One Beau Is Afraid Cameo Had The Actor Bawling And Struggling To See Straight

This post contains spoilers for the film "Beau is Afraid."

Ari Aster's new Oedipal entropy fable "Beau is Afraid" is not for the faint of heart. Running three hours in length, the film is set in a fantastical world of chaos, pain, and filth that the title character barely has the wherewithal or mental capacity to traverse. It's easy to see why. Early in the film, Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) receives a call from his mother (Patti LuPone) insisting that he fly home for an ill-defined reunion. While preparing to leave, Beau has his apartment keys and suitcase mysteriously stolen from his hallway. Because he lives in the world's most miserable neighborhood, Beau calls his mom and explains that he must wait for a locksmith. Laying on the guilt as thickly as she possibly can, Beau's mother condescendingly says that he'll do what's right. Beau is indeed afraid, mostly of his mother. 

Beau tries to call his mother back, but a mysterious male voice answers the phone. The voice explains that he is merely a UPS delivery driver. He explains to Beau that he, too, is panicked, as he just walked into a building where a woman's dead body — sans head — has been found. It seems a chandelier had fallen from the ceiling and obliterated her skull. Is this the wrong number? What is happening? Maybe if Beau calls back, he'll find that it was the wrong number, and the dead body isn't his mom. Beau hangs up and calls back. The same voice answers with a tragic "Sorry, man." 

The voice of the UPS driver is played by Bill Hader. 

According to a recent interview with Deadline, his scene was indeed hastily recorded over the phone. Hader also mentioned that it was emotionally devastating.

Pain and panic

Bill Hader, star of "Barry," "Saturday Night Live," and "It: Chapter Two" recalled the experience sharply. The phone call was, on Phoenix's end, meant to be filmed in a single take, which meant that Hader and his co-star had to chat for an extended period several times in a row. He described the setup thus: 

"I'm the UPS guy on the telephone. I was in my house in Los Angeles with my assistant Alyssa [Donovan], and she connected me to Montreal. So, then I'd pick up the phone. I'm like, 'Hello?' And it's Ari Aster going, 'Hey, Bill. All right, so you've got your script? Okay, so here's Joaquin.' And then I'm on the phone with Joaquin Phoenix, and I'm just sitting in my living room in L.A., and we did that for like two hours. Just did a bunch of takes and tried a bunch of different stuff. Because Ari is like, 'This is all one shot.' And I just did it a lot."

Because Aster left room for improvisation, Hader had to tell Phoenix that his mom died multiple times in a row. This, as one might well imagine, can be emotionally harrowing. Despite how dramatically dank Hader thought he was playing the scene, Aster — who is certainly possessed of a sardonic sense of humor — thought the performance was hilarious. This baffled Hader. He explained:

"[M]y assistant was like, 'What the f*** are you doing? You're just crying and freaking out ...' Because we did some takes that were really wild, really big, and intense. Then, I just remember feeling really exhausted and Ari coming on and going, 'Hey, man. It's so funny, Bill.' And I was like, 'Funny? I can't see straight. I've been crying.' But they just thought it was hilarious."

Is it a comedy?

In the same interview, Bill Hader admitted to being "blown away" by "Beau is Afraid." The UPS delivery man does appear later in the film, albeit he is only filmed from behind and it is only during an in-film news broadcast. It seems that actor was not Hader. 

Of course, the question remains: is "Beau is Afraid" a comedy? Looking back on Aster's previous films, "Hereditary" and "Midsommar," one can see that both films, while explicitly about depression, death, and the failure of relationships and of the family unit, do have an undercurrent of absurdity. There is a moment in "Hereditary" involving a telephone pole that one can see as a tragedy, or as a moment of bleak slapstick. "Midsommar" features murder and panic, but some of the characters meet ends so extreme and odd, it's hard not to emit a dark giggle. 

The broadness of suffering depicted in "Beau is Afraid" might be said to be so extreme as to be comedic. Beau lives in a Hellish urban landscape that already appears to be past an apocalyptic point of no return. His mother is so outwardly cruel and tells the young Beau such horrible stories about his father and his conception that one has to laugh in order to keep from screaming. With a few edits and twists of tone, some of the more terrifying moments of "Beau is Afraid" could be played for comedy. 

So Hader, in giving a performance so intense he couldn't see straight, provided "Beau" with the type of comedy Aster seemingly required. It just happened to be comedy that was unbearably bleak.