'Barry' Goes Sci-Fi: Bill Hader Talks Gonzo Episode 5

"Everybody else on the show with the exception of Stephen is seeing this the way that you're seeing this. They have no idea. They're gonna watch this like, 'What the f***?!'"
Aaron Epstein/HBO
Bill Hader (left), Stephen Root and Jessie Giacomazzi in season two, episode five of HBO's 'Barry.'

[This story contains spoilers from Barry's April 28 episode, "Ronny/Lily."]

In tonight's episode of HBO's Barry, inner demons aren't the only kind Barry Berkman has to deal with.

In the HBO comedy created by star Bill Hader and Alec Berg (Silicon Valley), about a hitman who wanders into an acting class and finds his truth, the protagonist's assorted flights of fancy translated to the screen have been integral to several episodes. But this week was the first time the show has crossed a line into … well, something else. 

In the final scene of last week's episode four, Det. Loach (John Pirruccello) — in a massive heel turn — asks Barry to kill his ex-wife's boyfriend, Ronny Proxsin (Daniel Bernhardt). Considering Barry had just confessed his involvement in Det. Moss' murder to Fuches (Stephen Root), and considering Loach had captured said confession on tape, Barry and Fuches have no choice but to accede. 

Episode five is the story of that attempted hit gone very, very bad. There's no Barry helping Sally with her truth exercise, no Cousineau attempting to fill the Moss-shaped void in his life by trying to get his son to not hate him, no NoHo Hank and the Chechens' Barry-led desert boot camp — just 30 minutes of Barry and Fuches having an extremely rough day.

As it turns out, Ronny Proxsin is "two-time Olympic medalist in tae kwon do" Ronny Proxsin. Also, it turns out, he has a young daughter (Jessie Giacomazzi) who, despite still being a white belt, seem to possess a wealth of (super?)natural talent.

"Our stunt coordinator had said, during season one, 'There's this little girl, Jessie, her parents are stunt performers, and she's awesome. And so if you ever need a little girl to do anything, let me know,'" Hader, who also wrote and directed the episode, tells THR. "I have a notebook that I keep with ideas, and I had written out, 'Barry and little girl fight in house. She stabs him. She's almost superhuman.'"

In an extremely roundabout way, Barry and Fuches succeed. But not before Barry nearly bleeds out from a little-girl-inflicted stab wound, Fuches loses a cheek, and Loach takes a fatal spinning roundhouse kick to the head (the little girl survives, though Barry should probably expect a Kill Bill-type revenge scenario at some point around season seven or eight).

Last week, Hader sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to talk about how the episode came together, how he imagines the rest of the cast will react to the mayhem, and why, after reading this interview, Berg is going to be furious.

Last time we spoke, before the season one finale, you and Alec had just set up the writers room for season two. And we talked a bit about how you were going to resolve the issues around Moss, and how you were going to keep people rooting for Barry after the events of the finale. I'm curious how you cracked that.

We never see it from the point of view of, "It would be great if everyone were rooting for Barry." We just want to make sure that we're being honest with Barry — and all the characters. I think a big thing was in season one we were kinda just setting the table of who these people are. I mean, we were trying to figure them out. And so season two, when we came up with the idea of Cousineau wanting a truth exercise, it was like, "This gives us a chance to get to know these characters." And then after writing for a while we hit on this idea of, "Can you change your nature?", which is what Barry's trying to do. Is there something about yourself that you dislike that's just so fundamentally a part of your DNA that you just can't change? And Barry's is his ability to kill people. And he doesn't want to do that, but it just seems like the universe keeps telling him, "This is why you were put on Earth."

The other thing that's happened since last we spoke is you're now an award-winning leading man and director. And you won for the pilot. Was that the first episode of TV that you had directed?

That was the first anything I'd directed. But I'd been wanting to do that since I was like 10. I was a movie fanatic, and my heroes were never actors or movie stars; it was always the director. And I loved writers. I loved reading. I was always just more fascinated by these people who created these things that moved me. You'd see their names in the end credits and be like (whispers), "Who's that? I want to learn more about this person."

So episode five is the first episode of season two you've directed, and you wrote it as well. And several things struck me about it. There have been past episodes where you've messed around with dream sequences, daydreams, etcetera. But this episode is just, like, complete fucking gonzo, and it seems like you've finally crossed a line into almost sci-fi, fantastical elements. It reminded me of how The X-Files would go back and forth between episodes that would advance the larger plot about aliens, the smoking man, and what they I think literally referred to as "Monster of the Week" episodes …

I've never seen The X-Files. (Laughs) But I think I know what you mean. To me it's just, we're telling a story. And there was a way of writing this episode where Barry killing Ronny was the first scene. And then you went to the acting class and you saw what was going on there, and then [Barry] would go back to Fuches and say, "All right, I did it," and they would have their scene. In a show that Alec and I purposely have made pretty tightly packed with story, and it has this real propulsive narrative, and we're juggling, for a 30-minute show, a lot of characters, it was nice to just do something [like this]. In season one we initially talked about the stash house sequence, "What if that was one [entire] episode?" And it just didn't make [sense]. [There was too much story] on either end of that episode that needed to be told. So, but this episode, [we thought], "We could just take a break."

There were two separate things [that came together to make this episode]. One was, our stunt coordinator had said, during season one "There's this little girl, Jessie, her parents are stunt performers, and she's awesome. And so if you ever need a little girl to do anything, let me know." I have a notebook that I keep with ideas, and I had written out, "Barry and little girl fight in house. She stabs him. She's almost superhuman. Barry finds her and you think he's gonna have to kill a kid and that's what he's grappling with, and she ends up kicking the shit out of him." And then I wrote, "Fuches and Barry search for girl around neighborhood like she's a lost dog. They find her sitting on a street corner. She runs up a tree and onto a house like a squirrel." And so that was it.

And then when we started writing season two, the first day of writing, the first thing we said was, "What happened to Moss?" And the second thing was, during season one, we were laughing about Loach being sad because his wife had left him, and we thought, "Oh, it would be great if Loach at one point needed Barry to kill his ex-wife's boyfriend." So we wrote that down on the board and said, "That should be the last scene in the middle of the season, episode four or five. Right in here we should find that out, so let's build to that." And then it's like, OK, so Barry has to kill this guy. Who is this guy? And then I went, "Oh my God, that guy's daughter can be the little girl!" And everybody went "Who? What are you talking about?" (Laughs) And so I kinda wrote this episode on my own. I eventually pitched it to the room, but it was definitely something that lived in my head, like we didn't really do a table read of it. Like everybody in the acting class, everybody else on the show with the exception of Stephen, is seeing this the way that you're seeing this. They have no idea. They're gonna watch this like, "What the fuuuck?!" (Laughs) And when we started the table read for episode six, we just said, "Here's what you need to know. Fuches now knows about the monastery, and Loach is dead." And everybody went, "Whoa. OK." We didn't say really what happened. And now I shall say there was a script out there, so [the rest of the cast] easily could have read it. It wasn't like we were being secretive. When I wrote it and then brought it to the table, the two notes I got were, Tao Kolade, one of our writers, said, "I think you should start from Ronny's point of view," 'cause initially I had it starting with Barry hiding in the house. And then when [the little girl] bites [Fuches'] face, I initially had, "Fuches was frozen in terror," and everybody kinda flagged that as weird. They were like, "Wouldn't he, like, grab her off his face?" And we realized, like — cause I had [Barry's] stitches breaking — what if [Fuches] uses superglue to [try to close the wound back up] and the superglue gets on his hands and he ends up supergluing himself to the steering wheel, and it was like, "Oh, that's hilarious. Now he's glued to the car!" And then Alec, the big thing he and I talked about when he read it was, "This is good, but it's kinda like just a big action sequence. There's nothing emotional in there right now. And I think this has to be about, last episode Fuches just totally betrayed Barry." And we decided it needed to be about Barry realizing that Fuches has never had his best interest [at heart]. And then I just came up with, "What if he passes out [from blood loss], and we go to these daydreams, like in the desert." So I wrote those [scenes].

Since you brought that up, during the desert sequences, there's that scene where he's walking through the desert and all the other soldiers are reuniting with their families, and Barry sees Fuches. And Fuches looks very serene and calmly gestures in the direction of, presumably, death or whatever. And then there's the last scene in the episode after Barry escapes the store and sees Fuches waiting in the parking lot, and Fuches has the same look and makes the same gesture toward the car. What's going though Barry's mind there?

It's like, [Fuches] does the same thing, like "Come with me; get in the car," and Barry has a legitimate hesitation between going to jail for the rest of his life or going with Fuches. It's like, "Which is better for me right now?" So it's ending on that realization for him. We also copied the tracking shot in the desert, and it was very conscious, like, let's do that same tracking shot with him as he walks [to Fuches' car] and we reveal all the [police cars in front of the store]. I just did another interview where I fully admitted that Alec and I do have real, um, symbolism in the show, but just talking about it makes you feel like a pretentious asshole. (Laughs) But it is true, the desert is the place where Barry does all his bad — where he's in his element, this place where nothing can grow and things just die. And he's always trying to get to water. Like if you watch the scene [in the finale] between him and Moss, she's in between him and water. That was very consciously staged that way. But you talk about it and you sound like a dickhead. So, Alec's going to be furious with me! (Laughs) Now a second interview! He's gonna be like, "Dude, stop talking about that shit! You sound like an asshole."

Well he's definitely not gonna like my next question, then! Because last time we talked, you mentioned you were a big Kurosawa fan, and that Alec had written that little scene in the finale where Loach is holding the press conference and the reporters start asking about Yojimbo, and how that came out of a kind of throwaway comment in the writers room about how the season one arc was reminiscent of Yojimbo. So watching season two, I've kinda been keeping my eyes peeled for other references. And nothing really stuck out to me in this episode, but it's an episode that seems like it could contain tons of references. So I was gonna ask if there was any specific homage to a film or a director that you had in mind?

No. You can't do that, because then it becomes a movie about movies. But it's all buried in there someplace, like in your subconscious. I watch this show and I go, "Oh wow, I really like Taxi Driver!" (Laughs) I saw that at such a specific time in my life, and it clearly has those moments in the show where [the influence is so obvious] it's almost embarrassing. But it's never — that would be death to be like, "We're gonna copy this shot." [The influence] goes in you one way and it comes out another way. And the more you do it, the more I think it becomes your own. You start to find your own voice. Everybody starts off in a cover band, you know? And I think because I started directing in my late 30s —— like I watch episode five and I'm really proud of it, but I'm like, "OK, next time like let's go even deeper with this, and let's get better at that."

But if I had to pick one filmmaker or movie that kind of influences this season as far as showing stuff to people [who work on the show], it would probably be Andrzej Wajda's War Trilogy that Criterion put out: A Generation, Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds. If you just watch the opening of Ashes and Diamonds, I would just show that to [cinematographer] Paula Huidobro and all the way down to the stunt coordinator, like, "It's more this." No music. The shots are very designed, there's a lot of depth, but the violence is still brutal.

Barry airs Sundays at 10:30 on HBO.