TV

Bill Hader de­liv­ered the most rev­e­la­tory TV per­for­mance of the year, play­ing a hit man in HBO’S Barry. Now he’s ready to be ter­ror­ized by a clown

Newsweek - - News - BY MARY KAYE SCHILLING

Give Bill Hader an Emmy!

my 84-year-old mother has a crush on Bill Hader. This is sur­pris­ing; she’s more of a Tom Hardy girl. But when she watched HBO’S Barry, the half-hour show Hader co-cre­ated with Alec Berg, she be­came a lit­tle ob­sessed. She hadn’t watched the co­me­dian dur­ing his eight sea­sons on Satur­day Night Live or seen the films Train­wreck or Su­per­bad. She did not, in other words, de­cide to watch Barry be­cause of Hader; she watched be­cause it was about a con­tract killer. (She’s also a crime and mur­der girl.)

At the end of the pi­lot, as Hader and Berg broke down the episode for view­ers, my mother fi­nally heard the high-pitched voice and gig­gle fa­mil­iar to his fans. She burst into laugh­ter, de­lighted by the dis­par­ity be­tween the buff (for Hader), deep­voiced for­mer Marine he plays and the out­right nerd he is in real life. “How does he do that?” she asked. “You mean sound like Ker­mit the frog?” asks Hader when I bring up her re­sponse. “I’m at­trac­tive to peo­ple of that age,” he adds. “Tell your mother I’m sin­gle again.”

No other TV per­for­mance this year has pro­duced a dou­ble take like Hader’s in Barry. He’s done drama be­fore, in the crit­i­cally praised 2014 film The Skele­ton Twins, co-star­ring Kris­ten Wiig. And even his most friv­o­lous SNL char­ac­ters had an edgy ten­sion, be­tween the na­tive Ok­la­homan’s ex­treme, unas­sum­ing lik­a­bil­ity and a watch­ful anx­i­ety (blame the smirk, the furtive eyes, the gym­nas­tic brows with their eter­nally skep­ti­cal arch). But Barry is some­thing dif­fer­ent—as funny as a truly dark show can be. Cred­ited with ex­pand­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the half-hour com­edy, the show man­ages, as one critic put it, “to en­com­pass the nau­sea of thrillers and the mor­tal ten­sion of thought­ful sus­pense.”

Hader plays Barry Ber­wick, a vet­eran of Afghanistan with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der. His con­di­tion is ex­ploited by a fam­ily friend, Fuches (Stephen Root), who em­ploys the for­mer Marine to mur­der small-time crooks. When a hit takes Barry to L.A., he stum­bles into an act­ing class filled with sweetly des­per­ate wannabes.

“Once we got into this idea of a hit man tak­ing an act­ing class, we no­ticed some weird par­al­lels, of work­ing in the shad­ows but want­ing to live in the spot­light,” says Hader. “You have to be emo­tion­ally avail­able as an ac­tor, and as a killer you have to be com­pletely closed off emo­tion­ally.” At the same time, he adds, Barry couldn’t be “a glassy-eyed cypher. You see some­thing roil­ing be­neath the sur­face.”

From the start, Hader and Berg were in­tent on sidestep­ping glib: Killing, says Hader, is not funny. “What Barry does is re­ally fucked up. He’s a sad per­son.” The two cre­ators were more in­ter­ested in the chal­lenge of cap­tur­ing two op­po­site tones and play­ing both as real. A big in­flu­ence for Barry was Wil­liam Munny, played by Clint East­wood in his 1992 Western, Un­for­given. “The idea of vi­o­lence and how it de­stroys you and eats up your soul,” says Hader. “The first conversation I had with Alec was, What if Munny’s ther­apy for learn­ing how to be a hu­man being was join­ing the act­ing group in Wait­ing for Guff­man?”

Too bad death fol­lows Barry wher­ever he goes. In Sea­son 1, that comes via a mot­ley crew of Chechen mob­sters. The show’s su­perb en­sem­ble (par­tic­u­larly Henry Win­kler, Sarah Gold­berg and Paula New­some) in­cludes the scene-steal­ing An­thony Car­ri­gan as Noho Hank, an in­ex­pli­ca­bly sunny, juice box–loving side­kick to the Chechen boss. Hank is mod­eled on the sort of un­flap­pably help­ful guy who works at a ge­nius bar in an Ap­ple store. “It’s why he al­ways wears a polo shirt,” says Hader. Car­ri­gan got the part be­cause of “the look on his face when he was lis­ten­ing dur­ing the au­di­tion. He was so earnest—it made us laugh re­ally hard.”

Hader and Berg are cur­rently writ­ing Sea­son 2, which they prom­ise will be even darker—a prospect that seems im­pos­si­ble given the Sea­son 1 fi­nale, which set up the pos­si­bil­ity that, as well in­ten­tioned and nor­mal as Barry would like to be­lieve he is, he might sim­ply be a psy­chopath.

Hader says he isn’t in any hurry to spell out his char­ac­ter’s past, which is some­thing of a mys­tery. “I al­ways get rest­less in TV shows or books where you take a pause in the nar­ra­tive to find out about some­body, and it’s usu­ally ex­plain­ing why is this per­son the way they are,” he says. ”I look at it from the view­point of meet­ing some­body. Peo­ple don’t im­me­di­ately pro­vide to­tal con­text—you know, ‘Here’s my wound.’” Hader gig­gles. “You learn that af­ter a cou­ple of years, if ever. That’s what makes peo­ple in­ter­est­ing.”

Emmy award nominations will

likely rain down on Barry. Hader, who should be a lock for an act­ing nod (he got three for SNL), will al­most cer­tainly get one for writ­ing as well. (He won in that cat­e­gory for South Park af­ter con­sult­ing for one sea­son.)

When the Emmy nominations are an­nounced on July 12, the ac­tor will be on the set of the sequel to the 2017 block­buster It, an adap­ta­tion of Stephen King’s 1986 hor­ror clas­sic in which the epony­mous clown ter­ror­izes seven chil­dren. They’re grown up in the sequel, and Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) sug­gested to di­rec­tor Andy Muschi­etti that Hader play his char­ac­ter, Richie Tozier. “Andy calls me and says, ‘Finn would love it if you would play Richie,’” says Hader. “I said, ‘I don’t know, Finn, but I would hate to bum him out.’”

The long­time King fan couldn’t be hap­pier about the role. “When I was a kid, my grand­fa­ther took me to a book­store to buy Red Badge of Courage for school,” says Hader. “Af­ter I found it, he said, ‘Why don’t you get a book for yourself?’ I started walk­ing to­wards the young adult sec­tion, and he said, ‘No, look for some­thing in adult fic­tion.’” He chose Salem’s Lot, which he de­voured in a week. “I still have the copy, with lit­tle mus­tard stains on it,” he says. The Shin­ing was next, then It, which, at 1,138 pages, “took a whole sum­mer.”

It was King’s nov­els that in­spired the ado­les­cent Hader “to pull my par­ents’ old Selec­tric out of the closet and start writ­ing hor­ror sto­ries. It was like other kids hear­ing the Bea­tles for the first time and pick­ing up a gui­tar.”

He’s be­come email friends with Owen King, one of the author’s two sons, both of whom are “phe­nom­e­nal writ­ers,” says Hader. “I told Owen I was do­ing It. He wrote back, ‘Watch out for the clown.’”

“What if Un­for­given’s Wil­liam Munny learned how to be a hu­man being by join­ing the act­ing group in Wait­ing for Guff­man?”

CRIM­I­NAL MINDS Clock­wise from top: Barry’s Hader, Root, Glenn Flesh­ler and Car­ri­gan; an SNL sketch with Fred Ar­misen and El­ton John; and Hader, whom a trainer helped bulk up for Barry. “I play a Marine,” he says, “but I’m most deɿnitely not a Marine.”

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