Mak­ing a Killing

Bill Hader has fol­lowed a wind­ing and some­times painful path to the cre­ative heights of‘ Barry’

Variety - - Contents - By DANIEL HOLLOWAY

Globe nom­i­nee Bill Hader heads into his sec­ond sea­son as hit-man­turned-ac­tor “Barry,” and aims for more writ­ing and di­rect­ing gigs.

“up all night with rhonda shear,” there would be no “Barry.” A lin­ear pre­cur­sor to binge view­ing, USA’S hor­ror-movie schlock block, which ran from late evening to early morn­ing in the 1990s, at­tracted no small num­ber of teens who had noth­ing bet­ter to do on a Fri­day or Sat­ur­day night. Bill Hader was one of them.

At 15, sit­ting in his par­ents’ house in Tulsa, Okla., the fu­ture “Sat­ur­day Night Live” comic and Golden Globe nom­i­nee was watch­ing “Up All Night” when, at 2 a.m., “The Evil Dead” came on. The cine­matic power of Sam Raimi run­ning re­ally fast af­ter ac­tors through heavy veg­e­ta­tion in­spired him.

“The next day I got my dad’s video cam­era and started chas­ing my sis­ters around like those shots in ‘The Evil Dead,’” Hader says. It was the first time he picked up a cam­era. “It was like you’re lis­ten­ing to Rush, and then sud­denly you hear punk mu­sic and you go, ‘Oh, wow. I don’t have to be a vir­tu­oso and have a lot of money to do some­thing crazy ef­fec­tive.’”

Hader’s work is now at its most crazy ef­fec­tive ever, though his DIY days are long past him.

With “Barry” — the se­ries that he co- cre­ated and that won him a best com­edy ac­tor Emmy last Sep­tem­ber — he has HBO money, a cast that in­cludes vet­eran ac­tors Henry Win­kler (who also won an Emmy) and Stephen Root and a trusted col­lab­o­ra­tor and showrun­ner in Alec Berg.

Hader is writ­ing, di­rect­ing and star­ring in an odd­ball show that would have been im­pos­si­ble to get on TV a decade and a half ago, and shoot­ing it on the same Para­mount-lot stage where Norma Des­mond goes to meet Ce­cil B. Demille in “Sun­set Boule­vard.” Draped across the out­side of Stage 18, known as the Demille Stage, is a giant ban­ner con­grat­u­lat­ing Hader on his Emmy.

Hader, 40, is con­sid­ered a Golden Globe fron­trun­ner for his work in the ti­tle role in “Barry” as an un­charis­matic hit man who wan­ders into a North Hol­ly­wood act­ing class and finds what he thinks is his true call­ing.

The past year has been the big­gest of Hader’s ca­reer. Al­though “Barry,” which is gear­ing up for its sec­ond sea­son, has won mul­ti­ple awards, drawn broad praise and el­e­vated its co- cre­ator and star to lead­ing-man sta­tus, suc­cess has come at a per­sonal cost. As he en­ters a par­tic­u­larly in­tense pe­riod, Hader is look­ing at his life and re­cal­i­brat­ing his ca­reer.

But first there’s work to be done. Sit­ting in the show’s pro­duc­tion of­fice at Para­mount,

Hader has just fin­ished shoot­ing a scene with Sarah Gold­berg in which Barry and Gold­berg’s less mur­der­ous thesp, Sally, warm up for a per­for­mance. The real-life ac­tors strug­gled un­til they im­pro­vised a twist.

“If we had done it as scripted, it would have been fine,” Hader says. “But both Sarah and I were feel­ing like it wasn’t re­ally work­ing. Then we found this re­ally funny thing where she started scream­ing, get­ting her­self pumped up for a scene. It was hi­lar­i­ous.”

Hader is bone tired. He props his feet up on the desk. The scene with Gold­berg is the first in a gru­el­ing stretch in which he will di­rect episodes five and eight of the new sea­son. Though they will air non- con­sec­u­tively, the two in­stall­ments will be shot to­gether and out of se­quence, mostly for lo­ca­tion rea­sons.

When Hader di­rected the open­ing three episodes of “Barry,” it was the first time he had


helmed any­thing pro­fes­sion­ally. He met with no re­sis­tance from Berg or HBO.

“The tone of this show is a very dif­fi­cult tone to get right,” HBO pro­gram­ming pres­i­dent Casey Bloys says. “I think hav­ing some­body like Bill em­body the lead, di­rect and serve as the writer along with Alec is so im­por­tant. There are so many places for him to con­trol things that set the tone for the en­tire show.”

The premise for “Barry” is lu­di­crous. It in­vites no­tions of a sweet laugher about a wiseguy break­ing good. Dur­ing de­vel­op­ment, Hader grew weary of peo­ple say­ing, “Oh, so it’s ‘Get Shorty’?”

But “Barry” has more in com­mon with “Dog Day Af­ter­noon” than it does with any broad crime com­edy — if “Dog Day Af­ter­noon” were re­ally funny. The comedic mo­ments are grounded, such as when Hader earnestly mis­de­liv­ers the “Al­ways be clos­ing” mono­logue from “Glen­garry Glen Ross.” And the dark el­e­ments are pitch dark. In Sea­son 1, Barry mur­ders a friend and fel­low war vet­eran, then is nearly con­sumed by guilt — an emo­tion he’s not used to feel­ing. When he pulls him­self back from the brink, only to kill again out of naked self-in­ter­est, it’s the viewer who feels guilty for hav­ing laughed with and rooted for him.

“There were peo­ple who saw the pi­lot of ‘Barry’ who were like, ‘What are you do­ing?’” Hader says. “Friends of mine in com­edy and big pro­duc­ers. I asked for notes, and it was like, ‘No, man. You can’t do that with this.’ We had a screen­ing of the first four episodes for a bunch of peo­ple, and it was a bit ‘What the fuck is that?’ I just don’t think it was what any­one ex­pected.”

The sub­verted ex­pec­ta­tions worked in the show’s fa­vor. “Barry” was a fix­ture on crit­ics’ best- of-the-year lists. In ad­di­tion to its Emmy haul, it has racked up guild awards and gar­nered Golden Globe nom­i­na­tions for Hader, Win­kler and the show. It has also been a crit­i­cal hit at a time of tran­si­tion at HBO.

“We had ‘Veep,’ ‘Girls’ and ‘Sil­i­con Val­ley’ come through at all around the same time,” Bloys says. “Cer­tain shows stand for the kind of qual­ity that you’re try­ing to achieve over­all. It’s nice to have ‘Barry’ do­ing that for us.”

re­de­fined hader pro­fes­sion­ally.

Be­fore the first sea­son met with suc­cess, Hader’s high­est-pro­file post-“snl” projects were the fea­ture film “Train­wreck,” in which he played sup­port­ive boyfriend to Amy Schumer’s hot mess, and mock­u­men­tary an­thol­ogy “Doc­u­men­tary Now!” — crit­i­cally beloved but ma­rooned on mar­ginal cable chan­nel IFC.

At “Sat­ur­day Night Live,” where he was a cast mem­ber from 2005 to 2013, he worked along­side a strong group of peers that in­cluded Seth Mey­ers, Kris­ten Wiig and Andy Sam­berg. With his abil­ity to do im­pres­sions, he was a high-value util­ity player in the Phil Hart­man tra­di­tion. His sig­na­ture cre­ation, weirdo nightlife cor­re­spon­dent Ste­fon, is one of the rare “SNL” re­cur­ring char­ac­ters that didn’t out­stay its wel­come. When Hader re­turned to the show as host last year, his reprisal of Ste­fon was the high­light.

But he has con­flicted feel­ings about his time on the show. Even six years af­ter leav­ing, he doesn’t watch his “SNL” work.

“Any time some­one says things to me that I don’t un­der­stand, I go, ‘Did I say that on “SNL”?’” he says. “I never saw any of the stuff I did. I think a nanny showed my kids Ste­fon, or the Cal­i­for­ni­ans or some­thing. They came in and were like, ‘Dad, look at this.’ I was like, ‘Oh, yeah. There I am.’”

Hader didn’t feel com­fort­able on the show, par­tic­u­larly with the live el­e­ment, un­til five sea­sons in, when ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Lorne Michaels as­sured him that he would have a place on “SNL” for as long as he wanted. Still, his time there never be­came pain­less.

“When I was on ‘SNL,’ I was a bit of a bas­ket case,” he says. “It could not have been easy on my wife at the time. I was so con­sumed with work and anx­i­ety.” On­stage and off, he suf­fered panic at­tacks and mi­graines. “Some­times I felt like peo­ple thought, ‘Oh, he’s just want­ing at­ten­tion or some­thing.’ It was like, ‘No, man, I’m le­git. I’m freak­ing out right now.’”

Hader warms when he talks about Michaels, his cast mates and the “SNL” crew. And he cred­its his time at Rock­e­feller Cen­ter’s Stu­dio 8H with cre­at­ing in him a strong work ethic.

But as his ten­ure grew, his life be­came less com­pat­i­ble with the show and the way that it taxed him.

“Once our sec­ond child was born, I had to leave ‘SNL,’” he says. “It was hard with one kid, let alone two. Be­cause I was just never around.”

Hader and film­maker Mag­gie Carey have three chil­dren. The cou­ple di­vorced last year. Their re­la­tion­ship, he says, re­mains pos­i­tive: “I’m friends with my ex-wife.”

As his ca­reer has lev­eled up, his sched­ule has again be­come de­mand­ing. Last year, Hader fin­ished the first sea­son of “Barry,” then shot a role in the fea­ture “It: Chap­ter Two,” then went into the writ­ers’ room on “Barry,” Sea­son 2. He felt the strain at home.

“I think I saw my kids a to­tal of five days all sum­mer,” he says. “It was ter­ri­ble. So I’m go­ing, ‘Next sum­mer I’m tak­ing off. And I’m go­ing to spend ev­ery day with them.’ It’s this weird thing where when you’re in this in­dus­try, you don’t have time to be with them, and it’s re­ally, re­ally dif­fi­cult. I’m get­ting emo­tional right now talk­ing about it.” Later in the con­ver­sa­tion, he laughs. “Con­grats, it’s the first in­ter­view I’ve ever cried in.”

He’s se­ri­ous about time off. Af­ter Sea­son 2 wraps, Hader plans to spend the sum­mer writ­ing a screen­play for a film that he would di­rect. Writ­ing will keep him home and with his kids. “They can see me all day if they want,” he says. “They can re­ally get sick of me.”

It will also get him started on a project that would ad­vance a wind­ing artis­tic evo­lu­tion. He wan­dered into sketch com­edy af­ter mov­ing to Los An­ge­les in his early 20s to be­come a film­maker. Be­fore Me­gan Mul­lally saw him per­form­ing in a back­yard in Van Nuys and rec­om­mended him to Michaels, Hader worked as a pro­duc­tion as­sis­tant and wrote in his spare time.

Alex Kurtz­man, the film­maker and co- cre­ator of “Star Trek: Dis­cov­ery,” re­calls meet­ing Hader on the 2002 Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger movie “Col­lat­eral Dam­age.” Kurtz­man worked un­cred­ited as a writer on the film. “There was this PA run­ning around do­ing these bril­liant im­pres­sions,” he re­calls. The mem­ory of that pro­duc­tion as­sis­tant stuck with him. But he didn’t re­al­ize it was Hader un­til the two ran into each other at Comic- Con years later. “I look over and see Bill Hader, who I’m such a fan of, and be­fore I can in­tro­duce my­self, he runs over and says, ‘Hey, do you re­mem­ber me?’”

Hader is mum on de­tails about the film he hopes to di­rect — other than to say that it will be mod­estly bud­geted and he will not star in it. But he is con­fi­dent in his ex­pand­ing tool­kit as a direc­tor.

Berg is too. He says Hader is a more as­sertive direc­tor on Sea­son 2 of “Barry” than he was when they shot the first sea­son.

“Bill is a giant film nerd,” says Berg. “This is what he’s al­ways dreamed of do­ing — be­ing a direc­tor. He just hap­pened to fall into this lit­tle dis­trac­tion called be­ing a phe­nom­e­nally tal­ented ac­tor.”

Sit­ting in the pro­duc­tion of­fice at Para­mount, Hader goes deep movie nerd. He talks about Go­dard and Vi­vian Kubrick’s doc­u­men­tary about the mak­ing of “The Shin­ing” and Akira Kuro­sawa’s 1990 honorary- Os­car ac­cep­tance speech. He also shows an aware­ness that with “Barry” he has hold of some­thing spe­cial — a rar­ity given that last year, there were 495 scripted se­ries on TV.

He is, for the time be­ing, throw­ing him­self into the show — which he prom­ises, omi­nously, will be even darker in the com­ing sea­son. As a writer, direc­tor, pro­ducer and per­former on “Barry,” he has more hands in more as­pects of his se­ries than just about any­one who isn’t Don­ald Glover has in theirs.

“Alec and I kind of have an idea of how long it will go,” Hader says. “But you never know. If HBO lets us tell the whole story, that’s the goal — as long as it’s some­thing I would want to see. That’s the driv­ing thing. That and just try­ing to get a lit­tle bit bet­ter at your job.”

That’s pre­cisely what Hader has been chas­ing ever since he watched “The Evil Dead,” then grabbed his dad’s cam­era. He’s still try­ing to catch it.

“Ev­ery episode is dif­fer­ent; ev­ery scene is dif­fer­ent; ev­ery script is dif­fer­ent,” he says. “And the best mo­ment is a day like to­day. That’s why I like do­ing this, is Sarah Gold­berg and I try­ing to fig­ure out this scene. And then we get on this thing, and it’s hi­lar­i­ous. That high is why I like mak­ing this stuff.”

‘ Barry’ has

MUR­DER­ERS’ ROWFor HBO’S “Barry,” Hader has as­sem­bled a crack team of vet­eran tal­ent. (1) Hader with fel­low Emmy win­ner Henry Win­kler; (2) dis­cussing a scene with co-cre­ator Alec Berg; (3) with co-star Stephen Root and Berg.

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