Sophia Lillis on her ‘It’ shock and why the Dungeons and Dragons reboot works

whynow sat down with actress Sophia Lillis in Berlin to discuss her new films The Adults and Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves.

sophia lillis

whynow sat down with actress Sophia Lillis in Berlin to discuss her new films The Adults, Asteroid City and Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves and the horror franchise It. 

“I didn’t realise how big the horror fanbase was until It came out,” says the 21-year-old actor and native New Yorker Sophia Lillis, whose breakthrough came as Beverly Marsh in the wildly successful 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s hit horror novel.

Written down, the sincerity of her admission might seem dubious or, if we’re being particularly generous, naïve at best. And yet, in person, emanating from the mouth of the diminutive and wide-eyed Lillis, it seems as though it’s truth writ large: success really did take her back. 

“I remember [the studio] saying, ‘It’s gonna be big.’ And I said: ‘You probably say that for everything. Sure. Whatever’.”  To the actor’s surprise, the studio was right. It broke numerous box office records and grossed over $701m worldwide. “I was like, ‘Shoot, people know this film! It's ‘a thing’’,” she chuckles. 

It 2017 sophia lillis

Sophia Lillis plays Beverly Marsh in 2017’s horror hit It. Credit: Warner Bros

Despite being an acting school graduate, Lillis was nevertheless caught unawares by the promotional duties that follow the making of a marquee movie. “I thought you just make a film and you’re done,” she says innocently. The extensive press obligations “surprised” her, not to mention other factors. “There’s a fashion aspect that I didn’t know about. And it ends up being a lot of meetings, interviews – a whole other world that I did not know existed.” She pauses. “Or knew it took so much time.”

It was a huge learning curve but a welcome one too. Doors opened, and, more importantly, the film’s success confirmed once and for all that acting was her vocation. “After It, it was like: ‘Oh, this is a thing that you can do for the rest of your life’,” she smiles. 

The actor hasn’t looked back. A role in the Amy Adams’-starring HBO miniseries Sharp Objects came knocking before she was offered the lead in the Netflix series I Am Not Okay With This. 2023 sees the actor share top billing with Michael Cera and Hannah Gross in the indie drama The Adults. And then there is the (cough) small business of Dungeons & Dragons and Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City

Lillis and whynow are sat in the opulent surroundings of Berlin’s Palast cinema to discuss The Adults – a sweet, low-key drama and one undoubtedly close to her heart. Still, she cannot contain her excitement over “D&D”. “I really, really enjoyed it,” she gushes, eyes lighting up like a charge of electricity has just shot through her. “I love practical effects so much, and I have to say, [directors] John [Francis Daley] and Jonathan [Goldstein] did a really good job of trying to be as practical as they could. Seeing their full vision of it, I was kind-of geeking out a little bit!”

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Lillis plays Doric in Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves. Credit: eOne

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Amongst Thieves is the film industry’s second tilt at trying to transpose the allure of the role-playing game to the big screen following a trilogy released between 2000-2012 that’s memorable solely for how much of a misfire it was. Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez have added star wattage and action film experience to this big-budget reboot. As Lillis puts it, the presence of these “veterans” helped quell the young actor’s nerves: “I was like: ‘I’m around people that know how to do this. I’m okay!’.”

Location work took place amongst the ancient castles and rolling pastures of Northern Ireland. Lillis, who plays a Druid called Doric, recalls the experience fondly as “a large LARP session”, with actors interacting with robotic heads for the practical special effects (traditional green screen came into play elsewhere). “People often ask me: ‘Were you the animals as well?’. No, I was not the animals. I was not in a green suit, so I didn’t get to see what I turned into. Take the Owlbear: the photos and videos of what it could be like were very raw. I was a little nervous. How was it gonna look? Was it gonna look like the Animorphs? When I saw it, I was like, ‘Wow, that is not what I was expecting!’ They did a good job. I think [John and Jonathan] thought about it a lot.”

As a fan of the game in its analogue form (though a “terrible” player), she’s thrilled with the film’s tone. “I feel like one thing people could accidentally do with D&D is make it a very serious, almost Game of Thrones-esque kind of thing,” she shares, “which is not bad, but the main reason why people love it is because you get to have so much fun – you’re playing with friends, and you make jokes. It’s fun and funny. You can’t take it so seriously.” Lillis quickly gives a thumbs up for the “Monty Python kind of humour” injected into this iteration.

sophia lillis dungeons and dragons premiere

(L-R) Justice Smith, Hugh Grant, Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Rege-Jean Page, Sophia Lillis and Daisy Head attend the “Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves” UK Premiere at Cineworld Leicester Square on March 23, 2023, in London, England. (Photo by Joe Maher/Getty Images)

Lillis’s career has been notable for side-by-side braiding blockbusters and indie films. It’s a neat seesaw that offers variety while serving a practical purpose. “Sometimes you have to do the biggest stuff in order to do the smaller stuff,” she concedes. It was whilst she was working on one of the bigger films in Spain – Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City – that the script for The Adults fell into her lap. 

Asteroid City features a “who’s who” of acting talent (Tom Hanks, Margot Robbie, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, to name but a few), and although she was only on set for five days, Lillis is in awe over the scale of the production and the spinning carousel of talent. “There was just so many people,” she marvels. “It’s like: ‘So-and-so is here’, and you say, ‘How long is he here for?’, and they reply: ‘Oh, he just left. Someone else is here to take his place’. It’s like revolving doors, and it’s so crazy!”

This is where The Adults came as a welcome respite. An intimate story about three siblings struggling to reconnect after time apart, the small-scale production appealed immensely. Lillis, who has a twin brother and a stepbrother of her own, drew from her personal life to fulfil the brief. “I took a lot from my own childhood into this,” she reveals. “The way they speak to each other is very much how I speak to my brother. I mean, we had our own twin language or whatnot…apparently.” She laughs: “I just thought we were talking normal!” 

the adults sophia lillis

Credit: Universal Pictures

Sophia Lillis is enjoying the sort of ascent that makes your eyes water. She has taken it all in her stride, and another peak is on the horizon with D&D, where the flashbulb glare will only increase. She is braced for it. “You have to learn to navigate it,” she ponders. “Of course, you have to do press and stuff, but it’s good to manage yourself and balance out your public and private life.” While she opines that our culture of round-the-clock access is “a little unhealthy”, she is relieved that she has a team to help her with her social media.  

Friendly countenance aside, you sense a fierce ambition is motoring beneath Lillis’s composed surface. Yet, it is a testament to her commitment to her craft that, when pushed, her goal is a modest one: to simply keep “improving”. “I would love to do theatre again. And maybe that will help me become a better film actor.” 

You wouldn’t bet against her. Lillis is adulting with a maturity that belies her tender years. The world is hers for the taking.

Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is in cinemas on 31 March. The Adults currently does not have a UK release date. 

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