Bill Skarsgard is your new It guy
Swedish actor Bill Skarsgard, who plays Pennywise the clown, says filming It was his loneliest shoot yet
Benign and beloved characters, when subverted to the horror genre, are particularly scary.
Think of all the babies, little girls and dolls that have made audiences scream.
So grandmaster of horror Stephen King was certainly on to something when he took the popular clown of circuses and birthday parties and turned him into Pennywise, the title character of his 1986 book It.
He terrorises children by using their fears against them, particularly a gang of seven outcasts called The Losers Club in the small town of Derry, Maine.
English actor Tim Curry made the role his own in the hit 1990 TV miniseries, and now a new generation of moviegoers will scream at Bill Skarsgard, who created his version of Pennywise for the film adaptation, which opens here tomorrow.
Early critic reviews and fan reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.
According to Variety, It is on track to break records to the tune of more than US$50 million (S$68 million) when it opens in the US on Friday.
The Swedish actor is part of showbiz royalty - Skarsgard's dad Stellan is probably best known as Dr Erik Selvig in the Marvel films.
Skarsgard's brothers are in the business as well, most notably older brother Alexander, who starred in TV series True Blood and most recently, Big Little Lies.
Now the 27-year-old, whose only claim to fame outside his native country is the TV series Hemlock Grove and supporting parts in movies Allegiant and Atomic Blonde, is playing his first leading role in It.
At our interview at The Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, the actor - whose handsome mug was buried under monstrous make-up that took more than two hours to apply every day - came across as likeable.
He talked readily about his role despite some nerves over stepping into Curry's shoes.
What made you decide to take on Pennywise?
I am 27 and the things that I read for in auditions tend to be younger guys, and most of them look like me (laughs).
This was something that was a leap, a character that is completely different to who I am and how I speak, how I move, how I look. So that really excited me, that there was so much creativity to be had within that.
Were you worried about living up to Curry's iconic performance?
I try not to look at the Internet at all, but you glimpse something and it is like, 'How the hell did he get the part?' (laughs)
There is so much anger on the Internet, so if I really go into how people will react to my performance, I am not going to be able to do it. I have had some sleepless nights.
I was by myself in this house in Toronto before we started shooting, and I read through the novel and I tried to take my notes, and I really worked hard for this character and embodied him, but I was terrified.
What really helped me get through it was (director) Andy (Muschietti) and his faith in me.
How did you prepare?
This is such an extreme character, so I needed to be fearless in how I approached it, and I could not hold back.
I had to really, really go for it and hope it worked. I did research on clowns and watched a documentary about coulrophobia (the fear of clowns).
There were a few people who were afraid of clowns, but it was not this collective thing. When the book (It) was released, it really changed this perspective to what clowns are.
I think if you ask anyone what they think of clowns, (clowns are) as much fear as they are jolly, funny characters.
What was it like working with the child actors? They did not see you until almost six weeks into the shoot.
The first time I met the kids was at a table read. I was not comfortable with revealing the character yet, he was still in the making. I was like, 'Hi, I am Bill. I am going to play the clown who tries to kill you.' (laughs)
They were all really nice. Then Andy said, 'I think there's an idea to keep you separated from the kids.'
So it was also the loneliest film production I have ever done, because I did not work for a month and a half, and the children all bonded, and Andy and the crew would hang out with the kids on weekends.
I was just by myself trying to wrestle this demonic clown that I was going to portray.
What were your own fears growing up?
I remember when I was six, I would lie in bed and think about the fact that I would die (laughs).
I would have panic attacks at night. Then my dad, who was a secular man, would sit down and go, 'Nothing is going to happen to you when you die, but it is okay.' (laughs)
It did calm me down, but I remember a recurring, genuine fear of that concept. I am still not over that fear entirely.
Did being a Skarsgard help your career?
It is a blessing and a curse. Wherever I go, I will always be associated with my family.
When I was younger, that bothered me more. Sweden is a small country and my family is really big there (laughs).
You want to be your own person, be responsible for your own career and not be judged by, 'Oh, do you think he is better looking or do you think he is worse than his brother?'
It overwhelmed me at times. But now, the more I establish myself and get older, I am proud of my family and to be associated with them.
I really hope I can continue to get work and have a career where I am not just someone's brother or son.