NEW YORK • Bill Skarsgard was calling from his native Sweden, where It - the much-anticipated horror film in which he co-stars - was set for a premiere in Stockholm last Friday.
"It's more of a family gathering," he said. "I've invited all my cousins and uncles, and my sister, who works in event planning, is throwing the after-party. My brother Alexander did the same thing with The Legend Of Tarzan last year, so he inspired me."
But Pennywise, the child-killing clown Skarsgard plays in this adaptation of the 1986 Stephen King novel, is a far cry from Tarzan. "It will be fun to see my entire family jump while watching my performance," said Skarsgard, 27.
His relatives probably will not be the only ones startled by his disturbing turn. It was expected to devour the competition at the box office over the weekend, building off the repeated reports of creepy-clown sightings around the United States and in Britain in recent years.
"If you ask anybody what they think of clowns, it's associated as much or more with something crazy and scary as it is something joyful. I don't think this film is going to help that," he said.
It will no doubt be a boost to his career. He was previously seen in the sci-fi film Allegiant (2016) and Netflix's supernatural drama Hemlock Grove (2013-15). He is fine with the fact that in this film, he disappears underneath layers of prosthetics.
"I'm a pretty private person, so I don't mind not being recognised," he said. "It's nice to hide behind the make-up."
The process of transforming into Pennywise took 21/2 hours, but that was not the most gruelling aspect of embodying the character. "Everything I did took 100 per cent of my energy. It was by far the most exhausting character I've ever done, physically and mentally."
Like the shark in Jaws (1975), Pennywise does not get much screen time in It, making his sudden appearances all the more shocking. Skarsgard did not begin work on the film until 11/2 months into production, long after the actors playing the high-school outcasts who unite against the psycho clown had started. The director, Andy Muschietti, suggested the actor stay away from his young co-stars before he shot his first scene in character.
"Pennywise was this looming force they knew was coming, but hadn't seen yet," Skarsgard said. "That built an excitement in the kids you could feel when they saw him for the first time. They were probably a bit scared."
He felt fear himself when he landed the role after a long audition period. "I was equally as excited as I was terrified when I booked the job because now, these people expected me to pull it off. It was a nervous time."
The villain is so far removed from the soft-spoken actor's personality that he is not concerned about getting typecast. "Pennywise looks and sounds so different from me that I could do a romcom next and people probably wouldn't even know I was the same guy."
In fact, his next role is in another Stephen King-inspired project, the Hulu drama series Castle Rock.
No matter what lies ahead in his career, he can count on the support of his older brother Alexander and father, Stellan, also a renowned actor (Good Will Hunting, 1997; Breaking The Waves, 1996).
"They were always encouraging, but I've tried not to seek advice from them because I wanted to feel independent," Skarsgard said. "As I grow older and more comfortable with who I am, I realise asking for help is important."
He said Alexander saw It at its Los Angeles premiere and praised his work. "I'm proud of the film and it means a lot when I get to show it to my family and they appreciate it," Skarsgard said. "It's a great feeling."
•It is now in cinemas.