Why Does Bill Hader Think Writing and Directing ‘Barry’ Help Him as an Actor?


“I came out of improv and that’s the whole thing with improv: Don’t think, and make the other person look good.” – Bill Hader

Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader has won critical acclaim with his HBO series, Barry, which he co-created. Hader had an extensive interview with Vulture about his expanding role on the series, including his behind-the-camera roles as writer and director and the decision to expand the role of NoHo Hank, performed by Anthony Carrigan.

Hader points out that Carrigan’s expanded role on the series is ironic because his character was originally written to die in the pilot. He recalls, “Anthony [Carrigan] was so funny that we were like, we can’t kill him. One of the first conversations Alec and I had when they picked up the series was like, ‘All right, they picked us up. We’re not killing Hank, right?’ It’s like no, no, no, no, we’ve got to figure that out. There’s no way. And then the first day of writing with our writers started off, ‘We’re not killing NoHo Hank, right? Because that guy, what a character.’ That is so much just based on what Anthony did with it.”

Not only does Hader star in the series and also writes it, he also has made his directorial debut by directing several episodes of Barry. He speaks about how he approaches directing actors versus performing himself. He explains:

“To me the acting is the most instinctual part and I would love to get that way with directing, where it can be as instinctual… As an actor, it’s nice to know where the story’s headed and where the story is and where we’re at. As a writer, it’s nice to know what the emotion is in that part of the story and where we’re headed. A lot of times as an actor you don’t know those things and you’ll play something, and sometimes a director doesn’t know how to tell you ‘I don’t know if this moment’s working’ because the emotion’s not really right. That helps, but really, I barely know my lines. I’m doing all the other stuff, then when it’s time to act it’s like, ‘All right, wait, what are we doing?’ You know what I mean? In a weird way I think that helps me because I’m just being much more instinctual about it, and the only thing that sucks is if I will kind of modulate or approximate my lines. The people who are more theater-trained tend to get a little frustrated with me, I’ve found, because I kind of dance around the whole thing. But I just like behavior. I’m more interested in behavior rather than the exact words they’re saying.”

Hader continues speaking about the “instinctual” aspect of acting, which he credits to his improv training, adding, “That’s the death, when you overthink it too much. But then again, there are great theater actors and great actors who — I never went to a real acting school, and they do think about it and they do a ton of work and they’re phenomenal. You know? But I came out of improv and that’s the whole thing with improv: Don’t think, and make the other person look good.”

More: Bill Hader on Becoming an Actor: “I was afraid of failing”

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