Bill Skarsgard on the Intense Role of Pennywise in ‘It’

October 14, 2017

You may not recognize the chiseled face of Swedish actor Bill Skarsgard, but if you saw it caked with cracking demonic clown makeup, it’d almost certainly ring a bell. Skarsgard is most known for his portrayal as Pennywise the Dancing Clown from the film adaptation of the 1986 Stephen King novel and mega movie hit It. The 27-year-old actor recently told The New York Times how depleted he felt while playing the murderous character, saying, “Everything I did took 100-percent of my energy. It was by far the most exhausting character I’ve ever done, physically and mentally.”

Skarsgard happened to be in Los Angeles auditioning for unrelated roles when he was given the opportunity to audition for Pennywise. He showed up without any makeup and believed the audition went well. Sure enough, Skarsgard found himself as one of the final four contenders for the part. Still, it would take a callback while wearing make up, a screen test, and sending in a self-tape once he was back in Stockholm before landing the infamous part. “I was equally as excited as I was terrified when I booked the job because now these people expected me to pull it off. It was a nervous time,” he admitted.

To prepare, Bill experimented with makeup and costumes, and he consulted with a clown coach. Knowing his character feeds on fear and detests children, he decided to portray “It” with animalistic and childlike physicality. He delved into the dark recesses of his mind attempting to play an entity that enjoys doing evil. “I think I’ve gone through every sort of emotion on the way of prepping for this character–sort of terror and doubt and excitement,” he said.

Although the costume was hot, and it took two and a half hours for the makeup artists to work their creepy magic, Skarsgard was glad his identity was largely concealed. He shared, “I wouldn’t want to be associated with one character because I want to be able to do different roles. Pennywise looks and sounds so different from me that I could do a rom-com next, and people probably wouldn’t even know I was the same guy.”

Skarsgard comes from a large acting family. His father is Stellan Skarsgard who starred in Good Will Hunting opposite Robin Williams. Of the eight kids in the family, four of them including Bill have gone on to become actors thanks to the encouragement of their dad. While movie goers see Bill dressed as a horrific clown, his older brother, Alexander, sees something quite different.

Bill was understandably concerned that he might be traumatizing the child actors with whom he shared gruesome scenes. Fortunately, the children describe him as a “really nice guy in real life.” But they do admit that it was “really, really terrifying” to perform in scenes together. Probably safe to assume they won’t want clowns to perform at their future birthday parties.

Bill Skarsgard’s previous roles include the sci-fi film Allegiant and the Netflix horror series Hemlock Grove. And it should be no surprise he’s currently working on a number of projects including the film Assassination Nation and Hulu’s psychological horror web series Castle Rock.