‘Castle Rock’ – Bill Skarsgard Interview on Returning to the World of Stephen King

Hulu’s Castle Rock is set in the Stephen King multiverse and fans of the horror meister’s work are going to have a fun time catching all the references in the show’s first season. Some references are obvious (like the Shawshank prison and the character Alan Panghorn) while others will take multiple viewings of an episode to catch.

The cast of the psychological horror series includes Bill Skarsgard who just came off a starring turn in the blockbuster film adaptation of Stephen King’s It. Skarsgard stars as Pennywise the Clown in It, but in Castle Rock his character’s much more mysterious. In our interview at the 2018 San Diego Comic Con, Skarsgard did a terrific job of discussing the original series while avoiding any spoilers about the true identity of his character.

Bill Skarsgard Castle Rock Interview:

Did you have any trepidation about jumping into another Stephen King project?

Bill Skarsgard: “Yeah. Initially going into it I was a little bit reluctant to because they didn’t give me… Everything was very secretive about this project. Everything was kept under wraps. They just reached out in interest with a short description of the character, no description of the show, really, just that it was a multiverse sort of Stephen King universe show. I was reluctant. I was like, ‘I just did something within that world and I don’t know how this interferes with that narrative, really.’

But as soon as they allowed me to read the pilot that all changed. I fell in love with the show. I thought it was an amazingly strong pilot. I met Sam (Shaw) and Dustin (Thomason), the writers, and just loved those guys. At that point I was like, ‘I’m in. I really want to do this.’”

Was it one of those situations where once you got the part, you were given more details on the character? Or, did they leave you in the dark episode to episode?

Bill Skarsgard: “They tried. (Laughing) They tried a little bit but they told me, even just in the meeting before I got the role, they told me a little bit about the character. But, they didn’t tell me where it was going. They didn’t explain the mystery to me.

Once I got the job, it was really important for me to know what my character knew in every given point. I’ve heard stories on TV shows – you never do this on films, obviously, because you get to read the whole script. And what we’re doing to me it’s a 10-hour film and I didn’t know why you would not tell your actors the whole thing because that’s how you do when you work on stage, on film…anything, really. But, it’s a different thing because writers also write as the show’s going on, so things change as they change. The story actually changes as you’re shooting. I know they see the dailies and what we’re doing with the character and they go, ‘Oh, shit, that’s cool!’ and then that affects the actual thing. It’s an organic process. It’s molding itself as you’re going along.

But, like I said, it’s important for me to know what my character knows in every given point and what the motivation is for every given scene. Otherwise it’s like I’m gambling that I’m hitting the right tone, if I don’t know what tone I’m trying to strive for.”

What was it about the character that you really latched onto? What was your entry point into figuring out who he is?

Bill Skarsgard: “It’s a weird one because I can’t tell you exactly everything because I would spoil too much of it. But, it’s a weird one where there’s a lot of different layers to the character – almost like it’s different characters within the character. I had to have different approaches to finding the different layers.

Initially going into it, it was very important that he’s been in isolation for a very long time so researching what solitary confinement does to one’s psyche and trying to imagine what it would have been like to have been in there for that long and how strange and terrifying it would be to interact with people after being there. So, you know, there’s a version of the character that’s like this (wild hand movements in front of his face showing his fear of people). But it’s not as aesthetically (pleasing).

Tonally, the character had to have sort of a calmness in it. Without giving too much away, there’s a psychological explanation for why he’s calm. Those things were really important to figure out, that sort of looking someone in the eyes might be really weird and overwhelming. And, physical space is just almost suffocating. All of those things were really intriguing and fun to explore.”

How many Stephen King books have you read in prepping for this? Are some King narratives more helpful to you in finding the tone of this than others?

Bill Skarsgard: “I’ve read five or six of his books. Needful Things, because it’s set in Castle Rock and Alan Panghorn is a character who’s recurring in the show as well. It’s more fun than anything. I think it was more important for the writers to because they, in a way, adapted all of his books to the show. For me, it was like what’s important for the tone is the show is what we’re doing, which is a new story. My tone needed to be respectful to the truth of the show, as opposed to being respectful to books of Stephen King. So, it’s different that way.

With It, the book was the bible for me because that was the source material that we were adapting. All the little clues I could get from Stephen King’s words about who the character is were little things I sort of used as detective work to make the truth of the character. That’s different. This is a new thing that’s inspired by rather than an adaptation.”

As you delve into this character, is there anything you’re surprised to learn about yourself as an actor?

Bill Skarsgard: “No. If anything with Pennywise that was such an overwhelming experience that I feel like I was like, ‘All right, I have to really go for it here.’ So, I was committed, going for it, really doing bold choices. And I think it paid off and it worked. That made me more confidant in committing to bigger choices. I did that with this character as well. It can backfire at times, it probably will backfire at times, but it’s fun to be explore it and be more bold.”

Can you talk about working with André Holland and how your two characters will interact?

Bill Skarsgard: “André is like a straight-up professional, like theatre-schooled actor. It’s always a pleasure working with that sort of caliber of actor – really committed, really smart, really talented. Their relationship…they have a relationship. My character has a connection to Henry and I can’t tell you what that is. You have to see the show. Towards the end of it the mystery is revealed and you’ll find out how these two characters are intertwined.”

Also of Interest:

Castle Rock star Bill Skarsgard
Bill Skarsgard plays a Shawshank prisoner in ‘Castle Rock’ (Photo by: Art Streiber/Hulu)