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Q&A: Bill Hader talks HBO’s ‘Barry’ and performance anxiety

Bill Hader and Alec Berg recently spoke with The Lantern and various other college newspapers to talk about “Barry,” performance anxiety and his favorite moment since starting “Barry.” Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Bill Hader has become a household name because of his years as an actor on “Saturday Night Live” or from his role in “Trainwreck.”

Recently, however, Hader has created a TV show called “Barry” on HBO with Alec Berg. “Barry” follows the story of Barry Berkman, played by Hader, a trained assassin-turned-actor.

Hader and Berg recently spoke with The Lantern and various other college newspapers to talk about “Barry,” performance anxiety and his favorite moment since starting “Barry.”

Q: I was reading an article about how your performance anxiety on “Saturday Night Live” came into play during “Barry.” How did you connect the two?

BH: Well, basically it was just this idea that when I was on “SNL” I did this weird thing where I had this ability to do impressions and voices and things like that. But I was not very emotionally and mentally equipped to be doing live television. It would really freak me out, I would have really bad panic attacks and anxiety about that. And so I was telling Alec about that, it was funny the thing that you’re good at is kind of weirdly destroying you, you know? It wasn’t the show’s fault or anything, it was me just having really bad anxiety about going on live television and it was making me sick. It was really hard on me. And so then Alec said, “conversely, what if that person wanted to do something, but it was a thing they were bad at?”

Q: So what are some challenges that come along with being so involved with [“Barry”], with writing, starring, producing, co-creating and so on?

BH: I mean I enjoy all of it and it’s all a lot of fun, I mean I will say all of that is still easier than being a cast member on “Saturday Night Live”….But it’s a lot of fun. To be honest, it’s a boring answer but it’s just taking care of myself. You try and get enough sleep, eat well, don’t drink too much coffee, work out. It sounds silly but it really is just taking care of yourself. I meditate. Just things like that to just calm your brain down to focus.

And also, you don’t take it all as one giant chunk of stuff. You just take it day by day. You go into the writer’s room and I kind of enter into it going, “OK, today we’ll probably talk about a lot of things but today I would like to focus on this.” Just manageable bites of it… When you’re acting, you go, “Oh no I’m just focusing on today’s scenes, not next week’s”… and then it’s kind of like this weird feeling of doing a lot of work and prepping so you don’t have to take it that seriously when you’re there, you can be loose and throw it all out if you need to.

Q: Where did the idea of “Barry” come from and when did you two start working on this project together?

AB: We pitched the pilot in October [2014] so we had probably been working on it for close to six months before that. We kind of knew each other from comedy circles … it was sort of like the winds were pushing us together. We had another idea for a television show that didn’t work out and pretty quickly after we threw that one away, we landed on the idea of being really gifted at something but deriving no pleasure from it, versus, “Oh I might be terrible at this but I love it.” Which should you pursue, and are you a prisoner of your gift? We thought all that stuff was pretty interesting. Pretty quickly we landed on what if this guy was really good at killing people but he hates it, and what he wanted to do was act? We started finding all these really interesting parallels almost immediately. If you’re a hitman you have to live in the shadows, and be anonymous and live in the shadows. But if you’re an actor, you literally have to stand in the light and … if you’re successful you’re going to be very well known. We were finding all these really interesting parallels between these two worlds.

Q: I’m wondering if…you have a favorite memory [from “Barry”]?

BH: I remember watching the first rough cut of the pilot and showing Alec … and I had never directed before and I just thought, “This is terrible.” And I remember Alec was so excited watching the pilot and going, “We got something really good here.” And then he cut 15 minutes out of [the rough cut], and it got better … And then [HBO] was gonna watch the pilot and we thought, “Oh they’re gonna watch the pilot and have a lot of notes.” Then the heads of HBO came and watched it and were like “Yeah, that was awesome. That was great.” I just remember thinking, “Even if they don’t pick this up, at least I know I can direct something”

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New episodes of “Barry” air on HBO every Sunday.

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