Plunging into the intense world of Stephen King didn’t just help Isaiah Mustafa prepare for his role in It Chapter 2. It helped him reevaulate his own life.
Away from home on the Toronto set of the horror movie, Mustafa listened to audio versions of King’s books. Fourteen of them in total. And all those characters suffering weird, random deaths stayed with the actor in an unexpectedly profound way.
“When I got home, I had this deeper sense of what it means to live and die,” said the former football player and suave, shirtless star of those famous Old Spice ads. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’m going to expire one day.’ It became more real … it almost gave me a deeper sense of meaning. It just kind of opened my eyes to the possibility that anything can happen.”
It Chapter 2, the second part of 2017’s blockbuster movie It based on King’s 1986 best-seller, is in theaters worldwide now. In the film, Isaiah plays the adult version of Mike Hanlon, a member of the Losers’ Club, a group of misfit kids who fought creepy killer clown Pennywise. Twenty seven years later their nemesis is back and the Losers’ Club reconvenes in Derry, Maine, as adults to stop him. Other stars include Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things and Bill Skarsgård as the clown.
If the trailers for It Chapter 2 are any indication the movie will be terrifying. Chastain has said it features one of the bloodiest scenes of any horror film, ever. But the film also has heart, Mustafa promised.
“It’s still about that friendship those kids in chapter one developed and how they really became each other’s best friends to fight this evil,” said the actor, who comes across as thoughtful and friendly, with an easy laugh. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s horrifying, but it’s still touching.”
Which isn’t to suggest Mustafa wants to spend any more time communing with creepy clowns than he already has.
“I’m OK without clowns in my life, except for Pennywise,” he laughed. “I don’t really feel the need to be in the same room as one.”
The 45-year-old actor, a Comic-Con regular who attended ScareDiego this year, boasts some serious geek cred. He’s long been a fan of horror films and comic books, appeared as Luke Cage in a Marvel web short and currently is writing a graphic novel about a professor who discovers a secret society of aliens. Now he calls himself a King fanatic too — so much so that he confesses to being a bit starstruck when he met the author on set. He wanted to ask him about Under the Dome, The Dead Zone, The Long Walk or his other favorite King novels. Instead, he gifted King a pair of Old Spice socks.
“Old Spice Guy” has been Mustafa’s cheeky alter-ego for nearly a decade now, and people on the street still recognize him as the ab-tastic fellow from the popular The Man Your Man Could Smell Like advertising campaign for the body wash. He’s a global ambassador for the brand, and recently reprised Old Spice Guy for a 15-second spot touting Hulu‘s ad-free streaming service. At the end of our chat, he switched into his Old Spice Guy baritone for me, and I’m pretty sure he smelled good over the phone.
Mustafa has enjoyed a varied career that’s involved playing starting wide receiver for the Arizona State Sun Devils and playing a werewolf on Freeform’s fantasy series Shadowhunters. But if there’s one character he longs to portray, it’s a wise, professorial sort everyone seeks advice from, “like an Obi Wan type” from Star Wars.
He tries to be that guy in real life, at least as a dad to a college-age child. But, he notes, “I think my daughter sees me more as a Jar Jar Binks.”
Originally published July 16.