It is fair to say that Bill Skarsgård is steeped in Stephen King myth and legend at this point. Having already offered his own iconic interpretation of a famous King monster, Pennywise the Dancing Clown in It, he’s now filming the follow-up film that will explore Pennywise’s origins in greater detail in It: Chapter Two. And in the meantime, he just finished working on a starring role in Hulu’s Castle Rock… in which he plays a mysterious and unnamed inmate of Shawshank prison. And it was his performance as “the Kid” on Castle Rock that allowed us to sit down with the actor to talk about going from playing one of King’s most godlike entities to a seeming victim of King’s most insidious institution.
“I was actually reluctant going into it, because they were very secretive about the show,” Skarsgård tells me during an SDCC interview. “There was a two-sentence description of the character, there was no script to be read, because they were keeping everything under wraps, and It hadn’t come out yet, but I just did that and I felt like this was too much of what I just did.” Still, he was sent the script, and what really fascinated Skarsgård was an entire television series, if an anthological one, set in King’s universe… as well as a character who is the antithesis of Pennywise for an actor to play.
“Pennywise is extremely expressive and in control, and this character has another type of control, maybe,” the actor reflects. “He’s much more inside himself. Pennywise is all extrovert; it’s all about what the child or the perceiver is seeing [with Pennywise]. So it’s all show. [While the Kid] is a weird character to talk about, because I can only talk about the setup of the character. He’s been [at Shawshank] very long; he’s strange and wounded psychologically because he’s been in solitary confinement, isolated for so long; the truths of him… you’ll have to watch to find out.”
Teasing allusions aside, it is still remarkable to see Skarsgård, fresh off a breakout role in last summer’s biggest box office Cinderella story making the jump not only to the small screen but to streaming, specifically. His role as Pennywise has captured many imaginations—and his co-star Jane Levy even compared it to something like Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice, except you know, with more child-killing—yet Skarsgård is more than comfortable to be on television as his follow-up act. It is only remarkable though in how unremarkable it is for movie stars to increasingly embrace the small screen.
“I love the 10-hour, or eight-hour story,” Skarsgård says. “I truly think it’s the future of independent storytelling as well, like season one of True Detective or Fargo, and with Castle Rock as well. You have the beginning, middle, and end, and it’s 10 hours. For an actor to have that amount of material and time to slowly build a character and the journey, without it being a five, six-season thing, where you start treading water, and it repeats itself—you do have an ending to it. It’s amazing, and it’s something that I am going to try to do and be a part of as long as it works as an actor… Movies are great, that format as well, but I think you’re doing yourself a disfavor if you’re an actor and you’re like, ‘I only want to do films.’ What are you talking about? You’re missing out!”
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Skarsgård enjoys that both sides of an industry dichotomy have crumbled, as can you by seeing him on the latest episode of Castle Rock, which premieres on Wednesday, Aug. 1 on Hulu, and then in It: Chapter Two where he bedevils the Losers’ Club all-grown up on Sept. 6, 2019.