Bill Skarsgård wants to make one thing clear about the new Stephen King character he plays in Hulu’s upcoming anthology series, Castle Rock: He’s nothing like It’s Pennywise.
Speaking with Rotten Tomatoes at New York Comic Con on October 8, the summer’s breakout star assured us that while his latest deep-dive into King’s universe is an equally “transformative character” who gets wrapped up in a lot of “unexplainable things happening,” a demonic clown he is not.
“[He’s] so different from Pennywise,” Skarsgård said. “I’m using a completely different tool set here for this one.”
We assume that tool set does not include red balloons and hyperactive salivary glands.
While secrecy was the name of the game at the Sunday afternoon NYCC panel and event — Castle Rock star André Holland and creators Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason admitted to being “indoctrinated into the Bad Robot code of NSA-level secrecy” after J.J. Abrams signed on as the Hulu series’ executive producer — Rotten Tomatoes did learn that Skarsgård is a prisoner in Shawshank who employs the help of Henry Deaver (Holland), a defense attorney and native of the titular Maine town. Skarsgård, however, hinted that his rapport with Henry differs from your typical lawyer-client relationship.
“It’s much weirder than that — I’ll tell you that much,” he said. “But I guess the only thing I want to stress is that [Castle Rock is] a completely separate thing than Pennywise and It. The world is brand new. It’s Stephen King’s universe, and Castle Rock obviously as a place and Shawshank as a place, these are places we’ve been familiarized with through his work. But the show is an original story in that world. The character is a lot of fun. He’s — it’s a really weird one.”
Holland described Henry’s relationship with Skarsgård’s unnamed prisoner as “one of the most important relationships that my character has with anybody else in the show,” and that working with him forces Henry to revisit things in his past he thought he had long buried.
“My character grew up [in] Castle Rock, and so I think he is definitely a part of that world,” Holland said. “He ran away from it. Then he comes back, and working with Bill’s character reveals things about himself that he thought were sort of gone — that he had closed the door on.”
Really, though, can you blame Henry for fleeing his hometown and leaving his adoptive mother, Ruth (Sissy Spacek), behind? Castle Rock appears throughout King’s cannon as an attractive residence for rabid dogs, serial killers and the devil himself. We’d get the hell out of dodge, too.
When asked if his character is or was confronted with the supernatural his town is known for, Holland teased, “I think I better leave it to 2018 to [let you] find out what the specific dynamics of that are…. But he’s definitely familiar with this sort of Castle Rock — and all that that entails.”
Thomason said that it was precisely the fictional Castle Rock’s lurid reputation that made it an intriguing playing field to explore in a television series.
“The origin of the project in a way was to sort of ask ourselves the question: What does it mean in this age to live in a place that has just been beat down and beat down? Who stays there, and where do they get their optimism from, and how do they react in times of fear?”
Also among the people who stay in Castle Rock are Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey), a struggling real estate agent with a rare medical condition, and Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn), who is the only character announced thus far with a previous existence in King’s books and short stories. Co-creator Shaw echoed Thomason’s desire to show how these people living in constant fear get by, and was particularly keen on seeing how such messaging may resonate with American audiences today.
“We’re living in the era of terror, and it’s a moment where occasionally America can feel a little bit like the town that is revisited by a Biblical onslaught of horrors, and it’s up to us to figure out to what extent we assign blame or live in fear or move forward with a sense of hope and optimism,” Shaw said. “It felt to us it would be disingenuous or a missed opportunity to try to reinterpret Stephen King for an audience on television in 2017 and not engage as much with the question of fear and what fear does to us and how we live with it, [all] as we try to provoke fear in an audience. That really felt exciting to us.”
Above any of those greater allegorically political purposes, though, is the goal for Castle Rock to tell a “gripping, compelling, super strange story,” Shaw concluded. Consider us intrigued enough to see how they pull it all off.
Castle Rock premieres on Hulu in 2018.