Bill Skarsgard turns on the terror as Pennywise the Clown in ‘It’
It seems that Sweden just isn’t going to stop producing actors with the name of Skarsgard. The current crop began with Stellan, who American audiences first got to know in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” “The Hunt for Red October,” and “Good Will Hunting.” More recently he had the part of Selvig in a few of Marvel’s “Avengers” films. In the midst of his prolific career, four of his sons followed him into the business. Alexander was the most recent Tarzan, Gustaf was in “Kon-Tiki” and plays Floki in the TV series “Vikings,” and Valter will soon be seen in “Lords of Chaos.
But it’s Bill, previously in “Allegiant,” currently in “Atomic Blonde,” who landed the coolest Skarsgard role to date when he won the part of Pennywise the Dancing Clown in “It,” a character created by Stephen King, then brought to life in the 1990 TV mini-series by Tim Curry. Let’s just say that Skarsgard has reinvented, inhabited and run with it, giving the demon-like, child-killing Pennywise a whole new level of terror. The friendly, chatty, excitable actor, 27, sat down last week in Los Angeles to talk about getting and doing the role.
Q: You were one of about 100 actors who auditioned for Pennywise. What do you think you did that made them choose you?
A: I don’t remember. It feels like a lifetime ago. I remember that I was really excited about the audition. There was room for so much creativity, I had never had a role like this. The audition was like pre-pressure. You do whatever you do, and then people respond to it or not. I thought, this is fun, and I spent three days playing around with different things and voices and facial expressions to figure out something that was unique to me, something that I could enhance. This was way before any conceptualizing of who the character was. Then I did the read, and (director) Andy Muschietti responded to it. Then we had another one, and we tweaked some things, so there was a process there.
Q: Did that process also include your own thoughts of how to play Pennywise physically?
A: When I was thinking about the concept of what scares ME, it’s like unpredictability that does it. So when something happens, if you have explosiveness and quick changes, that’s very unsettling. I wanted to incorporate that unpredictability but also have the character to be almost like ... you know when you’re about to pop a balloon, and you have the tension of what’s about to happen? I wanted to incorporate that in the physicality of the role. That was important for the character, but the goofy weirdness in him was important, as well. I wanted to find the balance of something that’s kind of strange and off, but ultimately scary and effective.
Q: There are a couple of scenes in the film where Pennywise mocks his young victims while he’s attacking them. Was that scripted or did you come up with it on the day?
A: That wasn’t scripted, but it was something that I really wanted to incorporate. I was thinking what defines evil, like real evil. And having a crying child, then mocking that crying child, is, to me, one of the most horrific things you could do. So I thought, “Great! Let’s do that!”
Q: You and the rest of the cast got together for a table reading before filming. But is it true that none of the kids saw you in your Pennywise makeup till you arrived on the set?
A: That’s true. Andy asked me what I thought about being kept separate from the kids. There was a whole bonding thing with them. They went out on excursions and biking trips. The camaraderie and friendship that you see in the film happened off-screen, too. But with me, it was the opposite, and there were two ways to go. With kid actors, either you go out of your way to make them feel comfortable around you, so they can use that and feel free when you work with them. Or you can create some tension, so there’s a very charged moment between us. I think it really worked with me in the scene with Eddie (played by Jack Dylan Grazer) first seeing me. It’s one of the most intense scenes in the movie. I was getting ready for it, and Jack was so excited that he was going to see Pennywise for the first time. I did say, “Hey, how’s it going? Good to see you.” But because it was my first day of shooting, I had to really get into this emotional state right before we did action. And when it’s action, nothing was gonna hold me back. So we shot it. It was me trying to kill this kid, and it’s really intense, and there was part of me saying to myself, “What are you doing, Bill?” But I had to commit to it, and suddenly I see this kid there, crying. And as soon as I heard “Cut!” I said, “Are you OK?” And he said, “That was awesome. I LOVE what you’re doing. I LOVE it!”
“It” opens on Sept. 8.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at email@example.com.