Bill Skarsgard Talks Being in a Family of Actors, His Character’s Abilities, the Fast Pace of Working in Television, and More on the Set of HEMLOCK GROVE

     April 16, 2013


Bill Skarsgard comes from an acting dynasty, with father Stellan and brothers Alexander and Gustaf already notable success stories. The youngest member of the clan, Bill has already made a name for himself in his latest Sweden. He hopes to make a name for himself with English-speaking audiences in Hemlock Grove, the new supernatural series from Netflix. During Collider’s visit to the set of Hemlock Grove, the new Netflix original series from Eli Roth, he sat down for a roundtable discussion about the part, the show, and working in a family of actors.  Hit the jump to read on.

bill-skarsgard-hemlock-groveQuestion: Where are you from originally?

BILL SKARSGARD: Stockholm, Sweden. So I’m going back there for Christmas. I haven’t been away from Stockholm like this in forever… I’ve been here for like half a year. I miss it, but I won’t miss it when I get back there. 22 seconds, that’s all I need.

Tell us a little bit about your character.

SKARSGARD: I play Roman Godfrey, who’s a son of the Godfrey family. Basically the Godfrey family runs Hemlock Grove town; they used to do it throughout the steel industry, but then my dad on the show decided to change that. When the steel industry was going out, he started investing in biotechnology, so it’s an old steel town that’s now very weird high tech. It has a grungy Pennsylvania look to it, but in the middle of this town there’s a huge white tower where all of this biotechnology is happening. So my character is from that background. He’s a prince in the town. He gets whatever he wants. He’s very wealthy, obviously, and good looking. So on paper, everything’s given to him, he’s had an easy life, but he’s battling a lot of demons inside him and he’s not happy at all. The only one that he cares for and loves is his sister Shelley, who’s a special character as well.  

Is he a bad person?

SKARSGARD: I wouldn’t say that he is. He’s doing bad things on the show, but personally I don’t believe in bad people. I think there’s always a reason for people acting badly. For me, I care for Roman a lot. I love that guy. I love that character. I think that’s important for me to be able to portray that character, to find that deep bond and care for them as well. So I wouldn’t say that he’s bad. He’s a victim in a lot of ways.  

We know that Peter’s a werewolf, but Roman wields a different power entirely, can you talk about that a little bit?

bill-skarsgard-famke-janssen-hemlock-groveSKARSGARD: He’s special, but you don’t really find out what he is. He’s something else. He has this ability that lets him make people do whatever he wants. So he looks them in the eyes and does that whole vampire thing. He is special, he is supernatural in a way, but he doesn’t really know it. So I don’t think he really knows what he is yet. That’s kind of a big part of the character throughout the season, him also finding out who he is or what he is. 

Does you character live in the house that we’re here at today?


How is inhabiting that space and trying to act as if you belong there?

SKARSGARD: It’s amazing. I couldn’t imagine living there. I don’t think it’s been touched since the 50s. But it’s very, very period and cool. It definitely adds to this wealthy, mysterious thing going on with the family as well. There’s no TVs, no high tech things. It’s very classical. Also, it adds to Olivia’s character, Roman’s mom, who has a very secretive past that nobody really knows about. But she’s very special and obviously dresses like someone from the 30s: very timeless. So I think this place has been amazing for our home.

Are Peter and Roman friends?

SKARSGARD: Yeah they are. They become friends. Weird friends. They have a bond without knowing it: a supernatural bond, if you will. The first time they see each other, they know they’re different from anyone else in this world. They’ve never felt that before, neither of them. These two kids are from the opposite sides of the world in terms of money; you have this poor, gypsy guy and then you have this wealthy kid. I think that they’re equally as lonely in the sense that they have no one else to share their feelings with. They’re so different, they’re both kind of monsters. The first time they meet each other in school, it’s like the moment of finding someone else out there. Even though they have a lot of trust issues, especially from Peter’s side: Peter knows more about Roman’s background than Roman really does because Peter comes from this gypsy culture and they know what the upirs are (that’s what Roman’s kind are called) but Roman’s not really there yet, so he doesn’t really know.

hemlock-grove-bill-skarsgardThe six months the show has been shooting — it’s a pretty sizable amount of time to spend in a role. What’s it’s like to get to spend that amount of time with a character? How does your understanding or approach to him might change as it’s gone on?

SKARSGARD: I’ve never done TV before. If you shoot a film, it’s two-and-a-half months and the material is like 120, 130 pages. We’re doing 55 pages every two weeks. So it’s been really high-paced and really intense, but also really cool to go in so deep with a character. I’ve never done that before. It’s funny: it takes a while to really get your character. It’s impossible to do it on the first day. That’s the same way in films; if you start shooting a film, maybe a couple weeks in, you’re like, “Ah! Now I think I really get him.” Maybe even half the shoot has gone by and you’re like, “Oooh.” That doesn’t mean that you’re off when you start, but you get things as time goes on. It took a while for me to fully understand the character. The first episode, I was struggling with it a little bit. As you should. I don’t think it will show, but it was not really there in the sense of being totally in control of your character. After a while, where I am now, I’m completely comfortable with him and his relationships with the other people. 

Is it difficult anticipating audience reaction because this is one of the first shows to roll out in the manner that it is?

SKARSGARD: I have no idea how people are going to feel. Obviously, I haven’t seen anything yet — I’ve just shot it — but I think that people are going to like it a lot. It’s got a different vibe to it. I think it could be really appealing to a lot of people. It’s really cool being on Netflix because we can do basically whatever we want. Even though we are one of the first shows, we haven’t really expanded on the ability to whatever we want yet. It’s on the Internet. You don’t even have to have 50-minute episodes! The format can change all the time. A short episode of 5 minutes, it doesn’t matter. I think it’s definitely the future of broadcasting in a way, that we don’t have to have our episodes fitting any format at all because we can do it however we want. I think that’s really cool to be a part of that and explore that and also have on the Internet, you click here and you can have some backstory on a character you haven’t seen before. I think there’s a lot of things to explore and I know that we will do that as well with the show. That’s where I think and I hope Netflix is going with it, with all their shows. That’s where they have the upper hand. 

hemlock-grove-imageYour brother is Alexander. Did you guys compare notes at all in terms of working in TV, but also genre television?

SKARSGARD: This show is very different from True Blood, even though they have similar elements. The vampires and werewolves. But it’s very different. It’s difficult to me because I’ve always been very keen on making my own things and my own choices. I have Alexander and I have Gustaf and I have my dad [Stellan Skarsgard], and they’re all good and they’ve been doing it for a while. My dad has been doing it for 40 years. So they know what they’re doing. Coming from an acting family, it’s really important to me for my own sake to be solely responsible for my own performance. I don’t want to ever think that I don’t know what to do. I want to deal with my own things, to perform my own roles, to be like, “I did this.” I don’t want any help from them… though I do like venting to them from time to time.

There’s a little competition too. I’ve been fortunate enough to have an embarrassingly good career so far in Sweden and then I’m doing this now. It’s all shameful a little bit. I’ve been so fortunate in doing great things. I think there might be a little bit of “Oh, really? Oh you got it? You bastard!” They’re all proud of me and they all love me, but it’s always funny when we’re all in the same business. I think my dad said when I told him I was doing this. I got home in Stockholm to do a thing and was flying back to LA and I told him, “Dad, I think I got the show” and he’s just like, “Fuck off.” That’s what he said. It’s funny that way being from an acting family. They’re all really proud and supportive, but it’s good to have that kind of honesty, “You don’t know how fucking lucky you are.” I do know and I really appreciate it.

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