Bill Hader (“Barry”) and Ja­son Bate­man (“Ozark”) share di­rect­ing tips.

AC­TORS ON AC­TORS

Variety - - Contents - by DE­BRA BIRN­BAUM Pho­tographs by PETER YANG

Bill Hader and Ja­son Bate­man are fa­mil­iar faces to TV fans — from their days on “Satur­day Night Live” and “Ar­rested De­vel­op­ment,” re­spec­tively, and so much more. This sea­son, both stretched their cre­ative mus­cles with their off- cam­era work: Hader co- cre­ated HBO’S “Barry” with Alec Berg, while Bate­man served as an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer and di­rec­tor on “Ozark,” for Net­flix. In their con­ver­sa­tion for Va­ri­ety, they shared tips about juggling all of their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, di­rect­ing other ac­tors — and what they find funny them­selves.

Ja­son Bate­man: Bill, how did you first come to “Barry”? Bill Hader: Alec Berg, the co- cre­ator and I — it was just one of those rare things you ac­tu­ally got set up by your agent and it worked. Bate­man: Like a five-minute date? Hader: Yeah, like, “Oh, you’re go­ing to go have cof­fee with the guy.” And you go, “OK.” And so we went and had cof­fee and we talked about ideas, and we kept on talk­ing about ideas. We would just go and meet for break­fast once a week. Bate­man: Did your agent also rep­re­sent Alec Berg? Hader: Yep. Bate­man: These peo­ple! They just think, “So here’s a way I think I can dou­ble-dip, I’m gonna want you to go out to break­fast, lunch, din­ner, cof­fee, I don’t care what the hell you do, but you guys fig­ure out some­thing to do, and I can get both sides of it. Sub­ject mat­ter’s up to you.” Hader: But it ac­tu­ally worked! Some­times you meet the per­son, and you’re like, “You’re cool,” and then you just never speak to them. But that guy … Bate­man: I hear he’s a good guy.

Hader: He’s the best — “Sil­i­con Val­ley,”“curb Your En­thu­si­asm,” “Se­in­feld,” he’s worked on all these things. So we hung out, we talked, and then we came up with this idea. And I re­mem­ber say­ing, “Well, what if I was a hit man?” And he went, “I hate hit men, I hate the guy with the skinny tie and the two guns, it’s just hold­ing it side­ways and look­ing rad and all that.” And I just went, “No, but it’d be me.” He went, “Oh, that’s good.” And then we said, “He should be in an act­ing class.”’cause it was, the thing he wants to do, he should be bad at.

Bate­man: And did they give you 10 episodes right away?

Hader: We said, “Let’s just do eight.” We kinda liked a small or­der. I don’t know about you, we like the smaller or­der where you can craft 30 min­utes. I kinda see it as one big story, ’cause I like movies. They were re­ally help­ful in teach­ing me, “Well, no, but each episode has to have its own arc.” You can’t just make it one big story. Did you find that hard to do? Was that a thing when you were do­ing “Ozark”? Be­cause you have so much go­ing on in that.

Bate­man: We wanted to make a 10- chap­ter movie and find where in this be­gin­ning, mid­dle and end, the nat­u­ral chops would be. The orig­i­nal goal, in­ten­tion, was for me to di­rect all of them. That’s why I wanted to do it — call me a glut­ton, a masochist, de­pend­ing on how you look at the role of di­rect­ing, I wanted to take on that chal­lenge. And then as we got into bud­get­ing and sched­ul­ing, we couldn’t re­ally cre­ate enough time to prep them all. So I ended up just di­rect­ing the first two and the last two. But in that EP po­si­tion, as you know, you’ve got that priv­i­leged over­sight that a di­rec­tor has in film, where you can sat­isfy that cre­ative chal­lenge, if you want to. For you, be­ing the lead on the show, and try­ing to man­age all that the ap­pa­ra­tus be­hind the scenes as well, and keep all the trains run­ning and hire the di­rec­tors and the ac­tors, and mak­ing sure the scripts are what you like, do you find that that’s more chal­leng­ing than you thought? Or does it just make it even more fun?

Hader: I find it fun, be­cause when you’re just an ac­tor on a thing, and once you kind of un­der­stand how things work, I feel like that’s when I start to be­come slightly dif­fi­cult. I worked on a thing once where we’d shoot one per­son’s cov­er­age, and then we’d turn around, re­set on my cov­er­age, and then in the mid­dle

of shoot­ing my thing they go, “Oh my gosh, that’s hi­lar­i­ous, she should do that.” And they would turn back around, shoot her cov­er­age, and go back to me.

Bate­man: Now you miss deal­ing with the kids.

Hader: I know it sounds corny but I love be­ing on set, and I like hang­ing with all the tech­ni­cians, I love cos­tume meet­ings, I like go­ing to mixes, I love go­ing to cam­era tests with the DP. I love grab­bing scenes from movies, watch­ing, go­ing like, “How’d they do that?” And learn­ing like, well it’s ac­tu­ally a re­ally long lens, and you’re like, “Oh, can we

try that?” I grew up want­ing to be a di­rec­tor and a writer. I was mak­ing short films and stuff, and then moved out to L.A. and then started act­ing. I was tak­ing im­prov classes, and got “SNL” while I was tak­ing im­prov classes. And then it’s like this weird cir­cuitous route. When the first episode of “Barry” aired and it said di­rected by Bill Hader, my friends from high school went, “Dude, you did it!” And, “Hey, con­grats!” That was an im­por­tant thing. I don’t know if you re­late to this, but I used to love the ro­man­ti­cism of Stan­ley Kubrick, who wouldn’t talk to Shel­ley Du­vall when they were do­ing “The Shin­ing.” And now that I’m act­ing, I’m like, “You don’t need to do that.” As an ac­tor, all you have to do is, you hire the per­son and you go, “Yeah, man do your thing, and if it’s not right, you could go a lit­tle this way, a lit­tle that way maybe.” But that ro­man­ti­cism of it gets knocked out of you in a very healthy way, I think. Bate­man: What is your in­stinct when you’re di­rect­ing and you see an ac­tor play­ing a scene in a way that is wildly dif­fer­ent than how you had imag­ined it, ei­ther while you were prep­ping, or maybe writ­ing it? Is your in­stinct to di­rect that ac­tor to play it into the way that you have imag­ined it? Or do you try to rec­og­nize the ver­sion of the scene and the char­ac­ter that that ac­tor is try­ing to do, and then your note is try to help them do that?

Hader: I’ve worked with ac­tors where there’s a very clear point to every scene, and this leads to this, so we need hit these notes. But my at­ti­tude is, as long as that in­for­ma­tion is con­veyed, what­ever you want to do. I mean, Stephen Root’s a guy that every take you get some­thing to­tally in­ter­est­ing and dif­fer­ent. We did a scene in one of the episodes where he tells me, he’s like, “You gotta kill this Ma­rine.” And I go, “I can’t kill a Ma­rine.” And he did three an­gry takes with me, stand­ing up over me. And I was like, “I’m good.” And then he went, “Let me try some­thing. Bill, just stay stand­ing.” And he did one where he sat down and leaned in and goes, “Hey man, why don’t you just …” When they do that to you, you’re not act­ing in that mo­ment. Alec Berg was at the video vil­lage with Hiro Mu­rai, who di­rected an episode and they went, “That was awe­some.” Di­rect­ing ac­tors, you want to give them the free­dom, the ex­pe­ri­ence you would want as an ac­tor. I’ve had those ex­pe­ri­ences where they come out and go, “You can do any­thing, just have fun.” And then you do a cou­ple takes and they go, “Hey, can you …”

Bate­man: “On this one word, can you take a beat.” Hader: “There’s a comma there for a rea­son.” And you go, “OK, now I’m a puppet.” I’d get a lit­tle frustrated and so you just go, “I don’t want to put any­body through that.”

Bate­man: I’m just a big ad­vo­cate for let­ting peo­ple do that which you’ve hired them to do. As long as ev­ery­body has a mu­tu­ally agreed upon fin­ish line, whether they’re ac­tors or crew mem­bers, or what­ever, you want them to have the right to ex­er­cise their in­stinct as cre­ative peo­ple. How you get from A to Z is to­tally up to you, just know that we’re start­ing at A and end­ing at Z. I re­ally like be­ing able to set, es­tab­lish and main­tain that vibe on the set. Hader: Is it hard when you have to do a big dra­matic scene, like the scene in the pilot where es­sen­tially you set up the show and you’re di­rect­ing? I re­mem­ber go­ing,“god, he’s di­rect­ing this, and he’s got a lot to say in that scene.” You got a lot of words. Bate­man: It’s prob­a­bly why you en­joy the di­rect­ing so much is be­cause act­ing is so com­fort­able for you. It al­lows you to just be open to other parts of the process like, you know that job is kind of mov­ing over there. If you know that it has to be all the way over here by the time you speak next, you’re gonna fig­ure out how to take a beat be­fore you talk. And so some ac­tors en­joy get­ting deeper and deeper into their part and they can’t be both­ered with a mark on the floor, if they’re shad­ow­ing some­body. But for some rea­son, I’ve al­ways been re­ally ex­cited about what all these guys and girls do. And so I love be­ing part of those meet­ings too, like you were talk­ing about. And you don’t get any credit for the 95% of the work that it takes to just make it be­liev­able, just make sure that light’s not in the shot,

that boom’s not in it, this chair was picked. And from there, then it’s got to spike, and that’s the in­ter­est­ing part. But that scene in par­tic­u­lar was sim­ple be­cause the writ­ing was so good, and all that stuff made sense and you just have to say it in a be­liev­able way. Hader: What’s the dif­fer­ence for you be­tween do­ing com­edy and drama?

Bate­man: I’m not try­ing to be falsely mod­est, but I don’t do real funny stuff, or real drama stuff with the char­ac­ters that I play. I’m usu­ally the guy stand­ing next to the very funny guy, or run­ning away from the very scary guy. So there’s not much of a big change for me and what I’m do­ing. What I re­ally like to do is kind of be us. Be the au­di­ence. And so I’m re­ally at­tracted to char­ac­ters that are sort of the every­man, or the straight man, or the sane guy, or re­ally just a proxy for the au­di­ence. And it’s prob­a­bly why I’m drawn to di­rect­ing as well, be­cause that lane is sort of where the au­di­ence has their in to what’s go­ing on. As you know, as a di­rec­tor, you’re kind of pulling all those levers, and de­cid­ing what the au­di­ence is see­ing, and feel­ing and hear­ing. But I do get what peo­ple mean when they say that com­edy’s harder than drama, I feel like when I am asked to do some­thing that’s wacky, that you have to still be be­liev­able. And it’s harder to be be­liev­able when your char­ac­ter is crazy. I think it’s sim­pler to just be real, to re­act to a sit­u­a­tion, as op­posed to re­act­ing in a real way to a sit­u­a­tion if you’re bat­shit. That’s harder to do.

Hader: When I was younger, I al­ways wanted to do “Naked Gun,”“air­plane,” the in­sane stuff. And I re­al­ized how hard it is to pull it off, and what those guys did by cast­ing, not just the real ac­tors that you would see in those air­port movies, and that was the ge­nius in that. You’re like, “Oh, that’s part of why that works.”

Bate­man: The no wink­ing.

Hader: The no wink­ing, and play­ing it to­tally straight. It’s Les­lie Nielsen, not Steve Martin. And that’s why it works. The grounded stuff is way harder. That goes into the com­edy of “Barry” too. We never sit there and out­line, and talk about a script in terms of jokes or com­edy, you talk about it in terms of the sto­ries, the emo­tional and the logic. And then as you’re writ­ing the scene you say,“oh, what if he says this, and we all laugh?” Bate­man: Yeah, I no­ticed there’s not a lot of jokes in your show. What you guys are do­ing, for the most part, seem to be creating these char­ac­ters that are deeply feel­ing, deeply flawed, they’re all pretty bro­ken, and you’re putting them in sit­u­a­tions where their dig­nity is get­ting ex­posed. And from there, comes the hu­mor. And so those scripts, I’ll bet, don’t ta­ble that well. Hader: Well, as peo­ple read them they go, “OK.” Bate­man: But we got to see the per­for­mance matched with this char­ac­ter-based com­edy. And with the com­bi­na­tion of those two things,

only then will it be funny. So it’s risky to ta­ble scripts like that, right?

Hader: But Henry Win­kler at ta­ble read will sell any­thing, and we have all these great ac­tors who can sell stuff. We’ll have in the out­line, “Barry’s un­sure of him­self,” and Cousineau, Henry Win­kler’s char­ac­ter, gives him an as­sign­ment, which is to do the “Glen­garry Glen Ross” mono­logue. And so we go, “OK, you have to do Mamet.” That’s all it said, and you get what Barry’s emo­tion is, but as we’re writ­ing it, you come up with, “I’m gonna give you 10cc's of Mamet.” And we all start laugh­ing. But that comes be­cause you know the char­ac­ter, in­stead of lead­ing with a joke.

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