At the center of the blockbuster hit “It” is Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, who has awakened after 27 years to begin another reign of terror. This Swedish import is the younger brother of recent Emmy winner Alexander Skarsgard (“Big Little Lies”). Could he soon outdo his big brother and reap an Oscar nomination?
As soon as we see Pennywise, he’s unsettling, both creepy and fascinating. You’re terrified by him but at the same transfixed. You find yourself missing him when he is not on-screen. Sure, the hair and make-up help create the character but much of the credit must go to the actor. Skarsgard’s high-pitched voice, his eerie ability to deviate his eyes and that trail of drool which seems to eternally hang from his lip (like a predator unable to hide its desperate hunger for prey) all make his Pennywise so effecting.
Critics praised his performance. Brian Truitt (USA Today) observed: “Skarsgard excellently portrays Pennywise as part unnerving Ronald McDonald type and part hellish serial killer. Bucktoothed and cartoon-voiced, the clown burrows under the skin and just stays there.” John Nugent (Empire) notes,“Skarsgard proves the centrepiece of the 2017 vintage. He leaves a hell of an impression.”
Skarsgard’s work is reminiscent of the likes of Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds,” Javier Bardem in “No Country For Old Men,” Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight” and J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash.” All four won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Among the other villainous turns to contend in this category in recent years were: Tom Hardy (“The Revenant”), Michael Fassbender (“12 Years a Slave”), Barkhad Abdi (“Captain Phillips”), Josh Brolin (“Milk”) and Jackie Earle Haley (“Little Children”).
The downside for Skarsgard is that “It” is a horror film. The last of that genre to be represented in the acting races at the Oscars was “The Exorcist” back in 1973 with Ellen Burstyn losing Best Actress to Glenda Jackson (“A Touch of Class”) and Jason Miller edged out of best Supporting Actor by John Houseman (“The Paper Chase”). Yes, Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster won for “Silence of the Lambs” in 1991, but that film was more of a psychological drama with thriller elements. And Johnny Depp was nominated in 2007 for “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” but that was predominantly a musical.
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