Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images
In the second season of HBO BarryThings are looking really good for Barry Berkman.
Was just a joke! Life is still a mess for the recovering hitman and up and coming actor, played by Bill Hader. He is forced to turn NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) and his Chechen gang into brutal killers. He lied to Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) about his past. And his attempt to break his murderous past has suffered a royal setback, leading to further losses for which Barry is responsible.
Hader, who plays the series with Alec Berg (Silicon Valley), spoke recently over the phone about the development of this darker season Barrythe relevance of looking back on Afghanistan this season and where the series could be long term. (After this conversation, HBO confirmed that it had been picked up Barry for a third season.)
When writing the first season, did you have to extend a longer arc for the story you envisioned into a second season? Or were you not sure at the time if there would be a second season? When I saw the final episode of the first season, I felt that this could easily be the end of a stand-alone season or could go on.
No, we always thought it would take longer, but we did not know any super specifications. It's like little milestones in our head, you know? Alec and I will just say, "Oh, it will be interesting if this happened and it happened on the road." But we did not think it was great, great. We did not know which season would be two until we started writing.
How much of the writing process is done together in the author's room and how much do writers retire to their offices to do their own work?
We usually start before the author's room starts. I'll get an office and sit down, and I'll come in every day and think about a possible scenario where the show might go. Alec will come and we will talk about it, and then we come to a structure for the season.
Basically, you just want to be wrong fast. You want to set it up in front of the room of five other authors and go, "What do you think about it?" And they disassemble it and say, "Would not that be?" Or, "I draw It does not even interest me for this guy. "That brings at least one conversation. Those ideas that you hold to be so important are usually those people go to: "I'm not busy. But a small part of it – actually, you know, this thing about Sally's ex-husband, that's interesting. That should be part of this season, "where it was very peripheral in our first release. Then a writer like "Is not important" will be. Then you start talking and a writer will say, "Would not it be interesting if Barry had to teach the Chechens how to shoot"? That's a great idea, and that goes to the blackboard.
Basically, I put eight columns on the board and start throwing these ideas into each column. So we could talk about Fuches Tooth. That would go in the first one. And then Barry teaches the Chechens, that goes into the third column. At some point, each of these columns has a structure, and then we give it to a writer, and they write a script. Then we come in and read their design, and then they go back and take some notes and then give them back to us. Then Alec and I pick it up and we rewrite the whole thing. Because in production, as we read the spreadsheet, things start to transform and change, and in this show, when you change a thing in Episode 1, the one has a massive ripple effect.
This season, Alec and I wrote a lot on set, as if we were shooting episodes one and two, and Alec and I would write three and four. And as we turn three and four, the next two big transcriptions are made. We did not do that for season one, because Season 1, I think the scripts got pretty tight, pretty fast. It was pretty, "Oh, I understand where that goes." The second season is a bit different. And I think part of it is because I'm shot It 2 In the middle of the season Alec was there Silicon Valley and it was not much time.
NoHo Hank has a bigger role this season. How much of this was due to the fact that the actor brings something that you might not have expected when you originally wrote this part?
Oh my God. Yes, no, he died in the pilot. So was written –
Is that correct?
– Hank was killed, yes. And Anthony [Carrigan] was so funny that we felt so much that we can not kill him. One of the first conversations Alec and I had when they recorded the show was like, "Okay, they picked us up. We do not kill Hank, right? "It's like no, no, no, no, we have to find out. There is no possibility. And then the first day of writing began with our authors: "We do not kill NoHo Hank, right? Because this guy, what a character. "It depends so much on what Anthony did with it.
The fact that you are so involved in the writing process and in some cases also involved in the direction process helps you as an actor? Do you feel like you understand the character better?
For me, acting is the most instinctive part, and I would like to go directing with this direction, where it can be just as instinctive. However, it is difficult to be instinctive when directing, because there are so many variables that you need to have a pre-plan if you are trying to do things on such a tight schedule as us, you know? As far as television is concerned, our schedule is not so tight, but it's still tight where you can not be like, "Would not it be great if …?" You have to say three days in advance, "Would not it be great if you" and be ready.
As an actor, it's nice to know where the story is going, where the story is and where we are right now. As a writer, it's nice to know what the emotion is in this part of the story and where we're going. As an actor, you often do not know these things and you play something, and sometimes a director does not know how to tell you, "I do not know if that moment works," because the feeling is not really true. That helps, but I hardly know my lines. I do all the other things, and when it's time to act, it's like, "Okay, wait, what do we do?" Do you know what I mean? In a strange way, I think that helps me because I'm just a lot more instinctive about it, and the only thing that annoys is when I somehow modulate or approximate my lines. The people who are more trained in the theater tend to be a bit frustrated, I thought, because I somehow dance the whole thing. But I only like behavior. I'm more interested in behavior than in the exact words they say.
In a way, it has to be somehow helpful to act this way because you do not think about it.
Yes, that's death if you think too much about it. On the other hand, there are great theatrical actors and great actors who – I've never attended a proper drama school – and they think about it, they work tons and they're phenomenal. You know? But I came from improvisation and that's the whole thing with improvisation: do not think and let the other person look good.
As an actor, did you ever get in touch with a Sally? With someone who is so valuable and responsible?
Yes, but not just women. Alec and I talked about this character as not just a woman, men too, you know? It's a kind of actor. Not even the whole time actor. Sometimes we talk about things we put into Sally, who are a musician friend, or someone you just met on a set that was a producer. It's a lot of narcissism in Los Angeles.
That was the cool thing about being there Saturday night live, You can see all these people coming, who I thought were really great. Just like Justin Timberlake does not show up with anyone, it's just him. And he says, "Where do you want me?" Then people would come and they would have huge entourages and they would tell us how to be funny and stuff like that.
Who has the biggest entourage you can remember?
I do not remember I think many of them. They were all about the same size.
Was Justin Timberlake the only one who came in without one?
No no no. Most people at SNL, They came with me – when I hosted the last two times, I had my assistant and journalist with me. That's the most. And Justin Timberlake had it too. I'm just saying for someone so famous and such a global pop figure that you say, "Okay, get ready. Timberlake comes in with some people, "and he has a coke alone, like," Hey, what's up, dude? "You know? It's like, whoa! For some people, especially musicians, it's like going through eight levels and saying, "Hey, how are you?" Or, "We have a note for you on this sketch," or whatever.
In that sense, because you write so much about the narcissistic quality of acting, do you find yourself more confident that you might become that way yourself?
You can not write it unless you have seen or felt it in some way. Most things that Sally can not connect with, but I think much of what helped me write was all about insecurity and the fear of I'm out here and it may not work,
Also Alec and me, especially considering that Sally's character was abused. I do not know what that is. Alec does not know what that is like. So we talked to many people. We have talked to many women who have either been there before or who know the people who have been there before. We show them these Sally scenes and go, "Does that make sense?" I think, Sarah [Goldberg] Super vigilant was, "I want to make sure it's her, like that specific woman." Those are her values, and she does not speak for everyone, which, I thought, was really smart. A good actor will bring that to you. As a writer you sometimes think on a global level, and I think Sarah was really smart and tactful in the way she wanted to handle it.
They have staged two episodes this season, the fifth and the final. What is it about these episodes that make you "I want to direct".
Well, the fifth episode was just one thing I have seen very clearly. It's a very visual episode. And then episode eight was our final – there are certain things to connect to. I remember there was a sequence in Episode 7 where Alec was really connected to NoHo Hank and he said, "Oh, I really want to do this." To be honest, if I do it again, guess me, me or Alec would refer the first couple there Hiro [Murai, who directed the first two episodes of season two] had a really difficult time. I hope he had a great time because he does a great job. However, it is always difficult for the first episode of someone who is not the showrunner.
Hiro is such a genius and someone you can do that with. You can just hand it over to him and go, "Well, you know exactly what you're doing." But you really can only do that with someone from Hiro. Because it's like giving them a piece of paper that reads, "Read my thoughts."
The flashbacks to Barry's first kill in Afghanistan were really important this season. Can you talk about why you need this flashback?
The idea behind it was that we knew we wanted to show his first murder, and we thought it would be really interesting if … from the documentaries we looked at, and from books we read about war comrades, they had to start a bit, and it was as if it could have been a source of camaraderie and a source of community [for] Barry We found out, okay, he was born well in this case, so we should show the moment when he realized how good he was and how good it is if he can kill, can be a form of acceptance. So it was very thoughtful. I think it was always like that, it would be a sniper thing; we would never see who he killed. You know, they were people who, they say, are 700 yards away, and it's just a break from the suffering people are going through, and he somehow realizes that. And then, when the class plays the scene, it shows how she would react and how possibly he should have reacted.
At first we had that in a later episode, this moment, and Alec Berg was smart enough to say, "I think that should go into episode one, because the more we talk about it, it seems a great starting point for him for the whole season , the thing that upsets him. "You know, last season is in the past – I kill for money, but I can leave it behind, And then having a memory, having something buried and coming back and having a realization Oh no, the first time I killed someone was the first time I felt accepted. That's more rooted in me than I thought.
As for the flashbacks, [in the] In the first season we had those daydreams throughout the season and it was this idea I could have a better life, or maybe I could just be normal, And in the second season, we had the feeling, instead of just doing that again, it was, "To have that, you have to somehow reconcile your past with each other, so let's have flashbacks. But not many flashbacks. "In the beginning we wrote many flashbacks at different times in Barry's life and it got really confusing. Let's concentrate on a small number of them and link them to a very specific incident.
I feel normal when you see this kind of first-killer flashback in a movie or TV show. It is a separation, but then there is the immediate feeling, "Oh God, what have I done?" And guilt. In this case it is not really that way. It's almost, as you said, a joyous experience.
Yes, you know, Hiro Murai and I talked about it: "He's just got the highest score asteroids, "He is in a video game. We should shoot it down and think, "They are not in an OP in Afghanistan, they are in an arcade, and the new one has just reached the highest score street fighter, "And everyone went" Waaaaaah! "And all the new kids, the older kids at school, say," That was fantastic. "Do you know what I mean? That is how it should be treated.
I wonder how you and the other authors decide what is too dark. Are there things that you've been thinking about this season, and then you said, "Hmm, maybe that's pushing too far."
Yes, I mean, there are things you are going to do – it's not that they're too dark, as long as it's honest. The thing we normally try to push the line over is something that may prove unfounded in terms of violence. It's always trying to keep the gore factor in a place that's much more – I'm rather shocking. Later in the season, there are some violent things that can be considered funny, but I do not think the violence itself is funny. I find the people who commit it or the situation is funny. You know? But as long as it's an emotion, it's not so much about violence as it is about why that happens. Is it anger, or is it insecurity, or is it a sense of loss, a sense of revenge? You know what I mean?
Like the first season, we could have got Fuches to tidy up his teeth. At one point, I said, "Oh, we should have a close-up of the file going on his teeth, and the sound of the palate going to his teeth and his eyes starting to water." And we went through this whole thing, And the more we talked about it and thought about it, I thought, "It's like having a full frontal nudity in a sex scene. The scene is all about it. "Where you are like" Oh my god "instead of" Well, what's going on between these two people? "So I backed away from those ideas and said," No, what happened here that Barry is watching someone who cares about being hurt. It should be played from his point of view and he can stop it by agreeing to a hit, which he does not want to do. "Because he cares about this guy and his loving foxes, he decides to be effectively hurting to hit this beat. And I like, "Oh, that's how we should turn the scene. So, what are the elements we need for this? "You do not need all the spasm, and the spasm will take that away.
Do you ever get comments from HBO about these kinds of problems, or do you feel pretty happy with what you do?
Yes, for the most part. Yes, they are pretty amazing. Now and then they could. There's something rare about saying, "Can we do that a bit more subtle?" Which is very rare.
That's the kind of notes you get from HBO. This is like, "Can you just drop this or that?" Sometimes Alec and I are very worried that we are not clear about something, because we try to hide things that later pay off. And usually HBO is like, "No, we understand it. Do not worry about it. Just be more subtle. "
I thought they would be pretty cool with you, considering they were also sending game of Thrones, I feel like you're pretty sure.
Yes, that's a kind of trump card that says, "Well, you guys killed kids game of Thrones, "
How long should the show run? Do you and Alec have a sense of how much history there is to tell? Or is that still open?
I mean, it's still pretty open. We're talking about a number, but I will not tell you what it is. But I mean, we talk to each other. When we sat down for breakfast for the first time in this dinner, I said to Alec, "What if I played a hitman?" He said, "Ugh, that's a terrible idea." And then we talked more about it and Then within five minutes I remember him: "Oh, hit the guy in a drama class. That's funny. "This conversation was like" He can go from here to here. "And we're the only ones who know what that is, that has changed a bit, it's constantly changing as we figure it out, and we did not know who Sally was back then, we did not know Cousineau or Fuches or NoHo Hank, we did not know about it when we talked about it for the first time, but somehow we've always thought Oh, maybe this is a direction to go, So we will try to keep that up. We always talk about it Barry as a true crime story, about which you have read in Vanity Fair, You know these big ones Vanity Fair true crime stories?
Or a podcast.
Or a podcast. Yes exactly.
We talk to the authors, pretend that this is actually happening. This is one thing that actually happened, and that's the sound. How would we write it? The headline of it [story]It says "Barry" and then "How a hit became Man Actor", and you have not seen the "and" part yet. You know what I mean? We have not yet told the whole story, the complete title of the series. It is still there, if that makes sense.
But this heading could change.
Do you think that Barry has the potential to actually act?
Well, here's the thing. He is not very talented, but successful and talented, these are two different things. I mean, he could do it anyway. But I do not think he is talented. So we do not know it. I mean, that's a big question. It's like "Well, he stinks". And then we would say, "Well, there are many really famous people who stink." In the story of acting, music, sports, all when you look back, you go, "Well, they were not that great." So who knows what happens to him.
But he also has the potential not to stink inadvertently, as he did last season.
Yes, I mean, something is clicked every now and then and it's not that bad. It's like falling into it. It is as if he is constantly being forced to kill, he accidentally falls into a beautiful moment of acting.
But he did not act. I think that's my thing: at the end of last season, he did not act when he cried and said the line of Macbeth,
True. But when I'm in the audience, I do not know that.
Right, but can he do it again? He has to be able to do this eight nights a week when he's on Broadway.
Law. Maybe he should just work for Lululemon. Maybe that's the answer.
I think he should just work for Lululemon. For our sake.