Mrs. Kersh, played with delectable weirdness by Joan Gregson, starts off as a woman slightly askew. A bit too nosy, a bit too sweaty, a bit too prone to weird statements (“Nothing that dies in Derry stays dead”), all of which Bev writes off as an elderly person’s quirks. But as Bev walks through the decaying apartment, the camera catches glimpses of Mrs. Kersh’s transformation from a woman to a blundering, massive monster — part IT, part Hansel and Gretel gingerbread-dwelling witch, part troll-under-the-bridge.
In addition to being the star of the movie’s most claustrophobic yet strangely fun scene, the character of Mrs. Kersh raises an important question in the IT mythology. Specifically, could Mrs. Kersh somehow be IT’s daughter? Mrs. Kersh tells Beverly she's the daughter of a carnival worker who happens to look just like Pennywise. As explained in Stephen King's IT, this man is Bob Gray — and IT, that pesky inter-dimensional force of evil, stole his likeness.
For 85-year-old Gregson, the character of Mrs. Kersh was initially even more mystifying. During the incredibly secretive audition process, Gregson didn’t know the part, billed as “Mrs. Owens,” was actually for IT Chapter Two. “To me, she was an ordinary old woman. Yes, she was peculiar, but not frightening,” Gregson tells Refinery29.
Refinery29 spoke to Gregson about nude scenes at age 85, scaring influencers for fun, and the speculation around her character’s parentage.
Refinery29: So, what is Mrs. Kersh? Is she a human? Is she an apparition? Is she something Pennywise is manipulated into being?
Joan Gregson: “When I was doing it, I thought, Mrs. Kersh is going through a very difficult period. This happens every 27 years. She has a feeling that this is starting to happen again. She feels it within her own body. She’s trying hard to reject it. But it all has to come out. Then she develops into his creature. She is the daughter of Pennywise and was brought up by him and incorporated into all of his evil ideas. She’s a part of the whole thing. It’s a transformation.”
Did you come up with a childhood for her? What was it like being raised by Pennywise?
“I hadn’t gone into it in that depth. I said to Andy one day in filming, ‘Who is IT?’ I really wasn’t aware of what all the connections were. And he looked at me and said, ‘You are.’ I was aghast. I really had no idea there was that kind of connection.”
Should we feel sympathy for Mrs. Kersh?
“I’m not sure. I suppose in some ways you might feel sympathy for her, because it’s out of her control. Pennywise is the one who’s directing all of this. It's out of her control. She knows it’s coming, doesn’t want it, but knows she has to go through with it.”
Speaking of transformations, at some point your character takes her clothes off. How did you approach the nude scene? What were your thoughts when you found out that’s why the role entailed?
“Before I was offered the role, I was asked if I would do a nude scene. I had a couple of minutes to think about it. I said yes. I had never done a nude scene before. I’m an antique lady. I was 85 when I did a nude scene. I was told originally they wanted to capture something of my backside and perhaps a shoulder. That was about it. But it turned out to be a little bit more of that. I was anxious about it before we did it. But once I got in there, they make it very easy on you. I felt free with it. It was an interesting experience.”
Why do you think it was necessary to have that scene?
“I'm not quite sure yet. I suppose it was part of the transformation into that creature.
How did you perfect that little jig that Mrs. Kersh does?
“Andy guided me along. He said one day, ‘Do a crazy walk.’ I said okay, maybe she’s spastic or something. It developed as we were filming it. The stare, all those things. They just happened in the filming of it.”
What kind of other directions would Andy give?
“Well, at one point, when Mrs. Kersh does that stare, Andy said, ‘Okay, I want you to laugh, cry, laugh, cry.’ That’s where I got the realization that this was agonizing for Mrs. Kersh. I ended up with a real, in-depth cry. When I saw her trailer I thought, ‘Oh, we’ll they’ll put the hysterics in the film.’ I was surprised when I saw the film to see that it wasn’t there.”
What’s it like being a figure of fear, now?
“It’s astonishing. I never thought of her as being so terrifying. But it really has been. From the trailer people were saying, ‘You’re totally frightening!’ It’s a surprise to me. I didn’t think she would be. I didn’t think of her as being frightening when I did her.”
Now you can scare people when they see you.
“I can do it easily. I did it several times with the influencers last Sunday in various different things. I was going through parts of the scene with them. I would either stare or say, ‘Are you Daddy’s little girl? Are you?’ One or two of them would jump because they’d be thinking of something else at the time. That was a fun afternoon.”