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Making IT big

Passyunk Square native Jaeden Lieberher stars in the new film adaptation of a Stephen King classic.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The last time Jaeden Lieberher spoke with South Philly Review, he was 10 years old and had just landed his first commercial gig. The commercial aired during the Super Bowl, and he said he wanted to keep doing what he was doing.

Four years later, the former resident of the 1200 block of South Clarion Street maintains the same sentiment, even though his acting chops have expanded far beyond commercials.

Now 14, Jaeden is set to lead in one of the most anticipated blockbusters of the fall. He is the star of “It,” a film adaptation of Stephen King’s classic horror novel. It’s his first blockbuster-leading role, but he already has 11 television and film acting credits to cram onto his resume.

Ask him yourself, though, and he’ll say not much has changed since that initial interview.

“I’ve hit puberty, that’s pretty much it,” he said with a laugh.

Jaeden plays Bill Denbrough, who lives in the fictional rural town of Derry, Maine. In the film, Bill’s 6-year-old brother Georgie is claimed by Pennywise the Dancing Clown, an entity that lives in the town’s sewers and is able to take the form of any child’s greatest fear. Bill leads his friends in an investigation to take down Pennywise, all the while hoping to find his little brother.

They may look identical, but Jaeden and Bill have vastly different backgrounds; Jaeden city-hopped from Philadelphia to Los Angeles when he was about 8 to pursue his acting career, and Bill is used to biking everywhere in his small town home with his friends. Bill also speaks with a stutter.

To approach the character, Jaeden had to find similarities.

“Bill has a fear of losing his little brother, and I have a similar fear I’ll lose someone I’m close to,” he said. He was able to approach the role with that common fear in mind.

“It helped me imagine what Bill is going through, so having a similar fear is how I related to him,” he said. Jaeden’s Georgie is his mother.

As for the stutter, Jaeden used YouTube to research how to speak with one, but quickly found there are no prevalent speech patterns.

“It was difficult to find the balance of sounding real, and making sure it was noticeable,” he said.

Jaeden speaks softer than his on-screen counterpart, measuring each word with contemplative care. He’s entirely humble, and treats landing his role in “It” with the same importance of landing that Super Bowl commercial, because they were both “equally important to his future.”

For someone his age, he’s already done quite a lot for his future. In 2014, he starred in “St. Vincent” alongside Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy and Naomi Watts. For that role, Jaeden played a bullied kid who Murray’s alcoholic war veteran character takes under his wing, for better or worse.

That role also was big for Jaeden’s future. He earned five award nominations for his performance, and he took home the prize in Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards’ Youth in Film category, and Phoenix Film Critics Society’s Best Performance by a Youth category.

“It” isn’t the only movie he’s played the lead role in this year. Earlier this year, he starred alongside Watts again in “The Book of Henry,” this time as an 11-year-old genius who concocts a plan to save the girl next door from being abused by her father.

Although acting keeps him busy, Jaeden looks forward to returning to the east coast to visit family who still reside in Philadelphia.

“I feel weird being there, because I never want to do the touristy things because I’ve lived there most of my life,” he said with a laugh.

His favorite thing to do is go to restaurants and “see what’s new.” A relative owns Johnny Brenda’s, a bar in Fishtown, one of his favorite jawns.

He said he misses Philly’s weather; his west coast friends never heard of a snow day.

As for the future, Jaeden’s approach is the same as it was four years ago.

“I hope to keep acting in movies,” he said. “I just feel that anyone who gets to do this should be the happiest person, so I’m really, really glad it happened.”

In each of the three films he’s played a lead role in, he’s played someone who deals with bullying. In the future, he’d like to take on a more sinister role, like a villain.

How about taking up the role of Pennywise in a potential “It” sequel?

“Maybe in 20 years,” he responded.

He will next appear in “The True Adventures of WolfBoy.” Details on that question-raising title are hush-hush, but at least for now, he gets to keep doing what makes him happy.

Another future goal he has is getting behind the camera and directing. It only took him a few years to achieve the goal he set at age 10. Who knows where he could be in another four years?

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