VARIETY – Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.
Film festivals may be raging from Venice to Telluride to Toronto, but the biggest industry story this week had to be the box office dominance of Andy Muscietti’s Stephen King adaptation “It.” The film raked in nearly $120 million opening weekend and looks to stay strong over the next week, ensuring a whole new generation’s fear of clowns.
Actor Bill Skarsgard got the call to play Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the film, the physical manifestation of an evil entity that has terrorized a small Maine town for centuries. But it was a daunting prospect, not least of all because such an iconic portrayal of the character already existed courtesy of Tim Curry in ABC’s 1990 miniseries adaptation.
THE NEW YORK TIMES – Bill Skarsgard was calling from his native Sweden, where “It” — the much-anticipated horror film in which he co-stars — was set for a premiere in Stockholm on Friday. “It’s more of a family gathering,” Mr. Skarsgard said. “I’ve invited all my cousins and uncles, and my sister, who works in event planning, is throwing the after-party. My brother Alexander did the same thing with ‘The Legend of Tarzan’ last year, so he inspired me.”
But Pennywise, the child-killing clown Mr. Skarsgard plays in this adaptation of the 1986 Stephen King novel, is a far cry from Tarzan. “It will be fun to see my entire family jump while watching my performance,” Mr. Skarsgard, 27, said.
His relatives probably won’t be the only ones startled by his disturbing turn. “It” is expected to devour the competition at the box office this weekend, building off the repeated reports of creepy-clown sightings around the United States and in Britain in recent years. “These are grown men who put on makeup and try to entertain children,” Mr. Skarsgard said of professional clowns. “If you ask anybody what they think of clowns, it’s associated as much or more with something crazy and scary as it is something joyful. I don’t think this film is going to help that.”
“It” will no doubt be a boost to the career of Mr. Skarsgard, who was previously seen in the sci-fi film “Allegiant” and Netflix’s supernatural drama “Hemlock Grove.” He’s fine with the fact that in this film he disappears underneath layers of prosthetics. “I’m a pretty private person, so I don’t mind not being recognized,” he said. “It’s nice to hide behind the makeup.”
Of the eight Skarsgård siblings, four of them—Valter, Bill, Gustaf and Alexander—are professional actors, each blessed with the good looks and distinctly rakish swagger of their father, Stellan. So the odds of 26-year-old Bill finding his footing in the industry weren’t exactly stacked against him. More unexpected is the path he’s chosen: neither through the mainstream (such as Alexander, a leading man since his star turn on HBO’s True Blood) nor through auteur-driven projects (such as Stellan, who has appeared in six films by the Danish provocateur Lars von Trier), but rather through a series of unexpected, résumé-confounding detours. Take his biggest American role to date, as Pennywise, the demonic child-eating clown, in the upcoming remake of It, out thisSeptember. As the blood-curdling creature originally played by Tim Curry in the 1990 miniseries of the same name, Skarsgård spends the entire film hidden beneath layers of garish and grotesque makeup—a daring choice for any young actor with matinee idol features.
But Skarsgård has been in the business long enough to know what he’s doing. He spent much of his youth traveling the world with his father, from film set to film set, and his first role came at the age of 9, as the younger brother to Alexander’s character in the Swedish thriller White Water Fury (2000). After being cast in a handful of roles, both big and small, back home—including an award-winning turn as a young man with Asperger’s syndrome in Simple Simon (2010)—his first major appearance on Stateside screens was in the Netflix fantasy series Hemlock Grove. This July, he will begin his play for international stardom alongside Charlize Theron and James McAvoy in Atomic Blonde, a high-octane spy thriller set in a simmering East Berlin. After that, he’ll appear in Assassination Nation, alongside cool-kids Hari Nef and Suki Waterhouse.
But first: breakfast. Over a meal at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, Skarsgård submits to some words of wisdom—and a little gentle bullying—from his older brother Alexander.