Now that Stephen King’s IT is the No. 1 movie in North America, the curtain can be pulled back on the actor who brought the terrifying title character to life on the big screen. New Line marketed IT around the villainous Pennywise, but their plan to tout Pennywise as a supernatural persona meant keeping the actor who plays the role, Bill Skarsgard, largely absent from the film’s publicity push. To Skarsgard, New Line’s strategy “doesn’t make much sense to me” even if, ultimately, he was “completely fine with it.”
“I do think that that’s definitely a strategy from their part, you know, to have … yeah. I don’t know, it doesn’t make much sense to me,” Skarsgard, 27, told me during a recent phone interview. “But there’s a mystery to the character. I guess they kind of want to keep sort of an illusion that Pennywise is not played by an actor.” (Indeed, my interview with Skarsgard was embargoed until after IT’s opening weekend.)
“But, you know, it’s, I’m completely fine with it,” the Swedish-born actor said, adding, “I understand and I appreciate that there’s a separation of it. The character needs to be treated with respect in the sense that you can’t just kind of goof around with him in sort of PR campaigning. … The character needs to be taken seriously.”
Instead, New Line made the young cast the faces of their pre-release promotional tour, bringing them to San Diego Comic-Con and having them make a faux public service announcement with IGN (see below) for those scared of seeing IT.
Skarsgard, meanwhile, remained hidden behind his Pennywise persona. When stories about Skarsgard did make the news, they were usually about how dedicated he was to his performance, such as being so into character on set that he made his kid co-stars cry.
Skarsgard, who previously starred in Netflix’s horror series Hemlock Grove, acknowledged that using the film’s young cast to promote the movie pre-release was ultimately the right approach: “I think the kids are such a good way of pushing the movie forward, and sort of, kind of keeping me and the character Pennywise sort of mysterious until the movie comes out. There is a point to it.”
Look for more from my chat with Bill Skarsgard, who will reprise his role as Pennywise in Stephen King’s IT: Chapter Two, in the days ahead. In the meantime, check out our explainer piece on IT’s ending and how it sets up the sequel, check out our review, listen to the latest episode of the IGN Movies Podcast for our full spoiler discussion about the film, and find out from the filmmakers about how they delivered a scary Pennywise.