The Ancient One. The Angel Gabriel. A magazine editor with a horrific tan. Tilda Swinton has worn as many faces as IT, the titular villain from Stephen King's magnum opus — yet many were still shocked to hear that director Andrés Muschietti and producer Barbara Muschietti had considered her for the role of Pennywise before Bill Skarsgård won the part.
According to Nerdist, the siblings auditioned hundreds of potential Dancing Clowns, including some who don't match the typical view of Pennywise:
"We got to audition people that don’t audition anymore and a huge gamut of talent; women, younger age, older age, we really went through the spectrum of actors."
When asked whether #TildaSwinton numbered among these, Barbara revealed that the award-winning actress wasn't available due to scheduling conflicts, but that "we all thought about her." Indeed, this wouldn't have been the first time that Tilda would have tackled a role traditionally played by a man; her controversial character in Doctor Strange was traditionally depicted as an Asian man in the comics.
In the end though, it was Bill Skarsgård who won the right to live on forever in our nightmares as the star of IT. However, there's one particular reason why Tilda Swinton could have been a better fit for the role — and no, it's not just because she's played an ancient one before...
Pennywise Is Female In Her Final Form
Traditionally, IT presents itself to children as a male clown called Pennywise, because apparently, nothing tastes better than frightened kids. But the Dancing Clown is just one of many shapes that IT can take, depending on which fears it wishes to exploit.
As the name itself suggests, this ancient, evil entity is without gender, only becoming male or female depending on the form it adopts. For most of the book and the subsequent adaptations, Pennywise has been portrayed as male, even claiming that its true name is Robert Gray, but by the end of IT, the Dancing Clown takes on a female form instead:
"They followed the trail of It's black blood—oily pools of ichor that ran and dripped into the cracks between the flagstones. But as the floor began to rise toward a semicircular black opening at the far side of the chamber, Ben saw something new: a trail of eggs. Each was black and rough-shelled, perhaps as big as an ostrich-egg. A waxy light shone from within them. Ben realized they were semitransparent; he could see black shapes moving inside."
Much to Ben's disgust, it soon becomes clear that #IT has transformed into a spider which is capable of asexual reproduction, potentially creating an army of mini ITs to defend itself. From that point on, the book refers to IT as female, although this spider-like visage isn't IT's true form. The reality is that this is simply the closest that the human mind can come to comprehend IT without being driven mad.
So Why Was A Male Actor Ultimately Cast As Pennywise?
IT's real form doesn't possess gender of any kind, so in theory, Andrés Muschietti's movie adaptation could have easily cast a female star in the role of Pennywise. Commendably, the production team behind the upcoming movie were open to that approach, yet in the end, they still cast Bill Skarsgård.
Producer Barbara Muschietti explained how the Hemlock Grove star won the role, revealing that:
“Bill came in and blew our socks off... Because he was doing his very own interpretation of Pennywise, very erudite…very very familiar with the novel and with Pennywise in the novel, which for us was a huge help, because we went in the casting process with the book in mind.”
For Andrés, Skarsgård was always top of his list and it's easy to see why, just by listening to his bone-chilling laugh float out of your speakers. Yet the fact remains that it would have been fascinating to see a female actress like Tilda Swinton embody the role of Pennywise in the new movie, diverging further from Tim Curry's iconic performance in the '90s adaptation. Muschietti has already made a huge number of changes to the text, removing controversial elements such as the teenage sex scene and the arachnid finale from his film, so it wouldn't seem out-of-place to change the gender of IT's most famous incarnation.
Of course, voices of dissent would have floated up on the internet faster than #Pennywise can rip a boy's arm off, but it's hard to deny that Swinton could have portrayed a deliciously creepy version of the clown, even though Skarsgård remains a terrifyingly strong choice.
Do you think Pennywise could be played by a woman? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!