Bill Hader And Alec Berg On How 'Fargo' And 'Boogie Nights' Influenced 'Barry' [Interview]

Imagine you're staring down the barrel of a gun, and the man pulling the trigger is the guy who played Stefon on Saturday Night Live. Of course in the world of Barry, no one knows Bill Hader from TV and he's playing Barry, a professional hitman. On a job in L.A., Barry discovers an acting class taught by Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) and decides he wants to give up the killing business to explore this new field. Suffice it to say, the hitman is not a business you leave by simply giving your two weeks notice.

Hader and Silicon Valley producer Alec Berg created Barry. They spoke with /Film about the dark, violent crime comedy. Barry premieres Sunday, March 25 on HBO after the season premiere of Silicon Valley.

What came first, the hitman or the acting class?Hader: Hitman. I went, "What if I played a hitman?" and Alec went, "Ugh." But we talked about it more and I said, "Well, it's kind of more grounded and real, not just a glib thing you've seen a bunch, like the guy in the skinny tie with two guns."Berg: We also thought there was something really interesting about somebody who has a skill set that makes them really good at something that they derive absolutely no pleasure from at all.Hader: It actually is hurting them.Berg: And then they happen on something that they might be terrible at but they kind of love it.I can relate to that. Being an entertainment journalist is a great job, but I hate doing lists. I happen to be good at lists so if people need lists I end up doing lists to pay the bills. Is there a corresponding thing for you, there are performances they need that you can give, or shows you can develop that they want?Hader: Yeah, exactly. It would be like if your lists destroyed people's lives.Berg: But that's what's kind of fun I think. It's hopefully what people get behind and why they root for the character. He doesn't really know too much about it but he does have this kind of innate sense that what he's doing for a living is not good for him and it's definitely not good for those people that he's killing. He has this sense of there has to be some other way.If you started with the hitman, was part of it that no one would cast you as an action hero and you wanted to do that?Hader: Exactly. "We want to see you as a sad sack hitman" was not a thing I was ever put on the list for so I went, "I'm going to write my own version of that." Even when we told HBO, I was like, "What if I was a hitman?" They were like, "Um, you?"Berg: We kind of always approach the hitman world like he's a traveling salesman or something where. Without maki it depressing, it should feel like a dead end job where he has to travel through regional airports. He derives absolutely no pleasure from it at all. We never wanted to shoot the violence in any kind of cool [way].Hader: No, we didn't want the violence to be cool at all. It should be just what it is which is kind of sad and abrupt and cruel and terrible. And seeing how his violence affects other people. These bad people he kills, they have relatives and loved ones. He's kind of realizing, "Jesus, what did I do?"What was the tone you wanted to hit with Barry?Hader: That was what we talked about most of the time. What's the tone of this? It really was just kind of trial and error of what can you sustain and can you still be funny after this scene? Or, vice versa. A lot of that was in the writing and editing, just going, "Gosh, we had this scene but now it feels a little too rough. Maybe dial back this."Berg: I think we talked about Fargo is definitely a movie that is really funny but also really violent and dark.Hader: Boogie Nights was another one that we talked about, especially the acting world.Berg: The kind of group of misfits who find each other.Hader: That kind of story where it can be really funny one minute and the next minute be really heartbreaking. Those were the benchmarks I guess.Does the tone evolve over the first season?Hader: I would say it gets a little bit more suspenseful.Berg: Yeah, but I wonder. It's interesting, I think that's a function of the story as well. There are more plates spinning.Hader: He constantly gets more plates spinning and then when one plate breaks, five more appear. He's constantly trying to juggle all these things.Is Henry Winkler's character based on any of your acting teachers?Hader: No. I didn't really have any. I just went to an improv class in L.A. so my teachers were all really nice. No, this was more we were just talking about certain types of people, an out of work actor kind of guy. In that theater, he's God but then the minute he leaves, he's just an out of work actor. We just thought that was an interesting character for him to play. We always had Henry pretty early on in our minds to play that part. Then we visited some acting classes and had seen the way the teacher would work with them and sometimes would break them down and make them cry, something really awful to get a performance out of them.Berg: And then the actor who was sobbing at the end of the exercise would be incredibly grateful to this person who had just emotionally beat the snot out of them.Hader: That was very weird.Berg: "Thank you so much. That was amazing." It's a really interesting Stockholm Syndrome kind of relationship. Again, we did a bunch of research. There's Stella Adler and a lot of these kind of larger than life acting gurus.Have any pages of Cousineau's book been written?Hader: There was, props wrote some of it and we didn't realize that props had written any of it until there was a closeup in the edit bay and our editor started laughing really hard. We go, "What?" He said, "Did you read what was in here?" We hadn't read it. Just his story, because it's him writing it, it was just in his voice. That's what happens when you have really funny props people who just totally got the character and just sat down. I think no one would see unless you paused it.Did it make the cut?Berg: I think so.Hader: It's in there for like three seconds.Will we see more of Cousineau outside of class?Hader: Yeah, you see a little bit more of him outside of class.Are you picking the monologues and scenes for the classroom that you would actually like to perform?Hader: No. The thing in the pilot with Ryan (Tyler Jacob Moore), that monologue, that was something Alec saw a guy do in an acting class. He did the Gary Oldman True Romance scene. The stuff in episode four, Glengarry Glenn Ross, that was almost more out of necessity for what the scene needed to do.Berg: It's chicken and the egg. Sometimes we just think this would be a hilarious thing to have somebody do in the scene and sometimes it's like we need a piece that lets Barry explore a certain area, or this story is about this so what if there were something in the class that deals with that same issue in some way?Hader: Even the actors, because they're all actors, when we were doing the pilot, Sarah Goldberg was doing a different monologue and we couldn't get it because it's really expensive. Then she texted, "In my acting class, everyone did that monologue from Magnolia, Julianne Moore. Everyone did that scene." We never would have thought of that but she's like, "Oh, I have experiences, either that or Girl, Interrupted." There's all these kind of go to monologues that acting classes do so we thought that was fun.Are they all from movies on the show?Hader: That would be too expensive, we found out. So pretty quickly they move on to public domain material.Are there still some famous ones in that space though?Berg: A little bit. I think this season we sort of transition into Shakespeare toward the end of the year. But they sneak in.Which Shakespeare?Hader: You'll find out. It's very lesser known Shakespeare.Is the goal ultimately for Barry to be happy?Hader: I think he's trying to find some fulfillment within himself. We thought that was what was interesting was that he's trying to find this fulfillment and trying to get in touch with himself and become happy, but if he does that, he'll get outed and probably murdered. So that was a funny conundrum of this choice he's made. If he accomplishes his goal, he's a dead guy.Berg: We're ideally putting the audience in a place where they're rooting for this guy. They know that this will lead him to happiness so they want him to follow happiness and probably get out of the crime world. But that may also lead to his death, so we've been joking, "You ideally as an audience are rooting for this guy to charge into certain death."Where does Silicon Valley pick up in the new season?Berg: It's kind of like what we do on this show. We just start talking about where are we, what happened last and what would happen next? That's where we picked up the conversation. The show has a habit of picking up shortly after the season before it ended. We always try and deal ourselves a bunch of weird cards at the end of a season and then we, sometimes regrettably, have to play them at the beginning of the next season.Do you still work on South Park, Bill?Hader: A little bit but not really as much. I kind of just drift in and out of there sometimes just to hang out.Were you involved with last year's Stranger Things spoof and Terrence and Philip revival?Hader: Some of that stuff, yeah. I kind of just hang out really and just laugh. I think they just use me as I laugh or I go, "What is that? I don't get that." That's kind of my [role]. It's always those two guys doing all the actual content.In success have you thought of how many or where several seasons of Barry could go?Hader: I think it's like 40 seasons.Berg: Well, we've written 37.Hader: No, we have no idea. We take it one thing at a time.Berg: Should we be lucky enough to get more, you just pick it up and you just figure out where it goes.