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Jaeden Martell on Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, Stephen King, and the horrors of technology

Jaeden Martell is no stranger to the world of Stephen King. As young Bill Denbrough in 2017’s It and 2019’s It: Chapter Two, Martell, along with a cast of talented young actors such as Stranger Things‘ Finn Wolfhard and Jack Dylan Grazer of Shazam!, battled the horrors of suburbia, puberty, and Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

Martell is back in King’s haunted Maine stomping grounds with Mr. Harrigan’s Phone on Netflix. Co-starring Donald Sutherland, the film focuses on the relationship between Sutherland’s reclusive Mr. Harrigan and Martell’s shy, mournful teenager, Craig, and what happens when Mr. Harrington keeps calling his young friend even after he dies. In a conversation with Digital Trends, Martell discusses the film’s many themes, how it’s not just a horror film, and what other Stephen King film adaptation he would like to star in.

Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Digital Trends: What drew you to Mr. Harrigan’s Phone and, in particular, to the role of Craig?

Jaeden Martell: I was immediately drawn to the movie because it’s not necessarily a horror film. It utilizes suspense quite effectively and didn’t overdo it. It felt very real to me. Craig is a very complex character and how he reacts to certain things that happen in the film felt genuine.

Craig gives Mr. Harrigan an iPhone in Mr. Harrigan's Phone.

Were you familiar with the story before you joined the project?

No, I wasn’t. After I read the script, I read the novella in the collection, If It Bleeds. I loved it. I felt very attached to it and sort of used it as a diary for Craig. It allowed me to get a more in-depth look into him and why he does what he does in the movie.

With this film and your role as Bill in the two It movies, you’re become a Stephen King film mainstay now. Do you have a favorite Stephen King novel? And is there a future film adaptation of one of King’s stories that you’d like to be a part of?

I haven’t read a lot of Stephen’s books. Honestly, my favorite book of his is On Writing. He talks about his childhood and his personal life, which I think would be really interesting to see on-screen. It would be interesting to play him as a young writer just starting out.

One of the pleasant surprises for me was that the film paid a lot of attention to your relationship with Donald Sutherland’s character, Mr. Harrigan. What was it like working with such a respected actor?

It was an amazing experience. I feel very fortunate to have worked with him because I got to see his process and how his brain works. It was the ultimate educational experience for me to able to get close to him and hear the stories he has to tell.

When you work with someone legendary like that, you don’t expect and you don’t feel like you deserve their time because they’ve been doing this so long. He’s worked with some of he greatest actors and the greatest directors who have ever lived. And he is one of them. He has so much wisdom, so I learned a lot from him.

Craig takes a phone from a corpse in Mr. Harrigan's Phone.

Like you mentioned earlier, the film is more than a horror story. It’s about Craig grieving for his mother or about technology intruding on our lives via the iPhone. Was there a particular theme that interested you or was it the complete package: the horror aspects, King’s commentary on technology, Craig’s relationship with his parents, etc.?

It was the complete package for me. In particular, I really liked how the film had something to say about the dangers of spreading disinformation and the pitfalls of social media. Craig and Mr. Harrigan are a part of the problem and they had to learn to evolve out of it. In the end, Craig doesn’t cut out technology completely, but he’s cautious about it. Accept the benefits, but also can’t get too caught up in it.

What do you want viewers to take away from this whole mess after they’ve watched it?

The point of the film is to find a balance in one’s life. Craig believes everything Mr. Harrigan says because he’s older and, therefore, wiser. Even when Mr. Harrigan dies, Craig continues to rely on him to solve his problems. Craig learns that he can take some of Mr. Harrigan’s advice and learn from his mistakes.

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone | Official Trailer | Netflix

I liked that journey of Craig figuring that out. It’s finding balance in everything: advice, technology, everything. That’s how I try to live. I’m always trying to find a balance between respecting what technology gives us and the powers that it gives us in communication and the knowledge that comes with the information, but also being wary of its effect on us.

It’s the same as what Craig needs from Mr. Harrigan. He doesn’t need to live as Harrigan did, which caused him to be removed from everyone and be feared by everyone.

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is currently streaming on Netflix.

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