on September 6.