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Why Bill Skarsgard Hasn't Been The Same Since IT

After the release of the 2017 reboot of Stephen King's It, a wave of positive reviews immediately began to pile up online. The film has a solid 86 percent critic score and an 84 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a massive achievement for the oversaturated horror genre. In addition to entertaining critics and audiences, It broke several box office records, including being the cheapest film to top $100 million in its opening weekend, the best single day of profits for an R-rated movie, and the most profitable Stephen King film ever. 

A large portion of It's success is due to Bill Skarsgård, the actor who plays Pennywise the killer clown. Though Tim Curry is fondly remembered for his portrayal of Pennywise in the original miniseries, Skarsgård manages to make the role his own. Veering away from Curry's more humorous clown portrayal, Skarsgård doesn't fall into his predecessor's shadow due to his more sinister interpretation. But you can't play a child-murdering clown and expect to walk away unscathed. When you step into those floppy shoes and get into the mindset of an evil ancient entity, you might wind up in some pretty dark places ... like Skarsgård has. Despite the film's massive success, here's why Bill Skarsgård has never quite been the same since It.

The man who made It so scary

Though the Swedish actor is primarily known for his role as Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård has been acting since age nine. However, as Skarsgård grew older, he became reluctant about continuing his acting career into adulthood. As Skarsgård told Interview magazine, "I did smaller parts here and there as a kid, and then as I grew older I started resisting it, because I didn't like the idea of being, at the time, number four of the Skarsgård actors."

Skarsgård comes from a family of actors. His dad Stellan Skarsgård is known for his roles in films like Good Will HuntingNymphomaniacThorMamma Mia!, and The Avengers. Aside from his father, three of Bill's six siblings are also actors. His brother Alexander is most well-known for his roles in True BloodBig Little Lies, and ZoolanderGustaf was featured in Vikings and Westworld. Finally, Valter is less known to audiences outside of Sweden, where the actor has been in various productions.

Despite his initial concerns, Bill Skarsgård was ultimately drawn to the acting profession after he was shown what he considered a few fantastic screenplays. As the actor explained to Interview, "I had no idea what I wanted to do. In my last two years of high school ... there happened to be these few scripts that I really responded to. ... Eventually, I landed the job, and that was something that I felt transcended whatever other people would think of me."

Bill Skarsgard becomes Pennywise the Dancing Clown

In It, Pennywise first appears in the small town of Derry, Maine, and offers a young boy named Georgie some help in retrieving a paper boat that was washed down a storm drain. Of course, Pennywise isn't as helpful as he claims to be, and the clown quickly devours the kid with some seriously scary teeth. After Georgie's untimely death and disappearance, his older brother, Bill, becomes friends with a group of children who band together to defeat the evil creature and protect themselves from meeting a fate similar to Georgie's. All the while, Pennywise terrorizes each of them by preying on their worst fears.

Pennywise is, without a doubt, Bill Skarsgård's most famous role to date and for a good reason. The actor's portrayal of a killer clown has received near-universal praise among critics and filmgoers. One of the key reasons for all of the praise is the physicality of the role. Regarding his part, the actor told The New York Times, "Everything I did took 100 percent of my energy. It was by far the most exhausting character I've ever done, physically and mentally."

In the Blu-Ray special feature "Pennywise Lives!," Bill spoke about the physical considerations of playing Pennywise, saying he often passed on using stunt doubles because, "There's so much about some of the fight sequences in the movie where Pennywise's physicality must be Pennywise's physicality, and I wanted to bring my movement and physicality in as much as I could." Except for physically dangerous scenes, Skarsgård insisted on always playing Pennywise himself, a decision that frequently left him utterly exhausted on set.

Getting into Pennywise's mind

How does one begin to portray an inhuman shapeshifter that literally feeds off of the fear of other beings? One way that Bill Skarsgård went about this was to think about how Pennywise interacted with the other characters in the film. Skarsgård told Entertainment Weekly, "I liken every character that I do to a relationship that you're in. Pennywise and Bill go into this sort of relationship together, and I'm trying to figure out who he is, and I have to devote so much time and effort to this other person — or thing, in this case — and that goes on for months." 

In an interview with Collider, Bill further elaborated on his approach to playing Pennywise, telling them about how he tried to get into Pennywise's head to better understand the creature. "It really enjoyed being the clown. He preferred to take the shape of the clown. Obviously, that opened ways of thinking. Why does he prefer being the clown? But also there is this sense of enjoyment. The entity that is 'It' is enjoying being the clown. There were a lot of abstract ways to look at it. I tried to take all of those in consideration when I embodied the character." 

Skarsgard scared more than just audiences

While Skarsgård managed to scare audiences around the world, his fellow actors also found themselves frequently unsettled by Pennywise while working on the film.

Because the majority of It surrounds Pennywise and the members of the so-called Losers' Club, many of the scenes require Skarsgård to work directly with the child actors. To keep the children's reactions as realistic as possible, Skarsgård tried to stay in character whenever he was working. He explained to Interview magazine, "On set, I wasn't very friendly or goofy. I tried to maintain some sort of weirdness about the character, at least when I was in all the makeup."

Additionally, when he was in costume, Skarsgård was kept completely separate from the actors playing his young victims between takes. Because of this, the children had no idea what Pennywise would look like in each scene.

Bill recalled when he realized just how effective this separation tactic was. He told Interview, "This one kid started crying. He started to cry and the director yelled, 'Action!' And when they say 'action,' I am completely in character. So some of these kids got terrified and started to cry in the middle of the take, and then I realized, 'Holy s***. What am I doing? What is this? This is horrible.'"

Playing Pennywise is like a destructive relationship

When preparing to play in It, Bill Skarsgård saw his connection to Pennywise as a toxic relationship, although one that had some good moments. As he explained to Entertainment Weekly, "It's just like being in a very destructive relationship. ... All your friends go, 'You need to dump this piece of s***, he or she is destroying your life.' And then once you're out of it, you see, 'I was so miserable.' But I wouldn't say I was miserable doing Pennywise because I had a lot of fun with it, as well."

Considering the emotional toll of playing Pennywise, it's no surprise that Skarsgård felt relief after filming for It concluded. He told EW that after finishing up the first movie, he went back to his childhood home in Sweden. And one day, he was visiting with his mom, enjoying the coffee and the company, when he suddenly realized that he was free from Pennywise. "It was a very quick shift of just feeling better," he explained, "like, 'Oh my god, I'm relieved that I don't have to deal with the darkness of the character. I likened it to an exorcism — him exiting my body and getting rid of the Pennywise toxins."

Bill Skarsgard dreams about Pennywise

Skarsgård's Pennywise didn't just scare moviegoers. Skarsgård himself was haunted by the killer clown even after filming concluded. He told Entertainment Weekly, "I was home, done with the movie, and I started having very strange and vivid Pennywise dreams. Every night, he came and visited." 

Skarsgård further elaborated on the dreams, saying that they generally took one of two forms. In one, he was having to deal with Pennywise as "a separate entity." In the other type, he found himself as Pennywise in weird situations, like "out in public," with people staring at him. 

Though the thought of Pennywise haunting someone's dreams is without a doubt a terrifying premise, the actor sees his nightly visits from Pennywise in a more optimistic light. Skarsgård believes these dreams are his psyche attempting to "let the character go."

Despite these dark dreams, Skarsgård thinks he's in a good place. As he explained to EW, "It was amazing. It's a daunting but exciting thing to sort of revisit him again. ... I'm good with it."

Skarsgard suits up for It Chapter 2

Despite the trouble Bill Skarsgård went through after playing Pennywise the first time around, it was inevitable that he'd have to step back into his clown shoes for the sequel to It. 

After spending so much time and devoting so much emotional energy to being free of Pennywise, Skarsgård told Collider in an interview that he didn't have any trouble getting back in touch with the dancing clown. As he explained, "I was surprised how much of the character was just there already. I instantly could access him again, like it was yesterday that we wrapped the first one. It was just all there. So, the work and preparation and figuring out the character is almost intuitive, which is pretty cool."

Though Skarsgård said that he enjoyed reprising the role, he also said that he had a lot of fun playing Pennywise the first time around. It wasn't until after filming concluded that he realized how much of a toll portraying the evil clown had had on him. 

The final trailer for It Chapter 2 seems to showcase Pennywise more than trailers for the first It did. Because of this, it appears that the filmmakers will likewise put more of a focus on everyone's favorite frightening clown. Hopefully, Bill Skarsgård will be able to make like the Losers' Club and fend off the negative influence of Pennywise once and for all.