Film Interview Print edition

Bill Skarsgård has just been announced as the eponymous character It (otherwise known as the clown Pennywise) in the new big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s infamously childhood-ruining novel. And by the looks of the new images, Pennywise is still set on destroying all your naive dreams. Here, Bill is interviewed by his dad, actor Stellan Skarsgård, in HERO 11.

Interview taken from HERO 11.

The Skarsgård Dynasty is formidable, relentlessly delivering stellar performers. But this is no easy formula; each Skarsgård is a beautifully mutated chip off the block, faceted with a primal instinct for unique delivery. From one generation to the next: Stellan interviews son, Bill.

Stellan Skarsgård: So you’re in LA now?
Bill Skarsgård: I am. It’s weird to have a conversation with you in English!

SS: What are you doing there? I was expecting you to come home.
BS: Yeah I’m sorry about that, but it’s March now you know…

SS: Yeah it’s March. I came from Stockholm to London today and it was a blizzard in Stockholm. The de-icing didn’t work so I spent an hour on the tarmac – it was a nightmare. So what have you done today?
BS: I had a driving class.

SS: Oh you’re getting a driving licence?
BS: Yeah and I’ve never driven in LA before, so I walked out and this guy sat there and he was like, ‘Hey are you Bill? Do you know how to drive?’ And I was like, ‘Sure, yeah.’ [Laughs] And he was like, ‘Oh OK, but what’s your story?’ He was kind of worried about my response to his question. But I sat in the driving seat and I drove off and it went really well, and an hour later we were done and he said, ‘You know Bill, you’ve done really well and I think you should definitely pass.’

SS: Yeah, it’s a lot easier in LA than it is in Stockholm. I mean the streets are as wide as a landing field for jumbo jets and they’re straight.
BS: Yeah it’s like left, right, straight – easy. So yeah, I’m here now, the reason I didn’t come home, Father, is because I just don’t like coming home in March or February [laughs].

SS: [Laughs].
BS: And also I don’t actually have a physical home in Stockholm anymore, so it’s always a pain in the arse going back home.

SS: [Sad voice] Because you don’t want to come and stay at my place? I’ve always got a bed for you [laughs].
BS: [Laughs] Yeah well that’s usually where I end up right? In your guest room.

SS: Yeah, ahhh. Do you see your siblings in LA?
BS: Gustaf and Oss – yeah. 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. We a had little BBQ to celebrate Landon, who you met Dad – he was in the show… Landon Liboiron. He was supposed to come to LA. But he didn’t show because he had two auditions.

SS: [Laughs] So you celebrated without him?
BS: A bunch of people from the cast just happened to be here, and Gustav and Alex were here.

SS: And Landon didn’t show? Well, give my best to Landon and tell him it’s good to be on time [laughs]. I was thinking, Bill, when you started out you had a father that was an established international actor, you had an older brother who was already a TV star in the United States and you had another older brother who had started out in the theatre and played one of the best Hamlets I’ve ever seen. Weren’t you scared to start in this business?
BS: Urm… [Laughs] Well when you put it like that, of course!

SS: I shouldn’t have told you! [Laughs]
BS: You shouldn’t have told me, how dare you! I’ve never been scared. I think that’s actually one of my strengths as an actor, that I’m very confident in acting, and I always have been. I’ve never been worried that I will be compared to you or my brothers, or not be as good. I don’t want to sound kind of high on myself or anything, I just haven’t really thought about it. Being so much younger than you, I’ve never really put myself in the same kind of category, you know what I mean? I’m doing my thing and you guys will always be doing your thing.

Bill skarsgård shot by Hedi Slimane for HERO 11: SHIFT ZERO. All clothing by Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane

SS: But you know, as I remember from your childhood you were never afraid of anything actually. You scared the shit out of your parents when you took off on a horse or climbed something. It’s frightening to have a child like that.
BS [Laughs].

SS: What scares you in life? Is there anything you’re afraid of?
BS: I’m really afraid of being bored!

SS: [Laughs] I am totally with you there, that’s frightening – looming at the horizon, this cloud of boredom…
BS: Or to feel trapped or alone. I think it’s my biggest fear because, coming from such a big family where there were always friends and people around, I don’t know if you’ve clocked this, but every one of us including Alex, Oss, Sammy, Ei and Valter, have had our friends over at our place more than we’ve been at our friends’ houses. For me the meeting point, like our apartment, was the centre point of all my friends and my family. That’s how I always want to live I think, to be able to have a house where people can come and stay as they want, with open doors. What I’m scared of is not having that, and having a house no one wants to come visit. [Laughs]

SS: [Laughs] Yeah that would be depressing, that would be sad wouldn’t it? Hello I have 40 rooms! Hello..?
BS Absolutely, like, ‘Yeah but we’d rather not come…’

SS: How do you feel about living more than half the year now in some boring rental apartment in Toronto, away from all your friends and family back in Stockholm?
BS: Yeah, it’s not a shitty apartment, I actually have a nice apartment in Toronto!

SS: Oh you have now? Last year was shitty. 
BS: It was just condo-y and new build. It had a great view last year, but everything was plastic-y and stainless steel and not personal. But this year I found a little loft that felt like a little home. And I really like the city of Toronto. Landon and I live just a block away from each other and he has become one of my best friends, so we hang out all the time. He comes from a small family and he grew up in Alberta in a small town, so he comes from a world where he’s really used to being alone. He was always playing with himself and it was an occasion when friends came over.

SS: Did you ever play with yourself?
BS [Laughs] No it’s boring…

SS: Yeah, you want to meet people.
BS: You want to meet people [laughs]. So sometimes he’s like, ‘Yeah I just want to be by myself,’ and I’m like, ‘Why would you want to be by yourself?’ [Laughs]. But yeah, we became really good friends, and we hang out a lot and the crew becomes like a family – I guess you know.

“All actors have comfort zones. Some actors tend to only do parts where they can play in those comfort zones and you get bored of them because they always do the same thing over and over again. I think if I have a goal, it would be to play so many different complete characters.”

SS: Yeah it does. Now listen, when you graduated school you didn’t seem to have any ambitions as an actor at all. You wanted to spend the year travelling, and do the Trans-Siberian railroad. What happened? What was it that made you slip into this business?
BS: I think it was earlier than that. When I went to high school I took science as a major. I was in a class full of people that were good in math. It wasn’t always easy for me, but the reason I choose those subjects is because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Having that background you can pretty much become whatever you want, and with Mum being a doctor and Sam was in med school, I figured that doing school properly and not taking theatre as a major where you just kind of ease around… I didn’t think I would become an better actor by doing it.

All the three years in high school I did some sort of acting work, but it wasn’t until graduation I did my proper lead, which was Behind Blue Skies. Going back to your question of whether I was scared knowing all you guys were so successful – 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.’ That’s something I still struggle with because I’ve done four leads in Sweden – 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.’

SS: [Laughs] They still ask if you want to be an actor?
BS Yeah.

SS: Well you are an actor!
BS: I’m like, ‘Yes I’m pretty sure, I’ve been doing this for ten years.’ You know as well as anybody else you don’t just ‘get to’ play parts, you need to prove yourself. A director will choose you because he thinks you’re best for the part and not because of your last name. Just being a teenager, you have a hard time as it is finding who you are and finding your identity and becoming your own person. And me pursuing acting wasn’t original in my family!

Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise in "It" (2017)

“Now everything is available on streaming, if someone sees a movie and thinks, ‘Wow, that was a really cool little indie movie or mini-series,’ it will always be on Netflix and it can have a huge audience.”

SS: Yeah it does. Now listen, when you graduated school you didn’t seem to have any ambitions as an actor at all. You wanted to spend the year travelling, and do the Trans-Siberian railroad. What happened? What was it that made you slip into this business?
BS: I think it was earlier than that. When I went to high school I took science as a major. I was in a class full of people that were good in math. It wasn’t always easy for me, but the reason I choose those subjects is because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Having that background you can pretty much become whatever you want, and with Mum being a doctor and Sam was in med school, I figured that doing school properly and not taking theatre as a major where you just kind of ease around… I didn’t think I would become an better actor by doing it.

All the three years in high school I did some sort of acting work, but it wasn’t until graduation I did my proper lead, which was Behind Blue Skies. Going back to your question of whether I was scared knowing all you guys were so successful – 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.’ That’s something I still struggle with because I’ve done four leads in Sweden – 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.’

SS: [Laughs] They still ask if you want to be an actor?
BS: Yeah.

SS: Well you are an actor!
BS: I’m like, ‘Yes I’m pretty sure, I’ve been doing this for ten years.’ You know as well as anybody else you don’t just ‘get to’ play parts, you need to prove yourself. A director will choose you because he thinks you’re best for the part and not because of your last name. Just being a teenager, you have a hard time as it is finding who you are and finding your identity and becoming your own person. And me pursuing acting wasn’t original in my family!

SS: [Laughs] Yeah it was better with your younger brother who became an Emo, he really stuck out listening to hard rock, he created an identity there. But you know there was that horrible year after you graduated, when you first landed one beautiful role, a big lead in a Swedish film. Me and your two siblings, we went “Wow.” And then you landed another one and then a third. In one year you landed three roles and broke the family record by far and we hated you for it. None of us ever got three roles like that, not even in a ten year period you know? [Laughs].
BS: Yeah that was something else! Luck is so much part of being an actor. If you’re a writer or a director you can create your own movies or your own material. Especially if you’re a writer, right? But as an actor we’re completely dependant on what projects we’re right for. So it’s a mix of luck and being talented.

SS: You were worthy of it.
BS: But in Sweden we make like 30, 32 features a year? And just the chance that three leads would fit my description is pretty unheard of…

SS Yeah usually there’s not even three good roles in a year.
BS Exactly. I like telling the story of your reaction when I found out that I had pretty much landed the part for Hemlock Grove. I remember I came back for just over two days or something, we were at your place and you were cooking as you usually do. And you were like, ‘How’s everything going?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah Dad just so you know I think I’ve landed a lead in a TV show.’ And you were like… ‘FUCKKK OFF!’ [Laughs].

SS Yeah FUCKKK OFF! [Laughs]. After you got those three roles I said, “Wow it’s not going to be this easy, now you’re gonna have to go back and start working hard and earn everything and start with small roles. And then you come back and land a leading role in a TV series. That’s disgusting!
BS [Laughs]

SS It’s against all my principles about hard work! So, how has it been shooting Hemlock Grove?
BS It’s been fun, I’ve just finished season two and it’s a pretty ideal acting school in a way, I get to work in English every day. I was thinking about that now I’ve wrapped – in Toronto I’ve done 23 episodes of the show and its 60 pages per episode.

SS Wow wow wow!
BS It’s almost 1500 pages of material that I’ve worked on.

SS It’s more than a Dostoyevsky novel.
BS Yeah. I get to fucking work every day. I get to show up on a film set and I often have to tell myself how grateful I am for that. And also working with different directors, some of them are really good, and some are actually terrible… you learn so much from communicating with them and trying to manipulate them at times, or whatever [laughs].

SS: [Laughs] What do you think about the fact that more and more interesting material is being made in television now? All the mid-range movies, midbudget movies are pretty much gone. Now it’s either the $150 million movies and then nothing, nothing, nothing down to like $3 million movies. All the $10, $20 million movies that were sort of character-driven but for a wide audience they’re gone, do you think the future is Netflix, HBO, video on demand?
BS: Most of the films that do well in the theatres are the big blockbusters, and some of the smaller movies turn up on Netflix pretty soon after they have a theatrical release, but it means they actually get seen by a lot of people. It used to be that films – even some of your greatest films Dad – a lot of people haven’t seen them, you know? They kind of vanished, they become very popular at the festivals, or as a foreign films, but then most people didn’t see them. Now everything is available on streaming, if someone sees a movie and thinks, ‘Wow, that was a really cool little indie movie or mini-series,’ it will always be on Netflix and it can have a huge audience. As filmmakers or actors, the most important thing is to have as many people see something you’re proud of as possible.

SS: But I think we see a gigantic shift, because distribution channels and the theatres have all adapted to the big blockbusters that have $100 million in PMA and that vacuum-clean the market in three weeks. They have adopted to that system, which means a smaller film can rarely can grow in the cinema, because if it doesn’t fill seats in one week then you’re out. But there is also something liberating about that, because for many years now, if you wanted to tell a story it had to be one to one-and-a-half hours long so you could get in two shows every night. It meant that the story-telling was adapted to the commercial needs of the cinemas and not to the story itself. But now you read so many good TV scripts, and if you have a story that is good for five hours you do five hours, if you have a story thats good for ten hours you do ten hours. I think it’s the future to be honest.

BS: I just finished True Detective have you seen that?

SS: Yeah it’s fantastic, it’s wonderful.
BS: It’s as good as it gets.

SS: There’s not many movies it can compete with.
BS: No there isn’t, and that format is really interesting I think. You’re not meant to sit down for eight hours. If you want you can do that, but you can tell the story almost in the same way you’d read a book, right? You watch an episode before you go to bed. It’s something that I’m really interested in – to do a mini-series format – because you have more of a chance to tell the story and find your character throughout the story.

SS: The characters can become richer, absolutely.
BS: But I don’t think films will go. They will always be around. There is something magical about capturing a whole story within an hour and half. A mini-series is just a different format, but it’s equally as good, so I think we will see more of them. Especially with all the fucking smart TV’s or whatever, your TV is basically a computer. So you can watch Netflix, or TV on demand or HBO Go. Everything is there in an instant, your library is infinite – it’s just a tap away and it makes it so much more accessible to watch indie films.

SS: Absolutely. The indie film and art house film has always been a sort of big city phenomenon. New York in the 1950s for instance, if [François] Truffaut or [Federico] Fellini came to New York it was a big fucking hullabaloo, you know? There is no art director that comes to New York today that anybody cares about. All the students used to be discussing the latest art house films from Europe and the independent films in America, it was a very different climate. But I miss it, you know? I think we will never get that again.
BS: But whenever I am in New York or Los Angeles there are so many art movies playing in these small theatres. You have the ArcLight theatre or the Sundance one on Sunset and Crescent, and they show really cool independent low budget film.

SS: So you can still do it, I agree.
BS: And a lot of people do still do it. But the idea of Fellini in New York – people of course loved him, but the majority didn’t know who he was, that’s just how it is.

Bill skarsgård shot by Hedi Slimane for HERO 11: SHIFT ZERO. All clothing by Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane

SS: But today don’t you think that the media has become so commercialised that it doesn’t pay attention to that kind of stuff anymore? I did press for Nymphomaniac in New York and I was on one of the Fox morning programs to be interviewed, and you’d suppose they’d do their homework. It was Lars Von Trier – he’s one of the most well known independent directors in the world, and the man interviewing me thought Charlotte Gainsbourg was the director and couldn’t even pronounce her name.
BS: Ah OK…

SS: [Laughs] You know?
BS: That’s Fox for you, Dad.

SS: Yeah, but that’s not good!
BS: That’s terrible, that is fucking terrible.

SS: It’s embarrassing.
BS: But going back to what we were saying about where to find these movies. In Stockholm you can’t find them at all. In LA you can pretty much find anything, but in Stockholm there’s like one or two cinemas…

SS: In Sweden we also have that problem that we have a monopoly. There is one big corporation that is the biggest producer and distributor and owns all the cinemas, even all the independent ones more or less. So it’s really hard there. In Norway they used to have municipally-owned cinemas that showed quality films in the smallest little shitholes. It has changed, New York used to be a fantastic cinema city, now you have three or four cinemas that show independent film. Paris is still the capital of the world when it comes to art cinema but it is tough. I was wondering, do you think that your approach to acting and your style of acting is that different from my generation? Don’t say it! [Laughs]
BS: [Laughs] I honestly think that in my generation there’s a lot of very serious actors you know? Since a lot of these $10, $15 million films are not getting made as often, which is where all the great actors were born to be, you now have these directors and these really great actors being in the blockbusters that everybody sees. It makes for way better blockbusters. Blockbusters always have been and still are the most influential movies in terms of how many people actually see them. People think, ‘Maybe we want an actor in the blockbuster to have more character, to be more interesting and dare to show emotion and be vulnerable.’ I think that’s a good thing.

SS: That is a fantastic thing, I mean if you think about the blockbuster movies of the 80s, which were action movies with everything exploding, and you just had someone with a lot of muscles to play the lead. But do you see a generational shift? Like in the 50s, 60s when [Elia] Kazan did his movies with Marlon Brando it was a totally new way of acting in America. And the Nouvelle Vague in France and the Neorealists in Italy, they brought everything down to a natural tone because before everything was like theatre, you don’t see any shift that big happening?
BS: Well the shift was there, and you know why it’s hard? It’s hard defining a generation that’s not an acting generation yet!

SS: [Laughs]
BS: It takes a time to look back at the generation and say, ‘Oh, see what happened there?’ So it’s like trying to fortune tell it. What I focus on is daring to be as real as possible, and I think that’s a very European way of acting. Coming over here, there is an American way which is more ‘show’ and da da daaaa! It’s more played than it is actually being. What I’m interested in seeing is actors that are not acting, but are actually being alive in front of the camera. It’s hard comparing it to the 50s when film had only been around for 50, 60 years as an actual medium. So making feature films was only around for 30 or 40 years. The industry was so new that you could have those revolutionary actors change everything in that way.

SS: What do you think is the hardest thing to achieve, and what do you want to achieve?
BS: Well as you know, all actors have comfort zones. Some actors tend to only do parts where they can play in those comfort zones and you get bored of them because they always do the same thing over and over again. I think if I have a goal, it would be to play so many different complete characters. That is something I really admire in other actors, being able to play this different range of characters. It’s a terrifying thing to go out of your comfort zone and I think by doing it you might have a terrible performance in something, but maybe it will be worth it in the long run.

SS: But like we said, I don’t think you’ve ever been afraid of anything really. No, I know what you’ve been afraid of actually when you were a kid, you weren’t afraid of me, I could say, ‘No no no’ to you several times, but it didn’t help. But you were afraid of your little sister. 
BS: I wasn’t afraid of my little sister!

SS: Your younger sister.
BS: I wasn’t afraid of her!

SS: Yeah you were, I mean she could fuck you up big time.

 

“It” is set to hit the big screen in 2017. Hemlock Grove is available to stream on Netflix now.