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Why Pennywise From It Looks So Familiar

Bill Skarsgård isn't quite a household name yet, but over the last couple of years, that's all quickly started to change. Younger brother of The Legend of Tarzan star Alexander Skarsgård—and son of Pirates of the Caribbean and Thor vet Stellan Skarsgård—this emerging star really started making a name for himself when he signed on to play the terrifying being known as Pennywise in the hit 2017 big-screen adaptation of Stephen King's classic novel It.

The demonic entity was brilliantly played by Tim Curry in the 1990 TV miniseries version of the book, so Skarsgård had some big shoes to fill when the took the role—no pun intended—but he also has more acting experience than you might think. In fact, there's a pretty good chance you've seen some of Skarsgård's previous projects, even if you didn't realize you were watching him at the time. Here's why Bill Skarsgård already looks so familiar.

Arn: The Kingdom at Road's End (2008)

Arn: The Knight Templar (2007) and Arn: The Kingdom at Road's End (2008) were combined into a single cut for an English release in 2010, though in Sweden they were made and released as two separate films—an epic duology based on fictional hero Arn Magnusson. Stellan Skarsgård played a big part in the first movie as Arn's uncle Birger Brosa and reprised the role for the sequel, bringing his son Bill in to play Erik Knutsson (son of King Knut, played by Bill's older brother Gustaf). Despite having little to no film experience going in, Bill slotted into the ensemble wonderfully. "Arn doesn't give browbeating theology but smartly elevates the personal amid the epic with all around strong, even excellent performances," one satisfied reviewer wrote. "In spite of any language barriers, the story and characters shine through the emotion."

Kenny Begins (2009)

Bill Skarsgård went from a deadly serious historical epic to a completely ridiculous sci-fi comedy in Kenny Begins, a feature length prequel to Swedish TV series Kenny Starfighter. Kenny (Johan Rheborg) is a hopeless graduate of Hero Academics of the Galaxy who crash lands on Earth and meets Pontus (Skarsgård), an equally unfortunate 15-year-old with terrible eyesight and a problem with local bullies. Unfortunately, the project proved an early misfire for the young actor. "Swedish sci-fi comedies are about as rare as polar bears in the Sahara, and whenever my country does make them, they're usually very mediocre," one local film fan wrote. "I wish I could say this was an exception, but sadly it ends up in the same pile."

Simple Simon (2010)

Bill Skarsgård's next performance not only impressed domestic critics, it also won plenty of praise Stateside. "The surprising Swedish film Simple Simon performs the neat trick of finding laughs and wisdom about a central character who suffers from Asperger's syndrome, yet does so without trivializing the serious nature of the affliction," The Hollywood Reporter said in their review, calling Skarsgård "superb in his portrayal of the titular character." 

The movie was chosen by The Swedish Film Institute's 14-member Oscar committee to represent the country in the Best Foreign-Language Feature category at the 83rd Academy Awards, and while that statuette eventually went to local rivals Denmark for romantic drama In a Better World, Skarsgård still made his mark as a serious actor. "It was really a challenge for me," he said of the role. "He's a special character, obviously. I read a lot about the syndrome and I decided to create my own character—create Simon, not just someone who has Asperger's."

Behind Blue Skies (2010)

While The Hollywood Reporter was impressed by Simple Simon, their review of the second Bill Skarsgård film to come out in 2010 wasn't quite as kind. The problem with Behind Blue Skies (from an American perspective, at least) was that director Hannes Holm delved too deeply into areas of '70s nostalgia not relevant outside of Sweden. "Satirical pokes at Swedish society at the time are unlikely to strike too many chords overseas," shrugged THR's critic. "While there are some appealing performances, the picture seems bound for a cloudy time beyond home territory."

Still, it wasn't all bad. Singling Skarsgård out to praise his performance as Martin, a troubled boy with an abusive father, Variety argued that he "makes the most of a real star turn in writer-director Hannes Holm's '70s period comedy... A joyously clever take on the coming-of-age story."

Anna Karenina (2012)

British-made historical romance Anna Karenina is an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's classic novel of the same name. Keira Knightley stars as the titular Russian socialite in her third performance under Wright (they had previously collaborated to great success on 2005's Pride and Prejudice and 2007's Atonement), with Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnson both vying for her affection in lead roles. Making his English-language debut, Bill Skarsgård appeared in a minor supporting role as Makhotin.

Unfortunately for Skarsgård, the project he chose as his maiden voyage into English film was a story that for years has been deemed impossible to successfully adapt due to the sprawling, often rambling nature of the source material; reviews were mixed, and the box office results were lukewarm. "As a one-time devotee of Russian literature, I was suitably diverted and occasionally impressed," wrote James Berardinelli for ReelViews. "Your mileage may vary."

Hemlock Grove (2013-2015)

Netflix original series Hemlock Grove got off to a great start, pulling in more viewers over its release weekend than House of Cards. Interest in the Eli Roth werewolf thriller soon began to wane, however, and Netflix announced that the third season would be its last.

Bill Skarsgård's run as sulky vampire Roman Godfrey might be over, but the friends he made on the show are for life. "I had a BBQ here in my little house I'm renting with Brian McGreevy who actually wrote Hemlock Grove—we're roomies in Los Angeles," he told Hero. Skarsgård also has a place in Toronto, where he lives near his Canadian Hemlock Grove co-star Landon Liboiron. "Landon and I live just a block away from each other and he has become one of my best friends," he added. "We hang out all the time."

HERO magazine

Being interviewed by famous family members is nothing new for Bill Skarsgård. He recently sat down with his big brother Alexander for a chat about the reaction to the launch of the It trailer, which set a new record for most views in a single day with 197 million hits. "I remember It being the scariest thing that existed for a kid," the new Pennywise said. "There were other horror films, like Friday the 13th or Halloween, but this was the really scary one because it was children and a clown."

That wasn't the first time Skarsgård had been interviewed by a family member. HERO magazine hired Bill's dad Stellan to interview his son for a cover feature soon after the It casting was announced, and the pair discussed at length how Bill never wanted to be an actor to begin with. "The main reason why I didn't really pursue acting early was because I thought people would say, 'Yeah OK, here comes another one, he's been fed on a silver plate of course he's an actor,'" he admitted. "You can make the argument that I am the most established for my age in Sweden—and still every time I do an interview they always ask, 'So Bill, do you really want to be an actor?'"

Allegiant (2016)

Dystopian teen franchises became big business in Hollywood after The Hunger Games, but they can't all be blockbusters. Case in point: The Divergent Series, which suffered diminishing returns at the box office over the course of its first three installments, bottoming out with 2016's Allegiant. The film was crucified by critics (it holds an embarrassing 12 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and took a hammering at the box office (the studio's stock plummeted after only recouping $66 million domestically), leading to a re-think regarding the fourth film.

It was all a learning experience for Bill Skarsgård, who played Matthew, a scientist sympathetic to the protagonists' cause. If the franchise failed to live up to expectations, the second-generation star said he used it as an example of a lesson he'd taken from his father. "Even if it was the worst, most horrendous production and the movie turned out garbage," Skarsgård recalled Stellan telling him, "whatever it is, the experience was something that he learned from and he wouldn't want to live without."

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Before terrorizing the kids of Derry, Maine in It, Bill Skarsgård could also be seen in what he described as a "small but fun part playing a German punk who gets s*** done" in Atomic Blonde, the feature length adaptation of Antony Johnston's Cold War-set spy thriller graphic novel The Coldest City.

Directed by David Leitch (one half of the two-man team that brought us John Wick), Atomic Blonde earned largely positive reviews from critics who attended advance screenings—and like most would-be blockbusters these days, it's got franchise potential: a prequel to The Coldest City entitled The Coldest Winter was published in 2016. 

There's enough material there for at least one more movie; of course, whether Skarsgård will return remains to be seen. Either way, expect the brooding Swede to pop up with increasing regularity in Hollywood over the next few years.