Last Monday, Bill Hader wrapped post-production on the season two finale of Barry, got into his car, and said to himself, “Now what do I do?” One hopes that the show’s co-creator/writer/sometimes director/and star (who is also set to co-star in It: Chapter 2) takes some time to bask in the glory of a creation that has continued to generate buzz about it being among the best shows on television. But as Hader confided when we spoke about the show’s season two finale (which you should watch before reading this interview), he’s not quite sure where Barry Berkman goes from here after the assassin turned actor went full berserker. And he seems pretty cool letting the process play out in an organic way.
Uproxx spoke with Hader about that, the big choices that lead to those stunning and potentially series-altering moments, writing himself into a corner, and trying not to repeat himself.
How are you taking this praise that you’ve been getting for this show? I’ve seen a lot of critics that are saying this is the best show on television. I’ve seen Guillermo Del Toro praise you as a director after episode five.
I mean, it’s all awesome and flattering. I’ve been through the thing, where everyone is really happy with you and then it tapers off. It’s all kind of like a rollercoaster ride. So what keeps you sane is just focusing on the work and making sure that you’re telling the story that you want to tell. But it’s very nice. I had a bunch of friends send me that Guillermo Del Toro tweet, and I was like, “Oh, my God. That’s huge.” That was really nice.
This season’s fifth episode, “Ronny/Lily,” was such an interesting change of pace. Is that something you want to have the freedom to do again?
Yeah, if it makes sense to the story. I directed the finale and you’re wrapping up so many stories. So, like, when you’re trying to get a nice interesting tone and pace for the episode, it’s harder because you’re having to make sure all these stories are kind of being wrapped up or changed in a big way since it’s the end of season, so it’s always bit trickier. Whereas in an episode like “Ronny/Lily,” episode five, it’s actually kind of nice as its own weird contained thing.
She’s not a supernatural kind of creation, but there’s some abnormality there. What was behind the choice to toe that line a little bit?
I don’t know. It’s just like an instinct. It’s like, “Oh, it’s really funny if she could fly around the room and sort of attack him in this kind of way.” And, I dunno, it was just making us laugh and it just felt right. It didn’t feel like we were jumping the shark. Then we were like, maybe we are jumping the shark, I dunno? [Laughs]
The scene with Fuches at the end screaming “What are you?!” is probably the hardest laugh I had all season.
That’s Geoffrey Lewis and High Plains Drifter. I don’t know if you’ve seen High Plains Drifter, but at the end, the way Geoffrey Lewis says “Who are you!?” always made me… I just always remembered the way he said that.
Does Barry really love Sally, or is it more just the idea of what she could be for him?
Well, I think he loves her, but in his heart… I mean, in his soul, he’s like 15 years old. So it’s the way you loved a girl when you were 15 or 16. She’s like the greatest actress he’s ever seen because she’s kinda the only actress he’s ever seen. And she is a good actress. They’re kinda perfect for each other, because he can’t believe a girl like that would have anything to do with him. And she loves that this guy gives her so much attention. So it kinda works for both of them in a way. I think he really does [love her]. I don’t know how much she loves him. But he definitely is wholly in love. Like, if she broke up with him, the story ends.
I feel like Barry showed more personality and more looseness in his character this season and basically tapped into some of your comedic range. Was that a planned progression, or something that came out as you were creating this season?
I would say it just came out. Like a thing you say, where it’s like you do this thing so many times that you just start to feel like, “Are we repeating ourselves here?” Or like, we’ve done this scene before. We need a new scene. It needs to be something different, you know? So, that’s the thing you’re always trying to figure out when you’re doing these episodes. You’re just trying to figure out what’s the thing that makes sense to this story, makes sense to the characters, but you’re not just treading water, you’re not going, “No, no, we’re seeing this move again.” We were very self-conscious about the cast having another big show at the end. We went, “do we really want to give them another big show? Isn’t that what we did last year?” But it’s kind of like Alec [Berg, the show’s co-creator] said, it’s like a show that’s about a basketball team. They’re gonna have a big game at some point. I don’t know if we would do that again.
With everything that happens at the end of this season, is that structure going to continue with the acting class? I’m curious if the show is going to get blown up a little bit by the reveal with Cousineau.
Yeah. I have no idea. I’m right there with you. [Laughs] That was just kinda decided, like, “Cousineau should know.” And the room just went “Yeah. Yeah, let’s do that. Let’s see what happens.”
Is there an appeal to writing yourself into a corner like that?
Yeah. I think so. Like there’s that scene in episode three where Barry’s in one room and he’s being shot at and Sally’s in the other room oblivious. And I just remember thinking that we can only really do this a couple of times and then it just starts to feel like “Oh, so she’s just dumb.” It just became a character thing. Cousineau’s right there. Fuches was right there. Why would he not blow up Barry? He’s trying to blow up Barry. Where it came from was, he’s got a gun to Cousineau’s head and Fuches can’t kill anybody. Like he said later, to do that is to have no soul. So he can do the Fuches version of shooting him in the back of the head, which is saying, “Barry Berkman did this.” And so that was the idea behind it, that’s the Fuches version of shooting him in the back of the head. To manipulate and blow up that relationship. That’s his thing. And we got in a big discussion in the writers room and I was like, “He has this gun, he’s just gonna run away and not say ‘Barry did this?’ Why would he not do that?” Like, the only reason he doesn’t do that is to help us as writers. So he has to do it.
Yeah, I think that’s a really honest direction because you could’ve easily ended it with him walking into the dark and left everything unsaid.
Yeah, we had a version like that. That was going to happen initially. If you notice at the beginning of the season, he comes out of darkness. The first time you see Barry in season two, he comes out of darkness to say, “Alright, everybody.” And he wants to do Front Page. But in the end, he goes back into darkness. That was very planned. That he’s this creature that comes out of darkness that wants to try to have a life and then he has to retreat back into it. We did have a version like that, and then it was just like, you know, “no, man, it’s gotta be just the way it’s gotta pan out with Cousineau finding out.
Is there a world where you want to go long term telling the story of Barry as an assassin?
I don’t know if we would do that. That’s the thing: we just talk about it more in terms of where’s he at emotionally. And like, what would he do emotionally? Like, in that moment, at the bus stop. He’s there one minute, and then he gets the call from Hank the next minute, and then, before he really knows it, he’s murdered like two dozen guys. He snaps out of it and is like, “What the fuck did I just do?” You know that look on his face at the end of like, “Wait, what did I just do?” Maybe that’s a look of recognition. Alec and I talked about that. “What is this look?” I don’t want to be balling or anything, but it is kind of a look of like he doesn’t know what he just did.
It is difficult from a writing standpoint, but you just have to kinda take it case by case, scene by scene. Because I’ve learned that the minute I try to control it from above, it never wants to go that way. And I still try to do it. But every time you try to manipulate it in a big way it never wants to go the way you want it to. And then it becomes something else. And, so, I think a year ago or a few years ago, I probably would’ve answered like, “yeah, we’re gonna keep it this way. Yeah, I think it’s this.” And now, I’m already like, “Oh, no, I don’t know!” [Laughs] It’s a very good place to be in a place that you don’t know.
You’d said before that you wanted to be more confident as a director. It definitely feels like there’s been a progression, specifically in the massacre scene, because it’s a really strong, arresting presentation. What are some of the inspirations there?
Again, I was watching these super pretentious Polish movies, I was watching Andrzej Wajda movies. I was watching these Russian movies like The Cranes Are Flying and things like that. And then you do it, and people kinda go “It looks like the Coen Brothers.” And I love the Coen brothers.
That’s what I was wondering.
Yeah, I love them. It happened to be raining while we were shooting all that stuff. And my editor, Kyle Reiter, was like, “It’s raining outside, we established rain, so I need rain over the top of this.” And we had music over that end fight scene, and I said, “Take out all the music and let’s pump up the rain,” and it suddenly became this other thing that was really cool. And very stirring. But it does have like a weird Coen brothers feel to it. And I love that.