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Bill Hader’s pitch-black Barry performance is fueled by shitty high school memories

Photo: Kevin Winter (Getty Images)

Bill Hader’s shown a side of himself that fans of his comedy work rarely see on HBO’s Barry. Simply put, he’s scary. As the titular hitman-turned-aspiring actor, Hader conveys some truly dark, deep-seated shit. His character wants something more out of life, but struggles to reckon with the fact that maybe the only thing he’s good at is killing people. In a recent profile in The New Yorker, Hader talks about how he gets himself to that place of dead-eyed self-loathing, and it turns out its by thinking about high school.

“Being heartbroken by my first girlfriend. And Scholastic Night, when me and this other kid were the only two kids out of seventy not invited, because you had to have a C average,” Hader says, recalling the emotional triggers he used for a particular scene in the pilot episode. In that scene, Barry admits to his would-be acting coach Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) that he’s a a serial murderer and depressed about it. Obviously, the shame associated with committing such heinous crimes is not something Bill Hader actually feels, but the feeling of thinking you’re an unlovable “dummy” in high school is probably close enough.

It should be said that Hader’s Emmy didn’t come strictly from his deep dive into darkness. It also has to do with something that looks easy from the outside but, in practice, is very difficult: Acting badly. “He has to fully embody someone who’s trying his hardest and not succeeding, while balancing being so terrible onstage with transparently portraying Barry’s guilt,” says Anthony Carrigan who plays the hilariously absurd Chechen mobster NoHo Hank. “Then add in that Barry’s a bad actor who’s getting better and sometimes can give a decent or even great performance.”


These layers to Hader’s performance aren’t something we’ve seen in any of his fantastic SNL sketch appearances, and it’s a sizable reason why we’re excited for the Barry season two premiere on March 31st. Read the full profile from The New Yorker, in which Hader reveals he once was a production assistant on flicks like The Scorpion King and Collateral Damage, here.

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About the author

Dan Neilan

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Have Fun — Will Travel.