From show co-creators Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason and executive producer J.J. Abrams, the Hulu psychological-horror series Castle Rock is an original story set in the Stephen King multi-verse that mines his best-loved works and plays with themes of darkness and light, all while set in this small Maine town that is full of strange occurrences, mysteries and all manner of sin. Castle Rock is a place with a history that is clearly unsettling, and as its mysteries start to unravel, audiences will want to follow all of the twists and turns to its sure to be creepy conclusion.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Bill Skarsgard (who plays The Kid, a mysterious prisoner who’s been locked away in a cage at Shawshank State Penitentiary for an unknown amount of time) talked about the secrecy surrounding this series, his reaction when he finally got to read the pilot script, how he fully got a handle on this mysterious character, being so tightly connected to the mystery of the story, why The Kid was such an incredible role to play, the biggest Stephen King fans on set, and which of the King novels most stand out for him. He also talked about returning to the role of Pennywise for IT: Chapter Two, now that the character has taken on a life of its own, and working with the adult cast, as well as whether he’d like to tackle some lighter material, in the future.
Collider: I’ve watched the first four episodes and absolutely loved the show, even though I’m not entirely sure exactly what’s going on yet. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the rest of the season.
BILL SKARSGARD: Great, thank you! I’m happy to hear that.
When this came your way, how was it presented to you? How much were you actually told about what this would be, before you signed on?
SKARSGARD: All of the things that Bad Robot does are very much kept under wraps, so initially there was nothing. I didn’t get to read anything and I didn’t even know what the show was about. I was reluctant to really engage with it because all I knew was that it was a TV thing that was something Stephen King. I didn’t know if it had anything to do with the IT world, at all. I didn’t know if it was a TV version of Pennywise. I didn’t know anything. For all I knew, maybe this was just The Avengers of Stephen King villains. I didn’t know what the show was, so I was reluctant to engage with it. Luckily, they kept being persistent and finally let me read the pilot. As soon as I read the pilot, I was like, “Oh, this is really good!”
You get to read a lot of shows and movie scripts, and there’s just not a lot of really intriguing good stuff out there. I was reluctant to engage with this, but then I read the script and I was like, “Wow, this pilot is one of the better things I’ve read, in a long time. It’s super mysterious and it’s very intriguing. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m in. This is really cool!” I could really see the potential in this type of story. And then, before I said yes, I met with Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason, the creators of the show, and they walked me through their vision for what it is and what they want to do with it. They reassured me that it definitely didn’t have anything to do with the Stephen King thing I had just done and that the character was completely original. They described it to me as what Fargo, the TV show, is to the Coen brothers’ film. It’s a new story that’s set it a familiar world. I was just so intrigued by the character. And then, they told me a little bit about what the character was feeling. I left that meeting being like, “I really want to do this!” Luckily, they felt the same way.
Who your character is and what he wants is such a big part of the mystery of the season. When did you feel like you fully had a handle on who he is?
SKARSGARD: It was interesting ‘cause that was also a big conversation, in doing this. I was like, “Okay, I need to know everything that my character knows, at any given time.” That was really important for me. We sat down with each other and spoke about that. Without revealing too much, the character changes throughout the show, as he realizes things about himself, about the past, and about the mystery. There came a point where I had to sit down with Sam and Dusty and be like, “I need to know everything my character knows here.” The character starts out very damaged and he becomes more and more assertive, as the show goes along, and he goes out into this world, after having been in that cage for a very, very long time. That was the initial thing for me. I needed to wrap my head around the psychology behind someone that’s been isolated for such a long time, and how awkward everything is. Talking is awkward, listening to someone is awkward, and being talked to or just looking at someone in the eyes is a freaky thing for someone who hasn’t done that in a very long time. All of those different things were really important to establish, in the beginning, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg of who the character is, initially, when you get to know him. It’s tricky to talk about because I can’t really say anything about the character, other than that. So much of the who the character is and what role he’s playing in the mystery is the whole mystery of the show.
Even though I have no idea what The Kid is up to, I feel like you do know that he’s up to something, so you always have this weird, creepy feeling when it comes to him, especially in the beginning because you have so few lines of dialogue and so much of it is in your face and your eyes. What’s that like to do, as an actor?
SKARSGARD: It was a lot of fun. Every time the audience looks at him, they wonder, “What the fuck is he thinking about? What is he doing?” You can really play around with very small little things because the audience is there. They’re trying to read your face and wondering, what’s the agenda here? What’s he up to? Small things can matter a lot. That being said, I really do hope that the show is one of those shows where you watch the whole show and there is a big reveal, at the end of the show, and then when you rewatch it, you’ll see the show from a completely different perspective. It was an incredible character to play, and I really hope that it all comes together well.