The hard work of moving an idea from your head to the page and then the screen was evident when I spoke with Bill Hader ahead of the season two premiere of Barry (Sunday at 10 pm ET on HBO) earlier this week. Hader, who co-created the show with Alec Berg (and executive produces, co-writes, stars, and sometimes directs episodes of it), talked about respecting “the process” of producing the show and enjoying “the ride.” Exhaustion was also mentioned. But Hader is not complaining. He’s just charting the evolution of a thing and explaining what it takes to keep it going.
Hader’s passion is clear. He wants to push himself as a director. He wants to showcase an amazing cast that sometimes has to suffer from the cuts and hard choices that get made in the name of striking a balance with a story that he is determined to get right. And while Hader isn’t closed off to other work, his career priorities are clear too: Barry is his job, and he really likes it.
Have you seen a change in the roles that you’re being offered since the start of the show? Are you being offered a lot of icy killer roles now?
No, actually. Not at all. [Laughs] It’s mostly kind of the same thing. Like comedies. I think you kind of get people go, “Oh, yeah, you’re comedies.” To be honest, I think people just assume I’m so slammed with the show. I get sent scripts, obviously, but it’s not like a ton, I think. But I mean, I got to do It: Chapter 2. That character’s funny, but it also has a big dramatic turn it. And so, that was nice. When I met Andrés Muschietti, he had said, “I really liked you in Barry, and I think you’d be really good in this.” So maybe. It’s weird, I don’t notice any of that stuff. I’m so focused on just making the show make sense. The acting stuff is always kinda secondary because the other stuff just takes up so much energy. So that’s probably why I wrote myself a very laconic guy.
Would that be the expectation for the run of the show, that it’s basically gonna be the primary focus of your career right now, and everything else is gonna be secondary in terms of roles that you want?
I mean, no. I shot It 2 while we were writing season two [of Barry]. And so, I mean, if something comes along that I get excited about and I definitely want to do, you try to figure it out. It’s not like I don’t want to do anything else, I do, but the amount of work it takes to do Barry, just eight episodes, is so all-encompassing that it’s hard to do other things.
I just spoke with Michael C. Hall for the season finale of Documentary Now!. Is that something where you’re looking to be more involved if there is another season?
I mean, I’d love to. It really is a combination of time and actually my HBO contract and things like that, but I can write and help out. You know what I mean? But being in this show precludes me from being in that show.
What were some of the lessons you took from season one that you poured into season two?
There are little specific personal things that changed [for me] as a director. Trying to just be a little bit more confident. Because, I mean, I never really directed anything before I had done the pilot and the first two episodes. So it was a bit of trusting myself and being a little more specific in my coverage and trying to take some more risks. You’re on HBO, so it doesn’t have to feel like a television show. You want to make sure that you’re utilizing that.
But to be honest, we kind of fell into the similar traps. It’s a 30-minute show, and we have a lot of characters, and the way we tell the story is in a very mousetrap type way in that it’s a tight story. When you’re doing that, you think you don’t have enough when you’ve written it, and then you shoot it. Then you get in the editing bay, and you realize, “Oh, I have way too much.” Which is… that’s a better problem to have, but that happens on a lot of things. On our episodes, they’re always are saying, “All right, well, the first cut is like 45 minutes. Oh, man, we gotta cut 15 minutes out of it.” And so, it’s always just a matter of finding it and trusting that this is the process, and the process is not neat.
I remember as an actor, me and other actors would get really frustrated at the amount of overshooting. You shoot a scene, the same scene, in three different locations, or you would do all this work, and then you’d see the project and go, “They only used like five seconds of that.” And you would get frustrated. And some of that, yeah, is indulgent, but I’ve learned now being on the other side of it, that some of it is just the process. It’s like you have to have all the pieces to then realize what pieces you don’t need to tell the story in a more interesting way.
Game of Thrones goes over its runtime frequently. Other HBO shows do that, too. You’re saying, stick to the 30 minutes. Is that a help to have that kind of discipline?
Yeah, I mean, Alec [Berg] and I often think the best version of an episode is the shortest one. But, you know, actually, I say that, and then you go, “Well, that one’s shorter.” But then what you risk in doing that is in taking out a really great performance moment, or an action moment, or, “Oh, man, we did this thing, and we made this really interesting shot that is motivated, but because of time…” and then we have to cut it up. And sometimes… I think, it’s a balance, to be honest. I’m kind of retracting here, but it’s kind of a balance. So sometimes, I think, you can cut it too short, where you go, “Well, the math is all there. The A to Z of it is all there, but we’re lacking some humanity and inspiration.” So you want to keep that stuff involved. But then you can have shows that have too much of that: it’s all performance, and look, and surface. But the story makes zero sense. And so, most of our job is balancing all that.
It feels like, this season, you’re expanding out a little bit and adding more dimension to some of the characters.
Yeah. Yeah, that’s kind of a goal. It’s just a very organic thing. We did start this going, “It would be great if the class wasn’t doing another Shakespeare… they weren’t doing another play. What if they wrote their own play about themselves? A truth thing?” So, if that’s what the play is about, then you have to keep the onus on Barry and Sally, and they have to tell their truth. And as an artist, you want to be truthful and real, and that can infuse your art with something. But as a human being, being honest with yourself is really difficult. You know?
We were talking about the ways you kind of compromise. You kind of embellish things, you kind of compromise the truth, just so you can live with yourself. And so, it was like, “Well, that’s interesting. What if all of the characters are doing that this season?” So it started as just this thing about Barry and Sally’s characters, then it was like, “Well, what would Cousineau’s truth be? What would Fuches’ truth be? What would Noho Hank’s truth be?” And just trying to find that.
Speaking of Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan), does a performance like that, which really clicks and moves him from being an interesting and quirky side character, to where he plays a much bigger role this season — was that always the plan, or did he just play his way into more screen time?
He just played his way into it. Yeah, I mean, initially, in the pilot, he died.
Oh, really? I didn’t know that.
Yeah, when I shoot up the car, he was dead. And then Alec and I said, “We’d be insane to kill that guy. He’s so funny.” That’s why in episode two, his arm’s in a sling, and everything.
Was there any thought about keeping Paula Newsome? Moss is such a strong character in season one.
Who said she’s not coming back? [Laughs]
Okay, maybe I’m making a jump. I was thinking about that, actually, when I was thinking about this, because we didn’t see a body, so maybe… Alright, so we’ll go with that.
Yeah, I mean, you don’t really know what’s going on with Moss.
Well, alright. Let me ask this: Without saying definitively that she’s gone, the reaction that Barry has after he kills Chris [in season one] versus when whatever happens with Moss… obviously something happened. What can we take from the differences there? Because it feels like a very different reaction.
Well, with Moss and Chris, before them, Barry was doing his job out of necessity, for money, or his country, or he was killing out of those type of things. And we don’t know if he killed Moss, and I am being coy, but there was a thing that when we were writing, the first day of writing, the very first thing… like the show premiered on Sunday. The next day, Monday, was the first day of writing season two, and I just sat down and said, “All right, so what happened to Moss?” [Laughs] And they [the writers] started laughing. We didn’t know. They’re like, “Well, you see some gun flashes and Barry comes back in his underwear a couple of hours later.” It’s pretty inferred what happened, but we don’t know what happened. And so, for all intents and purposes, the beginning of the season, she’s missing, and no one knows where she is. But Barry, he did things… It’s like he’s going through his progression of, it’s a job, and it’s a thing he doesn’t really think about. And then he sees Ryan Madison’s dad at that memorial, and he goes, “Oh, my God, I didn’t realize… I haven’t seen the fallout from what I do.”
It feels like maybe there’s an enhanced level of comfort, like he’s getting more used to the things he has to do out of desperation. Is that fair to say?
Well, no, it’s not desperation. He’s doing it for his own self-interest, you know?
Well, that’s true too.
He’d like to think that it’s desperation, but it’s really that he wants to hold onto his life. And so, it’s this weird hope thing, where it’s like this guy hoping for a better life, but this is… the criminal world is how you lived. It’s like you can’t just leave that. And when you murder and take a life, it has all these ripple effects that are just always surrounding Barry. And so, it’s like this cosmic joke on him, that no matter what he does, he keeps getting tangled up in this. And so, it was interesting for him to make the choice to do something… the scene with Chris, is doing something so he can hold on to this acting world.
Are you, yourself, on screen and just in character, more comfortable this season than last season with everything?, Obviously, with the accolades, the story that you’re trying to tell is getting accepted. People want to hear more. Does it make you more comfortable?
I haven’t noticed any big difference. I wasn’t necessarily uncomfortable in the first season. I was really excited. It’s like you’re at camp, like summer camp, and everyone’s excited, and you’re all like, “Oh, my God, we’re making an HBO show.” And [you’re] thrilled. And the second season, it’s like you’ve been living with each other for five years, so everyone’s like, “Hey, how’s it going? What’s going on?” [Laughs] You know what I mean? And everybody has other projects they’re trying to do, and lives, and stuff like that. It was the same thing at SNL. So that was the only kind of difference.
I don’t mean that in a bad way. I mean, that’s a very human thing. It’s kind of like, “Oh, now it’s work, it’s a job.” And we all love each other, but it’s a job. But for myself, I’ve noticed no real difference other than I was a little bit more tired this season. In the first season, we had the scripts in really good shape before we started shooting. And then this season, the scripts were not in that great a shape when we started shooting. And so, Alec and I were writing a lot on set, the next block.
We had an ending, but it was just, how do you get there? And so, we were a bit… I was just exhausted, whereas on the first season, it was like we showed up with eight really tight scripts. But other than that, no, man, I was… It’s like a nice combination of having fun, but also… it’s like being in an airplane. If you thought about how it worked, you’d go insane. So you just enjoy the ride.
Perfect. Last time I spoke with you, you hadn’t killed anybody onscreen before, and you talked about the emotional hit of doing that. Is that something you’re getting more used to?
No. Nah, I really don’t know what I’m doing.
That’s probably a good thing.
Yeah, I wasn’t stoked on it. Wade Allen, one of the stunt coordinators, he’s a great guy, and he deserves a lot of credit for making it look like I know what I’m doing with a gun. In this season, I also had to fight. Which was just hilarious. My editors were like, “Uh, maybe we just do this in a really big wide shot, so you don’t see their faces.” But no, as far as the whole action thing goes, I mean, on It: Chapter 2, I pulled a groin muscle, just running. Like, I didn’t trip, I didn’t fall, I didn’t even turn on it hard. I was running a straight line, and I stopped, and then just sat down, and was like, “Oh, man, I just pulled a groin muscle.” And they had to use my stunt double for the rest of the day.
That’s gotta be a proud moment.
Oh, yeah. Like all the other actors on that… like James McAvoy’s jumping off of buildings and stuff, and they’re fine. And they’re like, “Bill, run from A to B,” and I’m like, “Cool!” And I run and “Agh!” Yeah, pretty pathetic.
Season two of ‘Barry’ premieres Sunday on HBO at 10 pm ET.