Another dreary Monday in Manhattan. You’ve begun to think the seasons will never change. It’s fitting weather for a sit-down with Bill Skarsgård, who you know best for his darker roles—as Pennywise the clown in the recent remake of Stephen King’s It and Roman Godfrey in the Netflix/Gaumont hit series Hemlock Grove. To your surprise you find yourself a bit anxious—you’re the type of horror-movie-goer who keeps your hands over your eyes for most of the film, and Skarsgård’s performances have been convincing enough, eerie enough, that you’ve worked yourself into a case of nerves by the time you arrive at the luxurious landmark Gramercy Park Hotel, located just off the park itself.
You see him hopping out of a black car just as you reach the front door of the hotel. His severe, angular features are instantly recognizable, even from a distance. Skarsgård offers a warm smile during this unexpected introduction that sets your mind immediately at ease. He towers above you, sporting a green bomber jacket. You feel a bit like you’re meeting a figure from an Egon Schiele painting, come to life. Skarsgård is striking, with a quiet air of self-possession.
Having just finished a photo shoot, he welcomes the opportunity to grab a bite to eat in the hotel restaurant. He is in the city promoting the forthcoming Hulu series Castle Rock, a psychological drama series from the minds of J.J. Abrams and Stephen King. You sit at a table for two, surrounded by people busily working at laptops and gossiping over coffee. Enjoying a much-needed respite from the April drizzle, you both take a moment to relax.
The Skarsgård name is now familiar to audiences, thanks to the standout performances from the four thespian siblings—Valter, Bill, Gustaf, and Alexander. “It was normal for me,” Skarsgård says, reflecting on his unconventional upbringing in a family of performers. He recognizes the value of the support he’s had from his family, acknowledging the luxury of pursuing his life’s passion from an early age. “I have been acting since the age of 9. It seemed like the place where I could...” he searches for the right word, “...where I could really achieve something.”
And achieve he has. It has claimed the dual titles of biggest September opening and the biggest opening for a horror movie in cinema history, thanks in large part to his instantly iconic performance as Pennywise, which has become a pop-culture sensation, much like Tim Curry’s in the original It. Audiences are asking for more, and Skarsgård is delivering—he’s signed on to appear in the sequel set for release in September of 2019.
In It Skarsgård is expertly camouflaged as the sinister, shapeshifting apparition of a child’s deepest fears. With his teeth bared in a lip-curling grin, Bill’s voice work is masterful—always cracking on verge of hysterics, but with the saccharine, high-pitched inflection one would use with a pet. The physicality of Pennywise is perhaps the most ingeniously unsettling dimension Skarsgård lends to the character. In the beginning of his scenes, Pennywise is unnervingly still, his body articulated like a puppet. When you least expect it, he will lurch in a ferocious, convulsive blur, mimicking horrors that lurk only in the deepest realms of sleep paralysis.
You ask Skarsgård if he’s always felt drawn to darker material. He explains that the appeal isn’t necessarily the genre—it’s more about the motivations of the characters. And who could turn down a chance to play Pennywise? “Character is part of the mystery. I’m not necessarily a huge horror fan. I like Stephen King the way everybody likes Stephen King, but it was really the character that drew me in.” The most difficult part about embodying a monster? “The makeup—it’s uncomfortable,” he replies with a laugh. Turns out bringing a maniacal, child-eating clown to life, from costume to gutter-dwelling reality, requires a great deal of preparation and transformation.
Pennywise is just the latest in a series of increasingly high-profile roles coming Skarsgård’s way. He recently took a spin as an East- German contact working with MI6 during the fall of the Berlin wall in Atomic Blonde alongside Charlize Theron and James McAvoy, and before that he appeared in the latest installment of the Divergent Series, Allegiant, opposite Shailene Woodley. Still, Skarsgård says, he’s not just chasing a paycheck. “I don’t care about the size of the film as long as the script is good.”
When Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation hits theaters, audiences will see a more complex side of Skarsgård. A hit at Sundance, he plays opposite Odessa Young and Hari Nef in the blood- soaked sociopolitical thriller, which follows a group of high school seniors in a small town who are targeted in a malicious data hack. The plot develops into a kind of witch-hunt once secrets are exposed and the citizens turn on each other—a situation that is all too plausible in this day and age. “I read the script before Trump!” he mentions. “It’s feels very prescient. It’s about power abuse, which can happen in one hundred different ways, as we’ve seen.” Perhaps this is what makes Skarsgård so interesting to watch, both on screen and in front of you now—he is always paying attention, considering what the details might mean.
Skarsgård keeps a tight lip about his role in Hulu’s forthcoming Castle Rock, mentioning that his character is integral to the intrigue of the plot and that he doesn’t want to spoil anything. Maybe the Americano you’re sipping is going straight to your head, but you welcome the mystery—you’re okay with having to wait for the 10 episode series to debut in late July like everyone else.
As if Skarsgård isn’t busy enough, he is currently in production on Villains, a dark, comedic thriller in which he acts opposite another emerging titan of modern horror—Maika Monroe from 2016’s It Follows. The movie centers on two amateur criminals who break into a suburban home and encounter two sadistic homeowners who will do anything to keep a dark secret hidden. Next comes his turn in the raucously anticipated irreverent superhero flick Deadpool 2 as the X-Force mutant Zeitgeist. This variety of roles suits him well—“I wouldn’t want to be stuck in any genre or character specifically,” he states. From a cannibal clown, to a Marvel movie mutant, Skarsgård’s immense range as an actor transcends the limitations of typecasting.
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” you ask. It’s an age-old question, but Skarsgård strikes you as the type of guy who has a plan. Your instincts don’t fail you. Skarsgård divulges his long-term goal of producing his own work. “I’m accumulating people that I like being around,” he says. He talks about “being a part of a community” in which those same people can adapt books they like into films or take on scripts they admire. “Five years from now?” he repeats your question, pausing in consideration. “I hope to get to do things our way.” You appreciate the sentiment.
As your interview is winding down, you get carried away discussing the books you’ve recently read. Skarsgård’s been captivated by George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, and recently caught the latest Broadway run of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh starring Denzel Washington. With his natural curiosity on display, he even takes out his phone at one point to jot down a few character-driven novels you suggest he might enjoy. You realize Skarsgård’s interests are as varied and wide-ranging as the roles he takes on—he’s always in search of novel ideas and new ground to break.
As you stand to leave the restaurant, a man who has been sitting at a table nearby during your exchange stops you. He apologizes for the interruption, but mentions he has a good story he’d like to share. In a rush of excitement, he recounts how he once heard Robin Williams talk about a time when he went walking with his friend Christopher Reeves. According to the man, a stranger rushed up to the pair in the street, stopping them abruptly. The passerby pointed at Williams and Reeves and yelled with excitement, “It’s Patch Adams and Super Man! It’s Patch Adams and Super Man!” Without offering additional context, the man telling you this story laughs a knowing laugh. He adds a “good luck” and says nothing else before looking pleased with himself. You all enjoy the scene, reflecting on the varied, singular characters that life presents, before heading your separate ways.
Written by Katie Shepherd
Photographed by Owen Reynolds
Flaunt Film by XIXIKIWII
Styled by Christian Stroble
Groomer: Amy Komorowski
Photographed at Hotel Americano