Bill Hader Draws on His Own 'SNL' Experience With HBO's 'Barry'

"I had a lot of anxiety through the whole time I was on that show," the actor-comedian said of his time on the NBC sketch show.
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Bill Hader

Bill Hader is taking cues from his Saturday Night Live experience for his upcoming HBO series, Barry.

At the Television Critics Association's winter press tour on Thursday in Pasadena, the actor-comedian revealed that the dark comedy he created with Silicon Valley executive producer Alec Berg was inspired by his own time on the NBC mainstay. "It's the idea that this thing you’re really good at is actually kind of destroying you," Hader said onstage, flanked by his co-star Henry Winkler and Berg. "And I kind of related to that on SNL."

On the series, Hader plays the title role of a depressed, low-rent hitman from the Midwest who, on the job in Los Angeles, falls in love with theater and wants to pursue acting. While following his "mark" into an acting class taught by beloved teacher/guru Gene Cousineau (Winkler), Barry is instantly drawn to the group of students and tries to start a new life with them — but struggles to find a balance between the two worlds.

Hader elaborated further on the parallels between the character of Barry and himself. "He’s good at killing people, but it's actually eating him away and he doesn’t understand that. And then the thing that he wants to be good at, he's terrible at," he continued. "I did an OK job with the sketch stuff [at SNL], but the live-television aspect of it was always really hard for me. I had a lot of anxiety through the whole time I was on that show. I had a really hard time with that."

Had SNL just required entertaining a room the size of the Langham Hotel ballroom Hader was speaking in, it would have been easy for him. "But having a camera go on and it's red and it’s like, 'All of my friends in Oklahoma are watching me right now,'" said Hader, made him realize that live TV all over the nation wasn't his thing.

Hader talked to Berg about his difficulties on the sketch series, and the Seinfeld alum thought it would make a good central problem for Hader's character on the new show: that the things he was good at he was a prisoner of, and then conversely the thing that he wants to do he’s terrible at. 

Together, Berg and Hader directed, wrote and produced the eight-episode show. In fact, Barry marks Hader's directorial debut, which he called a "huge" opportunity. The pair added that they don't have a plan for future seasons but, should they get a renewal, they'll figure something out. 

Barry premieres March 25 on HBO.