There are few horror movie characters more iconic than It‘s Pennywise, who has been invading nightmares for 25 years. It was of course Tim Curry who played the scary clown in the mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, and Pennywise returns in 2016 with a brand new feature film.
We recently spoke with makeup artist Bart Mixon, who designed Pennywise’s instantly recognizable look for the 1990 mini-series. During the interview, Mixon revealed a surprising bit of information that we had never heard before, telling us the secret inspiration behind his most beloved creation.
So, which horror iconic inspired the look of Pennywise? Take it away, Bart!
“I am not sure if I have mentioned this elsewhere, but the inspiration for this look was the original Lon Chaney Phantom of the Opera. The upturned nose, bald dome and cheek bones were intended to echo this classic make-up. Interesting enough, while I was researching clowns, I found a photo of a Russian clown from around 1917 that looked very much like Chaney’s Phantom, but much creepier than Pennywise.”
Mixon also spoke further about the makeup design process…
“I started out designing Pennywise by doing lots and lot of research into various clown looks. I did do a number of sketches, but these were somewhat pointless until the part was cast. The production was considering Tim Curry, Roddy McDowall, and Malcolm McDowell – and while I think any of these great actors would have given us a very unique Pennywise, I do think they made the right choice in casting Tim.
Once Tim was it, I got his head shot from the production and started sketching over it, so that I knew whatever I designed would fit on Tim. We then took a full head cast of Tim and produced three copies of it. Upon these busts, I did three clay sketches of different looks that I liked, sealed them and painted them with different clown designs. I took photos of these busts with a red wig and sent them to the director, Tommy Lee Wallace. We discussed them and eventually he chose one very similar to the final look in the film. I then sculpted this approved version and it was broken down into the various sections for an appliance make-up. At this time there was a domed head, the nose, cheek bones, and a chin. I had a wig made and we tested this make-up on Tim.
Tim wanted to wear as little prosthetics as possible, so we tested two looks for Pennywise. The first was just the nose and head piece and a paint scheme that Tim contributed some ideas to. Since I was using PAX paint as a base, and not traditional clown white make-up, I was able to glue the cheeks and chin over this for our second test. The paint this time was closer to what I had originally intended, but in the end the lighter make-up was chosen and the paint was modified to what it was in the film. Of course, this look was chosen AFTER I had sculpted the “battery acid” look for Pennywise, so that stage does have the facial features of my original design.”
Yes, it was indeed Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera that evolved into It‘s Pennywise the clown. How cool is that?!