Fifteen-year-old actor Sophia Lillis is at a loss for words. "Going back to school, my friends were like, 'So, what did you do over the summer?’ 'Uh, well….'" How do you tell your high school classmates you spent your vacation getting chased around by a demonic clown? "That was something…new," she laughs. "But pretty memorable."
Stephen King fans everywhere would no doubt agree. This September, Lillis stars in director Andrés Muschietti's highly anticipated adaptation of the horror master's signature work, It. She plays Beverly Marsh, the sole female member of a close-knit gang of teen outcasts called the Loser's Club. During one long, nightmarish summer, the Losers find themselves face to face with the child-murdering, shape-shifting entity that's haunted their small town for centuries – a creature that most frequently takes the form of a sinister clown called Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgård.
"We actually weren't allowed to see him until our scenes, because we wanted the horror to be real," Lillis recalls. "Everyone had different reactions, but all of us were like, 'Wow, what did we get ourselves into?' One look at him, and… you know, he's a really scary clown that wants to kill us. I was a little bit shocked," she laughs. "But then he went up to me afterwards and was like, 'Hi, how's things?' He’s really nice, but I didn't know how to react."
Lillis had no such trouble connecting with her fellow Losers, who include Jaeden Lieberher as ringleader Bill Denbrough and Stranger Things' Finn Wolfhard as class clown Richie Tozier. "I spent all my summer with them, so we got really close. We still keep in touch, send messages to each other." That closeness helped Lillis connect with her own character. "I relate to Beverly – the way she deals with her emotions, and the way she was around the Losers. I felt that way around the actual actors."
Her connection to the rest of the cast comes through in another way: the striking black-and-white behind the scenes photos she's posted to her Instagram. "I asked for my stepfather's camera and started taking pictures, and I really enjoyed it."
It's a great use of the app, a major part of a world new to Lillis. "I really never was interested in social media until recently," she says. "After this project, it became a much bigger part of my life." Most of her hobbies occur offline: teaching herself to play the piano; taking roller-skating lessons; and "drawing constantly – I'm not great at it, but I love doing it."
According to Lillis, flesh-and-blood friendships have helped her stay informed politically during these tumultuous times, too. "I have a friend who's extremely into politics, and I learned a lot from them," she says. "As a 15-year-old, it's hard to answer these questions. But," she adds optimistically, "in this generation, everyone knows much more than in previous decades."
What does she hope for now that she's done clowning around? "Get more roles, go to new places, see new things," says Lillis, who next plays Amy Adams’ younger self in the forthcoming HBO series Sharp Objects, based on the book by Gone Girl's Gillian Flynn. "Juggling your personal life, your social life, and your work is hard, especially when you're in school like I am, but I think it's worth it."