Bill Skarsgård is diabolical. At any rate the 29-year-old Swedish actor seems to like taking on rather perverse parts. He first became known internationally for his role as a vampire in the Netflix series Hemlock Grove, but it was in his portrayal of the child-killing clown Pennywise in the movies It (2017) and It Chapter Two (out this September) that he took Hollywood by storm. Yet he remains sanguine about his career choices, joking in an interview that “there was something rather strange in saying to myself that my acting would be judged on my ability to traumatize children both on set and in movie theatres.”
Skarsgård consequently seemed a natural choice to reinterpret Francis Bacon’s tormented figures in our homage to the late British artist’s work: the Swede’s chiselled features and ice-blue eyes, not to mention his ability to convey hidden emotions with the utmost economy of means, make him an ideal candidate for the exercise. One of eight children (of whom four others are actors) born to Swedish star Stellan Skarsgård (who has worked with Lars Von Trier, starred in the Avengers saga and will feature in Denis Villeneuve’s forthcoming Dune), Skarsgård started out young, at just nine years old. Nothing can therefore frighten him in a movie business from which he deliberately takes a step back.
To play the role of the killer clown Pennywise in the new adaptation of Stephen King’s novel (which follows on the heels of two cult telefilms made in the 90s), Skarsgård had to get his head around a rather abstract character. “He’s not human, which made playing him easier in a certain way. It would have been a lot more difficult for me to take on the role of a real psychopathic human.” Instead, Skarsgård has used his humanity to satisfy the demands of photographer Tim Richardson for Numéro art, who skilfully blends real shots and digitally produced images in his Bacon-inspired series.
Numero: When did you start acting? What was your first movie?
Bill Skarsgård: I did my first role, playing Alex’s little brother, in a movie called järngänget in Sweden. I was nine years old.
What was the most difficult part about playing Pennywise in It / It 2?
For me, it was doing justice to Kings iconic character and at the same time, reinventing what Tim Curry already did so well.
What are your favorite horror movies and why?
I tend to like psychological horror. Polanski’s Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. Kubrick’s The Shining. And, just so I don’t come off as a complete pretentious buffoon, Hour of the Wolf by Bergman.
What kind of mood/feelings did you want to convey by playing a Bacon’s character?
Seems like his portraits are paralyzed in a moving state of despair or maybe truth. Mostly I just listened to our photographer, Tim Richardson.
What do you like the most about Francis Bacon’s paintings?
They are paintings conveying an emotional truth. Not how we’re physically seen, but how we’re really feeling on the inside. And Francis’s inner self revealing itself on the canvas. How where you doing, Francis? You all right?
Are you interested in art? Who are your favorite artists?
I wouldn’t say I have an interest in art. I appreciate it. I love P.S Krøyer. No one captures Scandinavia more idyllically.
What do you miss most about Sweden when you’re away?
My family and my friends. They all live in Stockholm and I can’t stay away too long.
What are your upcoming projects?
I play Willard in Antonio Campos’s new movie, The Devil All The Time. This will be released next year. I also play Dane in Chase Palmer’s first feature, Naked Singularity, as well as Kane in Edson Oda’s first feature, 9 Days.
Bacon en toutes lettres, jusqu’au 20 janvier 2020, Centre Pompidou.