'The Skeleton Twins' Premiere: Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig Handle the Drama

Associated Press
From left: Craig Johnson, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader

The former 'SNL' stars jump the genre gap, and writers Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman discuss their real-life inspirations for the comedy-drama on the red carpet

Although a group of Arclight protestors crowded the red carpet on Wednesday night, nothing could tear spectators' eyes away from Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig at the L.A. premiere of The Skeleton Twins, a indie comedy-drama that features the two comedians playing estranged twins, Milo (Hader) and Maggie (Wiig), who reunite after 10 years to rekindle their battered relationship and consequently rebuild each other's damaged lives.

New Girl star Zooey Deschanel, Dear White People director Justin Simien, and Mickey Thomas of Starship were among the guests in attendance to see Hader and Wiig in their first co-starring roles since Wiig left SNL in 2012.

"I can't wait to see the movie," said Simien after admitting that he didn't get to see the film at Sundance because Dear White People screened the same day. "Every chance I get, I watch the two of them [Hader and Wiig]. I'm a big fan of Craig, big fan of them."

The Craig he refers to is director and co-writer of The Skeleton Twins, Craig Johnson. Part of the two-man team that won Sundance's best dramatic screenwriting award in January, Johnson was quick to label Wiig and Hader as key components to his film's success. He pointed out that the story's "combo pack" of humor, emotion and sincerity distinguishes it from the other recent movies about estranged families reuniting, but that "it's got Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader in it, so come on. That's what really sets it apart," he said.

But the circumstances that reunited the SNL alumni weren't cut and dry. Although Hader had been attached to the film for some time, Kristen replaced Anna Faris, who was originally slated to play Maggie, just months before production started, so there wasn't really time to adapt the screenplay to cater to Wiig and Hader's pre-existing chemistry. "It's one of those situations where they're so perfectly suited for the roles, it almost seems like it was tailor-made, but that's just sort of serendipity," noted writer Mark Heyman. Wiig added with a chuckle, "It just sort of came together. A lot of times, that's how it works. Things sort of magically come together."

Minimal rewriting was done to accommodate Wiig's comic style. Instead, Johnson encouraged her and Hader to riff on the lines, put things into their own words and improvise a little bit. "I think I would be a bad director if I had Bill and Kristen in a movie and we didn't do that," he said. Simien agreed with Johnson's decision to focus on bringing the actors' personalities to the forefront. "Some of the biggest laugh lines aren't laugh lines at all," he explained. He chose Tyler Williams of Everybody Hates Chris for the leading role in Dear White People because he was the only person who made him laugh in the audition room. Sometimes it's the subtleties actors bring to their roles, like Williams' "eye squint," which are inherently funny. "You can't write that," he said.

Many moments from the movie seemed to fall into the category of "things you just can't make up." And there is some degree of truth to that. Heyman admitted that he and Johnson both infused the film with a lot of things that came from their personal histories. Joanna Gleason's character was largely based off Heyman's own mother, who was part of a new age community where he grew up in New Mexico; the dark sense of humor used by Milo and Maggie was pulled from Johnson's sister; Hader's relationship with Ty Burrell was reminiscent of a student-teacher relationship that Heyman had in high school; and Milo's prominent lip-syncing scene was based on Johnson's past tendency to "bust out a lot of lip syncing from '80s songs" in front of his sister.

The result was a script that Wiig fell in love with, and that convinced her to reunite with Hader as a very believable twin sister — not that she needed much convincing. "It was amazing," recalled Wiig of working with Hader again. "It was like no time had passed. The comedic scenes were very easy to shoot, and the dramatic scenes were really, really comfortable for me. I felt very comfortable because we know each other so well."

In a sardonic manner for a comedy-drama, The Skeleton Twins was the first piece of comedy writing to hit the big screen for Heyman, who previously collaborated with Darren Aronofsky on Black Swan, and the first major drama piece for either Hader or Wiig, who have both made names for themselves on the comedy circuit.

"I have no idea what people are going to think, but it's definitely different than other things I've done, for sure. All I can do is hope that they like it," Wiig said with a laugh before heading into the theater. When the credits rolled 88 minutes later, perhaps nothing could sum up the mood of the cast and crew better than Mickey Thomas' words from the film's most memorable scene: "Nothing's gonna stop us now."

The Skeleton Twins will be released Sept. 12 by Roadside Attractions.

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