As soon as Isaiah Mustafa knew he was auditioning for a role in “It: Chapter Two,” in theaters now, he looked to the performance of Springfield native Chosen Jacobs as Mike Hanlon in 2017’s “It” for inspiration.
“The first thing I did before auditioning was watch Chosen’s speech in the park from the first movie,” Mustafa said. “I watched it a few times, then watched the full movie to learn everything.”
“It: Chapter Two” represents an ambitious step forward for the horror genre. Following the critical and financial success of the 2017 film based on Stephen King’s novel, director Andy Muschietti and his sister, producer Barbara Muschietti, put together an A-list cast to play the adult versions of the adolescent stars of “It,” as they return to the fictional town of Derry, Maine 27 years after the events of the first film to do battle with the demonic Pennywise.
In a dual interview with Boston.com, Jacobs and Mustafa discussed the roads they took to acting in an A-list film, their dream roles, and how much they respect each other’s talents (Spoiler alert: A lot).
Chosen, I know you were born in Springfield, but moved to Atlanta when you were pretty young. Do you get back to Springfield much, and how young were you when you started acting?
CJ: I was born in Springfield, but I was raised in Atlanta. I do go back up there sometimes to visit my dad’s side of the family, which is great. I always loved to sing and act. I’d be in school plays and stuff like that. Professionally, I started acting maybe four years ago, in seventh grade or eighth grade. I was in a Hot Wheels commercial for my first gig.
Isaiah, your path into the acting profession was an interesting one, in that you played in the NFL and later became a sensation in a series of Old Spice commercials. What was that journey like?
IM: When I was 18, I was in the Ojai, California Shakespeare festival, which is where I got my first taste of acting, doing “Romeo and Juliet.” I put that aside when I went to college, and I fell into football, which took me to the NFL. After that ended, I got back into showbiz. For about ten years, I was doing commercials. My first one was Office Depot. In 2010, I was lucky enough to get the Old Spice gig, and that just took off and everything blossomed from there.
Were you fans of Stephen King’s work beforehand? Did you find yourselves digging into his books once you became part of these movies, or did you prefer to take inspiration solely from the script?
CJ: Stephen King has produced this huge universe, so I knew who he was thanks to pop culture, but I definitely dove more into his work once I got the part. To do the character justice, I wanted to know more about It, so I read the book.
IM: The first Stephen King book that I read cover to cover was “It,” and then once I got the job, thanks to Audible.com, I listened to 14 King books over the four months of shooting. I wanted to get into the King universe, really live what he’s written about. I wouldn’t suggest anyone do that, because you’ll be traumatized for a couple of months after that.
Isaiah, in “It Chapter Two,” flashbacks play an integral role in showing a character’s present-day motivations to the audience. Did you take some inspiration from Chosen’s portrayal of Mike in the first film for your performance?
IM: The first thing I did before auditioning was watch Chosen’s speech in the park from the first movie. I watched it a few times, then watched the full movie to learn everything. Once I had that, I followed Chosen’s inflection, the emotions he was portraying, and tried to channel that for my first read. From there on out, I used his performance as the foundation for mine.
CJ: [To Isaiah] Thanks, man. Isaiah’s great. Definitely put that in the article. Outside of being a great actor and a thespian, he’s one of the best guys in Hollywood for sure. Definitely put that in there.
Given that the present-day older actors and flashback younger actors filmed very few scenes together, how much did the two casts interact on set?
CJ: Mr. Andy [Director Andy Muschietti] and Miss Barbara [producer Barbara Muschietti] and the whole team were such a family-oriented group, so they really wanted us to get to know each other. When we first got up there, we all got dinner three times.
IM: Like, back to back to back.
CJ: There’s no better bonding than barbecue. You get messy and all that. So we got to know each other, which made the film way more than a job. And I think that shows on the screen. Especially when you see this guy’s acting.
IM: [Laughing] Come on, man.
You guys are obviously fans of working with each other. With such a stacked cast, was there anyone you were really excited to work with?
IM: I’m a big comic book guy, so I wanted to work with Professor X, man. James McAvoy? I dig so many films he was in.
CJ: I know him from “Chronicles of Narnia.” I grew up on that movie, so I knew him as Mr. Tomnus. And Miss Jessica Chastain? I was so excited to meet her, just because her presence on screen is so huge. She isn’t that tall, but I thought she was gonna be like 6 feet for some reason before I met her.
“It Chapter Two” has really broken ground as one of the biggest, most ambitious horror titles in recent memory, both in cast size and budget. Has it been fun to be part of a project like this, and do you want to do more of this type of film in the future?
IM: When Andy [Muschietti] showed me the trailer, it blew my mind. I knew this was a huge movie to be a part of, but when I saw the trailer, what people were about to see, I was like, ‘Wow, this genre’s gonna get flipped on its head with this movie.’ I would love to be a part of the genre again, but I’m hoping this movie kind of sets the tone, and it may be hard to recreate that.
CJ: When we did the first chapter, people were excited for the movie, but they were fans of the book, and it’s scary to remake a classic. We were busy in Toronto filming, so I didn’t keep track of all the hype, but I knew it was out there. And when the trailer came out, it became real. It was like, ‘Oh Shoot! People are gonna see this movie.’ Like [Mustafa] said, I love doing horror. It’s been fun working with such a great director and cast. But it might be hard to do something like this again.
Now that you’ve been a part of such a big movie, what’s next for both of you? Any dream projects you want to put out there for any producers reading this?
IM: It would be awesome to be part of the MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe]. That’s just one thing I think every actor would love to be a part of. Moving forward, I’ve turned down a couple of things, because I want to see the impact this movie has. Hopefully the movie has such an impact that some of the more action-type roles I would like to portray are offered. I really think that people are going to see a different version of me they haven’t seen before.
CJ: I would love to do a Muhammad Ali biopic. Being in the MCU would be amazing too, especially with everything that’s going on. Those would be my two dream projects. Beyond that, I’m working on my music, shooting some videos, and working to get that out. It’s been a fun summer.