Entertainment Affair

Exclusive Interview: Jay Ryan Talks Playing Adult Ben in ‘It Chapter Two’

by Rocio Vidal | September 7, 2019

With an amazing grown up "Losers" cast, Andy Muschietti's 'It Chapter Two'  takes you on a rollercoaster of scary and emotional, touching on topics of childhood trauma that are far beyond childish fears to be conquered. All the cuts to flashbacks gives the necessary context to new audiences or a refresher to returning ones to keep you engaged in their life stories, even if sometimes the film seems to jump from scene to scares with no connecting flow, but then it seems to kind of float just fine. The actors are at the top of their game, Bill Skarsgard as always, impressively outstanding as Pennywise, and Bill Hader making a stand out performance as well as grown up Richie Tozier. Definitely the camaraderie between its young and adult stars is where the movie shines.

The film starts twenty-seven years after the 'Losers Club' defeated Pennywise but he returns to terrorize the town of Derry once more. The first scene was a powerful one were Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan) a Derry resident who fled the town but returned to visit with his boyfriend Don Hagarty (Taylor Frey) are being savagely attacked by a group of young men while walking home; Adrian ends up being killed and thrown over a bridge and into a canal a horrible hate crime that awakens the evil forces of Pennywise. Such a scene, that was a crucial part in Stephen King's novel, was based on a real-life hate crime that devastated Bangor, Maine, in 1984 were Charlie Howard, a 23-year-old gay man was attacked and drowned by three teenagers. This is something very relevant today and it was important to include it in the sequel. We're living in a world right now where people feel so disenfranchised that they want to make sure that no one takes what's theirs, in a world of division and separation and the heroes remind us of the archetypes of the marginalized; an abused girl, an African American kid, an overweight boy, a stutterer, a sickly child, a Jew and a smart aleck whose jokes hide secret insecurities and each one is dealing with their personal struggles but the film accomplishes to remind us that we are stronger together than just facing the world alone.

We had the opportunity to sit down for a 1 on 1 interview with Jay Ryan in a recent press junket to talk about his character Ben Hanscom and how himself saw himself in the young Ben.

Entertainment Affair: So tell me about Ben...

Jay Ryan: Ben Hanscom he is, well... I mean, he's probably the loser who has the biggest change over the twenty seven years between Chapter 1 and 2. So, you know Ben is at a stage where he's extremely successful. He's you know one of the biggest architects in the world is building buildings and spaces for people to meet communicate and working which is, you know, inspired from him building the clubhouse for the losers, the dam for the losers. He's got a real technical mind. So to the outside world it seems like he has the perfect life. He has everything. He's been running, you know, like physically and emotionally for the last twenty seven years so he's lost all of his childhood the kind of puppy love and he's now kind of this dude that seems on top of the world but on the inside, he's got a lot of internal, internal struggle going on and he can't really connect with people.

Even though he is a creator of buildings these great, spaces that are supposed to connect people but for him personally he's never really been able to have that same quality and friendship that he had with the losers back at Derry. And so that's been a big hole in his life for a long time. In the film, there's a scene where we first discover the adult Ben and he's in this big beautiful modern mansion home and it's just him. All alone. So in the script I was like he can't be just all alone he must have to have, you know an animal, you know, so I brought in a dog into the scene because I felt like Ben has, you know, he has a lot of love and I could see him bonding with an animal, have been caring of an animal so he has that at least. But he's been waiting all these years for that return phone call from Mike I believe. He doesn't remember what went down the bad things that happened in Derry but he remembers the good things. He remembers Beverly. He remembers the first love. And the bond-ship of his friends. And his never being able to were that close in his real world life. So that's where he is when we come into the movie.

EA: And for you, how did you related to this character? How did you approach it?

JR: Yeah I mean I definitely. There was a lot of parallels when I was given the opportunity to meet with Andy for the movie. I re-watched the first film and I really connected with Jeremy Ray Taylor's performance as Ben as young Ben. And there's something that we can all relate to about feeling incompetent or not enough. You know as we move through life. Even in childhood there's is a little bit of you're comparing yourself to others physically, emotionally, mentally. There's always like can I be as good as this person or can I live up to this person's hopes for me, your parents, your friends, your teachers... there's a lot to live up to in life. You know you feel there is but it's all coming back to just knowing that being yourself, and once you get there is the most powerful thing you can give to the universe. So I connected in a way that, you know, I struggled with bullying when I was, not being a bully, but being bullied when I was in primary school when I was younger, yeah! And I actually, when I got the role Andy thought like my energy was very similar to Jeremy's in terms of Ben as an adult and a child but the studio were unsure so they asked for me to send in childhood photographs of myself around the same age as Ben in the first movie. And funnily enough I physically, I am very similar to the character of Ben. So my mom dug out all these photos and sent them to the studio and that helped clinch the deal.

EA: Since Ben is really successful architect, did you went into studying architects to understand more of the character?

JR: Yeah I did. There's one architect in particular and I've forgotten his name I believe is Dutch Bjorn or Bjark Ingels.

EA: Actually my background is in Architecture, so that's why I ask...

JR: Oh wow! Yeah, so you know who am talking about...

EA: Yeah yeah. I am knowledgeable...

JR: Yeah. So I kind of have used him as a base for the modern adult Ben. And I thought like his philosophy around architecture and bringing people together was really in line with what I wanted to portray. I mean there's not a lot of opportunity in the movie to, you know, to place this kind of stuff but for me to build a character inside was was a big thing and so I listened to a lot of his talks on YouTube and looked at his buildings and his philosophies. And I also thought you know he's a handsome kinda dude. And he's got he's got a style going on and he's very charming and so yeah I used him as an inspiration.

EA: That's amazing!

EA: So, how did you get the role? How was the process?

JR: Well I mean me and my family we were based in New Zealand but we move around a lot to try and follow the work. Like a circus life you know. So we decided that for the next eight months we would base ourselves in Los Angeles; and I've been working in television a lot, and wrapped up in contracts for TV and I've always wanted to be a film particularly big studio movies. I'm inspired by things like The Goonies, Titanic, you know those big set pieces that I've always wanted to be in a big play and play in the playgrounds. So to kind of push my dream we decided to spend eight months in L.A. and just knock on film doors; in the last two days before we we're going to pack up and move back to New Zealand the call came through for this. So I went in and did one audition. So you know it's pretty much like "don't call us we'll call you" that kind of feeling... I read once and I got a call two weeks late to say, Andy loves you, he thinks your energy's right to play the adult Ben but the studio don't know who you are. So that's when the photographs came in and they clinched the deal. So it was that the stakes were high for me, it was kind of now or never really.

EA: Right!

EA: So do you find a lot of differences, for you, in the American Film Industry compared to New Zealand, Australia and these other places that you've worked before?.

JR: Yeah I mean in New Zealand and in Canada where I've been spending a lot of my time. It's very much funded, the film and the arts, through a funding pool of the government. So people pay taxes and a portion of it goes into funding films and TV and the creative industries. So the budgets are much smaller. And the development process for a film back home is... It can be almost ten years, you know, so as a director you may get one or two shots at making a movie. Whereas here if you have an idea and you have the passion and you can knock it over the line I think there's a lot more opportunity here. And there there's a bigger scope. For film. There's the small movies, the mid-sized movies and the big movies. So for me to be on a studio movie of this size was a real new experience. And it may be hard for me to go back to a smaller movie because, you know, it's it's fun. It's fun to have all the bells and whistles. But I mean Andy and Barbara Muschietti, the director and the producer, they really create this like Indie film kind of feeling. Like there's a real sense of family, camaraderie-ship and a sense of kind of experimenting and having the chance to really have your voice be heard and put into the movie. So although it was a big studio film it definitely had a really unique and kind of inclusive environment.

EA: And you had some sort of input on your character...

JR: Absolutely, Andy is a beautiful man and a real monster of a director. And he's an actor's director but he's also very good at telling his crew what he needs and everyone supports him immensely. Not only can he direct but he's also a beautiful artist so he will sketch the visuals of a scene and he will bring it to set the next day and show you exactly what is in his mind as you go through pencil and paper. So everyone's really behind what his vision is and getting it right for him and he will try many different things. He is very active and vocal he will call out and he will say do it this way or try this or many different things that you're not even really thinking about. So it's fun you know it keeps you on your toes.

EA: I read somewhere that you used to be a clown...

JR:  I had a moment of being a clown. It was one of my first jobs and it is back when you would find classifieds or jobs listed in a newspaper. So I was... I would always... I always had this entrepreneurial spirit as a kid and I always wanted to just leave school behind and get out there and make money. And try and do better than my parents, you know, it was that kind of thing. And so I was involved in theater from a young age and I saw this job for a clown and entertainer for children. So I was intrigued called up and they... You know, I was young was like 15 or 16 but they were intrigued by my optimism about being able to do the role, fill the shoes of a clown. So they hired me and they trained me in magic, balloon animals, face painting... So it was a real... It was a tough job because you had to engage children of all ages and you know I was in the full makeup, not as scary as Pennywise but it was that kind of inspiration.

EA: Did you have any experience like that where you freak out some kids?

JR: I would always scare kids or I'd be making these animal balloons and they would burst all of a sudden and the kids would just go into spontaneous combustion of crying and I would be saying I'm so sorry. Moving onto the next child. So it was a real tough job. You know I was sweating under that make-up a lot... and kids are a tough crowd.

EA: So you understood Pennywise with all that makeup and all of that stuff...

JR: Yeah. I mean Bill Skarsgard, his performance as Pennywise was it incredible. He's like working with a wild animal when the cameras are rolling. He's very unpredictable and every sense and being of himself is in there. Spit is flying, teeth gnashing and yeah it's a real terrifying experience when they roll cameras and you're working on set with Bill.

EA: So what's next for you, are you moving back or are you staying in L.A?

JR: I'm still transient but we are always connected to our home in New Zealand it's a real inspiration for us and I guess I feel very lucky to be from there but still get to engage in the rest of the world. L.A. is a great place to stay I feel like I have the best of all the parts of the planet. But continuing to work in America and I'm doing some ... I got some Australian Kiwi films, smaller films that are funded that I've got in the pipeline. And yeah there's lots and lots more.

Witness the end of It on September 6.