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'I've always been scared of the dark - but I've faced Pennywise, so at least I can battle this monster'

We talk to one of the stars of the new film IT Chapter Two, Chosen Jacobs.

IF YOU’RE A bit of a scaredy-cat, like this writer, then heading to a horror film can be anxiety-inducing. 

But what if you’re the star of a horror film? Does being on set all day facing monsters remove all your fears – or does it amplify them? That’s something TheJournal.ie put to IT Chapter Two star Chosen Jacobs as he prepared for the release of the new movie in Ireland.

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For those who don’t know – which can’t be many of you – IT Chapter Two (directed by Andy Muschietti) is the second of two recent movies based on Stephen King’s hefty novel It. Back in 1990, the film was brought to TV, with Tim Curry playing the terrifying clown Pennywise. The story is set in the town of Derry (no, not that one) in Maine, and focuses on a group of young friends who find themselves battling Pennywise, a clown who thinks of the kids as playthings for him to toy with. 

The first IT film took place in the 80s, helpfully mining our current love of 1980s nostalgia. Making over $700m in 2017, it became the highest-grossing horror film of all time.

For IT Chapter Two, which is in cinemas now, we find the five friends returning to Derry 27 years after the initial terror. 

So, back to our question for Chosen Jacobs, who plays Mike Hanlon. Did working on these two films make him less scared? “I don’t think my level of scaredness has changed thanks to working on a horror film,” he admits. “I’ve always been scared of the dark and monsters but I’ve faced Pennywise – at least I can battle this monster, even though he’s still terrifying.”

What going up against Pennywise (played by Bill Skarsgaard) has showed Jacobs is that he can summon up courage when he needs to. Which might seem like a serious lesson to learn for such a young actor (he’s just turned 18), but he’s clearly someone who’s had a good head on his shoulders from a young age.

Jacobs was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, and began his entertainment career aged six, when he joined the Georgia Boys Choir. At just 13, he decamped with his family to LA to try and make it in Hollywood.

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Losers’ Club

In IT Chapter Two, the adult Mike Hanlon is played by Isaiah Mustafa. Hanlon is the only one of the Derry kids – or Losers’ Club, as they call themselves – who stayed behind in the town.  He becomes the town librarian, and it’s him who summons his old friends back when It resurfaces.

But the film doesn’t just deal in pure horror – the young Mike has grown up to become a man with a serious substance abuse problem that stems from the trauma he endured as a youngster. This being Stephen King, we get the schlocky horror but we also get the human impact. 

“I felt like it was the next evolution of the film,” says Jacobs. “In life, as you get older things can get more complicated. It’s not the same summer as when you were a kid.” Different stressors “weighed on each of the characters”, he says.

“I think that’s what’s so beautiful about it,” adds Jacob.

rev-1-IT2-00457r_High_Res_JPEG The Losers' Club all grown up.

Acting alongside heavyweights like Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and Mustafa must have helped the youngster feel even more embedded into Hollywood. 

“Isaiah is such an amazing guy and just being around him and seeing how seriously he took playing Mike… and the fact he asked questions about the character, it made me feel more confident as an actor that a more experienced actor want to know how I played this character,” agrees Jacobs. 

Mustafa had even learned some of Jacobs’ mannerisms to ensure he was behaving how the younger version of him would. But for Jacobs, making the decisions he did when playing Mike Hanlon were “more about psychology” than physicality.

Finding your tribe

Jacobs says that the actors formed a “family” while on set, which must impact how viewers see the characters.

“I feel like that’s the biggest impact it had on the audience, everyone felt they could relate to the characters,” he says. “Everyone on earth is just trying to find their tribe and find someone who accepts them for who they are. The primary message of it is family and friendship.”

And that clown? It stands for whatever “obstacle we’re trying to overcome”.

The young actors playing the teens also met each other at pivotal times in their lives, while they were all going through puberty. Some of them have also been seeing their fame skyrocket, like Jacobs’ co-star Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things.

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“I found my tribe through the film so it made it easier to text guys and gals who are going through the same exact thing we’re going through,” says Jacobs of working together while growing up. “It made me feel not alone, but I found six other people who are going through the exact same thing I’m going through.”

There are messages in the IT book and film about who we call outsiders – about how we treat the people who get ostracised or pushed out. The young kids call themselves the Losers’ Club, after all, showing how they absorb such a sentiment. Jacobs admires his character because he still has empathy – “he hasn’t let life change him into an angry person and I admire that a lot”.

Mike’s the only African-American member of the Losers’ Club, and due to his race is ostracised growing up in Derry.

“I feel like every character had a symbolisation for some sort of ostracisation in the world or bad character which made people put them away and not put them in the light,” says Jacobs about this. “In this world, everybody has an issue.”

But the film is also about how those ‘losers’ can triumph.

“To ostracise somebody for that is such a horrible thing – people love the film because you saw people who are basically lepers [the Losers' Club] in their area but they are the heroes at the end of the day.”

Triumph over those who try to put you down? At a time of such political unrest and strangeness, that’s a message a lot of people will get behind.

IT Chapter Two is out now in cinemas nationwide.

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