The Closing Chapter. Interview with Bill Skarsgård
By Antonia Nessen. Photography by Magnus Magnusson
We meet Bill Skarsgård in the neighborhood “Little Portugal” in Toronto to talk about his acting and the chapter of his life that is about to come to a close. Toronto has been his home on and off for the last three years during the filming of Hemlock Grove. The series – one of the TV shows produced by the streaming site Netflix – is about how Bill’s lead character tackles what’s boiling beneath the surface of the outwardly so sleepy provincial town Hemlock Grove. The dreamy and frightening narrative is built up of social tensions, family secrets, brutal death and supernatural phenomena. A story that is now nearing the end after three seasons.
“I’ve compared it a bit to being at university. Like when you spend three, four years at a school and it becomes a bit of your world and your home, with close friends and all that stuff. This has been a bit like a school in that sense. In a way, I’ve kind of grown up with these people. I started filming when I was 22 and now I’m 25 and we’re done. Those are pretty significant years in life that I have spent here with these people, doing what I want to do: acting.”
When we get together, Bill is just back from a weekend in Montréal. He has been in Canada’s second-largest city before, but then as a 12 -year-old visiting one of his father Stellan Skarsgård’s movie sets. Bill comes from a family of lots of talented actors and he himself has been doing it since the age of 7. Stellan is a long-time collaborator of Lars von Trier’s, among other things, and has starred in an impressive list of movies. But back to Hemlock Grove, what’s it like working with different directors on different episodes?
“I’ve learned a lot from working with so many different people. It’s very different from working with film directors, because here they just come in and do one episode and then they’re out of here. The director isn’t the captain, in the way it is with movies productions. TV really is the medium of the screenwriter. For directing TV it’s important to be good at the visuals and there’s also usually very little time. For TV you often shoot a lot more pages a day than for movies.”
Are you good at learning your lines?
“A lot of people ask how actors learn their lines. It’s a very mechanical thing that anyone can do really. It’s all about repetition. The job as an actor is about blowing life into the text and finding pauses. That’s the exciting part, how to act and approach different parts.”
People have died in the show, right?
“Yes, dropped out of university. Sure, it can be sad when you’ve worked together for a long time. It’s kind of like being abandoned.“
But you know how the series ends?
“Yes, I know how it’ll end. The final episode airs after summer.”
And then what?
“I’ve worked so hard with these wonderful and creative people, and some who weren’t quite as inspiring (laughs), and on a whole I’ve learned a lot and am very grateful. As I said, it’s like graduating, I’m sad to leave this part of my life behind me, but I’m also very eager to see what’s next.”
You’ve received your master’s degree in Hemlock Grove.
“Yes, something like that. But as an actor you’re never done. You never learn enough; your training is never really complete. It’s good to never be content, you need a drive to keep learning and getting better. I’m looking forward to finishing this chapter and wouldn’t mind going straight into a new project. I guess I kind of live for work. I enjoy it so much. I’d like to find a new character in a different world than the one I have inhabited for the last few years.“
So you want to keep doing TV?
“It depends on the material, but I like the miniseries format. Just shooting eight episodes. I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more of that, and the best writers are gravitating towards that too. It’s like a good book that you look forward to coming home to and picking up the story and it’s long enough to not be able to devour it in a couple of hours, you have it laying around for a week or so.“
“No one sees indie movies in theaters anymore and they’re on their knees. But I think this format can save the industry. Miniseries that are based on good characters, good dialogue and good acting are great and I’m always open to projects as long as the material is cool.”
You were able to squeeze in a movie part this fall, weren’t you?
“Yes, An indie movie before we started shooting Hemlock. We were just as pressed for time and had to shoot five or six pages of the script per day. We had four weeks to shoot a feature length film, low budgets filming is the same here as in Sweden.“
You started acting when you were very young and you’ve already been in lots of celebrated roles in Scandinavia. Don’t you ever feel like going back?
“I have been very lucky and have gotten to work on many fun projects up until now, but I can’t just settle for that, I want to go further and find new challenges. If a Swedish project is good enough, I think it would be great but I’m not eager to go home just to be in some crime drama.”