James Ransone on Horror, Humor, and Bonding with his 'IT: Chapter Two' Castmates

The 'IT: Chapter Two' scene-stealer discusses his unlikely sources of inspiration for playing adult Eddie, meeting Stephen King, and why he likes to do favors for fans.

James Ransone It

James Ransone doesn’t like to watch his own movies. If you’ve seen IT: Chapter Two, you know this is a bit of shame because his performance as Eddie Kaspbrak is one that audiences are falling in love with. Ransone’s Eddie and Bill Hader’s Richie are the sources of comedic relief that we expected them to be, but they’re also the heart and soul of director Andy Muschietti‘s sequel. Portrayed in the first film by Jack Dylan Grazer, Eddie is a nerve-wracked hypochondriac child who grows up to be a nerve-wracked hypochondriac adult. He’s a character who is both hilarious and heartbreaking for his over-the-top panicked reactions and the way he wears his trauma on his sleeve.

That Ransone brilliantly wrestles with all of the nuances of his character is no surprise considering his career. Ransone has built up a certain level of recognition delivering stand-out supporting performances in films like Sinister and Tangerine, not to mention that as one of the stars of The Wire and Generation Kill, he was doing peak TV long before the term had even been coined. Full disclosure: I’ve been a big fan of his for the last decade, and it thrills me to see him achieve the success that is coming his way with IT. After catching a screening of the film, I had a phone conversation with him about his improv work, the powers and limitations of healing through horror, and what he took away from his time on set. He gave me a new and valuable perspective on horror films and we had some great laughs about the alternative click-bait titles I could have gone with. Plus, I got to thank him for a gift he didn’t know he gave me. Read on to find out more.

The following contains minor spoilers for IT: Chapter Two.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk today. I was reading some interviews and saw you’ve recently become a father. Congratulations! And thank you for taking some time away from your family today.

Thank you! He’s like four months old and taking a nap. He’s easy. I’m a little worried for like six months from now…

Start preparing. And one day you can show him IT and say, “This is what dad was doing.”

I’m like, “This is what’s putting you through college, kid!”

That’s true, I don’t know if it’s too soon to say, but this will probably be your biggest film thus far in your career.

Yeah, that’s true. It’s weird, it’s very strange to have that. It’s not like… there are so many people who are talented and good and can do this and for me to get something like this, it’s just luck. I’m not downplaying that.

But you’ve also been working hard for 20 years. I’m speaking as a fan here: you’ve been making amazing movies and shows for a long time and for me, something like IT does feel a long time coming.

Let me be honest, I’m really glad that I got something this big at this period. I’m glad that I’m 40 and I have a wife and family already because I’ve been coasting as a blue-collar, under the radar character actor for 20 years and I think for a long period of time I thought, “When is my turn?” But then I had my kid and now that I’ve settled down I stopped thinking about it. I appreciate you saying that, though.

I think that’s a good perspective to have. I also just briefly wanted to mention that a few years back you were on Twitter saying that you had extra copies of Sinister 2, and you offered to send them out to fans, and I was one of those people.

Are you serious?! No way!

Yeah! I’m so glad that four years later I can thank you!

That is awesome. Yeah, I do stuff like that sometimes on Twitter.

Yes! I saw you were giving out IT stuff as well when you were on set. It’s cool. It’s really fun to see someone do these dope things for fans.

Let me be perfectly clear: I like doing stuff for fans, but I also just don’t want this crap in my house. What am I gonna do with 30 copies of a movie? I can’t wear 15 IT t-shirts! Then I start to feel like, you know when you saw Metallica and they’re all wearing their own shirts. It’s like they ran out of clean laundry and they raided the merch table.

This will save you from having to do laundry.

Yeah, but if I saw Jon Hamm wearing Mad Men gear, I’d be like, “That’s weird.” You know? What am I gonna do? I’m not a materialistic person. I like nice things and to look cool, but having all that stuff in my house would drive me crazy.

You don’t have those hoarder tendencies.

No, I’m not a baby boomer! Oh god, I’m not that old!

One of the things I wanted to talk about was that you’re pretty familiar with the horror genre. You’ve been in a lot of films, but you’re also a fan. I think some of your films have traced the trends in horror: doing Prom Night when remakes were having a big period, doing Sinister when supernatural horror was really popular, and now with IT (and stuff like Stranger Things) we’re in a period of funny horror, nostalgic horror, sincere horror. Do you think about where we’re going next? Or trends you see in the genre?

I think horror will continue for as long as the rest of the films we watch are politicized. Like, everything is so politicized, and I don’t care what side of the spectrum you’re on, but it’s exhausting. And people get that so much, there’s a 24-hour news feed screaming in their face so they want 10 minutes away from that. Horror is one of the few genres that is still wrestling with more universal myths that are de-politicized that also sort of deal with the metaphysical. And people will always gravitate towards that stuff. I like Sam Raimi movies because they’re really funny and they’re technically well made. That’s also why I like John Carpenter. These films are wrestling with the metaphysical and generally de-politicized. Well, that’s not entirely true. They Live is a very political movie and that is one of my favorites.

Actually, speaking of Raimi and Carpenter, I feel like they’re two of the patron saints of practical work. How much of IT was CGI? Was that something you had to adjust to while filming? When you’re acting opposite nothing?

IT is actually less CGI than most movies!

Really?

Yes! A lot of the sets are practical and the big set pieces like the carnival. Obviously the big spider clown is CGI but Bill Skårsgard is in a lot of makeup for the whole movie. There’s so much more practical stuff in IT: Chapter Two than you will get in movies that are that size of a blockbuster.

That’s awesome.

And that was cool for me as a fan of movies to walk onto a set the size of a football field. We saw when they were putting together that end sequence before it had been fully fleshed out and painted, but we saw what it was going to be. That was where I walked in and I was like, “Oh my god, this is really overwhelming!” First I felt scared as an actor, but then I felt it was such a weird, cool privilege to be a part of something that’s playing on this canvas in this scope.

Speaking of the ending, you’re kinda the heart of that scene. I think Eddie and Richie and their dynamic at the end of the film is a lot of the emotional weight of the finale.

I think a lot of that has to do with this thing that happens where if you watch any movie, any character you laugh with and connect to… the thing about comedy and horror is, and Bruce Campbell is really good at this, if you point out to the audience the stuff like “why would you go in there?” the audience relates to you. I love when Bill [Hader] would — and I don’t know if this made the movie or not — but it’s when Jessica Chastain’s character, Bev, says, “We have to stay,” and Bill goes, “That’s fucking stupid!” Right? That’s what the audience is thinking! And if you tell them what they’re thinking, they feel close to that.

Also, I know you don’t watch yourself in movies so you won’t experience this firsthand, but I saw this with an audience last night and people loved you. The comedy killed. I wish you could see this with an audience.

Which joke killed the most? That’s all I care about.

There’s a great moment where Eddie gets stabbed in the face and you say, “Is it bad?”

You want me to be honest? And most actors won’t admit this. I subconsciously stole that from Old School. And I didn’t know that I did that until later. Do you remember when Will Farrell shoots himself in the neck and he’s like, “Is this bad?”

That’s gonna be my headline: “James Ransone Admits Stealing Lines.”

[Laughing] Please don’t! You can put it in the article but oh my god, please no. I have to say, I don’t think other actors would admit to that. You can put this in the article. I really didn’t realize I had done it.

I mean it makes sense, it’s a subconscious influence. But don’t worry, it won’t be the headline. 

I mean, every time I saw that scene in Old School, I would fucking cry with laughter. And Sean William Scott is as good in that scene as Will Ferrell. I’ve seen that movie so many times and it’s never lost its edge. It’s so good!

Now that’ll be you! That’s the scene in IT that I’ll crack up at every time.

I’m gonna have to see Will Ferrell at some dumb Teen Choice Awards show and be like, “I’m sorry.”

I feel being able to improv helps in a film like IT where you’re working with this ensemble cast of incredibly talented actors and you can play off each other.

But there’s also something so totally terrifying about that. We shot the Jade Orient restaurant scene first and they wanted me to improv. I’m used to shooting films in a donut store on a phone. And this is a $70 million movie. Jessica Chastain is here and she’s an award winner, James McAvoy has won awards; he’s in all the X-Men movies. You can’t risk this gigantic franchise on my stupid jokes! That was really scary for me.

So that was the first scene you shot?  So it’s like when the characters are coming together, that’s also when you’re getting to know each other.

Right and then the first couple days were just me and Bill doing improv and telling jokes. I was scared. I was like, “They’re gonna fire me, I don’t know why I’m here.”

You do have it going for you that you look so much like a grown-up Jack Dylan Grazer. They can’t fire the perfect adult Eddie.

They could have gotten Adam Brody in real fast.

Have you seen Ready or Not?

No, I haven’t but someone else mentioned that the other day and said it’s good.

Yeah, Adam Brody’s great in it! But I couldn’t see him as Eddie. You’re the perfect Eddie.

Thank you, but you know what’s weird is that I’m not an anxious person.

Well, then you play it quite well. I think you and Bill both being sources of comic relief work because he’s the comedian and he’s telling jokes, but Eddie is inherently funny without trying to be. It balances. I also found myself very affected by Eddie’s story because we get these glimpses of him with his wife and there’s something really sad to me about the idea that, the same way Bev grew up and married a man like her father, Eddie grew up and married a woman like his mother.

This is actually where I don’t like to go in interviews because it becomes too self-involved and I risk saying something that I might find subjective but might not be true. But really what it is is I think there’s something about my eyes where they’re really sad. I think part of that is that there are good parts about where I come from, but I come from really hard circumstances. As much as I would loathe to admit that to myself because I think there’s a sense of pride in saying that my circumstances were better than they actually were, they weren’t. I think I probably inevitably carry that injury my whole life, so it’s me you’re seeing and not Eddie. I’ve heard I have sad eyes my whole life.

I really appreciate that honesty, and I also think when you’re so honest and open, and when you’re in this story about trauma, that openness can play as hurt and sadness so much. I don’t mean to push you on the personal stuff, but I do appreciate you being honest.

I wish I knew another way to be about it. I think this is as far as I’ll go with a lot of this stuff. I think a lot of people that are good at being in entertainment come from backgrounds in which they had to pretend to be a certain way around their families or around other people. People that come from harder backgrounds are used to putting on a facade. And that makes people like me well adjusted to have this vocation. When I’m not doing my vocation, I have the desire to be so raw and brutally honest or I feel like I’m back in those circumstances under which I grew up. Otherwise, I feel like I’m acting and pretending all the time. And that makes me so uncomfortable.

Yeah, I really appreciate you talking about this. I hope I’m not pushing this too far.

No, I mean I actually think a lot of people go through this, and I think if I can talk about my circumstances and make other people feel better, and if it’s useful and helpful for them, it can make them feel like they’re not the only one.

Yeah, absolutely. I’ll take this back to the movie because I think maybe this is why people revisit stories like IT that deal with these themes.

There’s also something going on in the air. The psychic weather where we’re clearly in this time period — and I’m not talking about politics as much as something you just can’t quite put your finger on — where people are looking back over the course of their lives and wondering, “What happened?” and, “Was that necessarily the way I told myself it was?” It’s thematically relevant because in IT you have these children who are on the precipice of reaching sexual maturity and they all have some form of cataclysmic trauma happen to them and they shut it out. They live through the rest of their lives until they’re middle-aged and they’re forced to deal with it. I just described 50 percent of the people I know. There are so many people who… I mean, it’s not a clown but they have that experience in their lives. It makes it easier to put your finger on when you make it a clown, but underneath that, the allegory holds true.

Yeah, I think maybe sometimes at its best, horror can help you confront those fears that maybe you can’t confront in your real life. It can be kinda therapeutic.

Maybe. I think maybe if someone goes, “Oh, that jogged my memory,” they realize they have to deal with this thing. But you can’t live it out vicariously through the allegory of the story in and of itself. You have to go back and deal with what formed your experience. And a lot of people can use it as an excuse to stay out of that. What you end up doing is risking on some level that if you don’t confront that part, you become the monster you’re afraid of. That I know to be true. And I see that a lot in what’s going on in American culture right now. That scares the shit out of me. That’s my horror movie.

Yeah, I absolutely see what you’re saying.

This got heavy.

Yeah, okay, I’ll pull us back. I have another question: there’s a fun cameo from Stephen King in the movie. Did you get to spend time with him? What was that like?

It was so awesome! He’s a legend! He’s so open and cool. All I wanted to talk about was his fraught relationship with Stanley Kubrick and he talked about it a little, but then I had to go do something. But he was open about that and hearing that firsthand was incredible.

That’s like the holy grail.

He was just really open and fun. He was like, “You play guitar, man?” I was like, “Yeah, I play a little guitar.” And he’s very open about his struggles with addiction, so we talked about that. It was great.

So, what you’re telling me is he’s everything I hoped he would be.

Yes! 100 percent! And actually, his grandson and I have become kinda close, his grandson Ethan. He’s a great kid. He came over to my house and I cooked him dinner the night after the premiere. The best thing I got out of meeting Stephen King is this relationship with his grandson.

IT: Chapter Two is now in theaters. 

Horror movie junkie, fan of Old Hollywood, defender of Grease 2.