Episode 2: Alec Berg & Bill Hader, “Barry”
In Episode 2, Jordan was joined by Alec Berg and Bill Hader—co-creators of the Emmy-nominated HBO dark comedy series BARRY.
The show stars Bill Hader as the eponymous Barry, a hitman with aspirations of becoming an actor.
Bill Hader’s eight-year stint on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE turned him into something of a household name. He’s also written on SOUTH PARK for the last decade, and he co-created the mockumentary series DOCUMENTARY NOW with his fellow SNL alums, Seth Meyers and Fred Armisen.
Alec Berg wrote for SEINFIELD and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM before working as a showrunner for SILICON VALLEY. He has also written on LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O’BRIEN, and co-wrote the screenplays for films like EUROTRIP and THE DICTATOR.
Listen to Episode 2 here:
OnWriting is a podcast of the Writers Guild of America, East. The show is hosted by Jordan Carlos. Mix, tech production, and original music are by StockBoy Creative.
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Thanks for listening. Write on!
Jordan Carlos: I’m Jordan Carlos and you’re listening to OnWriting, a screenwriting podcast from the Writer’s Guild of America, East. This is a show about the stories we see on our screens and the people that make them happen. You’ll hear from writers in the film, TV, news and digital media industries about their work. From pitching to production, from process to favorite lines and everything in between. Today I’m speaking with Alec Berg and Bill Hader the creators of the HBO dark comedy series, Barry, which was picked up for a second season earlier this year. Barry stars Bill Hader as a low level hit man with aspirations of becoming an actor. You may know Bill from his eight year stint on Saturday Night Live. He’s been a writer on South Park for the last decade and he co-created the documentary series, Documentary Now, with fellow SNL alums, Seth Meyers and Fred Armisen. Alec Berg got his big break writing for Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm before working as a show runner for Silicon Valley. He is also written for Late Night with Conan O’Brien and co-write the screen plays for films like Euro Trip and The Dictator. Bill and Alec, great to have you on the show today. What was the germ for this show? Because it’s very original. It’s great. It’s original. Who’s mind did it spring out of?
Alec Berg: It just started as a series of conversations. Bill and I decided we wanted to do something together and we didn’t know what but we figured maybe we could come up with something. So we started meeting at this diner in Culver City like once a week and knocking stuff around. We got very far down the road with a different idea that at some point we just realized wasn’t a series at all. So, we just kind of went, okay, well, let’s not do that. We know what we’re not doing.
Jordan Carlos: Right.
Alec Berg: And then, the funny thing is, I don’t think we really remember exactly what the-
Bill Hader: I just remember saying what if I played a hit man and Alec said, oh, I hate hitmen and movies. His point was there is more hit men in movies on TV than there are in real life. Which is totally true. So we just kind of talked about that for a little bit. Then I said, no, it’ll be me playing a hitman and he went, oh, that’s funny. We just kept talking about it and then-
Alec Berg: We were treating the job of hitman like the job of like traveling salesmen. Like a guy who hates his job. We talked about kind of playing the reality of it, not the glamor and glitz of it in just slow motion and coolness. It’s actually a crappy job.
Jordan Carlos: Right. Yeah.
Alec Berg: And he doesn’t want to do it anymore and then we started talking about, okay, what does he want to do instead? Then somehow very quickly we just thought, well what’s the opposite of being a hitman? I wish there was like a more-
Bill Hader: Funnier or interesting story but there isn’t. It just kind of went to like, what if you took an acting class? I think we were just talking about what his life would be and then it was like, I don’t know. He’s bored so he takes an acting class. Maybe. I do remember Alec saying, a hitman taking an acting class is good. We just went from there.
Alec Berg: Yeah. Then we started almost immediately finding all these pretty interesting parallels and kind of conflicts where as an actor you have to have access to your emotions and you have to stand in the light and be seen by everybody. As a hitman, everything is kind of the opposite. So, it became pretty clear pretty quickly that it was going to be this thing of a guy who’s in one world who’s trying to move to this other world but that will destroy the first world.
Jordan Carlos: Yes. Yes. Those worlds cannot collide and they almost kind of sort of do. Let me ask you this, what about the writing? Like a hitman you have to do it for hire and there is some dispassion to it a bit. Right? And you have to kill your babies. There is killing involved. Correct?
Alec Berg: Yeah.
Bill Hader: You have to say killing darlings instead of babies but-
Jordan Carlos: Sorry. Apologies.
Bill Hader: Babies, that’s kind of a different field I guess.
Alec Berg: And you can’t call women baby anymore, you have to call them darlings.
Bill Hader: Yeah. Yeah.
Jordan Carlos: Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. I didn’t know.
Bill Hader: Yeah.
Jordan Carlos: I didn’t know. Wow. This has gone off the rails.
Bill Hader: Face it.
Alec Berg: It’s the new cruelty.
Bill Hader: Yeah. The kind of thing that we kind of, our lives, I don’t know if we particularly said about, Alec has much more experience kind of being hired to write things and stuff than I have. I think we both have the shared experience of doing jobs that we were unhappy in and then jobs that we wanted that we didn’t know that if we had the wherewithal to do it.
Alec Berg: I relate a lot to the idea of a thing that you might be good at is destroying you and the thing that you want to be good at that you think will bring you a lot of fulfillment, you’re bad at.
Jordan Carlos: Right.
Alec Berg: Yeah. So, which do you honor? Do you honor your talent or your desire?
Jordan Carlos: And that’s the great conundrum for Barry. But-
Alec Berg: Yeah, but it does apply to writing. Right? A lot of times it’s like, do I want to write something I’m really passionate about or something that I think I can sell.
Bill Hader: One for them, one for me type of thing.
Alec Berg: Yeah. There is this thing of like, oh, if I, and I’ve had this discussion with people where you have an idea for something, you’re like, oh, my god, that is so hacky but this is going to be catnip to executives. I’ve literally had the conversation where it’s like, let’s not say anything because if we mention this they are going to love it and then we’re going to have to do it.
Bill Hader: Yeah, you can’t even sarcastically do it.
Jordan Carlos: I think you all do a great job of synthesis of both. Right? It is catnip and it’s very daring television. You kill of a major character that I think embodies the theme of passion that you’ve instilled in the writing. Right? At the end you’ve got an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object and two people that are very passionate about what they do. So, tip of the cap to you all doing that. Really.
Alec Berg: Oh, thanks.
Bill Hader: I think of who you are speaking of is dead actually.
Jordan Carlos: Oh, man. Well, cool.
Alec Berg: We don’t know. We don’t know.
Bill Hader: We actually don’t know.
Jordan Carlos: You don’t know? You don’t know?
Bill Hader: Well, it was actually our first day of writing season two and what happened to that person, we just kind of went around and around.
Alec Berg: They might move the island and everybody is back again. We don’t know.
Bill Hader: Yeah. Exactly.
Jordan Carlos: That’s true. That’s true. I mean you never can tell. Wow. You didn’t see them die on screen. Right? That’s the old adage.
Bill Hader: Yeah. That’s the thing. Yeah.
Jordan Carlos: That’s the old adage.
Alec Berg: We might not be held to our faulty decisions.
Jordan Carlos: No, no, no.
Alec Berg: Going into this I think both of us sort of felt like, let’s just do something that we love. If people look at us like we’re insane and they hate it, at least we tried to do something that we liked as opposed to something that everybody else liked.
Bill Hader: Yeah. It’s definitely the closest thing that I’ve done personally in my career that’s closest to the exact kind of thing I enjoy which is funny but also has emotional depth but also has kind of a propulsive narrative to it. We have 30 minutes to tell a story. I’m someone, unless you’re, I don’t know, Mike Lee or Robert Ultman or someone that kind of more meandering just here character stuff, can get kind of tedious for me. I like it when I go, what’s going to happen next?
Jordan Carlos: Right.
Bill Hader: I get excited about that, especially in television and again like I say, you only have 30 minutes, you want to be able to get people engaged.
Jordan Carlos: And you did. It seems like, if I can take an old Texas term, that you guys often Barry is riding two horses with one ass, so how did you go about in the writer’s room finding ways to kind of put him in the pickle jar? You know, having to kind of serve two masters in every episode.
Bill Hader: It’s a nice thing again, it’s kind of the seed of the ideal allowed for that to happen in a very simple way.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah. For sure.
Bill Hader: He’s caught between two worlds so it’s really kind of going, well, what would he do here? Okay. Episode three he has this hit where he has to kill this guy, Paco, and he’s waiting for a bullet to arrive and it’s this stupid thing that he has to wait for and again, it just feels like the dumb shit you have to do at work.
Jordan Carlos: Right.
Bill Hader: Where you’re like, oh, yeah. I have to wait for a delivery. Like some arbitrator rule that the person that’s your boss or whatever and in the elevator he gets an alert on his phone that he’s got acting class.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah.
Bill Hader: You know. And it’s just kind of like, oh, that’s the new life. I would say that as we were writing it, it was kind of like, it was not ever totally conscious, it was kind of instinctual. I think right here he needs to get pulled the other way, right?
Jordan Carlos: Right.
Alec Berg: But also it always comes from like what do you think would naturally happen. Like we weren’t pitching a lot of got chas and zingers and like here’s a crazy, cool thing that could happen. How do we get to that? It all kind of came from the opposite which is like, okay. What would he be doing and what would actually happen? What would be going on in this world and what would be going on in that world and how would they naturally push and pull.
Bill Hader: The best stuff comes from the opt amy of pulling something from the acting class, this little thing from the acting world and this little thing from the crime world and then suddenly this new thing will happen and you go, oh, that’s interesting or you go, okay, he has this party he’s going to go to with acting friends and then you think. We had this other idea of just like, what if he ran into friends of his who are in the military?
Jordan Carlos: Oh, man.
Bill Hader: What if they came to that party? So, here’s these two worlds and kind of, here’s where he comes from, can these people kind of accept it. These are his friends. You know? Like, that kind of just happens naturally. We go, oh, those people coming to the party would be good and then … I don’t know. It’s just going over it and over it. The good thing about our room is that it’s small.
Jordan Carlos: Physically or just the number of people?
Bill Hader: Oh.
Alec Berg: Sort of both now.
Bill Hader: Wait. What’d he say?
Alec Berg: He’s saying, is it physically small?
Bill Hader: Oh, both. Yeah. No yeah. The actual room is tiny. We have like 90 writers. It’s awful.
Jordan Carlos: You’re just on top of each other.
Alec Berg: It’s like a Marx Brother’s movie.
Bill Hader: Yeah, it’s got room service.
Jordan Carlos: It’s not like a Marx Brother’s movie?
Bill Hader: Everyone.
Alec Berg: Like a Marx brother’s movie.
Bill Hader: Yeah. It’s like room service.
Alec Berg: It’s not like a Marx brother’s movie or anything
Bill Hader: Everyone crawling over each other and the laptop gets lost.
Alec Berg: It’s one laptop.
Bill Hader: How many?
Alec Berg: No it’s a small it’s … we have us and five other writers.
Bill Hader: Yeah.
Ale Bergc: Which is about the smallest room I’ve worked in.
Jordan Carlos: Oh, and what’s the process like in breaking the story like take us through a typical episode.
Bill Hader: I kinda come to it as Alec … I kinda come from the ground up. I see everything as one big story. Then you split it up into eighths. I see it as one big thing that you’re kind of constantly tracking how everything lays out throughout the season. So you’re going, “Oh, we’ll do this in episode two and then you know in episode four you bring it back and the by episode eight this happens.”
Bill Hader: We’re always tracking that and then Alec and Liz Sarnoff, one of our other writers, first season explained to me that the actual episodes should have a beginning middle and end. And I said, “What?”
Alec Berg: I mean it’s a thought.
Bill Hader: We kind of went then, I think, the room is kind of good … I kind of come in with a ton of ideas and the kind of, “Here’s eight episodes.” And then we throw probably 80% of that if not more of it. But it’s just I work well working off of something.
Alec Berg: Well you don’t really throw it out, you replace it.
Bill Hader: You replace it. That’s a better … yeah. You replace stuff.
Alec Berg: Right where it’s like this is in this space and then you start, like he said, you build it ground up. Like here’s eight episodes worth of sort of a shape of something and then you start at the beginning. You start kind of munching through it laterally. You go, “Okay, maybe this is … like how much of this would we eat for show one, and then what’s left for show two, three, all the way to eight.” Then all of a sudden you go, “Wait a second. What we thought was show four is show two.”
Bill Hader: Yeah or this big thing that happens in the middle of the season should actually happen in episode one and now you shift everything down. Then go, “So episode eight’s kind of episode four now.”
Alec Berg: It’s a very experimental trial and error process where you generate a lot of pieces of things and you go, “Maybe this could be a roof tile. Maybe this shutter goes over here.” And if you do it right, eventually you’ve put together a cool house.
Bill Hader: Eventually you go, “Wait we have five walls and we only need four walls. So which wall do we get rid of?”
Jordan Carlos: That’s great.
Bill Hader: That tends to not be “Okay, so here’s the adventure of the week kind of thing.” We will start talking about it in terms of … in season one it was like this guy goes to an acting class and he … well, I don’t know. We just write towards Barry has a break down on stage. Do you know what I mean?
Jordan Carlos: Yeah.
Bill Hader: That’ll be down the board and I don’t know where it happens but I see it happening towards the end of the season. But let’s write towards that and see what happens. Then as you writing, I remember Liz or Sarnoff goes, “God, I’d love to see Cousineau and this cop get together.” And you go, “Well, oh yeah. Well, God if we did that then this would … oh wait, that works really nice.” Or you might shout something out and go, “Would he do this?” And you go down that road. I mean, we’re writing season two and just yesterday we killed this thing that has been in the story for the last two months that we’ve totally … Alec and I came in and went, “This thing. We think we should lose it.”
Bill Hader And it was a thing that kinda went through the whole season. It’s was like, “Oh, alright.”
Alec Berg: When you have something you like you either have to build a support system for it so that it has to be in the show or it starts to kind of wall itself off and become a thing that’s not attached or supported by anything else. At some point it just becomes this free standing thing that you can just delete and it doesn’t affect any other threads.
Jordan Carlos: What were the stress tests that you used to determine that, “Okay, maybe we should chunk this”?
Bill Hader: Well I kinda feel like if you go through the draft again and if you get frustrated by it then excited by it you go, “God what does it look like if that thing’s just gone?” And you go, “Oh, wait that looks way better.” Now suddenly the house analogy, we had a wall. Could we just lose that wall? Okay, now we have a living room. See? Before it was two weird offices. Now it’s a living room. Let’s just do it that way.
Alec Berg: But to continue that analogy, at the risk of sounding pretentious, that the renovation project happens through the writing and the shooting and the editing where there are scenes that you convince yourself are completely essential. Then you get into the edit, and you’re like, “Wait a second. What if we just lost that?” In my experience if you can loose something and the story doesn’t turn into chaotic, incomprehensible dreck, you kind of have to loose it.
Bill Hader: It either has to be in the show or has to be out of the show.
Alec Berg: I feel like we’ve built a home at this point metaphorically speaking and analogy wise.
Jordan Carlos: Well this is where the heart is, right?
Bill Hader: Yeah. Yeah. All that. All that. Let me ask you a question. Were there moments where what you wrote on the page truly translated to the screen and you almost did high fives and chest bumps and things like that? Take us through those.
Alec Berg: I will say there was one to me. I mean, we talked about it, and again spoiler alert if you haven’t watched the show stop listening now if you haven’t already as if you’re still listening, when Barry finally does have this break down on stage. I felt like narratively the entire season was driving to that moment. It’s one of those things where I thought it worked. I was pretty sure it worked, and I was very confident that Bill could perform it. But you don’t know until you see it. It was one of those things where it was three-quarters of the way through the shoot, if this thing … and sometimes you get into a shoot and something you had utmost confidence in, you just get to and you go, “Oh damn it. This doesn’t work.”
Alec Berg: That was one where I remember we did the first take of it. That was where I was like, “Oh this totally works-“
Bill Hader: Yeah. Whsheew.
Alec Berg: -and I’m ecstatic right now because-
Bill Hader: I was a mess and Alec runs out, “It work …” So happy.
Jordan Carlos: Oh that’s great.
Alec Berg: I’m like, “Okay. Alright.”
Jordan Carlos: It’s sort of a black box at the beginning then. Because you’re hoping that this will come full circle. That’s awesome.
Bill Hader: Well that-
Alec Berg: Well, you never know.
Bill Hader: Yeah, another one in that same episode is the scene with him and his friend in his car, the scene with Chris, in the car. That was one that we went over and over and over again about what’s this going to be and rewrote it and wrote it and we always felt like this feels good. But you never know. For me, acting in it felt … the guy, Chris, the actor that played Chris, was fantastic, but that’s all I knew. Then we saw the way Alec had shot it, and Jeff Buchanan, our editor, the way he cut it, it worked better than it did on the page.
Jordan Carlos: I went, “Wow, that thing already was really good, and I hope this plays because it’s so kind of dark and sad and can you be funny after this” and all these things. Then seeing it play out in the context of the episode gave me … I was so happy watching that.
Alec Berg: Well, I think a lot of what this show does is it does give you permission to laugh despite … there’s gruesome viscera at the beginning of the show. You begin, your character’s coming out of a bathroom and there’s a guy with-
Bill Hader: Yeah that was kind of by design too. Just letting the audience know here’s the tone of this show, but also it’s like that camera move is his, again not to sound pretentious … but it’s like the way he relates to death. There’s a dead body right in the foreground of that shot and the camera just pans with him and pans off like it’s just a shirt laying on the bed. It’s like nothing. It’s like a towel that he had there. It doesn’t even phase him.
Alec Berg: Like a security camera move. Yeah, it was very cold. I wanted to ask you, speaking of good writing how did you guys come up with NoHo Hank. I’m on team NoHo Hank forever.
Bill Hader: Oh good.
Alec Berg: You guys, there’s a team. That’s good.
Jordan Carlos: Wow.
Alec Berg: The name was certainly Bill. I don’t remember where that name come from. That was just … I think you took a pass at that first scene he was in. Like that was the name. Although I still don’t quite understand where [crosstalk 00:18:19]-
Bill Hader: That’s was the name. Oh you know what. I think I looked up gangsters in L.A. and someone had some sort of a name that was a cool neighborhood. I was like what if it was, “NoHo.” ‘Cause it’s such a lame … but to me it was the way I always remember telling Alec was I went to the Genius Bar at the Apple store to get my laptop fixed and just the way those guys at the Genius Bar are so patient and pleasant no matter how angry and frustrated you get with them they’re always like, “Okay. Alright, well let’s look in to that. Can I get you anything?”
Bill Hader: He’s just kind of-
Alec Berg: He’s polite.
Bill Hader: Customer service guy. I was like, “Oh that’s a fun energy as opposed to just an angry mean guy.”
Alec Berg: And we like this idea that everybody in L.A. is from somewhere else. They’ve all come here to make their fortunes. They’re all trying to make a good first impression. There’s a scene in the pilot where all the actors are talking about where they’re from and we kinda made that joke, “Nobody’s from L.A.” And D’Arcy Carden, who plays Natalie, is like, “Well, I am remember?”
Bill Hader: “I am remember?” Darcy improvised that.
Jordan Carlos: Speaking of which, how much does improve play a role in the writing? Or do you only do a couple takes from the script and then after that, “Let’s do some improv?”
Bill Hader: You’re like, “Oh we got it how it’s written so if you guys want to try something?” Very little.
Alec Berg: Yeah. There are certain scenes like there’s a scene where Moss and Loach, the detectives, are asking questions of the class and that was one where it was just like, we just set up cameras and we put each of the acting class into that seat and we just went for a few minutes.
Bill Hader: Yeah, so just talk, just say whatever you want.
Alec Berg: And we would throw thoughts at them and they would take those thoughts and run with them. It was a fun, oh that’s funny, try it this way. What about this? And then they would do fun stuff.
Bill Hader: Yeah, yeah.
Alec Berg: Yeah, that was fun. And then Kirby who plays Sasha in this show and Darcy Carden who plays Natalie, in that party scene it was kind of like we’d give little pockets for them to improvise stuff. Or Alejandro who plays Antonio, when he says, “I send you my link” that was improvised. All the stuff that’s their kind of cut aways in the party, all that stuff’s improvised. And then Andy Carey, he improvised his rap in episode two at the memorial for Barry Madison …
Bill Hader: Oh, he did, yeah, yeah.
Alec Berg: He improvised that whole rap which was pretty great.
Bill Hader: But that’s the fun of doing a show like this, you could give people space to do that stuff. Or sometimes you can just give them an area and they’ll go, oh okay. Or sometimes, the opposite, you go hey, what do you think your character would do if they were confronted with this situation? The actor’s the only one who’s full time job, 100% of the time is looking after their own character, so a lot of times they are much more insightful.
Alec Berg: Yeah, and that happened on this.
Jordan Carlos: Let me ask you this, speaking of character, when … and also writing to develop a character, you have to do tons of research, and maybe Bill, I don’t know if you had to go to the range or anything like that to get in fighting shape for this, but I feel also from what I saw on screen, the writing whenever Barry gets tactical … did you all have to do some research about what that, writing those words and what that would look like?
Alec Berg: Well we had a guy named Wade Allen on set, who’s our stunt coordinator, he was really helpful. We would write a version and he would kind of read through it. And we also have a detective that we would work with, with L.A.P.D and they would kind of read the scripts and give us notes. And usually it’s just, yeah they wouldn’t say that. Before the stash house sequence, I think we were on the set, and Wade Allen was there and he was like, no I think what he would say is … before we go into the stash house, and Barry’s saying well here’s our objective and everything and we got no air support, that was all Wade.
Bill Hader: That was great. It just felt very true and it’s a part of Barry that he switches on and switches off.
Alec Berg: Exactly, and I think that’s what’s interesting is that in that stash house sequence, Barry’s … you see him in his element and he’s not even thinking about it. Then you see him on stage like in the scene where Cristobal where he’s talking about soup, and he’s so uncomfortable and so awkward.
Bill Hader: Yeah, he can’t even think about soup. He’s like soup makes me think about thirst.
Alec Berg: Oh yeah, what emotion do you …
Bill Hader: Thirst is not an emotion.
Alec Berg: Thirst is not an emotion, Barry.
Bill Hader: But that’s also, it’s funny we did as much if not more research on the acting side. We went to a bunch of acting classes-
Alec Berg: That’s true, actually. We did more research on acting.
Jordan Carlos: Oh really?
Bill Hader: I don’t know what that says about me.
Alec Berg: C’mon now. C’mon.
Jordan Carlos: But I felt like you did a great job of finding the most depressing stage set up. It’s so, oh man …
Bill Hader: Well, that was … we found that in real life. There were a couple of things that we saw in acting classes and I don’t want to say specifically what just out of difference to the people who shared their experience with us … but there were things we saw, we were just like, oh that goes in the show. And it was. Hair, and makeup, and wardrobe meetings would be like, okay here’s what these people were wearing, and here’s what their hair looked like, just do that. So I’m guessing there are people who were in those classes who may have seen the show, who are like, wait a second.
Alec Berg: That’s bullshit. That’s a kick in the nuts.
Jordan Carlos: Or they’re like, wow I get a credit for this.
Alec Berg: We were all excited those guys showed up to our thing and now look at them.
Bill Hader: That’s so weird, that’s not at all what my class experience was like.
Alec Berg: Well that’s lame. Speaking of which, I feel like a lot of the characters have this other life, right? With Cousineau, it’s that he’s a struggling actor that never really made it, right? And his auditions are one line, almost. And yet, in his world, he gets standing ovations, there’s a parking space that’s set out for him.
Jordan Carlos: And same thing with Barry, when he’s in a certain tactical situation, he’s the man. But Barry also has another side, which I wonder how much you allow for it, because L.A. is such like a dream factory is the element of fantasy, right? That Barry’s fantasy is he’s always dreaming of this kind of life that’s just beyond his reach, you know the barbecue with Jon Hamm, or when you first hooks up with his crush, a lot of it is fantasy. And I was wondering, was fantasy used a lot at the beginning and then you cut back? Or is it just like you put dollops in there? Just to kind of keep it interesting.
Alec Berg: I think kind of just what you saw is what we …
Bill Hader: Yeah, I mean some of it was … one of the big challenges I think certainly in writing and Bill you can speak to the performing challenge … but Barry is a very emotionally closed off guy, and in the beginning he has no community and no friends and typically when you’re writing stuff, you always go out of your way to put somebody in a room with somebody who doesn’t know certain information so that they can say …
Jordan Carlos: Hey you have a window character.
Alec Berg: Right. So it’s like somebody can express something that the audience can hear, but Barry can’t really talk about who he’s murdered and stuff with people in the acting class, so there was this kind of interesting thing where we have this very closed off character and we’d like to see what’s going on in his head. So I don’t want to say it’s a cheat, but it was a technique to sort of go, oh there’s more going on in there than you’re seeing. And that was one of the struggles early on, was finding ways for Barry to be expressive without being emotionally available and enlightened.
Bill Hader: Yeah, they did it well in the King of Comedy I thought, where there’s a daydream of Robert De Niro’s in there, which I liked, which just felt very real. And that’s kind of like when I have a daydream about something it also feels very real, there’s no sort of gauze over it or something that’s strange or whatever. It’s all kind of a real thing. But what he wants is just kind of what most people want, he just wants to be in love and have a family and have a community and be successful and have a house. He wants to be able to go shopping with his girlfriend.
Jordan Carlos: Well the effect, yeah, he wants to go shopping with his girlfriend and lie in a hammock with her and go over the front page.
Alec Berg: Yeah. And we just thought what was interesting is like, if these glitzy fantasies are actually somewhat mundane, you just realize this is not a guy who needs much. He just needs what all humans need, and he doesn’t have it and he’s desperately trying to get it.
Bill Hader: We push it a bit with the Jon Hamm thing, but it was just too hard not to have Jon Hamm do it.
Jordan Carlos: I mean, if you’re gonna have Jon Hamm on set and then say, can I take a shit in one of your bathrooms.
Bill Hader: Look, you try and do a show without Jon Hamm in it, it’s not that easy.
Jordan Carlos: I can imagine, I can only imagine.
Alec Berg: Did Jon improvise that? Can I take a shit in your-
Bill Hader: Oh yeah. Yeah, Jon improvised that.
Alec Berg: I think you said I have five guest rooms so it’s fine or something like that.
Bill Hader: Yeah, that was Alec.
Jordan Carlos: It was very good. For what it’s worth. I guess the reason why I ask about the fantasy was because at the end it really did mess with my suspension of disbelief, because when they are at the lake house, the first thing I see of them is in the hammock and their going over front page, and I’m like oh okay, well this is another fantasy.
Alec Berg: 100%.
Bill Hader: Yeah that was very, that was on purpose.
Alec Berg: It was very much by design and the way we wrote it and the way it was shot was very much-
Bill Hader: Well he’s living his dream. He’s living the dream. Everything worked out and now he’s finally living the dream.
Alec Berg: No, I’m glad that landed for you. I mean that was something that was very intentional, that it’s like, oh we want people to feel like wait, is this real? And then you’re sort of going wait, I think this is real. This can’t be the end.
Jordan Carlos: Well it just proves to me that Barry, what he has to do to defend it, will do anything to defend that dream. So Alec and Bill, I thank you for your time and that’ll do it for this episode. OnWriting is a production of the Writers Guild of America East. Mix, tech production, and original music by Stockboy Creative. You can learn more about the Writers Guild of America East online at wgaeast.org, or on social media at @WGAEast. I’m Jordan Carlos and you can find me at jordancarloscomedy.com and on Twitter at @JordanCarlos. Thanks for tuning in. Right on.
- September 18, 2018: Episode 3: Sofia Alvarez, "To All the Boys I've Loved Before"
- September 11, 2018: Episode 2: Alec Berg & Bill Hader, "Barry"
- September 4, 2018: Episode 1: Michael Arndt, "Endings"
- March 8, 2018: In Solidarity: International Women's Day
- January 16, 2018: Interview: Caytha Jentis (THE OTHER F WORD)
- November 13, 2017: Interview: Richard Linklater & Darryl Ponicsan (LAST FLAG FLYING)
- October 30, 2017: Essay: Ian Olympio on Produced By: New York 2017
- October 12, 2017: Essay: Alexis Fedor on The Writer's Profit Plan
- October 4, 2017: Interview: Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani (THE BIG SICK)
- August 7, 2017: Interview: John Chernin & Dave Chernin (THE MICK)
- Issue 1: A Conversation with Terry George and Tony Gilroy
- Issue 2: Reflections on Adaptation: Israel Horovitz, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Doug McGrath, Richard Wesley, Richard Vetere
- Issue 3: The Writers Room: Robert Carlock, John Markus, Meredith Scardino
- Issue 4: From Broadway to the Back Lot: John Guare, David Lindsay-Abaire, Donald Margulies