Some actors find that the only real way to truly bring a character to life on the big screen is to give part of themselves over to the fictional identity—making space within themselves so that the other being might exist. Actor Bill Skarsgård learned the hard way that sometimes, that process has consequences.
When you watch interviews with Skarsgård in his everyday human guise, it becomes immediately clear that the thing that made Pennywise so unsettling was that beneath all that makeup and prosthetics, the actor was embodying the character. Many of Pennywise’s quirks are actually his. That weird lip thing and Pennywise’s lazy eye, for example, are both things that Skarsgård can make his face just do on command, something that delighted It director Andy Muschetti.
But Skarsgård’s commitment to doing original Pennywise Tim Curry proud was not without its drawbacks. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the actor likened the process of getting into Pennywise’s headspace to being in an abusive relationship that took an emotional toll on him and has left him with some degree of psychological trauma. Namely, he’s having nightmares about the murderous clown he helped create:
“I was home, done with the movie, and I started having very strange and vivid Pennywise dreams. Every night, he came and visited. It was in the shape of either me dealing with him, sort of Pennywise as a separate entity of me, and then also me as Pennywise in circumstances that I didn’t appreciate. Like, I’m Pennywise and I’m really upset that I’m out in public and people are looking at me.”
To be fair, there are far more horrifying dreams that one could have about Pennywise other than ones in which he merely comes to visit you to catch up on old times, but Skarsgård’s experiences are unsettling all the same. Killing Pennywise in the physical realm was already difficult enough—imagine having to deal with him in your dreams.