I’m essentially homeless,” says Mr Bill Skarsgård, sitting at the bar of a brunch spot in hipster Los Feliz, LA. Homeless, as in itinerant, of no fixed abode, a drifter. “Seven years I’ve not had a home,” the 6ft 3in, 26-year-old actor explains with a light Swedish lilt and speech pattern. He doesn’t own a house, a car, or even any furniture. “I literally live out of a suitcase. That’s my life. What’s in the suitcase kind of changes with the seasons, but I’m pretty good at travelling light. I’ve been doing it all my adult life.”
Words: Dan Rookwood | Photography: Angelo Pennetta | Styling: Dan Maywww.mrporter.com
Who better, then, to demonstrate one of this season’s more prominent menswear trends: the wanderlust look? High-end designers are embracing the recent movement towards immersive, experiential travel. Prada’s SS17 collection is heavy on hiking-inspired gear, for example. Other designers, such as Saint Laurent, are going for that thrown-together, lived-in, worn-again look. Think curious, free-spirited global citizen travelling off the beaten track. This is the character MR PORTER asked Mr Skarsgård to channel for this shoot in the desert of Palm Springs and Joshua Tree. Turns out it wasn’t that much of a stretch for him.
“I grew up travelling,” he explains, sipping strong black coffee while waiting for his eggs benedict. “When we were kids, my dad would bring us wherever he was shooting. I was in Cambodia for three months when I was 12. And Mexico. All over the world. I’m very grateful to have had that as a young kid, to see and appreciate other people’s cultures and life situations other than Stockholm, which is kind of clean and neat and organised.”
If you haven’t twigged already, Mr Skarsgård is the son of Sweden’s most beloved actor, Mr Stellan Skarsgård (Thor, Good Will Hunting, Mamma Mia! and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), and the younger brother of the country’s most famous Hollywood pin-up, Mr Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood, The Legend Of Tarzan, Big Little Lies), 14 years his senior. There is only one Skarsgård family in Sweden, as far as he knows. “My granddad invented the name,” he says. In the 1940s, the Swedish government encouraged patriarchs to pick new names because there were too many Nilssons, Johnsons, Johanssens and Svensens.
And it’s quite a family. Mr Skarsgård is one of five brothers, four of whom are actors (the other is a doctor, like their mother). He also has a sister (a model turned nightclub manager) and two younger half-brothers. Together with all the partners, there were 17 of them in Bali last Christmas. “It’s a very untraditional Swedish family,” he says. Mr Skarsgård grew up in an open-door community of actors and artists. His upbringing was extremely liberal and bohemian, with raucous family dinners every night.
Even though he has acted pretty much all his life, there was a time as a teenager when he wondered if he should pursue it as a career because, he says, “I didn’t like the idea of being the fourth acting Skarsgård.” There are five of them now his little brother, Mr Valter Skarsgård, 21, has followed suit. “Sweden’s a small country. It does about 30 films a year, and it’s like ‘Skarsgårds – they’re actors’.”
Mr Bill Skarsgård is now striving to make the name his own outside Sweden, but he’s all too aware how tough it can be, especially in Hollywood. “That’s why I have a hard time living here [in LA],” he says. “I like being here for a month or two or three, and then I need to leave. It affects what you value. Acting is a very brutal and unkind industry. It’s a vulnerable job and you constantly have to win the approval of other people, who are judging you not only by your performance, your ability, but also on your looks and how you sound, how tall you are and all these different things. I wouldn’t want my kids to be actors.”
He estimates he clocks up a cumulative total of three months of the year in LA. He Airbnbs rather than stays in hotels because, following the Skarsgård tradition, he now likes to host large dinner parties regularly. He spends about three months back in Sweden with his 32-year-old actress girlfriend, Ms Alida Morberg. And the rest of the year he’s somewhere on location, filming.
While his eldest brother came to fame in HBO’s lusty vampire series True Blood, Mr Bill Skarsgård got his big international break playing one of the main characters in Hemlock Grove, a similarly dark fantasy series on Netflix, which featured werewolves and ran for three moderately successful seasons.
That role helped him land the lead role of Pennywise, the child-eating clown in the forthcoming remake of It, adapted from horror author Mr Stephen King’s cult novel of the same name. Some people hold the original book and movie at least partly responsible for an insidious phenomenon that suddenly flared up last year with a spate of sinister clown sightings and attacks reported globally. The timing was strangely coincidental. “We did our first press release with the photo of me as the clown, and the week after these creepy clown incidents started popping up on the news,” says Mr Skarsgård. “We were in the middle of shooting and all these clown attacks started happening all around the world. It was weird.”
Although not a horror fan himself, Mr Skarsgård enjoys playing these disquieting characters. “I’m able to tap into that very unflattering side of yourself,” he says. “I do find them really fun to play. I enjoy exploring the disgusting darkness of yourself. My goal has been to portray as disturbing a clown as possible. That being said, I do want to stay versatile, so that the perception of you is not the scary child-eating clown.”
His next film, which is out this summer, is something different, at least. Mr Skarsgård has a “small but fun part playing a German punk who gets stuff done” in Atomic Blonde, an espionage thriller set in Berlin just before the Wall came down, which stars Mr James McAvoy and Ms Charlize Theron.
More immediately, he’s back on the road again. After returning from our shoot in Palm Springs, he’s off to New Orleans to film Assassination Nation, a Mr Sam Levinson movie, and will have some friends fly in for Mardi Gras. “I never know where I am going to be more than a couple of months ahead,” he says. “You see a lot of the world this way, but it’s this kind of a nomadic circus gig.”