After ‘It Chapter Two’ and ‘Stranger Things,’ Finn Wolfhard is an accidental horror star

Finn Wolfhard
Finn Wolfhard at the Heritage Square Museum in Los Angeles on Aug. 25. The 16-year-old stars in two book adaptations this fall, “The Goldfinch” and “It Chapter Two,” both from Warner Bros.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Finn Wolfhard has been having a great couple of years.

Since the 16-year-old Canadian actor broke out in Netflix’s sleeper hit “Stranger Things,” he’s been heavily in demand for popular spooky franchises including Warner Bros.’ 2017 mega-hit “It” (which surpassed “The Exorcist” to become the highest-grossing horror film of all time domestically) and next month’s animated “Addams Family” movie.

Next year he’ll star in “Ghostbusters 2020” and the horror remake “The Turning” based on Henry James’ novella, “The Turning of the Screw.” But the teenager insists his genre-heavy resume is purely circumstantial.

“I never liked horror up until I was like 10 years old,” he said. “A lot of it is coincidence that I’ve done [so much] horror. But I love horror because what makes a great horror movie is that it’s not just scary, it’s [a little of] everything. In a real-life horrifying situation there’s always [some] comedy or something sad. I think that’s in all the horror stuff I’ve done because I try to make it the realest [portrayal].”


This month, Wolfhard reprises his role as Richie Tozier in “It Chapter Two,” which opens Friday and picks up on the second half of the Stephen King horror tome, and he has a supporting role in the decidedly non-horror drama “The Goldfinch,” which opens a week later and is adapted from Donna Tartt’s 2013 novel. Although the projects couldn’t be more different, in both films Wolfhard shares his character with an adult counterpart. Preparation with them varied.

“For ‘The Goldfinch,’ Aneurin [Barnard] who plays older me was shooting first so I almost had to work off of him,” he said. “Our director John Crowley got soundbites from him and saved them so I could listen to them and [hear] how he spoke and what his mannerisms were.”

For “It Chapter Two,” Bill Hader, whom Wolfhard has been a “huge” fan of since 2009’s “Adventureland,” plays an adult Richie. To prepare, the younger actor spent a few days hanging out with Hader but unlike with “The Goldfinch,” it was mostly for Hader’s benefit. “I felt like he could just go back and watch the movie, watch what I did,” said Wolfhard with a shrug.

The Times caught up with Wolfhard during a press day for “It Chapter Two” to talk about returning to Derry, playing a Russian expat in “The Goldfinch,” the “Stranger Things” and “NeverEnding Story” connection, and what the future holds for the aspiring director.

I read that you got your first acting job from Craigslist. Had you always wanted to be an actor or did it just kind of fall in your lap?


Well, I kind of did the math in my head when I was like, 9. I was like, “Well, if I want to make films” — because I want to be a director — “I could just go on a film set and learn there.” And then I ended up falling in love with acting and the set and making friends all the time. And so I’ve just been doing that ever since.

When would you like to branch into directing?

Hopefully in the next few years. I’m trying to direct some shorts and I have some stuff written, so hopefully soon.

What kind of movies do you want to make?

Indies and lots of human stories. But comedies, totally. I’d love to make a horror movie, that’s definitely where I want to be one day.


“The Goldfinch”

Had you read “The Goldfinch” before being cast as young Boris?

I hadn’t. I still haven’t read the whole thing but I read my character’s stuff.

What attracted you to the script?

It’s like a classic ’70s kind of film, just the subject matter of it, and it’s a real human story, which you don’t get a lot of anymore. I mean you do, but a lot of them are watered down. This one is a really, really serious and true telling of what it’s like to grow up with loss. I just loved how unapologetic it was and how the characters were just so honest.

How did you prepare to do a Russian accent for the role?

We had a dialect coach named Christina who is originally from Russia that lives in New York now. And she just basically held my hand and took me through everything. It was really hard. But once I got it [down], it was like there was no character without the accent. So it made me kind of a better actor or at least a more prepared actor.

What other ways did you prepare?


We watched a lot of YouTube videos of Russian politicians and different people on BBC. Just listened to those guys and read some chapters of Russian literature so that we got the kind of flat, honest [delivery] of the character. And then [the dialect coach] took me through the Russian alphabet and what the sounds were. It was kind of a combination of a lot of things and just her telling me about her childhood.

“It Chapter Two”

What were the differences in shooting the first “It” and “Chapter Two”?

Well, “It” was just the kids, so it was like three months of hanging out every single day. “It 2” we weren’t in as much, but still had [to shoot] flashback scenes so it was the same experience, just kind of on a shorter scale. It was just as fun, just for less time.

Was it less creepy acting opposite Pennywise the second time around?

Honestly, it’s less creepy for us now because we know Bill [Skarsgard]. It was pretty creepy because we didn’t know who he was when we first met him [on the set of “It”] because they wanted to keep him away from us so that we could have an organic reaction [to his character].


What did it feel like returning to the role of Richie? Was it difficult getting back into character?

No, because Richie is kind of part of me now. I was basically just playing myself for a summer, so it was easy to kind of step back into it.

What was your reaction to the success of the first movie?

I didn’t really care if it was a big hit or not because I had so much fun, but I was really pleasantly surprised.

“Stranger Things”

With the popularity of “Stranger Things,” how long do you think the show will continue?


As long as [creators] the Duffer [brothers] keep liking to do it, in my opinion. We’ll go for as long as they want to go, which could be one, two or three [more seasons]. It’s one of those things where it’s like the “Harry Potter” [movies] where you want to see these kids grow up.

What’s the most and least fun thing about acting in movies and TV series that are set in the ’80s?

Fun would be that you don’t have to do a scene on your phone or anything — a lot of it’s just like talking to someone, which is great. Not that there are movies now where you don’t talk to someone, but I mean it’s not as much [face to face]. You’re more present. And I guess the least fun is being in short shorts, probably.

Do you think your character Mike’s relationship with Elle (Millie Bobby Brown) will survive the move?

Oh, my God, I don’t know. In between seasons, all the cast kind of forms their own little conspiracies on what happens to their characters, but I don’t know. I think their bond at this point is so prominent that I don’t know if it can just end because she moves. There’s got to be some more development for sure.

Were you upset that you didn’t get to sing “The NeverEnding Story”?

So upset. Everyone was so upset. [Laughs] No, it was so good. We all read that [scene in the script] and everyone was so happy. The fact that Dustin has a beautiful singing voice is the funniest subplot.


Do you think something could happen that could actually fracture the friend group? It was kind of touch and go for a while this season.

I think anything could fracture any friend group. But I mean at this point, these kids have grown up with each other. They’ve gone through so much [together]. I guess we’ll see. It’s all about how we grow up, I guess.

Upcoming projects

You’ve done some voice acting for Netflix’s “Carmen Sandiego” TV series and up next as Pugsley Addams in MGM’s “Addams Family” animated feature. How do you like doing vocal work?

It’s so funny. I think I’m really bad at voice acting. But people hire me for it, so thank you! [Laughs] It’s just really hard for me. It’s way harder for me than acting because you can use your face and slur your words. But with voice acting you have to be clear.

What can you tell us about “The Turning”?

“The Turning” is a movie that I did in Ireland last year with Mackenzie Davis and Brooklynn Prince and it’s based on a short novella. It’s about this governess who takes care of this family on this giant estate and she kind of starts to go crazy. Or is she going crazy? That is the question.


Would you ever want to join a blockbuster franchise like Marvel’s “Avengers” or “Star Wars”?

Oh, man. Yeah, of course, who wouldn’t? I mean, I’m really interested in doing indies but totally, if the situation arose, that’d be cool.