Julia Louis-Dreyfus just might be the second coming – if you happened to be a 50-something actor struggling to find good work in Hollywood. That’s where Diedrich Bader was before Dreyfus handpicked him for the role of Bill Ericsson on Veep. Bader spent just a few seasons indulging in his most sarcastic self as the scheming campaign manager but the role helped open up new opportunities for the veteran of The Drew Carey Show. After Veep, Bader landed a co-starring role opposite Katy Mixon on American Housewife, and he’s been a recurring character on Pamela Adlon’s FX comedy, Better Things. That resumé probably explains why he prefers working with women and why he feels pretty strongly about all of the misogynistic bullshit surrounding the Harvey Weinstein scandal. We talked to Bader about his role on Better Things, Hollywood’s problem with sexism, and the shittiest acting job he’s ever had.
The “Eulogy” episode of Better Things gave us a glimpse of Sam teaching an acting class. How true to life is that scene?
It’s super true to life. I love the Asian guy at the end, who obviously, I think is going to give up acting. [He’s] just kind of marinating in the rejection of it all and wondering if he wants to put himself through that. I really like that moment.
Have you ever been chewed into by an acting coach in a situation like that? I’m hoping for a horror story here.
I had an acting teacher named Yury Belov. He was really my mentor at North Carolina School of the Arts. He used to rip into me all the time. I mean, he would just really tear me to pieces. Looking back, I don’t disagree with a single thing he said.
Were there tears?
I cried a lot. I cried in front of class. I cried outside of class. I cried on my way back home.
That should be a disclaimer for all art school applicants.
Oh yeah. You will cry, and you will be rejected. At the same time, it’s a good set up for the career. Because if you can’t take rejection, you can’t take criticism, then you should really think of a different career. I’ve had casting directors tell me, right in front of me, “You know, you were our favorite actor but we’re really having a looks problem.” I mean, there was nothing I could do about that. They hire some totally gorgeous guy and everybody buys it anyway.
On the show Sam tells her students that most of the writing actors get is shitty and it’s their job to elevate it. What’s the shittiest writing you’ve had to deal with?
I don’t even know if it’s IMDb now that I think about it. I did a reenactment show called FBI: The Untold Story. I was 25 years old and I’d been here five years and I decided at that five-year mark, that I was going to just pick any job I could. It was really, really, really bad. I can’t say that I rose to the occasion and really elevated the material. I just wanted my check.
You have been working with Pamela Adlon for a bit now. What is her directing style like?
What’s great is that she knows what she wants. I like to compare it to a jazz musician who has been playing a really long time. He could do the flashy notes, but he just chooses that one note where you’re like, “Oh yeah that’s just right.”
The first scene I did with her was last season and my character admitted he was afraid of death. My father had just died. Because of the space and the freedom that she gave, I wasn’t self-conscious at all saying that I was afraid. I’m still afraid of death of course, but in that time it was very close to me. I didn’t have to [make it] feel like a joke and I wasn’t trying to set up her joke. We were playing a real scene. I think that’s what’s so cool about the show is that it is funny, but it is also so genuine.
You’ve worked with plenty of creative women over the years. Have you learned anything from them?
It’s just so much more fun to work with women than it is with men. I appreciate the lack of overt competition that it’s only about the work itself and trying to make it better. And I also like how with all of the women involved [Katy Mixon, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Pamela Adlon], they’re not small-talkers. Like a lot women, they really like to get the meat of what you are talking about.
It’s just an entirely different workplace. Guys tend to, if you’re funny in a scene, try to upstage you in some way or another. Or like take whatever is funny out of it as best they can because they are competing with you, instead of trying to make the scene as best as possible.
I just got increasingly frustrated working with male actors. And then I had one great scene with Julia on Veep, and she and I had such a good time together she just kept bringing me back on the show. I owe so much of this part of my career to Julia because she brought me back. I was kind of bored and frustrated and she completely transformed my career. And now I am the supporting player to the triumvirate of unbelievably talented, strong women: Katy Mixon, Pam Adlon, and Julia. I couldn’t be happier to be in this spot giving service to the queens.
Being in that spot, the Weinstein scandal has to hit a nerve because you work with so many women on TV.
It is not news to me. It happens, and it is terrible. I didn’t know anything about Weinstein. I didn’t know the level of what we’re talking about because I will say a lot of his projects have really good parts for women in them. Unlike some other big producers where the women are [treated like] props that are just moved around. Those producers you’d think would be the ones where they really look down on women, and don’t value them for being fully rounded human beings.
I tend to watch old movies with my kids more than new ones, and a lot of it is because the women are valued. If you look at the old movie stars of the ’30s and ’40s, and they give it as good as they get it. I feel like we drifted away from that and just got into this area of this faux femininity that made it possible for us to reduce women to these stupid, reductive roles and not really tell the true and interesting stories. People like Pam, that’s a really strong female character. There are two episodes [of her show] that start with her on the damn can. I really love that. That she’s willing to expose herself and say women are fully rounded human beings. I think Julia does the same thing. And not to plug my own show too much, but I think Katy Mixon does the same thing on our show.
It’s good that this came out. I feel like we’re in the last throes of a type of masculinity that’s just so old and tired and stupid. You look around at people like the president, who pose themselves like they’re this version of masculinity, and you just go, “Yuck, did that ever happen? I mean who are you?”