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Bill Skarsgard Talks About ‘It’ and Giving His Family a Scare

The process of transforming into Pennywise took two and a half hours, but that wasn’t the most grueling aspect of embodying the character. “Normally when you do a movie, you have those mundane days when it’s like, ‘Today is the scene where I get coffee,’” he said. “With this character, there were none of those. Everything I did took 100 percent of my energy. It was by far the most exhausting character I’ve ever done, physically and mentally.”


Mr. Skarsgard in full Pennywise regalia.

Brooke Palmer/Warner Bros. Pictures, via Associated Press

Like the shark in “Jaws,” Pennywise doesn’t get much screen time in “It,” making his sudden appearances all the more shocking. Mr. Skarsgard didn’t begin to work on the film until a month and a half into production, long after the actors playing the high school outcasts who unite against the psycho clown had started. The director, Andy Muschietti, suggested Mr. Skarsgard stay away from his young co-stars before he shot his first scene in character.

“Pennywise was this looming force they knew was coming but hadn’t seen yet,” Mr. Skarsgard said. “That built an excitement in the kids you could feel when they saw him for the first time. They were probably a bit scared.”

Mr. Skarsgard felt fear himself when he landed the role after a long audition period that included “a callback, a screen test and sending additional self-tape from Stockholm before it was official,” he said. “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.”

After extensive preparation that involved makeup and costume tests and consultations with a clowning coach, Mr. Skarsgard came up with a conception of the character in line with Mr. Muschietti’s vision. “Pennywise is constantly on the level of bursting,” the actor said. “His voice is this shaky, crackly thing. At almost any moment, he could lunge at you.”

The villain is so far removed from the soft-spoken Mr. Skarsgard’s own personality that he’s not concerned about getting typecast. “I wouldn’t want to be associated with one character, because I want to be able to do different roles,” he said. “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.” (In fact, his next role is in another Stephen King-inspired project, the Hulu drama series “Castle Rock.”)

No matter what lies ahead in his career, Mr. Skarsgard can count on the support of his family, including his older brother Alexander and father, Stellan, also a renowned actor (“Good Will Hunting,” “Breaking the Waves”). “They were always encouraging, but I’ve tried not to seek advice from them, because I wanted to feel independent,” Mr. Skarsgard said. “As I grow older and more comfortable with who I am, I realize asking for help is important.”

He said Alexander saw “It” at its recent Los Angeles premiere and praised his work.

“I’m proud of the film, and it means a lot when I get to show it to my family and they appreciate it,” Bill Skarsgard said. “It’s a great feeling.”

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