Will this Skarsgard make it with ‘It’?

Skarsgard. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

LOS ANGELES—“There were lots of amazing actors who went up for this role and had really cool takes on it—Andy (Muschietti, director) has said as much. But he picked me,” remarked Bill Skarsgard, from the renowned Skarsgard acting family, about his title role in “It.”

Playing the shapeshifting evil, Pennywise the Clown, in the eagerly awaited feature film adaptation of Stephen King’s bestselling novel may make Bill a star in his own right, and allow him to step away from the shadow of his dad, Stellan, and brothers Alexander, Gustaf and Valter.

It will be a well-deserved recognition of Bill who has been gradually building a career, starting in Sweden, then hopping to the US with roles in film (“Allegiant,” “Atomic Blonde”) and TV (“Hemlock Grove”).

The 27-year-old is shooting “Castle Rock,” a horror drama series for Hulu by King and J.J. Abrams, finished the movies, “Assassination Nation” and “Battlecreek,” and will return as Matthew in “Ascendant”—the TV movie installment of “The Divergent Series.”

Teased that all these breaks may change him, the actor quipped, “If I ever become a diva, or start to have diva tendencies, please let me know, because I will shoot myself (laughs). I don’t think you should be that way (diva). I was brought up in a way that you treat everybody equally.”

He’s been so busy that he does not have a place he could call home. But he might buy a house in Stockholm in the near future.

“I like being in LA, but I don’t think I want to live here,” he explained. “Stockholm is a very good place for anyone because this (LA) is a city that changes your perception of life. But, Stockholm has my family and friends, whom I’ve known all my life. It has a grounding effect on me.”

Tall (6’4”), very slim and boyish-looking, Bill is the last person you’d expect to embody the terrifying predator, Pennywise. But, credit Bill’s acting talent—and with the help of his malevolent clown makeup (which took two and half hours to apply)—he became “It.”

Bill Skarsgard plays Pennywise, the malevolent clown in “It.” Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Excerpts from our chat:

With several Skarsgards in entertainment, is it easier or harder for you, career-wise? It’s a blessing and a curse. Wherever I go, I’ll always be associated with my family. When I was younger, that bothered me more. I started out in Sweden, which is a small country, and my family is really big there (laughs). So, it’s even more apparent in Sweden.

When you mature, you grow out of it. But, when you’re young, you want to be your own person and not judged by, “Oh, do you think he’s better-looking, and do you think he’s worse than his brother (laughs)?” Or, “He is definitely skinnier.”

It overwhelmed me at times. When I was younger, I felt that I had more need to stand on my own legs. But, the more I establish myself as an actor and got older, I [became] prouder of my family. That’s a healthier way to approach it.

Coming from the Skarsgard family does have a lot of benefits. But, there are downsides, as well. I hope I continue to get work, to establish myself and have a career where I’m not just someone’s brother or son. That I am me.

Can you give a sense of what it was like on the set and working with the kids? Were you kept away from them until you had to do scenes together? The first time I met the kids was at a read-through. It was the worst read-through that I’ve ever had because I have not yet developed the character. You have the studio executives and producers, and I had to read the lines. I wasn’t comfortable with revealing the character yet—he was still [a character] in the making.

That was the first time I met the kids. I was like, “Hi, I’m Bill. I am going to play the clown who tries to kill you (laughs).” They were really nice. Then, I talked to Andy, and he was like, “There’s an idea to keep you separated from the kids.” Kid actors can be completely brilliant when they’re good, but there’s also a “delicacy” working with kids. You need to handle them in a way for their performance to be the best.

But, when you get older, you have more sense of what you’re doing. So, we tried to be strategic about it. We decided to keep myself separate from them. It was the loneliest film production I’ve ever done, because I didn’t work for a month and a half, while the kids bonded. Andy and the crew would hang out with them on weekends.

I was just by myself trying to wrestle this demonic clown I was going to portray. On my first day of shooting, the kids didn’t see me in makeup. They were completely separate from me. They’ve been shooting for a month and a half, and they have become best friends. They still haven’t seen the clown.

So it was a much-anticipated, highly charged thing on the first day of shooting with the kids. It’s the scene in the movie where I come out of the fridge. It’s a very intense scene. That was the first scene I shot with Jack Grazer. I was really close to his face, drooling and spitting on him.

The first time he saw me, he just went, “Whoa, that’s awesome (laughs).” I was like, “Yeah, OK. How are you?” But I didn’t know him, and it was charged, I was trying to keep what the essence was. So I’d walk around pacing and laughing maniacally, and making these noises and screams to be in the right tone for the scene. Then, they go, “Action!” I’m mocking Jack’s breathing. I charge him, I scream and drool on him.

Jack is crying, and he starts gagging because his character has this gag reflex. He is hysterical. As I am doing it, because I’m committed to what I am doing, I’m also like, what the hell are you doing right now, you’re traumatizing this kid? They go, “Cut!” I am like, “Are you OK, Jack?” He goes, “Yeah, man, that was great! I love what you’re doing with the character!” I thought I was traumatizing the kid, but he was like, “I love what you’re doing!”

Do you think that once this movie is shown, your dating life will get more interesting? I don’t know, because Pennywise is a very big contrast to even the character that I played in “Castle Rock” for Hulu, which is also this sort of Stephen King world, (laughs). It’s not going to help (my dating life), I think. A lot of girls might get disappointed (laughs).

In real life, I’m way too nice, if that’s what they’re into. I like to drink tea and watch TV shows at night.

Now that you’re about to become famous, has your life started to change? My life hasn’t changed one bit. I still don’t have a home anywhere (laughs). I don’t know how it’s going to change. I don’t think about it too much. Even before the movie has come out, I’ve been noticing people being really engaged in the film, which is different. Like, I was at the airport in Boston the other week. When I went through security and showed my passport, this guy looks at it and goes, “Are you related to the actor?”

I go, “Yeah, I am. I am his son, or his brother, depending on who you mean.” He goes, “But it’s you, right?” I’m like, “What do you mean?” He is like, “You’re doing Pennywise.” So I guess that was a little bit of a change. And he was like, “I can’t wait for that film, man!” He was so excited, and he looked like someone who would really be into horror films, if that makes sense (laughs).

Will you return in this movie’s part two? They’re working on it now, and I really hope I can be (in part two), because I love working with Andy so much. I hope to be a part of the process of figuring out what the next movie will be like. I’m excited for that task, as well, because it will be a different film and it needs to be a different Pennywise, because we’re dealing with adults. I’m really looking forward to that one.

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