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Bill Skarsgård found himself in the bizarre position of chasing down a psychotic killer clown. Or was it creeping up on him?
The search for Pennywise in Stephen King’s It was a harrowing, haunting and sometimes humiliating experience. From the audition to the performance on set, Skarsgård constantly pushed himself not just to the limit, but far beyond his comfort zone.
The result was one of 2017’s most horrifying monsters, and Entertainment Weekly has named Skarsgård one of the entertainers of the year.
Here’s the actor’s first-hand account of going in search of the shapeshifting evil presence, and how he finally captured it:
“Pennywise was so extreme, and so far away from anything I’ve ever done. For the callback, director Andy Muschietti asked for people to wear simple whiteface. Not a clown nose, but a red-painted nose and a clown smile. I thought this was a great idea – up until the point where I realize I don’t know how to put on makeup. That’s a skill I don’t have.
“I ended up asking my girlfriend to put some makeup on that morning, and then I get into the car and had to drive across L.A. in this clown makeup. There was something kind of humiliated and absurd about the whole thing. I’m an actor auditioning in Hollywood, and I’m driving with a clownface on. It’s kind of a metaphor for what the profession of acting feels like.
“Andy had also asked to explore clown laughter, so I’m sitting in the car and I feel ridiculous, but I thought I might as well absorb it and use it. So I just started to laugh like crazy in the car, as I’m just bearing down on pedestrians.
“The audition was not on a studio lot, so I had to park and walk for a few blocks with my clownface on. I pretty much just stayed in character through the whole thing. It was one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever done. It sums up my approach to this character.
“Something I found disturbing was that I wanted Pennywise to feel entirely unpredictable at every moment, and also his voice doesn’t have a predictable way of sounding. It can go kind of up and down and crackle, you can go really high pitch and low pitch, even in the same sentence.
“I wanted it to be sort of colorful in that way. It can be soft and it can be whispery and it can be alluring, then it crackles and breaks a lot of times. He’s not entirely there, you know? It’s sort of this entity performing as a clown but it’s also something so much more sinister, just beneath the surface at all times. Even with the eyes pointing in different directions and the crackling of the voice, you find something that’s not, entirely … right.
“For me, I’ve discovered that almost every character that you play tends to have a note, almost like a tone, or a hum. I almost discovered it with this character, but with Pennywise it was always sort of a scream. Or his hysterical laugh. I would do that before takes or right before going into a scene and then, ‘Action!’ That energy carries into the scene and also the energy of the character.
“It was such a physically demanding performance that I wasn’t as chit-chatty and mingling with the crew as I normally am. I had to sort of stay very focused and somewhat isolated on set in order to do justice to the character.
“I just needed to allow myself to go very crazy and be silly and really embrace the weirdness and scariness of it all.”