With four Emmy nominations for his work on Barry this year—comedy series, acting, writing and directing—Season 2 of the HBO series really allowed Bill Hader to show his riveting helming finesse across two episodes: “ronny/lily” and the finale “berkman/block”. In the nominated “ronny/lily”, Hader’s hitman Barry is trying to take out martial arts maven Ronny Proxin, only to be ambushed by the guy’s daughter, Lily, an 11-year-old karate dynamo. It’s a great chase sequence that begins in a smoky, blasé, suburban home, and continues onto the street and into a grocery store. It’s just one example of Hader’s many achievements.
What was the genesis for your Emmy-nominated episode “ronny/lily”? I hear a stunt coordinator recommended child actress Jessie Giacomazzi who knows plenty of karate.
Going into Season 2, we knew that we wanted Loach [John Pirruccello] to work with Fuches [Stephen Root] and corner Barry. Then Loach wants Barry to kill his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, Ronny Proxin.
On one page of my notebook, I wrote, “Wade, stunt girl,” because Wade Allen knew this amazing girl; he had this video on his phone of her running across the roof of a house and jumping on to a moving car. Then I hadwritten down “Fight in Rite Aid”. I thought it would be great because it’s very cinematic.
How did the plot come together?
So, I have all these things as we’re outlining, and I thought, Wouldn’t it be great if Barry has to go kill Ronny Proxin? What if this little girl was his daughter, she was hiding and Barry has to kill a child? Then you realize, Oh, she’s not from this world and she mortally wounds him. That would be fun. Then, they have to get stitches; they’re going to have to go to a Rite Aid. So, the little girl goes into the Rite Aid. No, that would be crazy. What if Ronny is not dead and he’s back in the Rite Aid? That’s great.
Within the span of a minute, the episode came together in my head.
The entire chase of the episode plays like Clouseau and Cato in The Pink Panther movies, but bloodier. What were some of your inspirations here?
Throughout Season 2, I watched a lot of Andrzej Wajda’s war films: A Generation, Kanal, and Ashes and Diamonds. He uses wide lenses and natural light. So, I showed that to our DP Paula Huidobro. We watched some of those films and Roma had just come out. So, I can’t not watch the ending of “ronny/lily” when Barry is walking toward Fuches and it’s this big, wide dolly shot [and think] clearly we had seen Roma the week before.
When Fuches crashes the cop car, I remember that was like The Blues Brothers. And then there’s a shot in the Rite Aid fight where Ronny goes to kick Barry and he misses him and crashes into stuff—that’s a very Blake Edwards-type shot. He would always do that, not so much in the Pink Panther movies, but in 10. In that movie, there’s a kind of wide-angle and he would pan off, and then the people would kind of catch up into the shot. But again, it’s not conscious.
How did you come to Cousineau [Henry Winkler]’s eureka in the final moments of the Season 2 finale, when he finally realizes that Barry killed his lover Janice?
In the writing, we got to a place where Fuches takes Cousineau out in the woods to show him Janice’s body. Fuches pops the trunk, shows him her body, and he’s going to shoot him in the back of the head, but he can’t because he’s not like Barry—he runs away. We’re in the writers’ rooms and [co-creator Alec Berg] and I think, “Why wouldn’t he say Barry did this?’” You could feel it in the writers’ room: that changes the whole show, so let’s find a reason why Fuches wouldn’t say that.
We were getting into dumb conversations over why Cousineau doesn’t hear Fuches’ revelation. Then, I remember our writer Liz Sarnoff exclaimed, “Fuches would say that, and Cousineau is going to hear him, and what’s a better ending to the season than Cousineau finding out?” There was a big question mark next to that ending, and we even shot an ending with Barry going into darkness. We showed that alternative to our editors. Everybody was like, “You’ve got to have that, it’s so good.”
Do you see Barry going for a finite number of seasons or are you taking it one season at a time?
Ask me one day, I’ll say, “Yeah, I think it’s a finite number of seasons, but I don’t know how many.” Then, ask me today and I’ll say, “We’re just taking it season-by-season.”
There’s a plot I pitched, and I put it up on the board, and in both seasons, it’s gotten pushed off the board because we had so much story before it. I can’t say what the storyline is. I’m going to try and put it in Season 3. I always put it up there, but it’s a nice thing because it is like a big curve; it’s a big turning point for Barry. However, over the last two seasons, the writers say, “Oh, cool, but before that happens, maybe let’s try this and try that.”
I saw Alec a couple weeks ago and we have no idea what [Season 3 will be]. I’m like, “Man, we really wrote ourselves into a corner.” And he’s like, “I know.”
Tell us about your audition for SNL. What impersonations did you do?
I did Vinny Vedecci, the Italian talk show host, and it was him doing impressions. So, it was like Vinny Vedecci was auditioning for Saturday Night Live. He did Al Pacino and James Mason.
The morning of my audition, they called and said, “Hey, you have to do a political impression and it can’t be George Bush,” who was the president at the time. So, I just turned on the TV in my hotel room in New York and my audition is in like two hours. There’s parliament on C-SPAN and I’m watching Tony Blair. So, I watched him for a little bit and then I call my friend who is British. And I go, “Alright, who’s this?” He was like, “Is that supposed to be Tony Blair?” Then I go to my audition.
I thought I was going to pass out. I ended up waiting for two hours while other people went ahead of me, but you could hear their auditions being pumped in [the waiting room] so you were hearing other people do other things. There was a great impressionist named James Adomian and he was doing George Bush. He was unreal. Later, I learned there was a knob I could have turned down in the dressing room so I wouldn’t have to hear the other auditions. My audition was July 21, 2005, and I landed back in LA on August 12, which was when they called and told me I got the show.
Have you heard from Arnold Schwarzenegger or Dwayne Johnson? You were once PA on Collateral Damage and The Scorpion King, and now here you are, you’ve made these two great episodes. You could direct an action film.
Those guys haven’t reached out to me. I don’t even know if Arnold knows I was a PA for him. I know Dwayne Johnson does, because when he hosted SNL, he said, “Oh, I was on Scorpion King,” and he’s like the nicest guy in the world. But no, none of those guys have said anything.
It’s more that some of the ADs I worked with, and a couple of people I PA’d with, who are now UPNs and line producers and first ADs, are coming up going, “Hey, man, this is crazy.” It’s super satisfying considering, yeah, that was 20 years ago.