One minute, he’s talking on the phone from Los Angeles. Then, there’s a strange noise in the background. This interview is going to end prematurely.
“Uh, I’m going to have to get off the phone, we’ve just been rear-ended,” says Tulsa native Bill Hader, who talks as he’s climbing out of the car.
“Oh man,” Hader utters, and the phone connection goes dead.
Not to worry.
“The car is definitely worse than Bill, but they’re both fine,” his publicist said when reporting his welfare to the Tulsa World.
Maybe it wasn’t Hader’s day at that time, but what a year he’s been having the past 12 months.
It was March 2018 that HBO premiered “Barry,” Hader’s dark comedy about a Midwestern hitman/former Marine sniper with PTSD who goes to Los Angeles for a hit and ends up trying to become an actor.
The guy who attended Patrick Henry Elementary and Edison Middle School and graduated from Cascia Hall is the star and the co-creator of the acclaimed show.
He also writes, directs and produces “Barry,” for which the second season recently began.
Hader has proven he can do it all, with the proof that he received trophies for his acting (a best comedy actor Emmy), his writing (Writers Guild of America) and his debut as a director (Directors Guild of America).
So how have perceptions changed from Hader being a “performer” for eight years on “Saturday Night Live” to becoming a “serious actor” and multitalented creator of an HBO hit?
“That’s nice to hear, but I don’t really know. I’ve got my head in the sand about that kind of thing. I mean, if someone stops me on the street, it’s still ‘Hey, do Stefon into my cellphone,'” Hader said, referencing his audience-favorite New York club kid character that made everyone laugh — including Hader while in character.
He remains as humble and self-deprecating as ever, emphasizing that awards glory was followed by the first day of shooting on the second season of “Barry,” and he and co-creator Alec Berg “spent that first day shooting a scene that we couldn’t make work.”
“We found out we were not magically better at our jobs (after winning an award),” Hader said with a chuckle.
Hitman Barry Berkman is a bundle of insecurities, much like Hader has said he was in early acting roles, and especially ahead of “SNL” live shows.
Or in his school days. For Hader, such long-ago self-doubt and uncertainty have become part of his process.
“Oh sure, it’s all there. I remember a scholastic night at Cascia Hall, where to attend you had to have like a 2.8 (grade-point average) to go, and it was like only me and this other guy who couldn’t go. Me and my 1.6,” Hader said.
“It’s not like I was off skipping school and doing drugs, although I think a lot of people thought that. I just didn’t apply myself. I wasn’t interested,” he said.
“But moments like that, you remember those moments. But rather than re-creating that moment, I put that emotion into a more interesting character than I am.”
It also helps to have someone from high school around to remind Hader of those days and those emotions.
That would be Duffy Boudreau, his Cascia Hall classmate whom he made short films with in Tulsa more than 20 years ago.
When “Barry” was announced as the winner at the Writers Guild Awards for best writing in a new series, Hader won, as did the others in his show’s writing room, including Boudreau.
“Duffy has been my best friend since we were 15,” Hader said of Boudreau, whose career went from writing comic books in Seattle to first joining the team making Hader’s IFC Channel show “Documentary Now!”
“He would come to L.A. to visit, and he would come up with all these great ideas. We’ve got a small writers room on ‘Barry,’ and Duffy is a good guy to have around to say, ‘Bill, that’s a dumb idea.’ Because I can get anxious when I feel like people don’t do that.
“Duffy has no problem telling me what I may not want to hear,” Hader said with a laugh, “Like when I have an idea, and he’ll say, ‘No, three different shows did that last year.'”
The success with “Barry” makes you wonder: While Hader was obviously creating characters for years for those “SNL” sketches, what else was he creating?
You know, when he wasn’t acting in movies, from acclaimed indie films to appearing in more than a dozen box-office blockbuster comedies and animated hits, especially with Disney/Pixar.
And when he wasn’t working with the “South Park” creators — he’s helped to produce 47 episodes, winning an Emmy for one in 2009.
“Mostly I was writing screenplays that weren’t good, trying to figure out why they weren’t good. So I failed at that for a while,” Hader said of those “SNL” years from 2005-2013.
But this time, “I kept applying myself,” he said.
“I started at South Park to write on a more long-form thing, and that was super helpful. Then hanging out at Pixar, that was so helpful, and that’s, you know, just part of learning.
“But the best stuff happens organically. It’s kind of like buying a house and you can’t quite describe it, but you’re thinking, ‘Yeah, this is the one.’ That’s like my best ideas.”
Hader’s creative juices are flowing in so many directions with “Barry” and other projects, but acting is still what he’s most known for. He’s starring in two highly anticipated films this year: the animated follow-up “The Angry Birds Movie 2” and the horror sequel “It: Chapter Two.”
Stepping away from acting to focus on behind-the-camera pursuits would be difficult, he said.
“Man, I love acting,” Hader said. “But if you would have asked me after ‘SNL,’ if I thought I’d have my own HBO show. (That) was never an idea that I thought of.
“I’m just trying to take things and make them work. I try not to think too much about it and go with instinct on things.”
Hader’s instincts have proven to be reliable, and all his hard work is paying off.
The one thing you can say about his success: It’s no accident.
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