One of the most thrilling moments in It: Chapter Two is the reveal of the adult versions of the kids we became so fond of in the franchise’s first installment. Hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak, played as a young man by Jack Dylan Grazer, arguably has the most uncanny glow-up in the form of James Ransone, who both resembles Grazer and has his motormouthed mannerisms dead to rights.
In the lead-up to the film’s release, Polygon spoke with Ransone to see what went into playing the grown-up Eddie, why horror is so special, the movie’s craziest cameo, and, of course, meeting Stephen King.
[Ed. note: Spoilers for It: Chapter Two follow.]
Polygon: The relationship between Richie and Eddie is taken in a slightly new direction from what’s in the books. How familiar were you with the source material, and what was your take on that new facet?
James Ranson: I didn’t get through the entire book when I was reading it, and I was trying to comb through it and look at all the times when they were all together to see if there was anything I could mine from, aside from the scary stuff. What struck me was that — and this is just for me — one of the scariest things when the Losers all got back together is that none of them had children. I’m 40 years old. I’ve since had a kid — literally when I went to go start filming the movie — but I didn’t have a kid at the time, and that was really scary for me.
If you’re talking about Richie’s token and all his stuff, that was a license that the filmmakers and the writers took for his storyline. On top of that — I would say this about any movie independent of It — that type of stuff is not interesting to me. I care about intimacy. I care about people telling the truth to one another. Anything that feels truthful, feels good. In the same way, I don’t really even care about the nature of Bev or Ben’s relationship, I just go, “Did it feel real? Did it look truthful?”
And then the other thing too is I think we need to be very careful, especially in online culture, about this idea around objective meaning of art. If I tell you something means something, whether that’s a Rothko painting or a Beatles song, and you go, “I have a totally different interpretation of that!” It’s really crazy for me to go, “You’re wrong.” You’re like, “I had this whole emotional relationship with something.” But it’s also crazy for you to tell me I’m wrong. When we start saying art is something that is universally objectively saying this, we put ourselves in a very precarious position, because you start removing people’s relationships to everything. I’m not a fan of Justin Bieber, but I see why people like him, and if you like Justin Bieber and there are meaningful things in that song “Sorry” to you, I can’t tell you you’re an asshole.
You’re not a stranger to blockbusters, but this is arguably the biggest—
I’m kind of a stranger to blockbusters. Let’s be honest. [laughs] It’s been a minute. This type of blockbuster? Not only am I a stranger, I feel like, “I have never been to this country. I don’t know one word of this language.”
Did it feel at all strange jumping into it?
It was only strange because I live a little bit under a rock as far as pop culture is concerned. The only time I’ll go and see something is because of word of mouth. If I have one or two really close personal friends say the same, like, I have to go listen or see a thing, I’ll go do that. I had no idea how big [It] was, and in some ways, I had no idea of the scope or the magnitude of this movie. I just had no idea. I was sort of like, “... Oh no, this is ... oh wait, oh gosh, this is really big.” You think you might want something like that. But, you know, it’s a big train.
So you hadn’t seen It when it was in theaters?
No, I didn’t see it until after I started talking to Andy that I was maybe gonna play Jack’s role.
I read that you enjoy a lot of contemporary and modern horror; what did you make of It when you saw it?
I was impressed with the way Andy sort of encapsulated things. I was like, “Whoa, he understands the American movie nostalgia in a way that doesn’t feel forced.” Some of that stuff, it’s an entirely different take that’s not an homage, that’s not trying to capitalize on buried nostalgia stuff. I think he also is well-equipped to understand a sort of pacing that is specific to the younger YouTube generation. I don’t mean that in a negative way. A lot of that stuff, some of the horror set pieces, you could take out as 10-minute vignettes, and they could stand on their own.
I also thought it looked really beautiful. There’s one shot I remember, too, which I think is really funny. When they’re all kids in the first one and they’re in the town and there are a bunch of sheriffs walking around, I remember thinking, “Andy cares what’s in the frame, and what’s going on in the frame, so much.” If you go back and watch Jaws, he does a similar thing to how Jaws is shot and how the town is filmed. The extras just aren’t superfluous. They’re not just thrown in. Andy places that stuff. Every square inch of the frame, Andy’s thinking about.
I imagine that some of watching through the first film would also have to do with your trying to calibrate your performance to Jack’s.
Yes. That’s 100% what I did. That’s all I did, actually. I didn’t do anything else, I promise you. I didn’t think about anything else, I didn’t think about Dennis Christopher, I didn’t think about the book, I didn’t think about Richie, I didn’t think about anything other than calibrating my performance to his.
Was there any difficulty in figuring out how to translate his performance to what that character would be like 27 years later?
No, not really. I watched that movie and then I went online, and I was like, “Wow, young people love these kids in this role.” And so I thought, “Don’t fuck with anything, just do your best impression of a child.” And then my concern was I’m slowing down with age a little bit, and I was like, “Oh, I’m not even going to be able to keep up.” But the good news about that is that all I do is try to copy him because it works. It works in my favor both ways, which is, if people love it, great. And if people are like, “Well,” I’d be like, “Hey, look, that shit’s on him.” I’ll blame a child for my bad performance. [laughs]
You mentioned that you feel like you live under something of a pop culture rock; what’s managed to get through to you?
The last thing I saw that I liked was Hereditary. I haven’t seen Midsommar yet. I liked Free Solo a great deal. That was the last thing I saw in the theater. I’m going to watch the new Chappelle with my wife tonight. Not a lot of books, and then some music. I grew up around a lot of punk rock music. I sound like Anthony Bourdain. [affects voice] “You like the Ramones, kids?” But I like — and this is getting kind of prog rock-y — the band Oh Sees and then there’s this Swedish band I like called the Viagra Boys. I think they’re gonna blow up next year, they’re going to be fucking huge. They’re super weird. It’s just solid, old, mid-tempo punk songs, but the lyrics are so fucking funny. They’re so tongue in cheek.
You’ve done a little lighter and more comedic stuff before, but you’ve mostly done dramatic work up until this point.
I’m usually light and comedic in heavier dramatic movies, and then that will either translate to being a scumbag or a bad guy. So this is something that I’m very happy about. Hopefully I can just get to be, like, “plucky best friend in rom-com.”
I’m pulling for that for you.
Me, too, dude! I would ride that into my grave!
So is flexing that comedic muscle something you enjoy more or less that being shuttled into more villainous roles?
I am at this point where l don’t have that much to prove in my life. I mean, I don’t feel like I’ve got a lot to prove, I don’t really care. I’m not like, “I must play Buzz Aldrin!” I don’t think about shit like that. All that kind of feels silly, or it feels silly to think that I wanted that, so I’d rather just be silly. Let’s be honest, they’re paying me a bunch of money to pretend to be scared of a clown alien. That’s fucking crazy. I would rather just play silly for the rest of it.
I was wondering about that in Eddie’s grossest scene, where the leper just vomits straight into his mouth — were you aware that that was going to be played as a comedic scene rather than something straight horror?
No, I had no idea how Andy was going to cut it, but I will tell you — have you ever seen the outtake when Bill O’Reilly freaks out? I have a video of me waiting to get puked on where, basically, that’s me. I was like, “Fuck it, we’ll do it live!” I remember standing there with my arms around that leper for three minutes and I was like, “Are we going to fucking shoot this or what?” The build-up to that was so lame. And then they pumped out so much. The puke was made out of brown tempera paint, water, and then peas and carrots to give it texture and volume. Right. And they sprayed so much puke into my mouth that I almost passed out in the middle of it from holding my breath. Then on that same video — it’s so fucked up, it’s like the Bill O’Reilly, “Are we going to shoot this goddamn thing?” And then they puke on me, and they’re all laughing at me from behind the monitors. I’m like, “Goddamnit, Andy! Fuck you!” He’s like, “Come on. What’s wrong?”
I know you’d auditioned for the first movie; had you stayed in contact with Andy in the meanwhile?
We didn’t stay in touch. I auditioned for the first one because we met at a party through a friend of mine, and then we had some mutual friends. And then he went off and shot that one. I feel like my brother saw the movie in theaters, and he was like, “Dude, there’s a kid in this movie that looks exactly like you.” I was like, “Really?” And he’s like, “Dude, it’s weird.” At the time I thought, “Oh, huh, cool.” Then as I was in New Orleans filming this TV show called The First with Sean Penn, and I just got some weird vibe, I was like, “Man, they’re going to call me for this movie.” I just knew it a month and a half before. It was really strange. “I think they’re gonna call me, I think I’m gonna get it.” But still, even at that time, not knowing it’s this Avengers-sized tentpole. My impression was like, “Oh yeah, that was a horror movie that did pretty good at the box office,” but I had no idea.
Is there any other role that you’ve gotten that you’ve had that kind of sixth sense about?
No, this is the first thing. It was really weird. But another thing happened with me and Generation Kill, though, which was a show I did with David Simon. I had only been sober for six months, I had a gnarly heroin addiction. I remember getting off the plane in Africa and I was number two on the call sheet, and I thought, “This is a fucking mistake. Somebody made a mistake. I can’t do this much work. You guys are crazy to rely on me.” It felt a little bit like that when I showed up for this. I was like, “Oh no, fuck, they hired the wrong person. I can’t pull this off.”
I feel like, with your role on Generation Kill and also in The Wire, your characters broke out or were popular enough that it vaulted you to a different level in the public eye. Is that something that you’ve felt tangibly in your career?
It’s so weird, it’s so the reverse now. Well, it’s not the reverse, it’s my relationship to it is exactly diametrically opposed to what you’re saying or thinking, which is like, I did those and I’d think, “Alright, now I’m fucking famous, and this is gonna be awesome!” And then no one cared. Now, this is a pop culture phenomenon that I’m not used to being a part of, and I’m a little wary. I’m 40 years old and I don’t look like Brad Pitt, and that’s not lost on me. I don’t think it’s going to be Beatles-level fame, but I think my life will change a little bit from It, and I’m a little nervous about it, to be honest.
So you don’t have anything like a bucket of list of films you’d like to do?
I’ve said this in a different interview and I really mean this: For some reason, right now, the only stuff that seems to be tinkering with interesting ideas that aren’t just a hundred percent politicized is the horror genre. People like Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings because, on some level, you’re dealing with a certain level of metaphysicality. There’s a metaphysical nature that has to do with stuff that’s not of this world and themes become more universal. There’s not a lot of that out right now other than in horror. So, for me, when you ask me what I want to do, I would love to do a big Sam Raimi movie.
I assume you’re an Evil Dead fan?
I’m an Evil Dead fan, but you know what my favorite movie of his is, to be honest? Drag Me to Hell. The cool thing about Drag Me to Hell is that he made them so much money off Spider-Man, they were like, “Just go make whatever you want.” I don’t think that movie made a lot of money or was a big success, but it’s so good.
I think that’s the last thing he directed recently. [Ed. note: His last feature directorial effort was actually Oz the Great and Powerful.]
Really? Well, he’s fine. He produces a lot of stuff. No one’s like, “Yeah, he came by last week, he’s knocking on peoples’ doors. Sam Raimi’s GoFundMe.”
Speaking of big horror names, Stephen King’s cameo is with James McAvoy, but did you get to work with him at all?
Yes, I was on set when he was filming with McAvoy. It was awesome. This is what I’ll tell people: never meet your mid-tier heroes, but usually the legends, like really legendary — he’s the best. He was so awesome. He was so open, and he kind of thinks and speaks the same way that he writes. He meanders a lot. He was so affable and down to talk about anything in his writing career. I really wanted to talk to him about Stanley Kubrick. That’s all I wanted, because their relationship was so contentious. We talked a little bit about it, but it’s hard to do that on a set.
But I remember the funniest thing — because he still thinks the way that he writes, just on a smaller level — we were all talking about going out to dinner that night, like, “We’ll meet at 6:30 and we’re going to be at this restaurant.” And then he walked over and he said, “You know, it’s a shame they killed John Lennon.” And I’m like, “Yeah, totally!” Just totally a non-sequitur.
There’s one other big cameo, maybe not as big as Stephen King, but—
Peter Bogdanovich? Him and Andy are really good pals.
Did you get to meet him at all?
No, I didn’t get to meet him. I’m not a huge Bogdanovich fan. It’s not pro or against, it’s like, sometimes you’re like, “I dunno, man, I just don’t like Caesar salads.”
You’re not a big Caesar salad person?
I feel the same way about Caesar salads I do about Peter Bogdanovich. It’s like, “Yeah, they’re cool. It’s fine.” If I’m at a restaurant, fuck it!
It: Chapter Two is in theaters now.